Haig's page of Armenian poetry in translation

This page, and especially the editorial contribution thereon, is still under construction, and likely appreciably to be amplified in the near future.

Please also feel free to read some of my own translations from Ancient Armenian, prepared in connection with the programme-notes for a series of recent recitals I organised of unaccompanied Armenian Church music here in Cambridge, and wherein I endeavoured to place the items in each programme in an appropriate musical, liturgical and (to a lesser extent) theological background. Much of our finest poetry from mediaeval times and earlier come from the Hymnal of the Armenian Church - as of course does much of our finest music from all time.

This is my page of "Armenian Poems Rendered into English Verse by Alice Stone Blackwell ", published in 1896 and 1917. I understand she was an American, and in her own words "each of these translations in verse has been made from a literal translation in prose, furnished to me in English or French by my Armenian friends". I had the good fortune of acquiring the rather rare, 1917 publication only last week (on Friday, 5 July, 1996), and have proceeded to type some samples of her renderings herewith. I have added some biographical notes and other editorial comments, altered her Armenian transliterations in one or two cases, and removed the more disturbing Americanisms. Clearly, her attempts to make the English verses rhyme do, on occasion, cause the reader to smile, and at times significantly weaken the unforced, pithy Armenian original; and adjectives are particulary readily compounded in Armenian, frequently necessitating ungainly periphrasis in English. But overall, in my view she has been remarkably successful, and much of her work evinces great skill, and also great affection for the original. I wonder what her own poetry was like...! Incidentally, there are now several appalling translations of Armenian poetry around, which, in my view, need to be avoided at all costs, and in these circumstances those of Alice Blackwell are particulary worth cherishing, and they really do stand out - as indeed do those of Mischa Kudian (still in print, and therefore not included here). Incidentally, there is hardly any duplication between the poetry chosen by Blackwell and Kudian.

As I have confined myself to a selection of Blackwell's renderings here, it has been impossible to give a truly representative selection of Armenian poetry. For instance, there is hardly any ancient poetry in her volume; even when she does not omit a major poet, she omits some of his or her finest work (for instance, Siamanto's "Ap m mokhir, hayreni doun" is a glaring omission, and the examples she has included are not necessarily what is now considered his very best work), she omits many important comtemporary poets in favour of lesser ones, and of course, omits many great poets whose mature oevre she could not have known at the time of publication. (Thus, for instance, no Vahan Tekeyan and no Gevorg Emin, alas!) Nonetheless, I hope that the present selection will prove of some interest to those who are not so fortunate as to be in a position to enjoy these verses in the language in which they were conceived.

St. Nerses the Gracious (1102-1172)

Morning Song

O Day-spring, Sun of righteousness, shine forth with light for me!
Treasure of mercy, let my soul thy hidden riches see!

Thou before whom the thoughts of men lie open in thy sight,
Unto my soul, now dark and dim, grant thoughts that shine with light!

O Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Almighty One in Three,
Care-taker of all creatures, have pity upon me!

Awake O Lord, awake to help, with grace and power divine;
Awaken those who slumber now, like heaven's host to shine!

O Lord and Saviour, life-giver, unto the dead give life,
And raise up those that have grown weak and stumbled in the strife!

O skilful Pilot! Lamp of light, that burnest bright and clear!
Strength and assurance grant to me, now hid away in fear!

O thou that makest old things new, renew me and adorn;
Rejoice me with salvation, Lord, for which I inly mourn.

Giver of good, unto my sins be thy forgiveness given!
Lead thy disciples, heavenly King, unto the flocks of heaven!

Defeat the evil husbandman that soweth tares and weeds;
Wither and kill in me the fruits of all his evil seeds!

O Lord, grant water to my eyes, that they may shed warm tears
To cleanse and wash away the sin that in my soul appears!

On me now hid in shadow deep, shine forth, O glory bright!
Sweet juice, quench thou my soul's keen thirst! Show me the path of light!

Jesus, whose name is love, with love crush thou my stony heart;
Bedew my spirit with thy blood, and bid my griefs depart!

O thou that even in fancy art so sweet, Lord Jesus Christ,
Grant that with thy reality my soul may be sufficed!

When thou shalt come again on earth, and all thy glory see,
Upon that dread and awful day, O Christ, remember me!

Thou that redeemest men from sin, O Saviour, I implore,
Redeem him who now praises thee, to praise thee evermore!

(The above rendering is incomplete; there are in fact thirty-six stanzas, each consisting of three verses, all the verses of each stanza starting with one letter of the Armenian alphabet - which in those times still consisted of only thirty-six letters. There exist at least half a dozen different musical settings of this rather popular, early-morning hymn.)

Sayat Nova (1712-1795)

The youth and the streamlet

Down from yon distant mountain
The streamlet finds its way,
And through the quiet village
It flows in eddying play.

A dark youth left his doorway,
And sought the water-side,
And, laving there his hands and brow,
"O streamlet sweet!" he cried,

"Say, from what mountain com'st thou?"
"From yonder mountain cold
Where snow on snow lies sleeping,
The new snow on the old."

"Unto what river, tell me,
Fair streamlet, dost thou flow?"
"I flow unto that river
Where clustering violets grow."

"Sweet streamlet, to what vineyard,
Say, dost thou take thy way?"
"The vineyard where the vine-dresser
Is at his work to-day."

"What plant where wilt thou water?"
"The plant upon whose roots
The lambs feed, where the wind-flower blooms,
And orchards bear sweet fruits."

"What garden wilt thou visit,
O water cool and fleet?"
"The garden where the nightingale
Sings tenderly and sweet."

"Into what fountain flow'st thou?"
"The fountain to whose brink
Thy love comes down at morn and eve,
And bends her face to drink.

"There shall I meet the maiden
Who is to be thy bride,
And kiss her chin, and with her love
My soul be satisfied."

Fr. Leont Alishan

The Nightingale of Avarayr

Whence dost thou come, O moon, so calmly and softly,
Spreading o'er mountain, valley, and plain thy light,
And over me the Patriarch, wandering sadly,
With wandering thoughts, in Avarayr to-night?

Here where our matchless, brave Armenian fathers
Fell as giants, as angels rise anew,
Com'st thou to spread o'er the bones of the saints a cover
Of golden thread, from thy cloud of snowy hue?

O dost thou think, though thy brow be bright already,
Adornment of heroes' blood would become it well?
Or dost thou still, in silence and secret, wonder
To think how the great and terrible Vartan fell,

Giving his enemies' lives to the shades of darkness,
And giving his spirit into the hands of God?
And thou, O River Dghmood, thou flowest lamenting
Amid thy reeds, sad river bestained with blood.

And thou, O wind from Mankuran's upland blowing,
Or Ararat's sacred summit, gray-haired and hoar,
Thou, too, like me, uncertain and trembling movest,
On faint wings passing the mountains and valleys o'er.

From forest to forest, from leaf to leaf, lamenting,
Thou comest upon the plains, in pale moonshine,
To carry unto Armenian hearts the echo
Of the last sighs of this worn heart of mine.

Nightingale, voice of the night, little soul of the roses,
Friend of all mournful hearts that with sorrow are sighing!
Sing, little nightingale, sing me a song from that hillock,
Sing with my soul of Armenia's heroes undying!

Thy voice in the cloister of Thaddeus reached me and thrilled me;
My heart, that was close to the cross, in a reverie grave,
Suddenly bounded and throbbed; from the cross I hastened to seek thee -
Came forth and found thee here, on the field of Vartan the brave.

Nightingale, this is the tale that of thee our fathers have told us:
That Avarayr's nightingale, singing so sweetly at daylight's dim close,
Is not a bird, but a soul, - it is Yeghishe's sweet-voiced spirit,
That sees the image of Vartan for aye in the red-blooming rose.

In winter he walks alone, and mourns in the midst of the desert;
In spring comes to Avarayr, to the bush with roses aflame,
To sing and call aloud, with Yeghishe's voice, upon Vartan,
To see whether Vartan perchance will answer when called by his name.

If like the voice of a nightingale faint and weary,
Songs of Togarmah, my voice shall reach your ears,-
Sons of the great, whose valiant and virtuous fathers
Filled plains, books, and the heavens, in former years,-

If one small drop of blood from Armenia's fountain,
The fount of Bahlav, flow into your bosoms' sea,-
If you would that your country's glories for you be written,
Come forth to Ardaz with your Patriarch, come with me!

NB. Yeghishe was an Armenian historian of the fifth century AD, a contemporary of Vartan, who died in the battle of Avarayr in 451. In his history of the Persian invasion he compares Vartan drenched in blood, to the red rose. Hence the allusions in the poem. Fr. Alishan actually wrote the poem in ancient Armenian of roughly the same period. This poem (from the seventh stanza onwards) is also a famous and rather beautiful song - there are at least two different musical versions of it. In fact Vartan, and the other Leontines, as they are known, are now saints!

Moon in the Armenian Cemetery

O moon, fair lamp divinely lit!
God set you in the sky
To lead night's hosts, for darkness blind
And for my heart an eye.

When o'er my head you swing, your lamp
A glittering chain doth hold;
Your string of heavenly silver is,
Your wick of burning gold;

And, as a diamond flashes light,
You shed your rays abroad.
How bright you were, that second night,
Fresh from the hand of God!

How bright you were when first was heard
The heavenly nightingale!
The wind, that seemed like you alive,
Played soft from vale to vale;

With that calm breeze, the limpid brook
Plashed in an undertone;
There was no human ear to hear,
The angels heard alone.

The angels swung you in their hands,
And silently and slow
You traversed heaven's cloudless arch,
And sank the waves below,

What time the sun with feet of fire
Was soon to mount the blue,
While o'er the silent world were spread
Twilight and hoary dew.

Stay, stay, O sun! awile delay;
Rise not in the blue sky,
But let the little moon still walk
The cloudless realm on high!

Stay, little moon! Oh, linger yet
Upon the heights and hills;
Pass slowly, calmly, where your light
The sleeping valleys fills!

For I have words to utter yet,
To you I would complain.
Oh, many are my bitter griefs,
My heart is cleft in twain.

Bright moon, haste not away because
You hear a mourner's cry!
As comforter of broken hearts
You shine there in the sky.

You come to Eden's land, but not
As on that far first night,
When man was happy, knowing naught
Save life and love's delight.

Then your white radiance was warm
To waves and flowerets fair,
And wheresoe'er your soft light fell,
Immortal life bloomed there.

Turn and look down on me, O moon!
Gaze at our mountains' foot,
And see the ruined temples there,
And tombs so sad and mute, -

Tombs of Armenians who long since
From earth have passed away.
There sleep the ashes of our sires,
In darkness and decay.

Armenians they, the earliest born
Of all the human race,
Who had their home within the land
Once Adam's dwelling-place.

[Here follows a long list of Armenian kings.]

But you are setting fast, O moon!
Your lustre fades away,
And like a silver plate you sink
In cloud-banks dense and gray.

Stay yet a moment's space, O moon,
Stay for the love of me!
There in the valley is one stone
Unknown to history.

Go, let your last light linger there,
And lift it out of gloom,
For that obscure and nameless stone
Will mark the poet's tomb!

Catholicos Mgrdich Khrimian "Hayrig" (1820-1907)

The memorial of the lamenting soldier

Oh, not for me will be a grave
With cross-marked stone to view!
I die upon the field of death;
My name will perish too.

And not for me a splendid bier,
Or burial's pageant vain,
Or family to mourn for me,
Or friends for funeral train.

My tomb, which my own hands have dug,
Will be a trench profound;
The graves of thousands of the dead
With mine will make a mound.

Then strip me of my uniform,
My arms and honours proud,
And leave me but my blood-stained shirt
To serve me for a shroud.

A soldier's corpse is valued not;
Within a trench to lie
'Tis cast, as on the threshing floor
The sheaves are piled on high.

We from the battle-field set out,
And we have reached our rest.
Tired soldiers of the field of blood,
Sleep with untroubled breast!

At Gabriel's trump, our mound shall stir,
And as in fresher guise
Eagles their plumage strong renew,
We to new life shall rise.

Christ comes as judge, and all earth's thrones
Before God's bar are set.
The judgement of the field of blood
Just God will not forget.

Ye living soldiers, fare ye well!
I leave this world. I bore
The sword, and perished by the sword,
As Christ foretold of yore.

A farmer God creted man,
The soil to dress and till;
Curst be the hand whose wicked art
Has taught him blood to spill!

Wise men predict a golden age
When peace o'er earth shall breathe,
When kings shall all be reconciled,
And swear the sword to sheathe.

The lion shall gentle grow, the wolf
Browse by the lamb in peace,
The fields of blood with lilies bloom,
And all earth's conflicts cease.

A dream! I do not credit it.
Christ's words come back to me,
That nation shall 'gainst nation rise,
Earth be a bloody sea.

O Jesus, Saviour bringing peace!
Our world you came and saw.
Men are insane; they have not yet
Mastered your gospel's law.

Angel of love incarnated!
You said all men that live
Are brethren; give to us your peace,
Which this world cannot give!

Mikayel Nalbandian (1830-1866)


When God, who is forever free,
Breathed life into my earthly frame, -
From that first day, by His free will
When I a living soul became, -
A babe upon my mother's breast,
Ere power of speech was given to me,
Even then I stretched my feeble arms
Forth to embrace thee, Liberty!

Wrapped round with many swaddling bands,
All night I did not cease to weep,
And in the cradle, restless still,
My cries disturbed my mother's sleep.
"O mother!" in my heart I prayed,
"Unbind my arms and leave me free!"
And even from that hour I vowed
To love thee ever, Liberty!

When first my faltering tongue was freed,
And when my parents' hearts were stirred
With thrilling joy, to hear their son
Pronounce his first clear-spoken word,
"Papa, mama," as children use,
Were not the names first said by me;
The first word on my childish lips
Was thy great name, O Liberty!

"Liberty!" answered from on high
The sovereign voice of Destiny:
"Wilt thou enroll thyself henceforth
A soldier true of Liberty?
The path is thorny all the way,
And many trials wait for thee;
Too strait and narrow in this world
For him who loveth Liberty."

"Freedom!" I answered, "on my head
Let fire descend and thunder burst;
Let foes against my life conspire,
Let all who hate thee do their worst:
I will be true to thee till death;
Yea, even upon the gallows tree
The last breath of a death of shame
Shall shout thy name, O Liberty!"

The Russians exiled Nalbandian to the province of Sarakov, where he died of lung disease contracted in prison. It was forbidden in Russia to possess a picture of Nalbandian; but portraits of him, with his poem on "Liberty" printed around the margin, were circulated secretly.

Raffi (1835-1888)

Thou and I

I would I were the lake, so blue and calm,
And thou, fair maiden, with reluctant pride,
Wouldst see thy picture, delicate and faint,
Thy sacred image, in my depths abide.

Or would that on the shore a willow grew,
And thou mightst lean on it, and the frail tree
might let thee fall into the lake, and there
Sway with its waters everlastingly!

I would I were the forest, dark and vast,
And that thou there mightst come to muse alone,
And, ere I knew it, I might overhear
What thy lips murmur in an undertone.

Or would that thou mightst sit beneath a tree,
Singing a pure, sweet song; and leaf and bough,
With admiration trembling, would descend
And form a coronal to wreathe thy brow.

I would I were the face of the dark sky,
That so from heaven I might shake down on thee
A multitude of stars, as 't were my tears;
Ah, do not tread upon them scornfully!

Would I the writer were, and thou the theme!
Would though affection wert, and I the heart!
I the bouquet, and thou its silken string;
When thou art loosed, the flowers will fall apart.

Oh, would I were a lover of sweet song,
And thou my lyre, angel for whom I pine!
And that thy chords beneath my unskilled hands
Might vibrate till thy heart responds to mine!

(Actually, this does not seem to have translated well...)

Archbishop Khoren Nar Bey de Lusignan (d. 1892)


Roses upon roses
Spread in sheets below,
In the high blue ether
Clouds that shine like snow,
Lightly, brightly, softly,
Spread before thy feet,
In this tranquil season
Wait thy face to greet;
Waits in hope all nature,
O Aurora sweet!

Radiant, pure she rises,
In her veil of white,
With her floating tresses
Gleaming golden bright,
Spreading wide in ripples
By the zephyrs swayed,
And her pearly pinions
Opening, half displayed -
Gracious, fair Aurora,
The celestial maid.

On her brow bright jewels
Glow in loveliness,
And her joyous glances
Heaven and earth caress;
While her rose-lips, brighter
Than earth's blooming bowers,
Smiling blithely, scatter
Perfume sweet in showers,
Making yet more fragrant
Many-coloured flowers.

Now the small birds twitter
'Mid the leaves so green,
Blending with their rustle;
Hail, O Dawn serene!
Hail! Thou changest darkness
Into sunlight free,
The sad earth thou makest
Glad and full of glee.
All created beings
Cry "All hail" to thee.

Unto thee each offers
Its first gift in love,
Tenderest gift and holiest;
Cloud that floats above,
Zephyr, crystal streamlet,
Flowers and nightingale -
All with love are melted,
Praise thee, bid thee hail,
Heavenly maiden, lovely
In thy shining veil!

Thou our hearts that charmest
Now with such delight,
Leave us not forsaken
In the grave's dark night!
When our eyes are closing,
Let it beam and shine
Still before our souls' eyes,
That sweet light of thine,
Full of hope and promise,
Dawn, thou maid divine!

To my sister

Fain would I be to thee, my sister sweet,
Like the bright cloud beneath Aurora's feet
A pedestal to help thee mount on high
Into the blessed peace of the blue sky.

The zephyr would I be, to which is given
To waft the rose's fragrance up to heaven,
That thy pure soul, amid life's stress and strain,
Might not exhale its perfume sweet in vain.

Fain would I be to thee as crystal dew
Of morn, that doth the young flower's sap renew.
And with its vapour veils her from the sun,
Lest thy fresh heart be seared ere day is done.

Fain would I be to thee a nightingale,
Telling within thine ear so sweet a tale;
No meaner strain thine eyes with sleep should dim.
And thou shouldst wake to hear a sacred hymn.

Fain would I be to thee a broad-armed tree
That casts wide shadow on the sultry lea,
And cheers from far the wandering traveller's view;
So would my love shed o'er thee shade and dew.

Fain would I be to thee a refuge sure,
As 'neath the thatch the swallow builds secure.
A humble roof, it yet the rain can ward;
So I from storms thine innocence would guard.

Ah! when to thee this world, as yet unknown,
Its barren hopes, its bitterness hath shown,
Fain, fain would I bring comfort in that hour
To thy sad heart. Oh, would I had the power!

The first green leaves

Scarce are the clouds' black shadows
Pierced by a gleam of light,
Scarce have our fields grown dark again,
Freed from the snow-drifts white,
When you, with smiles all twinkling,
Bud forth o'er hill and vale.
O first-born leaves of spring-time,
Hail to your beauty, hail!

Not yet to our cold meadows
Had come Spring's guest, the swallow,
Not yet the nightingale's sweet voice
Had echoed from the hollow,
When you, like joy's bright angels,
Came swift to hill and dale.
Fresh-budded leaves of spring-time,
Hail to your beauty, hail!

Your tender verdant colour,
Thin stems and graceful guise,
How sweetly do they quench the thirst
Of eager, longing eyes!
Afflicted souls at sight of you
Take comfort and grow gay.
New-budded leaves of spring-time,
All hail to you to-day!

Come, in the dark breast of our dales
To shine, the hills between!
Come, o'er our bare and shivering trees
To cast a veil of green!
Come, to give sad-faced nature
An aspect blithe and new!
O earliest leaves of spring-time,
All hail, all hail to you!

Come to call up, for new-born Spring,
A dawn of roses fair!
Come, and invite the breezes light
To play with your soft hair!
Say to the fragrant blossoms,
"Oh, haste! men long for you!"
Hail, earliest leaves of spring-time,
Young leaves so fresh and new!

Come, come O leaves, and with sweet wings
Of hope from yonder sky
Cover the sad earth of the graves
Wherein our dear ones lie!
Weave o'er the bones so dear to us
A garland wet with dew,
Ye wings of hope's bright angels,
Young leaves so fresh and new!

Bedros Tourian (1851-1872)

Little Lake

Why dost thou lie in hushed surprise,
Thou little lonely mere?
Did some fair woman wistfully
Gaze in thy mirror clear?

Or are thy waters calm and still,
Admiring the blue sky,
Where shining cloudlets, like thy foam,
Are drifting softly by?

Sad little lake, let us be friends!
I too am desolate;
I too would fain, beneath the sky,
In silence meditate.

As many thoughts are in my mind
As wavelets o'er thee roam;
As many wounds are in my heart
As thou hast flakes of foam.

But if heaven's constellations all
Should drop into thy breast,
Thou still woudst not be like my soul, -
A flame-sea without rest.

There, when the air and thou are calm,
The clouds let fall no showers;
The stars that rise there do not set,
And fadeless are the flowers.

Thou art my queen, O little lake!
For e'en when ripples thrill
Thy surface, in thy quivering depths
Thou hold'st me, trembling, still.

Full many have rejected me:
"What has he but his lyre?"
"He trembles, and his face is pale;
His life must soon expire!"

None said, "Poor child, why pines he thus?
If he beloved should be,
Haply he might not die, but live, -
Live, and grow fair to see."

None sought the boy's sad heart to read,
Nor in its depths to look.
They would have found it was a fire,
And not a printed book!

Nay, ashes now! a memory!
Grow stormy, little mere,
For a despairing man has gazed
Into thy waters clear!

Isn't this autobiographical poem rather charming?! It may have been a little weakened by the English renderer's attempts to make the verses rhyme, but the original is of very high quality, very simple but also very direct and very touching... Bedros Tourian died of consumption at the age of 21, and the allusion is to the fact that apparently Tourian was in love with an actress, whom he overheard scornfully saying, at a meeting during which he wanted to persuade a distinguished theatre producer to stage one of his plays, when a friend of hers mentioned the young poet/playwright, "Oh him? He is trembling and so pale - he might even die one of those days!" (which, alas, was indeed borne out in the event).

My death

When Death's pale angel stands before my face,
With smile unfathomable, stern and chill,
And when my sorrows with my soul exhale,
Know yet, my friends, that I am living still.

When at my head a waxen taper slim
With its cold rays the silent room shall fill,
A taper with a face that speaks of death,
Yet know, my friends, that I am living still.

When, with my forehead glittering with tears,
They in a shroud enfold me, cold and chill
As any stone, and lay me on a bier,
Yet know, my friends, that I am living still.

When the sad bells shall toll - that bell, the laugh
Of cruel Death, which wakes an icy thrill -
And when my bier is slowly borne along,
Yet know, my friends, that I am living still.

When the death-chanting priests, dark browed, austere,
With incense and with prayers the air shall fill,
Rising together as they pass along,
Yet know, my friends, that I am living still.

When they have set my tomb in order fair,
And when, with bitter sobs and wailing shrill,
My dear ones from the grave at length depart,
Yet know, my friends, that I shall be living still.

But when my grave forgotten shall remain
In some dim nook, neglected and passed by, -
When from the world my memory fades away,
That is the time when I indeed shall die!

To Love

A galaxy of glances bright,
A sweet bouquet of smiles,
A crucible of melting words
Bewitched me with their wiles!

I wished to live retired, to love
The flowers and bosky glades,
The blue sky's lights, the dew of morn,
The evening's mists and shades;

To scan my destiny's dark page,
In thought my hours employ,
And dwell in meditation deep
And visionary joy.

Then near me stirred a breath that seemed
A waft of Eden's air,
The rustle of a maiden's robe,
A tress of shining hair.

I sought to make a comrade dear
Of the transparent brook.
It holds no trace of memory;
When in its depths I look,

I find there floating, clear and pale,
My face! Its waters hold
No other secret in their breast
Than wavelets manifold.

I heard a heart's ethereal throb;
It whispered tenderly:
"Dost thou desire a heart?" it said.
"Beloved, come to me!"

I wished to love the zephyr soft
That breathes o'er fields of bloom;
It woundeth none, - a gentle soul
Whose secret is perfume.

So sweet it is, it has the power
To nurse a myriad dreams;
To mournful spirits, like the scent
Of paradise it seems.

Then from a sheaf of glowing flames
To me a whisper stole:
It murmured low, "Dost thou desire
To worship a pure soul?"

I wished to make the lyre alone
My heart's companion still,
To know it as a loving friend,
And guide its chords at will.

But she drew near me, and I heard
A whisper soft and low:
"Thy lyre is a cold heart," she said,
"Thy love is only woe."

My spirit recognised her then;
She beauty was, and fire,
Pure as the stream, kind as the breeze,
And faithful as the lyre.

My soul, that from the path had erred,
Spread wide its wings to soar,
And bade the life of solitude
Farewell forevermore.

A galaxy of glances bright,
A sweet bouquet of smiles,
A crucible of melting words
Bewitched me with their wiles!

What are you, love?

What are you, love? A flame from heaven?
A radiant smile are you?
The heaven has not your eyes' bright gleams,
The heaven has not their blue.

The rose has not your snowy breast;
In the moon's face we seek
In vain the rosy flush that dyes
Your soft and blushing cheek.

By night you smile upon the stars,
And on the amorous moon,
By day upon the waves, the flowers -
Why not on one alone?

But, though I pray to you with tears,
With tears and bitter sighs,
You will not deign me yet one glance
Cast by your shining eyes.

O love, are you a mortal maid,
Or angel formed of light?
The spring rose and the radiant moon
Envy your beauty bright;

And when your sweet and thrilling voice
Is heard upon the air,
In cypress depths the nightingale
Is silent in despair.

Would I, a zephyr, might caress
Your bright brow's dreams in sleep,
Breathe gently on your lips, and dry
Your tears, if you should weep!

Or would that in your garden fair
A weeping rose I grew;
And when you came resplendent there
At morning with the dew,

I'd give fresh colour to your cheek
That makes the rose look pale,
Shed on your breast my dew, and there
My latest breath exhale.

Oh, would I were a limpid brook!
If softly you drew nigh,
And smiled into my mirror clear,
My blue waves would run dry.

Oh, would I were a sunbeam bright,
To make you seem more fair,
Touching your face, and dying soon
Amid your fragrant hair!

But, if you love another,
His gravestone may I be!
Then you would linger near me,
Your tears would fall on me;

Your sighs would wander o'er me,
Sighs for his early doom.
To touch you, O beloved,
I must become a tomb!

Zabel Assadour (b. 1863)


There are tears that fall in grief and sadness;
Slow and mournfully the cheek they stain,
Every drop a sob, a lamentation,
In its dew a throb of bitter pain.

There are other tears, bright, clear, untroubled,
Shining as the sun, untouched of care,
Like the violet rain, calm, cool, refreshing,
When the scent of earth is on the air.

There are tears all silent and mysterious,
From the soul's love-yearning depths that steal;
They relate to us long tales of sorrow,
Buried loves which mourning veils conceal.

There are tears that seem to me like laughter -
Like clouds tempest-tossed, that roam for aye,
Flinging lightnings to the winds of ocean,
Drifting, mistlike, out and far away.

There's a dry tear, burning, never falling -
Liquid flame, intense, consuming, dread -
Not to pass until the eyes are ashes,
And the mind is ruined too and dead.

Tears, I know you all, though ye be only
Memories of a past that sorrows fill.
Strong emotions, be ye blest forever!
'Tis through you my heart is living still.

Arshag Tchobanian (b. 1872)

To the moon

Why am I not the thin white cloud
That, floating soft and slow,
Veils the pure splendour of your face
'Neath its transparent snow?

Or one of those unnumbered stars -
Bees that in heaven's height
Flit round you, seeking honey there,
O shining Rose of light?

Why am I not the dark-browed mount
Where you a moment stay,
Ere spreading your broad, viewless wings
To soar through heaven away?

Why am I not the forest deep,
Where, dropping through the air,
'Mid foliage dark slip in and hang
Threads of your golden hair?

Why am I not the tranquil sea
On which your beams descend,
Where molten diamonds and fire
And milk and honey blend?

Alas, why am I not at least
That cold tomb of the dead,
On which your rays so tenderly
Their tears' bright sadness shed?

Tchobanian also wrote poetry in French, some of which was set by Honegger.

Siamanto (1878-1915)

My tears

I was alone with my pure-winged dream in the valleys my sires had trod;
My steps were light as the fair gazelle's, and my heart with joy was thrilled;
I ran, all drunk with the deep blue sky, with the light of the glorious days;
Mine eyes were filled with gold and hopes, my soul with the gods was filled.

Basket on basket, the Summer rich presented her fruit to me
From my garden's trees - each kind of fruit that to our clime belongs;
And then from a willow's body slim, melodious, beautiful,
A branch for my magic flute I cut in silence, to make my songs.

I sang; and the brook all diamond bright, and the birds of my ancient home,
And the music pure from heavenly wells that fills the nights and days,
And the gentle breezes and airs of dawn, like my sister's soft embrace,
United their voices sweet with mine, and joined in my joyous lays.

To-night in a dream, sweet flute, once more I took you in my hand;
You felt to my lips like a kiss - a kiss from the days of long ago.
But when those memories of old revived, then straightway failed my breath,
And instead of songs, my tears began drop after drop to flow.


The swans, in discouragement, have migrated from the poisonous lakes this evening,
And sad sisters dream of brothers under the prison walls.
Battles have ended on the blossoming fields of lilies,
And fair women follow coffins from underground passages,
And sing, with heads bowed down towards the ground.

Oh, make haste! Our aching bodies are frozen in these pitiless glooms.
Make haste towards the chapel, where life will be more merciful,
The chapel of the graveyard where our brother sleeps!

An orphan swan is suffering within my soul,
And there, over newly-buried bodies,
It rains blood - it pours from mine eyes.

A crowd of cripples pass along the paths of my heart,
And with them pass barefooted blind men,
In the divine hope of meeting some one in prayer.

And the red dogs of the desert howled all one night,
After hopelessly moaning over the sands
For some unknown, incomprehensible grief.

And the storm of my thoughts ceased with the rain;
The waves were cruelly imprisoned under the frozen waters;
The leaves of huge oaks, like wounded birds,
Dropped with cries of anguish.

And the dark night was deserted, like the vast infinite;
And, with the lonely and bloody moon,
Like a myriad motionless marble statues,
All the dead bodies of our earth arose to pray for one another.

The song of the knight

The sun is up, the hour has come for starting, O my steed!
A moment wait till I pass my foot through thy stirrup glittering clear.
I read my Aim in thy shining eyes, that know and understand.
Oh, joy of joys! Oh, blest be thou, my steed, my steed so dear!

My body still is firm and light with the joy and spring of youth,
And on thy saddle I shall perch like an eagle, proud and free.
The golden oats that I gave to thee in plenty, O my steed!
Have made mad life through thy form flare up; how fleet thy course will be!

Galloping thou wilt fly along, fly ever upon thy way,
And sparks from the strokes of thy brazen shoes will blossom as we go past.
Let us grow drunk with our rapid course like heroes, O my steed!
And, infinitely winge`d like the wind, drink in the blast!

The boundless space before thy pace recedes and disappears,
The sinful cities with all their crimes bow down beneath thy tread.
Black flocks of crows that tremble thy swiftness to behold
Are seeking shelter in the clouds, the thick clouds overhead.

The sad earth seems below us and we up among the stars;
Thou no abyss nor downward slope dost heed, with eyes aflame;
There is no obstacle, no rock that can thy flight impede;
Impatient, fain wouldst thou attain the summit of the Aim.

My fleet, fleet steed! My idol of snow-white marble fair!
With all my soul I worship thee! As on our course we fly,
My dreamy brow is burning with the flames of mine Ideal;
Oh, spur me onward to my Aim! Slave of thy footsteps I!

I am the slave of thy fleet steps, child of the hurricane!
Speed on, athirst for vengeance, O swift, swift steed of mine!
A needless halt I spurn and hate, with all my anger's might.
Ours are the summits, and the wreath of victory is thine!

Thy delicate cream-white body boils with thine ardent fire of life;
Thy tail is a cataract; rushing down, like a hurricane it blows.
Within thine eyes, so bright and keen, there shine two flaming stars;
The rind of thy swift shoes forges fear, as onward our journey goes.

I told thee that I am thy slave, for liberty athirst.
Oh, bear me swiftly toward the South, away from this frontier!
We shall be clothed with suns and blood, beyond the stately heights
Of Ararat and Arakadz. Speed on, my courser dear!

I hold no whip within my hand, my courser, thou art free;
Upon thy back, that glistens like a lily white and fair,
I only shed sweet touches of my fingers as we go.
They touch thy bright flesh like a stream of honey dropping there.

Thou hast no bridle upon thy neck, no bit within thy mouth;
Enough for me one wave of hair from thy full mane backward flung.
I have no need of stirrup-irons for my feet to grip thy sides;
A silver saddle thou hast alone, a saddle with pearls bestrung.

For my native valleys I yearn, I yearn, the valleys that hold my home,
But halt thou never, my courser swift, the star-strewn heavens below!
Away by the mouths of caverns deep like a shadow thou must pass,
From forests, vineyards and gardens green still farther and farther go.

Who knows, perchance a maiden fair by the side of a running brook
Might hand me a cluster of golden grapes, and proffer a draught of wine;
My soul might understand her, and she like a sister smile on me -
But I do not wish to be lost in dreams; halt not, swift steed of mine!

Thou wilt pass by the shadowy bowers of my birthplace, Eden-fair;
The nightingale, the nightingale, fain would I drink her song!
The rose-scent, on my pilgrimage, I have dreamed of many a year.
Oh, how my heart is yearning! But halt not, speed along.

And in my pathway haply old corpses might arise,
Their shrouds upon their shoulders, their hands held out to me,
Approach me - me the wretched! - and breathe upward to mine ear
Their loves and vengeance ner'er to be forgot - but onward flee!

I shudder at the ruins and at barren, helpless pangs.
My courser, near the ashes of the cities make no stay!
Oh, tears, the tears of others, they choke me without ruth;
The woe, the griefs of others drive me mad, upon my way!

Oh, do not halt, my courser, where these corpses scattered lie!
Fly away from graveyards, where white shades of dead men be.
I cannot bear, I tell thee, I cannot bear again
The death of my dear native land with anguished eyes to see!

Behold the landscape of the place in which I had my birth!
At sight of it my longing glance with tears grows moist and glows.
But yet I would not shed them; nay, do not pause or stay,
My steed, my steed of swiftest flight! My Aim no weakness knows.

Lo! 'tis Euphrates sounding. Why, river, dost thou roar?
Thy son is passing. Why so dark the flood thy shore that laves?
I am thy son. Oh, do not rage! Hast thou forgotten me?
I with thy current would speed on, and would outstrip thy waves.

The memory of my childhood draws from me tears of blood;
A dreamy youth who used to stray along these banks of thine,
All full of hope, with sunlight mad, and happy with his dreams -
But ah! what am I saying? Pause not, swift steed of mine!

Behold the glorious autumn, which vaguely dies around!
Upon my brow a yellow leaf has fallen like a dream.
Is it my death it stands for, or the crowning of my faith?
What matter? On, my neighing steed, sweep onward with the stream!

Perchance it was the last sere leaf of my ill-omened fate
That fell upon us even now. What matter? Speed away!
From the four corners of the land are echoing the words,
"Ideal, O free-born Ideal, halt not, halt not or stay!"

I worship thee! Now like a star thou shootest on thy course;
Thou art as fleet, thou art as free, as is the lightning's flame;
And through the wind and with the wind like eagles now we soar.
I am thy knight, I am thy slave; oh, lift me to my Aim!

Down from the summits of the rocks, the dread and cloudy peaks,
The cataracts, the cataracts are falling in their might!
Their currents white are pure, my steed, as thine own snow-white form,
And their imperious downward sweep is savage as thy flight.

But why now doth a shudder through all thy body run?
Oh, what has chanced, my hero? Why do thy looks grow dark?
Oh, turn thine eyes away from me, thine eyes with trouble filled
Past the horizons fly along, fly like a wind-borne bark!

I heard the wailing and the cries, entreaties and laments,
From ruined huts and cities that reached us on our way.
But ah! what use in pausing all powerless before pain?
Our task is to relieve it; then do not halt nor stay.

Through the death-agony, my steed, we passed with tearless eyes.
Oh, do not halt! Oh, do not stay! Brave be that heart of thine!
From this time onward, I will burn Hope's torches blazing bright,
To halt means death to us; pause not, O gallant steed of mine!

Aloft on they galloping form, full oft, in our journey ere to-day
I have heard how thy swift, spark-scattering hoofs, as ever we forward flee,
Have many and many a time crushed bones, that fell beneath their tread,
And the skulls with their empty sockets dark gazed at me - didst thou see?

I tell thee, under thy shoes I heard the skeletons break and crash,
But I kept silence. My lips are dumb. Halt not, halt not, my steed!
I will bury my sobs and sighs of grief in my soul's abysmal depths.
Let nothing live but my anger hot! Pause not, but onward speed!

Oh pause not, falter not in thy course, wild creature of marble white!
Tears will not banish the Pain of Life, nor drive out its woe and wrong.
Nay, the Ideal shall toll, shall toll the bells of glowing wrath.
The cranes, far flying, will call to us; oh, follow their distant song!

But where does thy path lead? What is this? My steed, hast thou lost thy mind?
The ashes! Oh, the desolate plains of ashes and ruins gray!
Like fog the gray dust rises up to stifle and choke our breath.
Oh, tear thy way through these frightful mounds, break through them and speed away!

Lift up thy forehead, lift up thine eyes, let me cover them with my hand!
Halt not, 'tis the Crimson, the Crimson dread; red blood beneath us lies.
Across my face to blind mine eyes I have pulled my fluttering scarf;
Halt not! What good would it do, my steed, to pause here with useless sighs?

Ah, once, accompanied by my griefs, my lyre shed tears of blood;
Weeping I hate from this time on; thou only art my soul.
Thou breathest battle, for glory keen, and I am thy prince, thy slave!
Thy form was worshipped by glorious Greece. Oh, lift me to my Goal!

The sound of the wind is like a horn that is winded far away;
The forests, ranged like troops of war, stood ready as we passed.
At the wild ringing of thy hoofs, old hopes like giants woke;
Old laws are crushed, old tears are shed, old sounds are dying fast.

And in thy flight, at daybreak, on a lofty table-land,
New giants, new insurgents, new heroes shall spy.
The sons of suffering are they, who in this hostile age
Were born in blood, are wroth with blood, and wish in blood to die.

When we see columns rolling up, armed with the hurricane,
We by their side will march along the pathway to the Aim.
Of the glory and the crowning of martyrs I shall sing;
My lyre will play, that gallant day, my Torches burn and flame!

The day has dawned, has dawned at last! I am thy knight, thy slave!
The slope is difficult and steep, but, breathing heavily,
Thou must fly on - one effort more, amid the fires of morn!
I am athirst for victory, my noble steed, like thee.

A few more ringing steps, my steed, and one last bound! and then
What a procession, what a host, all glad and full of might!
'Tis Freedom's pioneers; their swords flash out life-giving rays,
And Brotherhood they celebrate in morning's glorious light.

Here may's thou halt. Be blest, my steed! Worthy of God art thou!
Tears fill my soul as mine Ideal I gaze on and admire.
Thy triumph is the mighty law of beauty infinite.
Lo, there six centuries are standing, armed with fire!

I, armed already, will arm thee. O'er my shoulder burns thy torch.
They like the tempest wish to walk, under the dawning's glow,
Laden with justice. Oh, the land is barren and athirst!
Lo, from our flight the giant Hope sparks in the paths will sow!

BTW - Siamanto said in a poem "Yes yerkelov g'ouzem mernil", which means "I wish to die singing". He was murdered in 1915 like most of his colleagues.

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