Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: To Gautier

During the early part of the 20th century, the French intellectual and literary world had a great influence on Georgian writers. In the mid-19th century writers such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud had defined a poetic movement, called Symbolism, which was just beginning to make waves in Georgia. It would be only a few years later, with the Communist Revolution, that exchange between the Caucasus and the West would be largely cut off, but in 1920, when this poem was written, Georgian Symbolism (as denoted by the “Blue Drinking-Horns” group of poets) was at its peak.

Though Tabidze was not ever formally a member of the Blue Drinking Horns, he was obviously highly influenced by the Symbolists.

This poem, dedicated to Theophile Gautier, is filled, in its first 4/5, with references, both obvious and obscure, to “Western” literature in general, and to French literature, art and history specifically. In the Georgian, Tabidze uses a number of French-sounding words, in addition to naming specific people and places.

The last third, which I have taken the liberty of placing in italics, is much more specifically Georgian in tone and style, with a clean, almost anti-baroque imagery all the more evocative for its contrast with the elaborate style and philosophical/historical/artistic references in the first part.

To Gautier[1]

You named your native haven Pimodan[2],
A place forever Delaroche’s[3] hues.
The light awaited us, and it was laden
Laden down with laurel and with “petit choux”
This blessed time is even now more perfect!
In each: the lightning of Brumel[4] and Lauzon[5].
And please, please where are all the altruistic
Poets, painters, passing ladies, mimosian?
Surrounding us are white streams of remembrance.
Surrounding us are streams, light and clandestine:
The place glowed — a snug, erudite Parnassus,
It was a legendary lifestyle of the mind.
But we were seeking something profound, something Georgian…
Rhyme — and subtle nuance, rhythmic shadows.
Where were all the people from the pattern:
The Maenads[6]— swan and wing — Infantas[7]?
For now the road is thornier than thorn,
And no one else is trampled as this soul.
Now I’m an empty mountain church, forlorn,
And the dying sunlight dooms me with a smile.


[1] Theophile Gautier (1811-1872), French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist and literary critic. An influence on the Symbolists, from which Tabidze drew inspiration.

[2] Hotel on the ile de Saint Louis, famous as a gathering-place for poets and artists.

[3] Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (1797-1856), French painter

[4] Antoine Brumel (1460-1513), French composer.

[5] poss. Jean de Lauzon (1584-1666), French Governor of New France (Canada), or poss. one of several dukes “du Lauzun” — courtiers and soldiers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

[6] Female worshipers of Dionysus, Greek god of wine.

[7] Spanish title given to a royal daughter who is not heir to the throne.

First published in Georgia Today

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