The Poetry of Ilya Chavchavadze

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Gaston Bouatchidze: The work of Ilya Chavchavadze (1837-1907) fits naturally into the literary tradition of Georgia, the origins of which can be traced back to the fifth century. The poetical works which preceded and paved the way for his own include, first and foremost, The Knight in the Panther's Skin by Shota Rustaveli (twelfth century), the Davitiani by David Guramishvili (eighteenth century) and the poetry of the romantic Nikoloz Baratashvili (first half of the nineteenth century). However, the period spanned by the life of Ilya Chavchavadze coincides with a unique chapter in the history of the country. The poet sets out to be its chronicler, and both his poetic inspiration and his craft are influenced by this, being shaped by the dictates of the author's views. If Rustaveli is the master of epic and philosophical poetry, a virtuoso of richly musical and varied verse, Guramishvili the craftsman of the most wide-ranging poetic metre and of constructions that are both brilliant and striking, and B aratashvili the lyricist of suffering and melancholy, the poetry of Ilya Chavchavadze is outstanding in its deliberate purity of form and transparency, in keeping with his generous breadth of vision. Clarity and directness of impact are the essential characteristics of his work.

Edouard Glissant: The poetry of Chavchavadze does, indeed, have the power and refinement to be found in all literature which strikes a strong popular chord and marks a new departure. In this respect it is reminiscent of the French sixteenth-century poets such as Jean de Sponde or Jean-Baptiste Chassignet. At the same time, it is almost symbolist in its musical qualities, and speaks, besides, with the perfectly controlled voice of modernity. Here we find a lyrical encounter between personal feeling and collective destiny. G.B.: I should like, in this connection, to recall the variety of Ilya Chavchavadze's writings: the poet in him is closely seconded by the prose writer, and the publicist goes hand in hand with the militant humanist and organizer of various aspects of community life. This means that the same, or similar, themes run through his work, and, as it were, resonate in sympathy with the preoccupations of the century, and in particular those of writers such as Pushkin, Victor Hugo and Tolstoy. Those themes include, for example, humanism (including the demand to abolish the death penalty), social justice, truth at all costs, fervent patriotism and the need to educate and enlighten the people. E.G.: Such poetry is remarkably relevant today. I am thinking of the quotation from Leibniz that Chavchavadze chose as an introduction to his poem Mother Georgia: "The present, born of the past, in turn begets the future." Historical memory, with all its light and shade, is the background to all identity, particularly in the present age, when different cultures and civilizations impinge on one another. Poetry throughout the world needs both the universal and the particular. Here again, I think that Chavchavadze affords an instructive example. Moreover, the "tone" of the language is audible through the translation. But I suppose that, as in the case of Pushkin, much of the melody is necessarily lost?

G.B.: In this respect I might offer for comparison my previous experience as a translator of Georgian poetry into French. In translating Rustaveli'SS The Knight in the Panther's Skin (to be co-published by Publications Orientalistes de France and Raduga of Moscow in 1988), I kept to the single rhyme of the quatrains and tried, as far as possible, to transpose the music of the verses. On the other hand, in the case of a modern poet, Galaktion Tabidze, whose "Skull with Artistic Flowers" will be published this year in Tbilisi in a bilingual (Georgian-French) edition, I dispensed with rhyme in order to keep more closely to the poet's variations of rhythm. …