Armenian Legends and Poems  at sacred-texts.com
From this time, migrations of Armenians out of their own country into different parts of the world became more frequent.
Twenty years after the invention of printing (1476) a grammar in many tongues was published in France, which contains several pages in Armenian.
In 1512 the first Armenian printed book was issued in Venice. After that Armenians set up presses in various countries.
Notwithstanding the political position of the country, its poetry continued to flourish and assumed a definite character; and the voices of the poets rose continually louder and louder. This century, together with the two preceding and the two following ones, forms a flourishing age for poetry.
The chief poets of this century are:--Hovhannes Tulkourantzi, Mkrtich Naghash, Grigoris of Aghtamar, Nahapet Kouchak, Arakel Sunetzi.
HOVHANNES TULKOURANTZI (1450-1525) was Catholicos of Sis. He is a poet of the days of spring, flowers, beauty, love. He wrote also moral and religious poems, besides other things. He cannot understand how it is possible for one who loves a beautiful woman to grow old and die.
"Whosoever loves you, how can he die? How can his face grow pale in death?"
He sings of the sanctity of family life, warning his readers against the strange woman "who brings torment and grief. Even his lawful wife brought trouble to Adam; what then is to be expected of the stranger?"
He has a striking poem on Death, which he addresses thus:--
"There is nothing so bitter as thou, no venom is more bitter; only Hell surpasseth thee, and it is thou who bringest Hell in thy train. Solomon remembered thee, saying, 'Of what profit is my wisdom? Say not I am a King possessing gold and treasures.'
"Alas, O death! thou hast a grudge against the sons of Adam and thou avengest thyself on them.
"Thou didst not consider that Moses was a prophet, nor art thou ashamed of assaulting David; thou takest even Father Abraham; thou draggest King Tiridates from his throne; and thou respectest not the Emperor Constantine. 1
"If a hero is attended by 1000 horsemen and arrayed in six coats of armour, thou shootest thine arrows at him and bringest him down, then thou castest him into prison and before the entrance thou placest a great stone."
The poem continues:--
In other poems we see his susceptibility to passion and his sense of love's power. In one of these poems he depicts 1 a bishop of 100 years old whose beard had turned from white to yellow and who, when officiating at the altar, suddenly uttered the name of a lady in his invocation before the cross.
MKRTICH NAGHASH was Archbishop of Diarbekr. He lived when the country was in difficult political circumstances. His talents were appreciated not only by Armenians, but also by the Mohammedan rulers with whom, thanks to his tact, he established friendly relations, whereby he was able to protect his compatriots from many oppressions. He built a church, which he adorned with beautiful pictures of his own painting. But, after the death of the Mohammedan princes who were his patrons, tyranny and oppression began again under their successors. He went to Byzantium to solicit aid for his suffering countrymen, but returned disappointed.
Besides his artistic skill, he was a poet of considerable merit. His poems are generally on moral and religious themes--the vanity of the world, avarice, and so forth; he also wrote songs of exile, and love songs.
In his poem on avarice he says that that vice is the root of all evil: "Kings and princes are continually fighting against one another, watering the country with blood. They destroy flourishing towns; they drive the inhabitants into exile; and spread desolation wherever they go; and all this is through avarice."
He goes on to specify other evils springing from this sin.
In the love songs of Mkrtich Naghash, the Rose and the Nightingale whisper to each other fiery love speeches complaining of each other's cruelty. Then they admonish each other not to let their passion consume them, and sing each other's praises.
This is an extract from one of his songs of exile: "The thoughts of an exile from his
country are wanderers like himself. If his mind is wiser than Solomon's, if his words are precious pearls, in a foreign land they bid him be silent and call him an ignorant fool. His death is as bitter as his life; there is no one to cross his hands over his heart; they laugh as they cover him with earth; no mourner follows him to the grave. But I, Naghash, say that an exile's heart is tender. In a foreign land, what is sweet seems gall; the rose becomes a thorn. Speak gently to an exile; give him a helping hand, and you will expiate your sins which rankle like thorns."
These songs of exile (or pilgrim songs) are a special feature of Armenian poetry and for ages have been written by various poets. They are original and often quaint and express the feelings of Armenians who live far from their native mountains and fields, showing how they pine for the land of their birth, reflecting the natural beauties of their fatherland, and their yearning for their hearth and the dear faces of home.
In 1469 in the town of Mardin there was an epidemic of smallpox, which caused many deaths. He thus describes one of the victims: "A youth beautiful to see, the image of the sun; his brows were arches; his eyes like lamps guiding him by their light. This lovely child lay on the ground, writhing piteously, looking to right and left, while the terrible Angel of Death was busily engaged in loosing the cords of his soul. Then the boy cried, saying: 'Pity me and save me from the hands of this holy angel, for I am young.' Then he turned to his father, and asking help from him, said: 'There are a thousand desires in my heart and not one of them fulfilled.'
"The father answered: 'I would not begrudge gold and silver for thy redemption; but these are of no avail. I would willingly give my life for thine.' In the end the light of the child's life was extinguished; the lovely hue of his face faded; his sea-like eyes lost their lustre; the power of his graceful arm was cut off."
Here is a translation in verse of a poem on a mysterious Flower:--
GRIGORIS OF AGHTAMAR was born about 1418 and was Catholicos of Aghtamar, an island in the Lake of Van, which has picturesque surroundings fit to inspire a poet; so that it is not surprising that our Catholicos became a singer animated by poetic fire, the exponent of love and beauty--of the Nightingale and the Rose.
It is evident, from his works, that Grigoris had a great love of life. We see this especially in a poem entitled The Gardener and his Garden. The Gardener, says the poet, enters his garden every morning and hears the sweet voice of the nightingale as he examines the newly planted flowers of various colours. This beautiful spot he surrounds with a hedge, bringing stones from the river, thorns from the mountain. He has just built arbours, made a fountain, introduced little running brooks, and planted vines, when, all of a sudden, a voice utters the command: "Come out of thy garden." It is Death who beckons him out. He expostulates: "I have not yet seen life and light; I have not yet seen the fruit of the garden; I have not yet smelt the rose; I have not yet drunk my wine or filled my casks; I have not plucked flowers for a nosegay. I have not yet rejoiced over my garden."
But his prayers are not heeded; obedient to the unchangeable law of the universe, he at last capitulates to the Angel of Death.
After describing the Gardener's death and burial, the poet goes on to tell what happens to the garden after its owner has left it; the rose fades; the other flowers disappear; the hedge is broken down, and what was once a lovely garden becomes a scene of desolation.
This is his description of the face of his lady-love. He likens her eyebrows to a sword; the sparkle of her eyes to a sharp lance; her eyes to the sunlit sea. She is, he says, as straight
as a willow; her lips are like harp strings; her teeth, a row of pearls; her tongue is sugar; and, wherever she rests, the place becomes a garden. She has fragrance sweeter than the violet of the spring; she is like a white rose, pure and sweet, like a newly opened flower; a young almond plant. Her face is red and white, like an apple of the forest. She soars high, like a daring eagle. She is brilliant as a peacock with golden feathers.
We have in this volume (page 52) a translation of one of Grigoris’ longer poems, entitled "Concerning the Rose and the Nightingale," in which it is interesting to note that--quaintly enough--the poet gives the text of a letter sent with great pomp, by special messengers, to the Rose; adding the consequence which followed, and the verbal answer returned.
The subject of the Rose and the Nightingale is a Persian one originally, but the outstanding characteristics of the Armenian versions consist in the refinements and subtleties of the feelings described, the deference paid to the Rose, and the idea of continuity and faithfulness in love. These feelings are minutely described in this beautiful poem, and summed up in the Rose's message to the Nightingale on p. 56:--
[paragraph continues] These ideals constitute the difference between the mentality of Mohammedanism and Christianity.
NAHAPET KOUCHAK was a fine poet of the seventeenth century. He is called the Psalmist of Love. Although there is a slight resemblance in style between his writings and those of the Persian poets, his poetry is original. The works attributed to him have only recently been published as a whole; they have been translated into French and other languages, and greatly admired. Some critics have placed him higher than Sadi and other Persian poets. (Examples of his work are given on pages 4, 5, and 31.)
ARAKEL SUNETZI was the Metropolitan of the province of Suni. He appears to have possessed a thorough acquaintance with the writings of his time. His chief work is the Book of Adam, a long narrative poem, telling the story of the Fall in the style of a romance in which theology, lyrics, heroic lays, and folklore are all fused together.
Adam, though because of his great love for his wife he was inclined to yield to her petition, yet wavered, not knowing whether to hearken to his spouse or to his Creator. "But his mind
went with his eyes; he deserted God, but not the woman; for, without Eve, half of his body was dead, and with the other half it was impossible to live."
Among the lyrics in this book is one entitled The Rib, of which we subjoin two stanzas:--
"And for the rib is high and low--
One side is vaulted, one is round,
Her face doth love and sweetness show
Whilst in her heart fierce hate is found."
Here is a passage from another poem of Sunetzi's entitled The Glory of the Saints, describing the Resurrection:--
In the sixteenth century, Turkish and Persian wars became fiercer and the Armenian history of this century becomes the record of the sufferings of the country during these wars. Poets of this period were Nerses Mokatzi, Minas Tokhatzi, Ghazar of Sebastia, Sarkavak Bertaktzi.
NERSES MOKATZI was an ecclesiastic and poet. Very few of his works have come down to us. One of the poems we have--entitled The Dispute between Heaven and Earth--is interesting. The poet begins by saying that Heaven and Earth are brothers. One day these
brothers disputed as to which of them was the greater. "Of course," says the poet, "the Heaven is high, but the Earth is more fruitful."
He then goes on to report a dialogue between the brothers in which each enumerates his own possessions, declaring them superior to those of the other. The following is a short prose summary of this dialogue:--
This poem is interesting, as it breathes the spirit of the revival of popular poetry, with its worship of nature, beauty, and love, of which things the Earth is the personification. Hence the poet exalts Earth above Heaven. Here we see also a change of ideas. The older Christian poets were churchmen and sang contempt of the present world and concentration on the joys of heaven. This new note, struck from the beginning of the fifteenth century, gradually grows bolder, and sounds forth daringly, as we hear it in this poem, which seems all the more remarkable when we remember that its author was a priest. This is the song, not of a lover of vanities, but, rather, of an enthusiast, who loves beauty and has learnt that it is good to live on the earth, because it also contains beautiful things that are worth living for. This poem also shows the conquest of learning and science which, at the time it was written, had found their way into Armenia as well as elsewhere, perhaps through the new Armenian colonies formed in Europe and other parts of the world.
MINAS TOKHATZI, a humorous poet, lived in Poland. He wrote verses on Toothache and on Tobacco (descanting on its objectionable odour and showing how the smoker becomes its slave); also on Flies.
To convey an idea of his art, we give the substance of the last-named work:--
"The flies," says the poet, "for some reason or other, went forth to combat against me. They also entered into a conspiracy with my penknife. Knowing of this, I implored the knife not to listen to the accursed insects, who had already caused me enough pain. The attack was begun in a novel fashion; the flies came, buzzing, in gay and merry mood, and settled on my hands and arms in a friendly manner, asking me to write them something in red ink. At the same time, the penknife, playing me a perfidious trick, cut my hand. I
protested against this treatment. The penknife justified itself by saying it had acted thus because I had told a lie. I got a few moments' rest, after this, from the flies, till, at dinnertime, I met with three of them, who announced that more were coming. The combat was renewed. During the night, the flies were relieved by their allies, the fleas."
GHAZAR OF SEBASTIA, an ecclesiastic, has fallen under the spell of some eyes " as deep as the sea." He describes the torment under which he is pining away and his longing for his mistress's arrival, like the longing of a patient for his physician. The face of his love (he says) is like glistening amber; her eyes are so bewitching, that
There is nothing known of SARKAVAK BERTAKTZI, but this poem from his pen is interesting
The seventeenth century resembles its predecessor as regards the political position of Armenia, except that the misery is even greater.
175:1 These monarchs are mentioned because they were the first Christian sovereigns.
176:1 In the Armenian Church there are two classes of clergy--the higher order to which bishops belong and who do not marry, and the lower order of parish priests who do marry.
181:1 It is interesting to compare this with a Persian poem by Essedi of Tus called a dispute between Day and Night. In the former the Earth is victorious, in the latter the Day. The Persian is essentially Mohammedan in spirit and conventional, whereas the Armenian is almost modern.
Day. . . . I am a Moslem--white my vest,
Thou a vile thief, in sable drest.
Out, negro-face!--dar’st thou compare
Thy cheeks with mine, so purely fair?
. . . The Sun is ruddy, strong, and hale:
The moon is sickly, wan, and pale.
Methinks ’twas ne’er in story told
That silver had the worth of gold!
The moon, a slave, is bowed and bent,
She knows her light is only lent,
She hurries on, the way to clear,
Till the Great Shah himself appear.
From "The Rose Garden of Persia."