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Bibliothèque de l'Église apostolique arménienne - Paris
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Paruir SEVAK
( 1924 - 1971 )


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Paruir Raphael Ghazarian was born on January 26, 1924 to a peasant family, in the village of Chanakhchi (Sovetashcn), in the regions of Mount Ararat.
After graduating from the high school of his village, he was accepted in 1940 to the Philological Faculty of the State University of Yerevan, where he obtained his Master's degree in 1945. He advanced his knowledge in Classical, Mediaeval, Western and Eastern Armenian, wrote literary articles, published his first poems in Sovetakan Grakanoutyoun in 1942, studied the poetry of Na-rekatzi, Siamanto , Varoujan, Charentz, Whitman, Blok, Pasternak, Mayakovsky, Eluard and Lorca, whose influence could be traced in his later work.
From the very inception of his career as a writer, Sevak was also a diligent scholar. These two aspects of the man, the poet and the scholar, continued to develop until the end of his life.
In 1948 he published his first book, "The Immortals are Commanding', which was relatively unsuccessful.
In 1951 he left Yerevan for Moscow to study at the Gorky Literary Institute. He was graduated in 1956, and became a lecturer at the same institute, on the Faculty of Translation (1957-1959). Sevak's poetry of this period is epitomized in the long poem "My Belated Love", which appeared first in Russian, trans-
lated by Yevtoushcnko (Novy Mir, 1956, No. 10), and which provoked passionate discussions among Russian literary circles.
In 1957, with a new burst of creativity, he wrote in May -June the cycle of poems "Man Inside a Palm", and started "The Ever-Tolling Belfry". Finished in November 1958 it was published in 1959 in Yerevan, to which he decided to return.
"Man Inside a Palm" appeared in 1963, shocking the academics , confusing the traditionalists, disappointing most of the admirers of "The Ever-Tolling Belfry" and giving life and courage to the new generation craving for poetic innovations.
The works of Sevak during the sixties had a genuine revolutionary character, not only in the poetic domain, but also in literary criticism. With his poetry and literary articles Sevak opposed not only the traditionalists, but also the uncritical followers of fads.
In 1962 he started preparing his thesis on Sayat Nova, and in 1969 he was granted his Doctorate in Philological Sciences.
In 1966, the VIth Congress of Armenia's Writers Union c-lectcd him as a Secretary. In 1967, for the second, deluxe edition of "The Ever-Tolling Belfry" he was awarded the State Prize. In 196S he was elected a Deputy in the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. In 1969 "Let There Be Light" was published but because of censorship was distributed only in a curtailed form after his death in an automobile accident on the 17th of June 1971, at the age of 47.
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 Selected Poems
Titre : Selected Poems / auteur(s) : Paruir SEVAK - Translated from the Armenian with an introduction by Garig Basmadjian
Editeur : St-James Press, Jerusalem
Année : 1973
Imprimeur/Fabricant : 
Description : 12,5 x 18 cm, 72 pages, couverture illustrée en noir et blanc
Collection :
Notes :
Autres auteurs :
Sujets : Poems
Lecture On-line : non disponible

Commentaire :

"An old woman of cotton, sitting on a cotton horse, in her hand a cotton whip riding through the heavens; the stamping hooves of her horse give birth to thunder."
This ancient, folk interpretation of thunder, would seem to epitomise the character of Armenian poetry: simple and spontaneous, warm and colourful, profound but without sophistication, avoiding the rhetorical and the didactic.
Armenian poetry, which has a history of almost two thousand years, has preserved these characteristics for us. Throughout the centuries the Armenian people have found their spiritual nourishment in this poetry. Far better than the other arts, Armenian poetry has preserved its national character. In spite of the disunion of Armenian history, the poetry is surprisingly unified.
The domain of Armenian poetry is the heart. It appeals mainly to the ear rather than to the eye and the brain. It invites its readers to feel more than to think.
"The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader". If we agree with Robert Frost, it will be possible to assert that most Armenian poets are "true writers" in their original tongue; as for the "true reader", it would, unfortunately, be difficult to find him among those for whom Armenian is inaccessible.
The geographical position of Armenia has made it both a field of battle and a meeting place for the great powers of East and West. This has had a direct influence on the specific cha racter of Armenian poetry, in which the flamboyant colours and overflowing sentiments of the Islamic East are restrained by Western conciseness and economy. Armenian poetry is not calculated, measured and buttoned up like European poetry, nor is it open and voluble like the Oriental. It may suffer from an excess of heat; it never becomes cold and distant.
Armenian feeling is direct and spontaneous. If, at times, the result is not intellectually controlled, the fire is in its place: hot and free. The spontaniety of Armenian poetry gives it a touching sincerity which may often have overtones of sentimentality. This would seem to be the result of the tragic history of this people, an echo of the sadness and nostalgia accumulated throughout the ages, the fear of losing national identity, the perpetual recreation and reconstruction of all that had been destroyed ; this sentimentality is the result of a continually apocalyptic state of body and soul, and of the poet's profound love for his native land and its traditions.
From the last decade of the 19th century, until the massacres of 1915, poetry in both Eastern and Western Armenia was surprisingly vigorous and promising. Original and highly talented poets published their first volumes mainly during the first fifteen years of the century: Siamanto "Heroically" (1901), Tekeyan "Cares" (1901), Varoujan "Shivers" (1905), Medzarentz "Rainbow" and "New Songs" (both in 1907), Terian "Dreams of Twilight" (1908), R. Sevag "The Red Book" (1910) and Cha-rentz "Three Songs for a Pallid Girl" (1913).
If we consider, conditionally, forty as the age of poetic maturity, we notice that of the seven poets mentioned, Tekeyan alone passed this age, while the rest died in their youth. This prevented the creation of a more profound poetry, and disturbed the development of Armenian modernism: Medzarentz and Terian remained in an imaginary, dream-like world, suitable to the second half of the 19th century; Siamanto and Varoujan reached Symbolism, Tekeyan continued to bear the imprint of Baudelaire, while Charentz only occasionally went beyond his early allegiances.
The Armenian massacres of 1915 and the socio-political troubles of pre-Soviet Armenia (1918-20), slowed down the normal evolution of Armenian thought. Although the creation of a state improved conditions in Soviet Armenia, the results of Western Armenia's diaspora were deplorable. "The language in which I wrote was already read by few, they too became fewer; after a hundred years there may be no one to speak it'. These few words of Tekeyan describe the death of Western Armenian poetry, and the desperate birth of the poetry of the Armenian diaspora.
Everything conspired to kill literature in the Armenian diaspora, but despite the wholesale butchery of the intelligentsia and other discouraging conditions, the strange Armenian will to survive, preserved the language and obliged the poets to construct a spiritual Armenia that could never be destroyed, looted or massacred. Miraculously, the orphaned, crippled poetry once again flourished.
Important books of poetry began to be published - those of the avant-garde, who, centered in Paris, were assimilating the modern French artistic elements, and those of the traditionalists, who, scattered throughout the Middle East, kept alive the classic tradition of Armenian poetry and helped greatly to preserve the language.
Apart from the difficulty of adapting themselves to the conditions of life in the country where they happened to have taken refuge, being an Armenian writer in the diaspora demanded a special kind of self-sacrifice. "The Armenian who embraces the literary life and persists in his love for literature condemns himself to poverty and spiritual solitude. He becomes a perennial martyr to his craft. Call it madness, if you will, but it's the glory of our people, and without our writers, our cultural fires in the Dispersion would cease burning". (L. Z. Surmelian).
Conditions were comparatively better in Soviet Armenia. The manifesto published on June 14, 1922, in Sovetakan Ha-yastan by Charentz, Vshtouni and Abov, declared: "Armenian poetry of today is consumptive, condemned to death. The microbes of our literary tuberculosis are the homeland, pure love, soft twilights, dreams and forgetfulness. We bring with us fresh air and iron health. We oppose the pure love with our sane sexual instincts. We desire the expulsion of aristocratic literary schools, the chamber writers, the books yawning in the libraries and the women of salons and we demand that poetry come out of the rooms and down to the streets, to the masses".
This attitude influenced the first years of Soviet Armenian poetry, giving it freshness and daring. Unfortunately, from 1925 on it was misdirected by a farfetched proletarianism, infested with iron, tractors and the Kolkhoz; poetry became propaganda. Even Charentz drifted with the new current, although he later returned to his former style, publishing his chef d'oeuvre "The Book of the Road" in 1933.
After the death of Charentz in 1937, love and nature disappeared from Soviet Armenian poetry and were replaced by din and iron. In this atmosphere H. Shiraz reintroduced lyricism with his "Song of Armenia" (1940) reviving the tradition that came down from Sayat Nova, Toumanian and Isahakian.
During the Second World War this evolution was once again distorted. Battle-fields and war heroes took over, and artistic literature was postponed until the eventual return of peace.
Finally, the purges, deportations and the war ended. The grey-haired survivors who returned from Siberia, if they failed to produce first-rate poetry, at least helped the post-war generation of Soviet Armenian poets: Shiraz, Sahian, Kapoutikian, Emin, Davtian and Paruir Sevak.
Just as Charentz's futuristic style went astray in the twenties, something similar happened to Shiraz and his followers in the fifties; they fell into over-sentimentality, diverting Armenian poetry from one extreme to the other.
The publication of Sevak's "Ever-Tolling Belfry" in 1959 marked the consummation of Armenian patriotic poetry. One had to wait until 1963, and the publication of Sevak's "Man Inside a Palm", to witness the reintroduction of the modern idiom that had disappeared with the death of Charentz.
Despite its disturbed development, 20th century Armenian poetry more or less absorbed the intellectual climate of modern poetry. With Tekeyan and Charentz, the balance between emotion and intellect was carefully maintained, while the poetry of K. Zarian, N. Sarafian and Paruir Sevak inclined more towards the intellectual, though the age-old tradition of Armenian poetry never became over-intellectual.
"Translation is a rose put behind a glass" says Toumanian. This could also be applied to this book, which may satisfy the eye and the mind, but the fragrance of the original, alas, has to be recreated by the imagination.
And it is sad to admit, that so many beautiful poems in Armenian are condemned to remain a flower behind glass for non - Armenians.

I translated most of these poems while in Yerevan (in March, 1971) in collaboration with Paruir Sevak. With his consent certain omissions were made, titles changed, but nothing added. After his death I rendered a few more poems into English, trying to be as faithful as possible to Sevak's approach.
The selection is made to represent the full range of Sevak's poetry written in the sixties. Many of the poems, which are especially cherished by the Armenians, have not been included in this volume; the "translatability" of the poem into English has been my primary consideration.
I should like to express my thanks to Barbara Bray, T. Carmi, Judy Blanc and my brother Antranik for their useful suggestions.

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