Hovannes Toumanian, one of the greatest Armenian poets, is a writer of universal appeal. His works with their classic simplicity and depth are intelligible to people of every age, nationality and time.
There are writers, and famous ones at that, who are not a man's lifelong companions, but only accompany him along a certain stretch of life's road, be it childhood, youth or maturity. But there are also writers that belong to all ages, from early childhood to venerable old age.
Hovannes Toumanian is one of these.
The Armenian reader finds it as difficult to recollect his first meeting with Toumanian, as his early infancy. He first heard him on his mother's knee, then as soon as he had learned his ABC, read him himself and gradually entered Toumanian's poetic world.
The poet wants the infant emerging into daylight to see life as bright and cloudless as joy itself. He approaches the child as a kindly spirit, to tell him about birds and foxes, dogs and cats, trees and flowers, to lead him along the wonderful paths of early knowledge.
"Spring came merry, the birds returned, The sun rose warm, waters gurgled, Days of plowing and sowing came. I turned ravens into a team, And harnessed geese as a spare one,
I hired sparrows to watch the herd, And partridges to bake the bread, I had a plot, I plowed and tilled, I sowed barley and rye and wheat."
(The Little Landtiller)
When he gets a little older, the junior member of society learns from the poet that the affairs of this world are not so cloudless after all, that there are good and evil forces in the world, and a constant struggle goes on between them, and that in their eternal strife good does not always triumph. The juvenile reader now takes up "A Drop of Honey", a legend (based on a medieval Armenian fable) telling how a destructive war breaks out all because of a drop of honey, and how at the end of it the survivors
"Asked each other terror-stricken, Where the world-wide great disaster Took its origin, its sources."
The youth also reads "My Friend Nesso", a story about how the best and handsomest boy in the village turns into a bad, dishonest man, dragged to the bottom by life's deprivations.
The youthful reader will probably derive the greatest benefit from Toumanian's masterpieces "In the Armenian Mountains", "Armenian Grief" and "With My Fatherland", poems which set the course for future Armenian patriotic poetry. Then come the stories "The Bet", "The Construction of the Railway" and "The Deer". Next follow the great poetic canvases: "David of Sassoun", a brilliant rendition of the superb epic of the Armenian people; "Parvana", depicting the eternal yearnings of unquenchable love; "The Poet and the Muse", on the subject of the contradiction between the lofty ideals of poetry and harsh reality; "Sako from Lori" showing the destructive force of prejudice; "The Capture of Fort Temuk" which traces the criminal path leading from ambition to treason, and, finally, "Anush" rightly considered Toumanian's masterpiece.
In this poem the author expresses his philosophy of life, his personal ideas about man's existence, environment and the world of the human passions. The poet's nostalgia and his irrepressible love for his native land is revealed here:
"My longing for that wondrous land Again and again it calls me back, And my soul on wings outspread Flies straight home where before the fire In my native hearth they are all awaiting Waiting anxiously for me. . . ."
This poem, like every romance, has a tragic ending, and the poet, turning to Anush, roaming in solitude and despair at the loss of her lover, addresses her with words on the eternity of life and infinite renewal.
"O fair lady, why do you cry
So distraught and lonely?
Why do you cry and wander
In these valleys every day?
If you desire fragrant roses,
Wait for a while and May will come;
But if you long for your lover,
Know, he is gone, lost forever.. . .
Neither crying nor wailing
Will return your beloved;
Why then in vain extinguish
The youthful fire of your eyes?
Pour cold water from the fountain
On his lone and sorrowful tomb;
Go and begin another love,
That is the way of the world."
Toumanian's works are a living phenomenon in constant motion, a whole world, swarming with countless heroes and buzzing with the sound of human voices. There is something we must know about Toumanian if we want to understand that world. Everything he wrote, prose and poetry, fairytales and realistic stories, even his journalistic writings and correspondence, has an inner unity, embraced as they are by the coherent world outlook of this great individual. Hence the extraordinary unity of his art, for all its great variety and wealth of tones and shades, a unity that is peculiar only to great artists.
Levon Hakhverdian, Doctor of Philological Sciences