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Giorgi Leonidze

Giorgi Leonidze, the Georgian poet, writer and philologist, was born in
the Kakhetian village Patardzeuli (near Sagarejo, ca. 20 km east of
Tbilisi) the 27th of December 1897. His parents were Nicolaus Leonidze,
a local priest and teacher, and Sofio Gulisashvili. Though his poems were
systematically published already from 1911, only later, after his article
about Oscar Wilde (1915), his literary views, tending to modernism,
could be revealed. He issued the almanach “Saphironi” (“sapphire”) by
the money obtained from the selling his father’s house in Tbilisi.

After finishing the Clerical Seminarium of Tbilisi he studied Philology at
the State University of Tbilisi. Being member of the symbolistic order
“Blue horns” (from 1918) he, like his colleagues, was engaged in the
technical improvement of the Georgian poetry. At the same time he was
the chief-editor of the weekly newspaper “Bakhtrioni” issued by the
above circle.

Though Giorgi Leonidze paid a big tribute to the modernism in his early
years, he is a very distinctive and deeply national poet who was
connected more than his contemporaries with the ancient Georgian
literary roots, existing from the 5th century A.D. In the opinion of John
Steinbeck, Leonidze was a most original poet, more than anyone else
closely bound up with the mysteries of the language in which he wrote
[Boris Pasternak, in: Nobel Prize Library, By William Faulkner, John
Steinbeck, Eugene O'Neill. 1971, p. 280]. English writers coming to
Georgia considered him as ever-genial with a gargantuan, truly leonine
figure with an unbounded capacities for good food, drink and talk. Gogla
has taken an active role in every Georgian literary movement for the last
half-century [The Anglo-Soviet Journal By Society for Cultural Relation
witth the USSR (Great Britain), vol. 23-25, 1962-1965, pp. 29, 36] John
Lehmann, who translated Leonidze’s The Guinea Fowl, [see: John
Lehmann. Collected Poems 1930-1963. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode,
1963, p. 87, or The Age of the Dragon. Poems, 1930-1951. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, 1952, p. 53, or Forty Poems. London: Hogarth Press,
1942, p. 41], characterizes him as, huge and courteous who gave him
impression of a powerful intellect [John Lehmann. Promotheus and the
Boolsheviks, New York: A.A. Knopf, 1938, p. 178].

His poems bear the tint of an extraordinary merging of the old chivalrous
traditions with the asthetism. Being a very good expert of the Georgian
history, he dedicated many poems to the past of his homeland. One of
them, a long poem “Samgori”, where he assigned to Georgia the role of a
defender of civilized societies from the invasion of nomadic northern
tribes. At the same time he expressed the idea of its common fate with the
western world. The reason why he was severely criticized by the
governmental newspaper “Komunisti”in the article “Splinters of
symbolism”.

The more and more heavy interference and compulsion of Soviets in
every sphere of the cultural life beginning from the early thirties put some
imprint also on G. Leonidze’s poetry. Therefore his best poems belong to
the preceeding time; e.g. “Vision in the night” (1915), “Autoportrait”
(1921), “Sun tabasta” (1922), “On the gallows” (1922), “Slaughterhouse
of Tiflis” (1923), “Tsitsari” (1925), “The night of Iori” (1925), “The night
of Ninotsminda” (1926), “The song of the first snow” (1926), “Mating
season” (1928), “An Appointment with Qipchagh” (1928), “Qipchaghian
night” (1928), “Ole” (1931). He created again new masterpieces at the
sunset of his life when the control by authorities had been weakened –
among them the book of short stories “The tree of desire”, an
amalgamation of epic stories with a strong poetic stream. This book was
filmed by the film-producer T. Abuladze with a big success in 1976.

His closest friends and brothers in poetry, Titsian Tabidze and Paolo
Iashvili, as well as his brother Professor Leon Leonidze (microbiologist),
became victims of Communist repressions of 1937-1938. The fact that G.
Leonidze already worked on the long poem dedicated to Stalin, “Stalin,
vol. I: The childehood and adolescence” (1936), had saved his life from
the same destiny. This long poem describes in reality the nature, history
and habits of Georgia and the Georgians with a great mastery. This was
the main reason why the poet could not fulfil his task to write the second
part of the same long poem dedicated to the revolutionary past of the
Soviet leader, though Georgia’s Communist government put a big
pressure on him. It is interesting how G. Leonidze became the member of
the Communist party: he, together with the well-known Georgian writer,
prince Shalva Dadiani, were summoned before the Central bureau of
Communist party in the end of 1944 and they were told that, as to the
decision of party, they had to become its members.

The letter written by the Russian poet Boris Pasternak to Nino Tabidze,
the wife of Titsian, is very informative to characterize Giorgi Leonidze’s
personality: “I bow my head before the poet Leonidze and his poetry with
the same low bow as before his wife, his fate and his house. I can even
force myself to be more strict: I bow my head before a spark of
childishnessity, skipping through his hands and manuscripts and going
down to his children. And I am speaking not at all about that pseudo-
Rafaelistic imagination of childehood which does not exist in the world,
exept on the top of candy boxes. But I speak about the simplicity,
nonsensnence and defencelessnence of a childe, about its conductivity.
About the childe’s ability to create at the same time a whole world by his
toys and the danger to be run over by crossing a street. About a sight of a
childe among a big, far (by that time) going life, which it manages in a
childlike simple, nonsensical, efficient and defenceless way.” [From a
book: Giorgi Leonidze. The Selected Poetry. Ed.: G.Margvelashvili.
Tbilisi. Publishing House Merani, 1986 (in Russian), pp. 15-16].

Leonidze served as the real prototype of the Pasternak’s Artist. This Cycle
– “The Artist” – is connected with Pasternak’s visit to the Caucasus
[Krystyna Pomorska. Jacobsonian Poetics and Slavic Narrative: From
Pushkin to Solshenitsyn. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992, p.
133].

Giorgi Leonidze devoted many years of his life to philology. He was
doctor of philological sciences (honoris causa). He wrote many articles
and books about Rustaveli, Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, king-poet Vakhtang
VI, Josef Tbileli, David Guramishvili, Antimos Iverianu, Besiki, Sayat-
Nova, Mamuka and Nikoloz Baratashvili, Ilya Chavchavadze, Akaki
Tsereteli, Mamia Gurieli, Vaja-Pshavela, Vasili Barnovi (Barnaveli) etc.
He was the chief-editor of “Literary heritage” and “Literary herald”.
Besides he is the founder of the Museum of Georgian litarature (now the
Giorgi Leonidze State Museum of Georgian literature) and the Ilya
Chavchavadze Museum in Saguramo. He worked as the head of the
Georgian Writers Union from 1951 to 1953 and as the director of the
Institute of Georgian Literature from 1957 until his death in 9th of August
1966 in Tsqneti, in the outskirts of Tbilisi. He was the real member of the
Georgian Academy of Sciences. In December 1959 he became the
National Poet of Georgia.

GIORGI LEONIDZE’S POEMS

SELF-PORTRAIT

I am a barbarian, a Khazar, a Saracen.
Batterer of Roman walls, dynamite’s low rumble
Angrier than Rusudan, bowing, not humbled -
The ache of lost territories eats at my spleen.

Inside me you can hear the ancient blood ripple.
Cloud clusters part for me - Kakheti’s paps bared.
A risen moon’s corona encircles my head,
And before me the sun unrolls its carpet of purple.

The stigmata of bloodlines now bloom all over me,
Tribune of Parisian mobs, Prince of Kartvelians.
On all peaks Georgian banners are fluttering for me
And the sun is saddled for the march of ancestors.

My poetry’s well is a winemaker’s vat.
As if into golden must I pour my soul into poison.
Rimbaud’s twin, I love the comedy of dangerous passions.
My forefathers were Chavchavadze, Teimuraz.

A resurrected young roebuck, all antler and melancholy
I am the dark Never More of the last trolley.

1921

Translated by George M. Young

Notes: Rusudan (1194-1245), Georgian queen (1223-1245) forced to
submit to the Mongolians. Kakheti, east Georgian province.
Kartvelians, Georgian name for people of Georgia. Ilya Chavchavadze
(1837-1907), a 19th century Georgian poet and most famous
politician. Teimuraz I (1589-1663), Georgian King of Kakheti (1606-
1648) and Kartli-Kakheti (1625-1632).

JANIZARY LEADING PRISONERS

Scraps of cloud like old rags, half-ripped, dirty
Move along, driven by the raw March wind.
Silently the Janizary herd their prisoners
Toward a schooner waiting at pier’s end.

The mainsails are filled, where are we rushing?
Isn’t there time for one last kiss?,
Old homeland, mother, another embrace,
Just let us have one parting glance
Then tie our hands, prodding, pushing,
And lead us to hell if that’s your wish.

And so they departed places dear to them
These wretches from Kartli, souls abandoned.
The cries they lifted didn’t reach heaven.
Tomorrow or the next day -- auctioned in Algeria.

1923

Translated by George M. Young

Note: Kartli is the largest and most heavily populated province in
Georgia.
INSCRIPTION ON THE WALL OF TEMPLE

On a mountain-top I built a temple
Where nothing stood before;
My only faithful helper
Was the poor bull Nicophore.
Over slopes and over cliffs,
Hauling stones and wood galore;
Lord, grant a place in heaven
To poor old Nicophore!
1925

Translated by Kevin Tuite

THE BLACK OAK BY THE BLACK SEA

Lonely, lonely by the Black Sea,
Stood a rustling, ancient black oak,
Gaining new splinters and splittings
With every fiery thunder stroke.

Seabirds with their raucus chatter
Pestered this relic of old woods.
With beaks they have draped over him
A tattered, patchwork rainbow hood.

From the sky their beaks gave dewdrops,
Sunrays reflected in the sea.
Each new morning song they chirruped
Brought more splits in the ancient tree.

By the Black Sea, ancient, rustling,
Stood the lonely, lonely black oak.
Against his bare chest, cold, howling
Wind, dense fog, and frigid waves broke.

The oak stands its ground, like a tiger,
Angrier than a tiger. With
Each wave the sea sends to batter
Him, he sinks new roots in the earth.
1925

Translated by George M. Young

THE GUINEA-FOWL

(Adapted from the Georgian of Georgi Leonidze)
She took me, she flung me down
As a Cherkess warrior flings
His lance – and away to Kakhetia
On her proud, white wings!

Away, then, guinea-fowl, fly!
You stranger, no longer mine:
I’ll praise your wings no longer
When I lift my wine,

And I’ll paint my nails no longer
With saffron and ochre dyes –
Ah, fly to enchant one who dreams
Of your wings, and sighs.

Let him, your lover, feed you
With sweetmeats now, not I:
I shall gather my cloak about me,
I shall not walk by;

I shall live in a Tartar village,
To an old Tari I’ll croon,
And for coat I shall have the rain,
For my hat – the moon.
1925

Translated by John Lehmann

ONCE MORE MEETING THE KIPCHAK

And I blew upon my blade
And touched earth with the tip
Old Folk Poem from Muxrani

Over the steppe, past Karbada
Where partridges arise from the kurgans
I wake up again, resurrected,
Waiting in ambush outside Muxrani
And once more I inspect my weapons.

Along the rivers, Ksani and Aragvi,
Wheat that grows only in Georgia is greening,
And your lips have the sweetness of badagi,
Young Georgian wine in its first bubbling.

It was pheasant hunting time when I first saw you,
It was still then the summer of Rustaveli,
A summer that was all but over,
And I wish I had not drunk so much badagi
And I wish I had not just sharpened my sword.

From one steppe through another steppe, I chased you
Raising the dust on all the roads around.
I broke the locks on the gates of Mtskhetha.
Smashed temples, with their great candles, down!

But he who crushes must himself be crushed,
He who was once incarnate as a Kipchak.
When I met your husband he was wearing a helmet.
He split my head with a single chop.

Come, put your hands on my wound, embrace it.
I can’t see you, the outflow has emptied me,
Like blood from beef, steam from the cauldron
Or from the valley of Kartli, a rising mist.

Come,
It is I calling you after a thousand years,
Reduced to ashes by your body's lightning.
Roses are opening again – it is our sign –
Our time has come for another meeting.
1928

Translated by George M. Young

OLE

1.

Lone tree, on a rock by Liakhvi,
You stand, clothed in tatters, –
Ole,
Ole,
Solitary,
All day and through long nights;
Inside something is burning you –
Poisoned by loneliness,
From inside you have split outward,
Your bark cracked and flaking.
You have grown both straight and crooked
A tree – yet so tiny.

You stand alone, like a gallows,
You – stifled by mountains!
You resemble a hanged eagle,
Your long smashed wings dangling.

You are a nailed-down Pegasus
Unable to lift off;
Blasted by lightning and thunder
You stand, solitary.

2.

Your mind sees the axes coming,
Hurricanes to leave you crippled,
Embittered, and trembling.
Skies dark, in revolt, turn on you,
Hailstones and snow flashing,
You stand, but your bones have melted,
Solitary Ole!

The sea sends a salt wind at you
And clouds circle round you,
Coiling in the sky, the lightning
Turns toward you, hisses, strikes,
The fangs of wind,
Thunder noises
Trying to uproot you!

Your eyes, scratched by icicle points,
No longer see azure,
And sharpened spearpoints of raindrops
Make your heart their target;
The sun, furious fire setter,
Glares down, leaves you smoking
Skin blacked, crackled,
Ravaged, old and
Solitary
Ole!

3.

You are alone, and stand alone,
No brother, no mother,
But March will sew you a chokha
Smartly decorated.
Let your hair be combed by rainfall,
And for milk sip dewdrops....
Stars of the spring constellations
Sitting on your branches
Play from sheer joy the sakravi;
When you hear the golden voices,
Eyes closed, but still seeing –
No one is lonelier than you
No one ever could be,
You, column of tears, of wormwood,
Metamorphosed, Ole.
4.

Who is the one you are seeking,
The one your heart aches for?
To whose light are your limbs waving –
Whose ears do you sing for?

Perhaps it’s one who grew weary,
One too weak to hurry,
One who could not come Saturday
But may come on Sunday!

Perhaps your loved one was poisoned
Secretly – arsenic,
And an empty blouse is blowing
Up the road, storm driven!
Friend, it is time to go looking,
Time for a search party,
Send someone who will call to you
Your little name – Ole!

Greenmantled, the forest calls you,
And the stream, hair tufted;
So long the forest has waited
Waving its hands, thousands.

Contending armies have swept clean
The forest that calls you,
And a strong man from Arkhoti
Rotates a dark iron.
To swing alone will best suit you –
I’ll hold the door open!
Let the wind embrace your shoulders
The wind and its echoes.
Come, let me give my bread to you –
So long since you’ve eaten,
Come and let me hold you
Hold you –
Lamb found by its shepherd!
Come and let me make you happy
A wife to share bed with
You, so long cursed, struck by thunder,
Solitary Ole!

5.

But your golden head, turned upward,
Now sees a sky darkened,
Puffy black clouds loom above you,
Castles with tall towers.

Puffy clouds point the way higher,
Your own skyward ladder,
And skylarks will drape over you
Your brocades and satins.

The sun, more crimson than coral,
Brings to you its greeting,
Touching your roots with its kisses,
Its heart your heart drawing.

Falling stars descend upon you,
Tambourine and drumbeat,
Time for you to blow the bagpipe
Time to play the goli,
They say:
No more colds, no more aching,
No more chills and fever,
Warm as branch with branch embraces,
Solitary Ole.

6.

Ole,
Ole,
By Liakhvi
I watched you that moment:
Inside, something was burning you,
Poisoned by loneliness
From inside, stratum by stratum,
Split layer by layer,
Bark opened by pecking ravens,
A tree – yet so tiny!

*
High above the sky was sparkling,
Below – the Caucasus.
You resemble a hanged eagle,
Your mangled wings dangling...

You, nailed to the earth, Pegasus,
Tear yourself loose, lift off –
From the swaddles of solitude
Step away free, Ole!
Say to them:
If my heart was aching,
Now it aches no longer.
In the milky foam of Liakhvi
You’ll be a raft, floating,
I’ll hew you and I’ll sculpture you
Like finest cut glassware,
In my hall you will be welcomed
As the central pillar,
You will head the long flotilla,
The trees’ supreme leader!

7.

Now come to me
Before thunder
Strikes you,
Leaves you smoking
Blackened, crackled,
Ravaged, old and
Solitary
Ole!
1931

Translated by George M. Young

I SING TO MY COUNTRY

The earnest throbbings of my heart
O'erflood this page, then upward fly,
Where my dear country's fame unfolds
Like golden banners in the sky.

Deep-rooted in my native soil,
I stand beneath my native sky.
No other land can give me life
If my abandons me to die.

My country's light shines ever bright,
Beams flow o'er me like flakes of snow.
I've never wished to live beyond
Her beauty's soil-inspiring glow.

O let my words of fire ascend
The heavens majestic song.
Let my rhymes flow in lofty yerse,
And swell like unchained torrents strong.

The time has come to me to sing,
I gathered all these flowers, see!
With carven ornament I deck
The glory of a new K'art'li.

My heart has found its light at last.
My eyes see K'art'li glorified;
My bossom thrills for my sweet land,
And to her do I sing in pride.
1936

Translated by Venera Urushadze

TO NINA CHAVCHAVADZE

You are faintly glimmering star, and yet your charm
Sheds over me a shower of lustre from the skies.
The clay decays, all things may fade, the world whirls past,
But, beaty true immortal is and never dies.

You are not dead! Your loneliness inspires the poet
To sing of love and joy in melodies of fire.
You were spring's bower where longed-for dreams all came to life,
The sacred covert for the soul and heart's desire.

Beyond your beauty's realm no dawn can e'er exist,
For life receives its life but where your beauty glows;
Yet on your snow-white breast, the sod in clogs was cast,
A breast that none had dared to touch, not even the rose.

A hundred years have passed... I sing your beauty's praise!
A thousand more will pass, and still your splendour's light
Will kindle hearts, O hurricane of loveliness,
As even now mines burns and worships in delight.
1939

Translated by Venera Urushadze

GEORGIAN LANGUAGE

O Georgian language
Light and soft as silk!
I drank you in
Like children drink their milk.

Your salt and honey
Nurtured me – I met
My adulthood
Prepared for pain and sweat.

Now I am both
Your servant and your lord;
At times I’m tortured
By a wayward word,
As others,
With cold dew upon my brow,
I haul them
On my back
I don’t know how.

O Georgian language,
You are all my life,
A vineyard
Which I tend in toil and strife.

You yearn to sing
In sad and happy times.
Like blood you flow
Along the veins of rhymes.

Inspiring
Both the youngster and the sage,
You, like our people,
Know no end nor age.

How glad am I
To serve you, staunch and true,
To speak and write
In you, of you, for you!
1956

Translated by Dorian Rottenberg

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