Georgian poetry is a time-tested tradition, which is both a blessing and a curse. Its antiquity, while valuable, imbues poetry with the status of immutable tradition, creating barriers for those who wish to revitalise it. As a result, bold contemporary works often cause scandal.
The first Georgian rhythmic poem was found on the walls of the Ateni Sioni Church in the 9th century. The tradition reached its first peak with the creation of the most influential Georgian epic work, The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, written in the 12th century.
Ever since, Georgia’s geographical location between Asia and Europe has meant that Georgian poetry revels in both Western and Eastern cultural influences. This synthesis has continued in contemporary Georgian poetry, which offers a diverse range of thought and form, including both free and rhythmic verse, feminist and conservative ideas, social as well as more individualist themes.
“Dance, Salome!” –
The teacher was strict
And did not care that I was tired
Mother kept saying that
I was complaining in vain and
Nobody would have pity on me.
“When you conquer the best knights’ hearts
With your dance,
Think of me” –
Was her reply for my tears.
She would leave me in the mirror hall by myself.
Sunshine rang on the palm branch outside
And my feet longed to run away where
Girls were laughing in summer houses
And whispering about knights all the time.
If you want to learn
You have to dance
From dawn till dusk
Your heart should dictate your feet and arms
Listen not with the ears but with body!
Jungle your bracelets!
Hands are capable to say a lot more than lips,
Do not bend your head!
Look straight forward!
Look up the sky
And if you devote your look to any particular knight
Do not let a smile appear on your forehead.
The teacher was inaccessible and demanding
And even amused to care for the princess.
“Your body is created to get whatever you wish
Without saying a word.
And when you grow up
For just one dance
The whole kingdom
Will be spread under your feet like a carpet;
For just a single dance
Thousands of heads will bow before you,
And you will choose the only one
That will lead you into infinity.
You have to dance a lot till that day comes.”
All aforementioned is defined in the school of chrestomathy as one poem. Bela Chekurishvili is a Georgian poet and prose writer and journalist.
People standing in the shadow and people standing in the light, – I saw them both. Sohrab Sepehri
I don’t remember exactly when
but I remember it did happen:
I saw people happy together,
they strode so archly you would think
they were happy balloons filled with gas.
I saw people in gas chambers
before those chambers were filled with gas.
I saw two fellows on gibbets
with their heads in nooses.
They were looking into each other’s eyes
as if looking at other parts of the body
(which is usually called love)
would lead to the death penalty,
because in their country
that kind of love is punishable.
And they were hanging there
full of death after love
or – call it what you want -
love leading to death.
Hanging stiff, they continued to look
into each other’s eyes.
People in the dark -
looking toward the light
with beseeching eyes.
People in the light -
with shadows of their elongated bodies.
People in side-view,
people seen in direct view.
People with clothing
and people without clothes –
naked as they were at the moment of birth.
I saw all of them and the naked people said:
know that even nakedness can turn out
to be the best clothing ever worn
only if you wrap in it
(as in a monk’s robe)
your innocent heart!
I saw people bathing in money and bathing in shit.
I saw people sleeping and I saw them in sober vigilance.
I saw people in sorrow and in joy.
I saw people in wealth and in poverty.
I saw people singing mirthfully and I heard their songs of lamentation.
I saw people in their faith,
I saw them in their unbelief and got to know
the skepticism of some people usually works better than other people’s faith
as it happens when the death of certain people is livelier than other people’s life.
I saw people when it was cold and I saw them in warmth.
I saw people when it rained and I saw them when it was stormy.
Yes, people I saw… I mean… I remember I saw human beings.
I remember that it did happen
but, unfortunately, I can’t
when it happened
I saw people
Giorgi Lobzhanidze is a Georgian poet, orientalist, translator, and professor at Tbilisi State University.
My husband is going to come home late tonight. My smoked husband.
As he comes his teeth will glare white.
Only from the teeth I can differ my husband from others.
He was light-skinned when I first met him. Now the colour of his skin is near the colour of dust.
Even his voice sounds as if the iron has dissolved in it,
And his eyes are lit up with the heated oil.
My husband changes a lot after being back to this world from a long tunnel deep.
Now he will come soon. He will be muddy. He will enter the doorway bringing some smell.
That’s the smell of the intestines of earth. That’s the smell of the men working side by side with him,
the smell of exhausted workers.
He will come home soon with an empty food container in one hand and with a smoked loaf of bread in the other.
The essence of my husband has touched even a loaf of bread (like me before) and made it black
after he had eaten a small piece of bread when he got hungry on the way home.
Later he sits at the table waiting for a long time for his portion of soup that is followed by
some of my words to be said quickly about the big loans from banks and small ones
from the local grocery store,
and about a new pair of shoes belonging to a neighbour’s child and our children’s shabby school-bags.
There are my words of despair.
He is still sitting looking through the window to the sky.
Then he says: I miss the sky, and stops talking.
I stop to say a word about the books and colouring books and chocolates and new dresses
and a necklace over there in the window of the shop, in short, about everything a human being needs.
And I think: if only he would never lose his hands and feet to be able to go down in the mine.
Eka Kevanishvili is a Georgian poet, prose writer and journalist, currently working as a reporter for Radio Liberty in Tbilisi.
Finally one should refuse to use
Words denoting elemental phenomena,
Especially when depicting
Human spiritual experiences and frames of mind.
Poetry of the present and the future must be able to do without.
I watch through the window.
The rain rains in poems sung for the thousandth time,
The snow snows in poems sung for the thousandth time.
I go outside.
There’s nothing poetic about the wind.
It just makes my trousers flap,
Strikes my face and confuses my thoughts,
Which pretty well confirms
My theoretical deliberations:
Poetry and meteorology
Have over time come to quarrel with each other,
And now’s the time for them
Each to mind their own business.
My grandmother (on my father’s side), Mariam Iatashvili,
Was a meteorologist.
My grandfather (on my mother’s side), Parmen Rurua,
Was a poet.
Since childhood the things that sounded most poetic to me
Were the names of various types of cloud.
My grandmother would point to the sky and teach me,
But a lot of time passed after that.
And today I,
However regrettable and odd it may be,
Am coming out with an exposé
Of the unpoetic nature of meteorology
And the unmeteorological nature of poetry.
I expect you realise,
This is no easy subject.
All the more so if you’ve written lines, like:
“The wind is in the soul, o watery-eyed Maria,
The wind is in the soul, whether it’s dark or day-long light…”
And quite a few similar other things.
Yes this is no easy subject.
But I am nevertheless doing this
So that in future life and poetry
There should be no rain falling from my eyes,
No snow falling on my hair,
No wind lurking in my soul.
I wrote this poem
As a weather forecast for poetry
And I walked out into the street,
Where an unpoetic wind
Flapped my trousers and
Hit my face.
Shota Iatashvili is a Georgian poet, prose writer and literary critic.
Now, the storm has arranged the insane,
set down a different order.
Those at the end are children, like rhymes.
A lunatic poem started as a protest.
My smile is thrown down
like a wounded wing
I can’t lift it, can’t grip it.
A crowd tramples my lips—
it gets worse in the throng’s midst.
I look up—drops like mini-megaphones.
I chase them down and to each one,
read my poems.
It’s odd. Not a single drop lingers with me.
And I remember the sticky stage
in a packed-out house
where, once upon a time
as a child, I foolishly rose
when my mother was dying
and clumsily climbed up on the table
to make God better hear my prayers…
Maia Sarishvili is a Georgian poet and a primary school teacher.
When the sky is about to crash down,
the highly-qualified God
lowers pillars of rain
to support the leaning sky.
That’s why it won’t fall down on us.
That’s why we always can take our chances
when it’s raining.
As it is raining — we have survived…
so many times.
Paata Shamugia is a poet and the President of PEN Georgia.