Hovhannes Shiraz (Onik Karapetian) was born in the city of Alexandrapol (now Giumri) to the family of farmers. He often considered his birthdate as 1915, April 24-28, as a poet born of the 1915 April 24 tragedy of the Armenian people. He passed his childhood in the orphanage. He got his primary education at a local school. He had the gift of painting and sculpture. But then art was not the way to earn living so he had to learn crafts of the smith, carpenter, tin-smith. His first poem, “In the Factory” was published in 1931. Since then he appeared both as Onik Karapetian and Hovhannes Shiraz. The novelist Atrpet named the talented poet “Shiraz”, because “this youth’s poems have the fragrance of roses, fresh and covered with dew, like the roses of Shiraz.” (a city of roses and poets in Iran). Shiraz worked in trades until the publication of his first book of poems, “Spring Dawn” (1935). This was followed by publishing of the poem “Siamanto and Khjezare”. 1936-1941 he studied at philological department of the Yerevan State University. Afterwards he worked as correspondent and literary consultant of the “Soviet Armenia” newspaper where he published many poems. He published also the collections entitled “Teh Voice of the Poet”, “The Book of Songs”, “Lyrics”, “The Armenian Dantean”, “Memorial for my Mother”. “Lyre of Armenia” brought him great fame. He was awarded by the title of laureate of Armenia state premium and the premium after the renowned Armenian poet Hovhannes Toumanyan. Hovhannes Shiraz passed away on March 14, in the days of spring dawn he sang. The great lyrist rests in peace among other notable Armenians in the Pantheon of Greats in Yerevan. Until his death he enjoyed great love of Armenians everywhere. The sources of his poetry come from the roots of the national-popular poem. The popular song and dance, the medieval lyrics and the troubadour poetry have a significant place in his poetic mind, nature being its arsenal. His poetic world encompasses impressions from the birthplace and childhood. the poet perceived the world in continuous renovation. He always followed the traditional, the popular. “It is the heart that commands to the poet, and that heart belongs to the people”, he said. To him poetry was first of all the reflection of the sounds and events, of the perpetual existence of nature. His poetry is overwhelmed with inspired feelings of the human being and nature, love and motherland, the century and eternity which came to life mostly in poetry, also in quatrains, parables, odes and elegies. contemplations on the human being before eternity gave birth to the poem “Biblical” with the eternal man as the main character. It teaches that the pain and suffering purify man from his sins, make him inventive, shrewd and strong, always in search and capable of working miracles, which give meaning to the human aspiration of reaching towards perfection. As the masterpiece of nature, as the king of nature reigning on all springs, the human being, symbolizing the whole of humanity, stands between the heaven and the earth. The poet’s odes to man look into the questions of the mystery of life and death, the way of perfection of man, the good and evil, the meaning and vanity of life. He speaks about the creation of the world and the origin of man. Through hard self recognition the creature travels the way of spiritual development which leads him to perfection (“Masterpiece of Nature”). Odes to the mother are of vital point in odes to the human being. “Memorial for my Mother” is a memorial for the whole humanity indicated in the symbolic character of the mother who is who is pantheism, both a spiritual strength and the good angel of the earthly life. The mother is holy and above everything, she is both the servant and the king of home, both destroyed monastery and standing temple. She is also bears the pain of the whole mankind. Odes to nature are involved in the collections “Spring Dawn” and “Lyre of Nature”. The author looks at nature not only as a source of inspiration but as a guide to bring the shattered public life to its normal. In pursue of this the author shows the contrast between the nature and the civilization and is at pains to heal the mankind by the purity of nature. The poem “Coronation” is an attempt to intermix the life of nature and the life of humanity. It heralds the victory of continuous life, that is eternity. The love songs of Shiraz are a bunch of self forgetting feelings towards the beauty revealed in the woman (“Only Love”, “Love the Conqueror”, “The Melody of Silent Bells Sounded”). The poet sanctifies and deifies love. His odes to love combine all kinds of feelings of love – enflaming, delight, enjoying versus freezing, refusal, loneliness, pain, disappointment and even hatred. In all of this the poet always stresses the purifying strength of love. The patriotic lyrics (“The Grief and immortality of Tigran the Great”, “The Armenian Miracle: Mesrop Mashtots”, “The Sword of Mamikonyan”, “The Wrath of Artavazd”, “The White Horseman in Paris”) is quite extensive comprising the historical past, the rebirth of Armenia, the fate of the Diaspora, the hope of liberating the historical motherland, preserving the Armenian language as the background of national existence, a chain of eras and a bond of memoirs. All of these are internally united. Shiraz lays special emphasis on the role of the Armenian language in the historical fate of the people. The poems “To the Armenian Language”, “The Armenian Language”, “The Migrant Armenian”, “Address to my Desires” glorify the Armenian language and unveil the mystery of immortality of the people that is conditioned by the continuity of the Armenian language. With pain does the poet write about the genocide of Armenian in 1915, the violations by Turks, forced immigration, exile (“The Armenian Dantean”, “Before the Memorial of the Genocide”) The author called the genocide “the sin of sins” on the earth. Another source of his poetry is the mountain Ararat, the symbol of the historical motherland, the unity of Armenians, the unshaken strength of the country and the embodiment of the national memory (“Will”, “Last Will”, “To Ararat”, “My Last Desire”). Hovhannes Shiraz is one of the spiritual biographers of the Armenian people.
English translation by Shant Norashkharian
My son, what shall I will you, what shall I will you, my dear,
That you may remember me in coming sorrow or cheer?
I've no treasures, what treasure, treasure's the light of my eyes,
Only you are my treasure, you treasure of my treasures.
I want to will such treasure for you as your father that
In any other country to will a father cannot;
I am willing that to you which in our great century
Small men have imprisoned and also chained in the clouds;
I will you our mountain so that you take it from black cloud
And bring it home carrying it with our spotless justice,
So that you may throw my dear, even with your poor small paw,
To our side our mountain that's your justice's sea of strength,
And when you bring it, my dear, take my heart out of my tomb,
And toward the free above rise and take with you my heart,
And bury my heart under the snows of Mount Ararat,
So that in my tomb as well it won't be cold from the fire of longing for centuries.
I will you Mount Ararat, that you may keep for ever,
As our language and also as your father's home's pillar.
To Arayig Shiraz
My dear, as much joy as you are feeling,
As much you flower, as much as you sing,
So much roses of oblivion you pour
On the memories of my sad childhood...
Laugh, so my homeless memories may cry,
As I entered life and home I was yet a homeless orphan,
Although I have lost now my poor childhood,
But I have found now thousand gold childhoods.
Among roses, my dear one, you may forget me,
But when the thorns bite you then, call me, I shall come.
Under the sun, in the light, you may forget me,
But when your way is dark then, call me, I shall come.
Wherever I'm in a war or under the earth,
Whenever you fall in pain, call me, I shall come...
Thousand hearts under my chest get ruined,
When your foot touches a stone suddenly...
I have placed my head upon your fortune,
And no matter how many temptation rivers corrupt you,
On all the roads of your life I have placed
My head as a bridge over all of them.
My heart has turned to mother's heart for you,
My heart spreads like field under your feet,
My heart, my dear one, brought you to the world,
I'm the reason for your joy and sorrow...
If any one of your life's roses stings
A thorn into your finger like a tear,
Let that thorn my eye then suddenly sting,
Let my eye's flame then burn all of your thorns...
And him whom my death has brought to the world
That dearest bud life will not sacrifice,
Damned is he who won't hold like a mother
That dearest one like holding earth's future.
My son, be good and always remain good,
Always knead the good in this evil world,
Even in a sea of wickedness one will not become poor
If only a drop of goodness he brings.
Always do goodness, like a pure fountain,
Though the passing flood is cursed but behold,
Yet even the beast will silently bow
Like a thirsty man over the fountain.
The children are calling for me,
The children have not been patient,
The children brought to the city
Flowers of joy from the mountain and the valley.
But how would my dearest ones know
That it's not their pretty flowers,
But they themselves are the spring's life,
They themselves bring for us our spring...
It's cold winter inside and out,
Without dear ones, my heart is cold
Under the snows of my own hair.
Translation Copyright 1996 by Shant Norashkharian
MIRACLE NUMBER 1
Written by Hovhannes Shiraz
Translated from Armenian by Daniel Janoyan
Glendale, California, March 4, 2000
In my dreams my door was knocked at,
"Who is it?" I asked from inside.
Some elderly lady from the outside
Answered and said, "I'd sacrifice myself for you."
"I've come to ask for a piece of bread as charity
I'm a poor orphan woman with no one to support me."
At this point I opened my door immediately,
Only to find a miracle; it was my deceased mother indeed!
I was shocked but fell into her arms;
And my mother said, "It's me, it's me,
I've come to try you and to check on you.
I hope life hasn't changed your spirit and also you?!"
I came in the form of a beggar
So that the whole world can be a witness
To see if your conscience, my dear son,
If your conscience also died along with me?!"
MIRACLE NUMBER II
Written by Hovhannes Shiraz
Translated from Armenian by Daniel Janoyan
Glendale, California, March 4, 2000
In my dreams this time I saw my Dad
Who was revealed to me just like my Mom.
With full of fear and also joy, I fell into his arms
While he came out of his grave and began to caress me.
We wept in bitterness and also sweetly;
My Dad looked around,
Smiled to Mount Aragats* tenderly
And then said, "My son is alive indeed!"
But when my elderly father looked at Mount Ararat*,
He looked at me in suspicion,
"In what way can you call yourself my son
When our home is now left to be half empty?"
My Dad once again died due to sorrow and misery
And said to me, "My son, if you want me
And my soul to rest in peace,
Don't let my home be half empty...!"
Mount Aragats and Mount Ararat are looked upon as symbols of inspiration to Armenians all over the world. Many poems, literary works, paintings and musical compositions have been devoted to these sacred mountains.
We were peaceful as our mountains,
You invaded like savage storms.
We rose against you like our mountains,
You howled like savage storms.
But we are eternal as our mountains,
You will die out like savage storms.
Oak and Eagle
I placed my heart inside an ancient oak;
The drooping oak greened again,
Towered high, stood against the wind,
And, restored to youth, rustled in contentment.
And my lovetorn heart, so eager to soar,
I put in the breast of a dying eagle;
The dying eagle spread wing and rose high,
To prey again as in the days of its youth.