Saturday, December 16, 2017

Shota Rustaveli: The Knight in the Tiger Skin

 

The Knight in the Tiger Skin by Shota Rustaveli is recognized as one of the greatest works to have been created by human genius.

Shota rustaveli fresco from JerusalemShota Rustaveli Fresco in the Monastery of the Cross, JerusalemEight centuries separate us from the author of this immortal epic, but even today its life-affirming passion, shining humanity and heroic spirit, the ideas of patriotism and internationalism that it embodies and the elevated human feelings and moral ideals it expresses link this great literary monument of the distant past with the spiritual world of all freedom-loving peoples.

Rustaveli's epic has become part of the heritage of all mankind. No less than the people for whom it was written, Europeans and Asians, Americans and Africans can gain from this work something more than a romantic, knightly tale brilliantly told in verse.

For centuries Rustaveli's work, the product of an unknown world and written in a still unstudied tongue, survived only in the native land of the poet, out of the Caucasus mountains in the gorges of the rivers Chorokhi, Rioni, Kura and Alazani.

For world culture the appearance of The Knight in the Tiger Skin was akin to a major archaeological discovery. The Russian public figure, Yevgeny Bolkhovitinov, was the first person of the larger world to take note of this priceless treasure. Writing soon after Georgia joined Russia in 1802, he observed enthusiastically of the poem that "the scenes of action resemble those of Ariosto's poem Orlando Furioso, but the beauty, the originality of the pictures, the naturalness of the ideas and sensations are Ossianic".

Bled white by its enemies, Georgia had slumbered for six centuries. Now, through the North, it was returning to the European civilization to which it had been linked for many centuries through the South before the Mongol invasion.

The Knight in the Tiger Skin was written on the eve of the fatal catastrophe which befell Georgia in the "golden age" of its history, when this small but powerful feudal country stood at the height of its political, economic and spiritual renaissance. Scarcely had the book appeared than Georgia was for many centuries torn from the outside world, its once famed culture known only to very few.

Even in the 19th century, although Rustaveli's epic had been noted and many had tried to bring it, if only in part, to the knowledge of the world. The Knight in the Tiger Skin remained an enigma to the foreign reader.

The Knight in the Tiger Skin. Introduction

Translation by Marjory Scott Wardrope

1

HE who created the firmament, by that mighty power made beings inspired from on high with souls celestial; to us men He has given the world, infinite in variety we possess it; from Him is every monarch in His likeness.

2

O ONE God! Thou didst create the face of every form! Shield me, give me mastery to trample on Satan, give me the longing of lovers lasting even unto death, lightening the sins I must bear thither with me.

3

OF that lion whom the use of lance, shield and sword adorns, of the queen, the sun T'hamar, the ruby-cheeked, the jet-haired, of her I know not how I shall dare to sing the manifold praise; they who look upon her cannot but taste choice sweets.

4

BY shedding tears of blood we praise Queen T'hamar, whose praises I, not ill-chosen, have told forth. For ink I have used a lake of jet and for pen a pliant crystal. Whoever hears, a jagged spear will pierce his heart!

5

SHE bade me indite sweet verses in her praise, laud her eyebrows and lashes, her hair, her lips and teeth, cut crystal and ruby of Badakhshan arrayed in ranks. An anvil of soft lead breaks even hard stone.

6

NOW want I tongue, heart and skill for utterance! Grant me strength! And if I have aid from thee I shall have understanding, so may we succour Tariel; tenderly indeed should we cherish his memory and that of the three star-like heroes wont to serve one another.

7

COME, let us sit and shed a never-drying tear for Tariel’s sake. In truth none like him has ever been. I sat me down, I, Rust'hveli, indited a poem, my heart pierced with a lance. Hitherto the tale has been told as a tale; now is it a pearl of measured poesy.

8

I, RUSTHVELI, have composed this work by the folly of my art. For her whom a multitude of hosts obey, I lose my wits, I die! I am sick of love, and for me there is no cure from anywhere, unless she give me healing or the earth a grave.

9

THIS Persian tale, now done into Georgian, has hitherto been like a pearl of great price cast in play from hand to hand; now I have found it and mounted it in a setting of verse; I have done a praiseworthy deed. The ravisher of my reason, proud and beautiful, willed me to do it.

10

EYES that have lost their light through her long to look on her anew; lo! my heart is mad with love, and it is my lot to run about the fields. Who will pray for me? The burning of the body sufficeth, let the soul have comfort! The verse in praise of the three like heroes cannot but affect the hearer.

11

WITH what Fate gives to a man, therewithal should he be content, and so speak of it. The labourer should ever work, the warrior be brave. So, also, should the lover love Love, and recognize it. Neither must he disdain the love of another, or that other disdain his.

12

MINSTRELSY is, first of all, a branch of wisdom; the divine must be hearkened to divinely, and wholesome is to them that hearken; it is pleasant, too, if the listener be a worthy man; in few words he utters a long discourse: herein lies the excellence of poetry.

13

LIKE a horse is tested in a great race on a long course, like a ball-player in the lists striking the ball fairly and aiming adroitly at the mark, even so is it with the poet who composes and indites long poems, and reins in his horse when utterance is hard for him and verse begins to fail.

14

THEN, indeed, behold the poet, and his poesy will be manifest. When he is at a loss for words, and verse begins to fail, he will not weaken the verse, nor will he let the verse grow poor. Let him strike cunningly with the polo-mallet; he will show great virtue.

15

HE who utters, somewhere, one or two verses cannot be called a poet; let him not think himself equal to great singers. Even if they compose a few discrepant verse from time to time, yet if they say, "Mine are of the best!" they are stiff-necked mules.

 

16

SECONDLY, lyrics which are but a small part of poetry and cannot command heart-piercing word - may liken them to the bad bows of young hunters who cannot kill big game; they are able only to slay the small.

17

THIRDLY, lyrics are fit for the festive, the joyous, the amorous, the merry, for pleasantries of comrades; they please us when they are clearly sung. Those are not called poets who cannot compose a lengthy work.

18

THE poet must not spend his toil in vain. One should seem to him worthy of love; he must be devoted to one, he must employ all his art for her, he must praise her, he must set forth the glory of his beloved; he must wish for nought else, for her alone must his tongue be tuneful.

19

NOW let all know that I praise her whom I erstwhile praised; in this I have great glory, I feel no shame. She is my life; merciless as a leopard is she. Her name I pronounce hereafter praising her allegorically.

20

I SPEAK of the highest love-divine in its kind. It is difficult to discourse thereon, ill to tell forth with tongues. It is heavenly, upraising the soul on pinions. Whoever strives thereafter must indeed have endurance of many griefs.

21

SAGES cannot comprehend that one Love; the tongue will tire, the ears of the listeners will become wearied; I must tell of lower frenzies, which befall human beings; they imitate it when they wanton not, but faint from afar.

22

IN the Arabic tongue they call the lover "madman", because by non-fruition he loses his wits. Some have nearness to God, but they weary in the flight; then again, to others it is natural to pursue lovely women.

23

TO a lover, beauty, like unto the sun, wisdom, wealth, generosity, youth and leisure are fitting; he must be eloquent, intelligent, patient, a conqueror of mighty adversaries; who is not all these lacks the qualities of a lover.

24

LOVE is tender, a thing hard to be known. True love is something apart from lust, and cannot be likened thereto; it is one thing; lust is quite another thing, and between them lies a broad boundary; in no way do thou mingle them - hear my saying!

25

THE lover must be constant, not lewd, impure and faithless; when he is far from his beloved he must heave sigh upon sigh; his heart must be fixed on one from whom he endures wrath or sorrow if need be. I hate heartless love-embracing, kissing, loud smacking of the lips.

26

LOVERS, call not this thing love: when any longs for one to-day and another to-morrow, bearing parting's pain. Such base sport is like mere boyish trifling; the good lover is he who suffers a world's woe.

27

THERE is a noblest love; it does not show, but hides its woes; the lover thinks of it when he is alone, and always seeks solitude; his fainting, dying, burning, flaming, all are from afar; he must face the wrath of his beloved, and he must be fearful of her.

28

HE must betray his secret to none, he must not basely groan and put beloved to shame; in nought should he manifest his love, nowhere must he reveal it; for her sake he looks upon sorrow as joy, for her sake he would willingly be burned.

29

HOW can the sane trust him who noises his love abroad, and what shall it profit to do this? He makes her suffer, and he himself suffers. How should he glorify her if he shame her with words? What need is there for man to cause pain to the heart of his beloved!

30

I WONDER why men show that they love the beloved. Why shame they her whom they love, her who slays herself for them, who is covered with wounds? If they love her not, why do they not manifest to her feelings of hatred? Why do they disgrace what they hate? But an evil man loves an evil word more than his soul or heart.

31

IF the lover weep for his beloved, tears are his due. Wandering and solitude befit him, and must be esteemed as roaming. He will have time for nothing but to think of her. If he be among men, it is better that he manifest not his love.

Story of Rostevan, King of the Arabians

32

THERE was in Arabia Rostevan, a king by the grace of God, happy, exalted, generous, modest, lord of many hosts and knights, just and gracious, powerful, far-seeing, himself a peerless warrior, moreover, fluent in speech.

33

NO other child had the king save one only daughter, the shining light of the world, to be ranked with nought but the sunny group; whoever looked on her, she bereft him of heart, mind and soul. It needs a wise man to praise her, and ten thousand times a thousand tongues.

34

HER name is T'hinat'hin; let it be famous! When she had grown up to full womanhood, she contemned even the sun. The king called his viziers, seated himself, proud yet gentle, and, placing them by his side, began to talk graciously to them.

35

HE said: "I will declare to you the matter on which we are to take counsel together. When the flower of the rose is dried and withered it falls, and another blooms in the lovely garden. The sun is set for us; we are gazing on a dark, moonless night.

36

"MY day is done; old age, most grievous of all ills. Weighs on me; if not to-day, then to-morrow I die - this is the way of the world. What light is that on which darkness attends? Let us instate as sovereign my daughter, of whom the sun is not worthy."

37

THE viziers said: "O king, why do you speak of your age? Even when the rose fades we must needs give it its due; it still excels all in scent and fair colour. How can a star declare enmity even to the waning moon!

38

"SPEAK not then thus, O king. Your rose is not yet faded. Even bad counsel from you is better than good counsel from another. It was certainly fitting to speak about what your heart desires. It is better. Give the kingdom to her who prevails against the sun.

39

"THOUGH indeed she be a woman, still as sovereign she is begotten of God. She knows how to rule. We say not this to flatter you; we ourselves, in your absence, often say so. Her deeds, like her radiance, are revealed bright as sunshine. The lion's whelps are equal, be they male or female."

40

AVT'HANDIL was Spaspeti, son of the Amirspasalari. He was more graceful than the cypress; his presence was like sun and moon. Still beardless, he was to be likened to famous crystal and enamel. The beauty of the host of T'hinat'hin's eyelashes was slaying him.

41

HE kept his love hidden in his heart. When he was absent and saw her not, his rose faded; when he saw her, the fires were renewed, his wound smarted more. Love is pitiable; it makes man heart-slain.

42

WHEN the king commanded that his daughter should be enthroned as king, gladness came upon Avt'handil; the fire that was burning Avt'handil was extinguished. He said to himself: "Often will it now fall to my lot to gaze upon her crystal face; perchance I may thus find a cure for my pallor."

43

THE great sovereign of the Arabs published throughout Arabia an edict: "I, her father, appoint my T'hinat'hin queen; she shall illumine all, even as the shining sun. Come and see, all ye who praise and extol!"

44

ALL the Arabians came; the crowd of courtiers increased. The sun-faced Avt'handil, chief of ten thousand times a thousand soldiers, the vizier Sograt, the nearest to the king of all his attendants. When they placed the throne the people said: "Its worth is beyond words!"

45

T'HINAT'HIN, radiant in countenance, was led in by her sire. He seated her, and with his own hands set the crown on her head; he gave her the sceptre, and clad her in the royal robes. The maiden looks on with understanding, all-seeing, like the sun.

46

THE king and his armies retired and did homage. They blessed her and established her as queen, many from many places told forth her praises; the trumpets were blown and the cymbals sounded sweetly. The maiden wept, she shed many tears; she drooped her eyelashes, the tail feathers of the raven.

47

SHE deemed herself unworthy to sit on her father's throne; therefore she weeps, filling the rose-garden with tears. The king admonishes her: "Every father hath a peer in his child," quoth he. "Until now the raging fire in my bosom has not been extinguished."

48

HE said: "Weep not, daughter, but hearken to my counsel : To-day thou art queen of Arabia, appointed sovereign by me; henceforth this kingdom is entrusted to thee; mayest thou be discreet in thy doings, be modest and discerning.

49

"SINCE the sun shines alike on roses and middens, be not thou weary of mercy to great and small. The generous binds the free, and he who is already bound will willingly obey. Scatter liberally, as the seas pour forth again the floods they have received.

50

"MUNIFICENCE in kings is like the aloe planted in Eden. All, even the traitor, are obedient to the generous. It is very wholesome to eat and drink, but what profits it to board? What thou givest away is thine; what thou keepest is lost."

51

THE maiden hearkened discreetly to this her father's advice, she lent ear, she heard, she wearied not of instruction. The king drank and sported; he was exceeding joyful. T'hinat'hin contemned the sun, but the sun was like to T'hinat'hin.

52

SHE sent for her faithful, trusty tutor, and said: "Bring hither all my treasure sealed by thee, all the wealth belonging to me as king's daughter. " He brought it; she gave without measure, without count, inexhaustibly.

53

THAT day she gave away all she had gathered since her childhood; she enriched both small folk and great. Then she said: "I do the deed my father taught me; let none keep back any of my hoarded treasure."

54

SHE said: "Go, open whatever treasure there is! Master of the Horse, lead in the droves of asses, mules, and horses. He brought them. She gave them away without measure; she wearied not of generosity. The soldiers gathered together stuff like pirates.

55

THEY pillaged her treasury as 'twere booty from Turks; they carried off her fine, sleek Arab steeds. Her munificence was like a snowstorm whirling down from the sky; none remained empty, neither youth nor maiden.

56

ONE day passed; there was a banquet, food and drink - a feast of fruit. A great gathering of warriors sat there to make merry. The king hung his head, and his brow was furrowed with sadness. They began to discuss this one with another: "What weighs upon him, and why grieves he?"

57

AT the head sat the sun-faced Avt'handil, desirable to them that look upon him, the agile leader of the hosts; like a tiger and a lion is he. The old vizier Sograt sat by his side. They said one to the other: "What ails the king, and why has he grown pale?"

58

THEY said: "Some unpleasant thought has come into the king's mind, for nothing has happened here to make him sad."Quoth Avt'handil: "Let us inquire, O Sograt, let him tell us why he is displeased with us; let us venture on some pleasantry; why hath he shamed us?"

59

SOGRAT and the graceful Avt'handil arose; each filled his winecup, and with meek mien drew nigh. Then with smiling faces they cast themselves on their knees before the king. The vizier sportively spoke thus, with eloquent words.

60

"YOU look sad, O king; there is no longer a smile on your face. Thou art right, for, lo! your daughter with lavish hand has given away all your rich and costly treasure. Make her not queen at all; why bring grief on thyself?"

61

WHEN the king heard him he looked up with a smile. He marvelled how he had ventured thus, how he dared to speak such words! "Well hast thou done!" He thanked his vizier. He confirmed this what he said: "He who lays avarice to my charge is a lying chatterer.

62

"THAT afflicts me not, O vizier. This it is that troubles me: Old age draws nigh; I have spent the days of youth, and nowhere in our dominions is there a man who hath learned from me the knightly arts.

63

"IT is true I have a daughter tenderly nurtured, but God has given me no son; I suffer in this fleeting life. There is none to be compared with me in archery or at the game of ball. It is true that Avt'handil resembles me somewhat, thanks to my teaching."

64

THE proud youth hearkened modestly to these words of the king; with bent head he smiled. Well did a smile befit him; his shining white teeth gleamed like sunshine on a mead. The king asked: "Why smilest thou? Or why wert thou shy of me?"

65

YET again he said: "Why dost thou laugh at me? What is laughable in me?" The youth replied: "I shall tell you if you grant me leave to speak. With what I say be not offended, be not wroth, blame me not, call me not bold, ruin me not for this!"

66

HE anwered: "How can I take aught thou sayst as displeasing?" He took an oath by the sun of T'hinat'hin, that contemner of the sun. Avt'handil said: "Then will I speak boldly; vaunt not yourself of your archery, it is better to speak modestly.

67

"I, AVT'HANDIL, earth under feet, am an archer before you; let us lay a wager; let your armies attend as witnesses. 'Who is like me in the lists?' said you - vain indeed is denial!-that is decided by the ball and the field."

68

"I WILL not let thee thus dispute with me! Say the word, let us draw the bow; do not shirk. Let us make good men witnesses of our rivalry; then in the field it will be manifest whose praises should be sung."

69

AVT'HANDIL obeyed; they ceased their discourse. They laughed, they sported like children, lovingly and becomingly they behaved. They fixed the wager, and laid down this condition: Whoever shall be beaten, let him go bareheaded for three days.

70

THE king commanded, moreover: "Let twelve slaves be chosen to attend us, twelve to give me arrows and wait upon me; Shermadin alone is for thee; he is equal to them. Let them count the shots and the hits, and give a faithful, unerring report."

71

TO the huntsmen he said: "Travel over the plain, beat in many droves, go yourselves to do this, invite the soldiers to look on, assemble and close round!" The festivity and banquet broke up; there were we pleasantly merry.