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Poem: The Nightingale of Avarair

 

By Father Ghevond Alishan

Translated by Alice Stone Blackwell

Grigor Khanjyan, Battle of Vardanank, 1995-1998, tempera, 580 x 670 cm

WHENCE dost thou come, O moon, so calmly and softly;
Spreading o’er mountain, valley, and plain thy light,
And over me the Patriarch, wandering sadly,
With wandering thoughts, in Avarair to-night?

Here where our matchless, brave Armenian fathers
Fell as giants, as angels to rise anew,
Com’st thou to spread o’er the bones of the saints a cover
Of golden thread, from thy cloud of snowy hue ?

Or dost thou think, though thy brow be bright already,
Adornment of heroes’ blood would become it well ?
Or dost thou still, in silence and secret, wonder
To think how the great and terrible Vartan fell,

Giving his enemies’ lives to the shades of darkness,
And giving his spirit into the hands of God ?
And thou, O River Deghmoud, thou flowest lamenting
Amid thy reeds, sad river bestained with blood.

And thou, O wind from Manguran’s upland blowing,
Or Ararat’s sacred summit, gray-haired and hoar,
Thou, too, like me, uncertain and trembling movest,
On faint wings passing the mountains and valleys o’er.

From forest to forest, from leaf to leaf, lamenting,
Thou comest upon the plains, in pale moonshine,
To carry unto Armenian hearts the echo
Of the last sighs of this worn heart of mine.

Nightingale, voice of the night, little soul of the roses.
Friend of all mournful hearts that with sorrow are sighing!
Sing, little nightingale, sing me a song from that hillock,
Sing with my soul of Armenia’s heroes undying!

Thy voice in the cloister of Thaddeus reached me and thrilled me;
My heart, that was close to the cross, in a reverie grave,
Suddenly bounded and throbbed; from the cross I hastened to seek thee —
Came forth and found thee here, on the field of Vartan the brave.

Nightingale, this is the tale that of thee our fathers have told us:
That Avarair’s nightingale, singing so sweetly at daylight’s dim close,
Is not a bird, but a soul,—it is Yeghishe’s[1] sweet-voiced spirit,
That sees the image of Vartan for aye in the red-blooming rose.

In winter he walks alone, and mourns in the midst of the desert;
In spring comes to Avarair, to the bush with roses aflame,
To sing and to call aloud, with Yeghishe’s voice, upon Vartan,
To see whether Vartan perchance will answer when called by his name.

If like the voice of a nightingale faint and Weary,
Sons of Togarmah, my voice shall reach your ears,—
Sons of the great, whose valiant and virtuous fathers
Filled plains, books, and the heavens, in former years,—

If one small drop of blood from Armenia’s fountain,
The fount of Bahlav, flow into your bosoms’ sea,—
If you would that your country’s glories for you be written,
Come forth to Ardaz with your Patriarch, come with me!

 

Notes

[1] Yeghishe was an Armenian historian of the fifth century, a contemporary of Vartan. In his history of the Persian invasion he compares Vartan drenched in his blood, to the red rose.

 

Father Ghevond Alishan (Armenian: Ղեւոնդ Ալիշան) (1820-1901; also spelled Ghevonդ Alishan) was an ordained Armenian Catholic priest, historian and a poet

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