Book Review: “Three Poems” by Vazha-Pshavela

Three poems by Vazha-Pshavela translated by Donald Rayfield. The three poems are Host and Guest, Aluda and Snake Eater.

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Vazha-Pshavela is one of the giants of Georgian literature. I often ask my Georgian students who their favourite writer is and Vazha Pshavela comes up in more responses than any other writer. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, so I was happy to find this English translation of his poems at Dry Bridge Market. This was published in Soviet times in 1981. Unfortunately, the translation didn’t inspire me, I don’t know why. It may be that Georgian is so difficult to translate meaninglfully into English, particularly when it comes to poetry. Donald Rayfield has translated many Georgian writers and written books on Georgian Literature, he is an expert on the subject.

My wife and friends in Khevsureti

Maybe, I will just have to learn Georgian, so I can appreciate the original words. The three poems are about the Khevsurs and their conflict with the Chechens set against a backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains . It is about heroes and shows the problems raised by the interaction of the individual with a mountain society. In the Snake Eater , Mindia, a captive attempts to kill himself by eating a snake: “Mindia thought, if he ate the snake he would be free of his troubled life.” but instead of dying he gains occult powers: “from that day on he understood what birds sang, plants and animals spoke when they were glad or suffering.” Vazha-Pshavela is also writes idiosyncratic and evocative depictions of Nature – for which he felt a deep love. In Host and Guest , Joqola, a Muslim and Zviadauri, a Christian meet by accident as they are hunting in a damp forest. Joqola invites his new companion to his home to celebrate their kill but this hospitality flouts the tradition of enmity between the two tribes and Musa, the rabble rouser, turns on Joqola:

You headstrong fool, we’ll tie you too, if you defy the common voice. How dare you mutiny against that which we decree is right?

One thought on “Book Review: “Three Poems” by Vazha-Pshavela

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Tolstoy Selected Stories” by Leo Tolstoy – Blog #2

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