Last February when thousands demonstrated against
presidential election violations, passionate speeches
from politicians were followed by actor Vladimir
Abajyan's, who recited a poem: "People are
What he likes most of all,
Best of all in his life,
Is his... chair.
He loves it,
He woos it,
He creeps to proceed,
At all costs he crawls to it,
And thus he climbs up to sit
on the shoulders of the world.
The words belong to Paruir Sevak, and perhaps
no others could be so in tune with speeches about
seizure of power, fraud and injustices. And even
if another such poem does exist it probably is
one of Sevak's.
January 26 marked the 80th anniversary of Paruir
Conservatory teacher of Armenian language Biurakn
Andreasyan says that for 20 years students have
been naming Paruir Sevak and Vahan Teryan as their
favorite poets and, without waiting for their
tutor to give them homework, with great pleasure
have recited Sevak by heart.
The poet died 33 years ago, but Sevakamania is
"Sevak makes you think. You cannot read
his works just mechanically. After you read them
you start thinking of people's states of mind,
hypocrisy, different expressions of love, faith
and history of Armenia," says 18 year old
Gayane Melkomyan. "His comparisons are very
unique, his works are both simple and complicated."
Unlike the flowery, pastoral images and landscape
metaphors of his contemporaries, Sevak's Armenia
is the modern city and urban spirit - calculators,
trams, theatre and concert bills attached to walls,
airplanes and so forth.
His poetry explains in a simple manner the unexplainable:
"First love is like first loaf, it always
burns and you can't help it."
"I hate your name as you probably hate
my hands that used to stroke you
if I have
a girl she will bear your name . . ."
"You - three letters, you - an ordinary
pronoun but with these three letters I become
an owner of this entire world."
But coupled with this simplicity is a clever
layering that reveals hidden possibilities from
the Armenian language. Many poets wrote their
first lines, influenced by Sevak's catchy rhythms
and precise words.
Later, though, some of those protégés
criticized Sevak's work as being too commercial,
written with exaggerated civic pathos and overdone.
(He is among the most wordy poets, as was evidenced
by the publication of a two-volume glossary of
words used by Sevak.)
Sevak's obstinate spirit boils the blood of youth,
captured in such phrases as:
"Without going mad nobody would win
and words would never turn into songs if they
didn't go crazy
I wish I were always crazy."
"I would like to erase the word 'cautious'
at the expense of life."
"I would like to turn irregularity into
If the Western youth movements of 1960s were
reflected in Armenian poems, the epoch of that
era would be Sevak's poetry books "The Man
in the Palm of Your Hand" and "Let There
be Light", which are the wreath of his creative
work. It is a poetry against bureaucracy, philistinism,
moral dogmas and hypocrisy.
There was little or no dissident literature in
Soviet Armenia. Through compromise during those
years Armenian writers managed to publish their
books and become "legitimate" creators.
Sevak was one of four famous contemporary poets,
who didn't become a member of the Communist Party.
People used to tell stories about his disobedience
towards the authorities. For instance, once he
was ordered to visit the Central Committee of
the Communist Party and was told that he had said
that members of the Central Committee are Turks.
Sevak answered that "Turks" is normal
as there are good people among them but you are
worse than Turks as you are not people.
Sevak was not a "legitimate person"
among all "legitimate persons", he was
the rebel among the temperate. He was the one
who could talk to the upper class of the Communist
Party but he always was a clown, who tells the
king all the truth:
You see, it is a child's play for me
To provide a plank with brain folds,
To prepare chicken-feed from brain,
And then a public meal of that chicken-feed.
However, one day his disobedience ran afoul and
the Central Committee prohibited publication of
his "Let There be Light" and protests
against his previously published poetry flooded
Subtexts and symbols of poems from "Let
There be Light" which secretaries of the
Central Committee dug out and found between the
lines, criticize Soviet methods. As it is written
in "Source of Light":
Our rear is a dark one indeed:
It's from books that we learn of our past;
Yet our front is darker still:
The books declare our future.
Darkness in front of, darkness behind us,
We are caught in between.
"Let There be Light" was published
in Beirut after Sevak's death. It brought the
times of nonconformist literature closer, but
it was not until several years later that it was
published in Yerevan. And even then, it had some
A society looking for the personification of
their protests against cruel methods and injustices,
discovered Sevak. And in 1971, when he died (at
age 47) in a car accident, hypotheses of Sevak's
death were spread. His death is still a mystery
and still discussed: Accident or murder?
"Those days I was deader than Sevak,"
says the poet's first wife Maya Avagyan. "I
couldn't come to my senses and I didn't ask whether
he was killed or not. Later I was asking one of
his friends, who was holding a high post in the
Party, of only one thing: to find that truck,
which was the cause of the accident, however,
they never found it."
She remembers Sevak sitting cross-legged on a
sofa for many hours and writing in his notebook.
She says he had only one weakness: women.
Sevak's funeral turned into national sorrow.
His body was taken from Yerevan to Sovetashen
village, where he was born. For 100 kilometers
those who loved him escorted his body, while fans
came out of villages to stand at the roadside
with lines from his poems written on posters.
Of his own art (in "The Birth of a Poet")
The poet's "work is a bottle thrown into
the sea by a drowning sailor asking for help.
Will the Sea of Time ever bring the bottle ashore?"
A year ago waves of demonstrations brought ashore,
next to the Matenadaran, the bottle he had thrown
To see the shores of verity,
To witness to the falsehood of the liar;
So that you will not be afraid
To unmask the face of injustice.
One has shouldered the world,
While the other is sitting on its shoulders.
(Poems translated by Marine Petrosyan)