Hovhannes Toumanian

(19 February 1869 - 23 March 1923 / Dsegh, Lori Province)

The Capture Of Fort Temuk - Poem by Hovhannes Toumanian

Prologue

Come hither, poor and gentle folk,
Lend an ear and listen well.
A wandering bard from distant parts,
A wondrous tale will I tell.
We are all but guests in this mortal world
Since the day we get our birth,
We come and go, each in his turn
To and from this fleeting earth.
Both love and laughter must disappear,
As will beauty, treasure and throne
Death is for us, we are for death,
Man’s work is immortal alone.
Only noble deeds will never die
Through the centuries gloried and famed.
Happy the man who through his deeds
Wins an immortal name.
Yet the evil-doer lives too without end,
Cursed be his baneful deed,
Be it your father, mother or son
Or the woman you love and need!
I sing my praise to the deed benign;
Unthrone it, whoever can!
For who, even foes, will not admire
The deeds of a kindly man?
I wish you all the best of luck!
Now listen to what I tell;
Watch my word like a bullet fly,
Shot by a hunter aiming well.
I
Nadir, the Shah, mustered his troops
Soldiers in countless hosts
And he beleaguered Temuk Fort,
Like a night full of fiends and ghosts.
“Hey, brave Tatul!” the Shah called out,
“You think you will never die?
Come! For it is your death I have brought,
While you on your soft bed lie.”
“Do not swagger, boastful Nadir!”
Cried the giant in reply.
“A mountain will never bow its peak,
Though the blackest clouds sweep by.”
He called his warriors, daring and bold,
He buckled his shining sword,
Then sprang and mounted his charger swift
And rode afield from the Fort.
For forty days and for forty nights
The battle raged without cease;
So many corpses remained from the fight,
They topped the Fort in their heaps.
Iran and Turan had all arrived,
Yet they couldn’t conquer the giant.
Army, slingshots were all destroyed,
But the fortress still stood, defiant.
Back to the Fort at last he came
Victorious, on the morn,
The dark-eyed beauty, his youthful wife,
Awaiting his return.

II

If ever a minstrel,
I swear by my soul,
A woman like that could boast,
Without any weapon
Or army he could
March against any shah’s host.
Whenever they smile,
Those lovely eyes,
Fountains of love and fire,
The night becomes bright
As broad daylight
And banished are gloom and ire.
If they wish you victory,
Rose-petal lips,
When you come the foe to meet,
Then no Shah Nadir
Nor death, nor fear,
No army your might can beat.

III

On the field of battle, before the Shah,
The woman’s beauty was praised.
The loveliest houri in all Iran
Could not equal her charm and grace.
This daughter of Javakh had eyes like the sea!
Men sank and were lost in her gaze.
Her forehead was whiter than any snow
That the lofty Abul displays.
She was Prince Tatul’s living breath and soul,
The hero was drunk with her love.
He drew his might from her winning smile;
The lion gained power from the dove.
If the great Shah, could win over her heart,
Tatul, powerless, would be at his feet,
Then with ease he could capture Temuk Fort,
Which so long had withstood defeat.

IV

Here is how the immortal Farsi Firdousi,
The sweet nightingale, once opined;
Who in the world a hero could crush
If not for women
And wine?
With his radiant, sun-like face he stands
Like a mountain, proud and fine.
Who could level him with the ground
If not for women
And wine?
As if he were dancing, he goes to the fray,
As on wings he seems to fly.
Who could bring him down from his soaring flight
If not for women
And wine?
If even the whole world fell upon him
He would thwart the evil design.
Rustam Zal himself could not conquer him
If not for women
And wine?

V

So the Shah despatched his beloved bard
“Go, see her and ask her health.
Sing my love,” he said, “to the lady fair,
Tell her of my glory and wealth.
“Promise to her my throne of gold,
Promise all that she ever desired.
Promise whatever a shah can pledge
To his lady-love or his bride.”
Where the Shah could not enter by cunning or force
They welcome the bard with his saz.
So one day a minstrel, old and poor,
Through the gates of Temuk did pass.

VI

The walls of Temuk they trembled and shook
As Tatul stood against the Shah;
As foes dealt foes the most terrible blows,
Blood flowed like a sea, wide and far.
As foes dealt foes the most terrible blows,
Blood flowed like a sea, wide and far,
The minstrel sang of the glory and wealth
And the boundless love of his Shah.
While the lady fair of Temuk did attend
With secret shame she quailed,
Torn apart by temptation dire
Which to defeat she failed.
“Do you hear me, o lady fair of this Fort,
Charming beyond compare?
Look at the Shah; of his boundless might,
Of his wealth are you aware?
“Yet like us, he too, is a frail, weak man,
Which a beauty may captive take.
A jewelled crown would befit your brow,
A majestic queen would you make. . .
The lady fair of Temuk did attend
All of a night and a day.
She grew silent, meditative and pale,
And her sleep did flee away.

VII

Home from the battle came Prince Tatul,
Victorious, with his troop.
He wiped his sword, put it back in its sheath,
And the Fort shook with joy to its roof.
His lovely mistress put up a great feast,
Turned dark night into sunlit day.
The wines they flowed like a welling tide
As her lord whiled the night away.
The flower-like lady she moved about
And table by table did pass.
She bade them be merry and of good cheer
And left empty no goblet or glass.
'Raise your goblets, my valiant guests,
And here’s to my brave Tatul.
God bless both him and his sabre sharp,
Whose triumph was fast and full!”
“O Gracious God, make sharper the sword
Of our brave Tatul! May his land
Ever be shielded from enemies
By the power of his bounteous hand.”
And it echoed and shook, did Fort Temuk,
With joyous festivity,
It thundered with the triumphant songs
And resounded with manly glee.
“Is it an eagle swooping down
From the gloomy clouds like an arrow?”
“No, ‘tis Tatul from Fort Temuk
Striking fear into enemy marrow.
“Is it a dark cloud or lightning dread
Rumbling in Temuk Dale?”
“No, ‘tis Tatul fighting his foes,
And his sword that makes them pale.”
“What mountain eagle can equal Tatul?
What shah can oppose his sword?”
And neither did wine ever cease to flow
Nor the songs in praise of their lord.
To the flower-like beauty that bloomed on their rocks
Toasts like thunder were roared.
They drank to the glory of fighting men
Shedding blood for their country’s love;
To the memory of their fallen friends
Now looking at them from above.
The flower-like lady she moved about
And table by table did pass,
She bade them be merry and of good cheer,
And left empty no goblet or glass.
“O Hostess Dear, upon our word,
We can surely drink no more.
Forsooth, we have drunk and eaten our full,
‘Well pleased, yet tired are we sore.
Then silence fell, and in darkness wrapped
Peace came on Temuk Fort.
Drunk and fatigued, in the darkness they lay,
Fast asleep, both army and lord.

VIII

Then sinister dreams came, flock after flock,
Hovering on black wings,
Over the people, slumbering, tired,
Motionless as dead things.
And Prince Tatul had a nightmare too;
A dragon crept up to the Fort,
And coiled around it in ugly rings
As if in some awesome sport.
The monster raised its terrible head,
Up and up, ever higher,
Till it reached the chamber of Prince Tatul,
Breathing thunder and spitting fire.
And Prince Tatul he was lying in bed,
On his breast lay his wife’s sweet head.
And he said to her: “My angel, get up,
And I’ll strike that monster dead.”
So said Prince Tatul, and suddenly saw
It was not his wife’s fair head
But the ugly head of the monster that lay
On his chest as he slept in bed.

IX

Awake, and shake off the fetters of sleep,
You brave soldiers of Prince Tatul!
Whose shadow lurks in the darkness there
As if he can’t sleep his full?
Perhaps the vanquished and desperate foe
Beaten in honest fight,
Has gotten into the Fort by stealth
Plotting evil at dead of night?
Wake up, arise, for all through the night
Gaunt shapes are prowling around.
Wake, lion-like men, Tatul’s brave guard,
Strike the enemy down to the ground!
Awake, get up, for the lady fair
Made you drunk and opened the gate.
The traitress has let the enemy in
And woeful is your fate...
Treason! Arise and sound the alarm!
To arms, to horse, brave men!
The gates of the castle are rolling back,
The enemy’s pouring in.

X

The sun rose bright, the day was clear,
As it opened its shining eyes.
O’er the ruined Fort in a darksome cloud
Smoke and dust did rise.
The lord of the Fort and his soldiers all,
Drunk with victory and with wine,
The lord and his army, forever slept
Nor with pain and remorse did pine.
The Shah sat still and before him saw
Festive tables, abandoned and lone,
And thoughts of Man’s frailty came to him
At the sight of the orphaned throne.
There is nothing secure in the universe,
Never believe in aught,
Neither luck, nor glory, nor victory,
Nor the glass by a loving wife brought....
And the awe-stricken Shah he questioned the pale
Mistress as there she stood:
“O dark-eyed traitress, come, answer me,
Was Tatul not brave and good?”
“He was far more brave and handsome than you,
He was fearless, noble and tall.
He never took castless by foul deceit,
Never so low would he fall.”
The lady’s answer was honest and true,
And his hangman the Shah did call!
He roared with wrath like a savage beast,
Till all rang in the spacious hail.

XI

The hangman came in, clad from head to foot
In red, at which none can look,
And led away through the castle gates
The fair lady of Fort Temuk.
She was taken away to the giant rock
That still stands in its place today
And they threw her down in a bottomless gorge
And motionless there she lay.
And wolves and foxes came in from the plains
And devoured her base heart with wild cries;
Kites and ravens flew down from the clouds
And tore out her treacherous eyes.
So the lovely lady of Fort Temuk
Passed from the world away
Like the choicest flower of last year s spring
That will never blossom again.
And so did the dread and mighty Shah
And his army pass away too,
As did Tatul the victorious Prince,
As also will I and you.
And oniy this true and woeful tale
Has remained until our day,
Outlasting castles, outliving forts,
Defying death and decay.

XII

Come hither, all you good people,
Sit down and listen well.
A wandering bard from distant parts
A wondrous tale will I tell.
We all are guests in this mortal world
Since the day we get our birth.
We come and go, each in his turn,
To and from this fleeting earth.
We pass away, and only our deeds
Good or bad, live on in fame,
So blessed be he who leaves the world
As pure a man as he came.


1902


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Poem Submitted: Friday, December 23, 2011



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