Khevsureti is the mother country of folk poetry which, beyond all doubt, bears classical lucidity. All spheres of everyday life of the local population are reflected in Khevsur poetry. The historical past of Georgia’s ancient province is represented in its wonderful, full-blooded poems.
This is a truthful literary chronicle the cognitive and aesthetic value of which is conditioned by the natural, inborn talent of its creators.
The birth of every Khevsuri is welcomed with a verse, and a verse is the last tribute paid to the departed Khevsuri, in other words, his sad farewell.
The Khevsuris cannot imagine life without poetry and, likewise, one can not imagine them without the splendid Khevsur rhymes.
A poetic word, a poetic strophe like the attendant immortal spirit constantly followed a Khevsuri everywhere, at home or on route, in the field while tilling and hay mowing or high up in the mountains while game-shooting, and eased his lot, alleviated his suffering, gladdened his heart.
Noteworthy are the words of an elderly Khevsuri woman: “The verses are floating in my mind all the time, regardless of what I am doing… How can I remember all of them?!”
“Simghera” (“song”), “leksi” (“verse”), “shairi” (“humorous rhyme”).
Conventionally, under these three appellations is grouped fathomless Khevsur poetry created by the “matqvami” (“songster”, “narrator”), “melekse” (“versifier”) and “meshaire” (rhymer of shairi).
Not only the depiction of reality and ideological education of readers or listeners was the function of a verse, but it also answered for the code of ethics. The versifiers devoted to the principle of truthfulness always praised virtue and criticized any wrongdoing.
The mother lode or “priority” trend of Khevsur poetry is presented by tens of glorious heroic poems.
The repertoire of the Khevsuri versifiers is comprised of the cycle of Zurab Eristavi of the Aragvi and the epopee dedicated to the battles of Bakhtrioni* and heroic deeds of Khevsuris in Gori and Atskuri and in permanent warfare conducted against the North Caucasian tribes, the epics narrating the adventures of the Khevsuri popular heroes Torghva Dzagani, Mamuka Qalundauri, Zezva Gaprindauli, Khirchla Baburauli, Shiola Gudushauri, Gaga Berdishvili and others, and generally, a great deal of beautiful pieces of artistic impersonation of the people’s ideal, the so-called kai kma (“fine young man”)…
Among the moral values of a human being hospitality (“stumarmaspindzloba” in Georgian) has always ranked high in Khevsureti. A person inspired respect and admiration if he could play host in the best traditions of Georgian hospitality. The Khevsuris believed that a guest deserved to be welcomed by a hospitable host. A generous and welcoming man ranked higher than a brave and bold-spirited one in the hierarchy of values determined by the Khevsuris. Indeed, the truth of this statement is so evident even in the following poetic maxim:
“Arshis tavs vepkhvi davkode, Once I happened to wound a tiger,
Samjer saomrad metia, That needs triple as much of valor,
Puradi katsi mamatsze But the open-handed host
Samis gafrenit metia…” Is held in thrice as much of honor…
Multidisciplinary Khevsur poetry is abundant in masterly manners of expression of human emotions. This, first of all, can be said in reference to love lyrics. The dialectic terms ndoba (“confidence”) and survili (“lust”), which stand for “love” clearly point at pungency of the feeling that has been in existence since the origin of mankind… The Khevsuris refer to the pieces of love lyrics as saqalvazho lexebi (rhymes improvised for sweethearts). In most of these verses emphases is placed on purity and loftiness of the feeling between a loving couple. The man having weakness for casual romantic relationship and being attracted by flirting only is considered to be dishonest…
One more so-called “autonomous” subject which stands out in the torrent of Khevsur poetry is hunting. The verses of this genre guide us through the severe, desolate and secluded environs, where mainly the Caucasian turs live and propagate. And in this ring of poetic folklore like a diamond sparkles the “Lay of the Huntsman and the Tiger”, the second, latter part of which was composed by Giorga Djabushanuri from Arkhoti…
In Khevsur poetry imaginary reality naturally merges with the sharp contours of factuality. The archaic faiths and beliefs generated by the Georgian people throughout the development of their conscious attitude towards the outer world is weaved into a plot of the rhymed legends. “Tsikhis Nashali” (“Ruins of the Fortress”), “Yakhsar”, “Kopala”,** “Gaburt Eshma” and “Devebis Qortsili” (“The Wedding of Devis”)*** are the remarkable monuments of Khevsur oral literature evidencing the infinitude of human fantasy.
At one time Akaki Shanidze, the famous Georgian scholar, made notice of the poetic texts known as “mtiblurebi” in Khevsureti, which were performed by the haymakers when they were busy mowing hay. Mtiblurebi along with the lamentations and laudations in praise of the sacred places – jvar-khati (“cross” and “icon”) or salotsavi (“sanctuary”) are the most essential ingredients of Georgian folk poetry.
The rhythm and musical sound of the ancient pieces of folk poetry make us turn our mind’s eye to the epochs, when physical effort was inalienably associated with artistic inspiration, with improvisation of oral literary creations.
Some mtibluris are “adjusted” to the tune of funeral dirge bearing more resemblance to the laments than to the labor lyrics. This kind of mtibluris is also called “gvrini”. The mowers perform them songfully, i.e. similarly to blank verse bearing the sounding of lament.
Death, in general, is an eternally old and eternally new theme of Khevsur poetry. It is a moral obligation of every versifier to immortalize the memory of young people “mowed” by the scythe of death. In such “memorials” or “last wills” of the dead prevails a kind of excessive emotionality caused by hopelessness aggrieving a human being with its tragic tonality.
The Khevsur poets do not seek for special time, place or any circumstances suitable for creative activity, such as solitude, leisure, etc.
Yet, there is a season when the author can reap the “heavy harvest”:
“Dabla dakina qvishani, “The first frosts’ve touched the flats,
Magla datovna mtania, A white layer’s lying on the mountains,
Dagvidga Giorgobistve, The season of talking in verse
Leksis saubris khania…” Has come, along with Giorgobistve…”****
On rare occasions the author mentions his name at the end of the
verse (as if expressing his modest wish not to be forgotten):
“Lekso, ar daikargebi, natqvamo Omaisao!”
“You will never be lost, O Verse, voiced by Omay!”
Not infrequent are the appeals to the musical instruments. This, as a rule, takes place in the beginning of a verse. The trace of ancient tradition (mentioning the deities as the addressees of a prelude in Greece of classical antiquity) is expressed by praising the panduri***** and accordion in Khevsur poetry:
“Daukar, chemo panduro, “You do play, My Panduri, and
angelozivit khmiano…” Let your angelic sound be heard…”
In this kind of appeal a musical instrument is the source of inspiration and excitement.
Noteworthy is that in Khevsureti it is a common occurrence that the author of a “memorial” verse asks for a symbolic present, mostly somewhat of earthenware jar or bowl just to drink a toast to the memory of the addressee of a verse.
In Khevsureti an old tradition of versification is still alive – the art of conversion of life experience into a poetic word. And this is one of the major prerequisites for a region confined within the Caucasus Mountains to remain the unique object of the growing interest of the researchers and travelers.
From the recollections of the daughter of Bessarion Gaburi, a well-known folk poet, also engaged in collecting the specimens of oral literature: “Father usually composed verses when he was busy with physical work, we constantly heard his murmur when he was packing a pile of hay or tilling the soil; even when he was in the field and had nothing to write with, he would take a stone and scratch the words on the hand… I remember his big and strong hands… Afterwards he would come home and rewrite the verse on a paper. Sometimes in winter, when he ran out of paper he would write on the walls. The walls and doors, even the pillars of our house were covered with father’s verses…”
LAY OF THE HUNTSMAN AND THE TIGER
A beardless youth once went ahunting;
He roamed o’er hills and valleys through
The forests dense; then swiftly crossed
The heights where rhododendron grew.
Upon a mighty cliff a herd
Of deer appeared before his eye;
He killed their king, and then, a sound
Of clashing horns rang in the sky.
But suddenly a tiger sprang
Before him on the rocky height;
And like a flash of lightning leaped
On him with yes that lit the night.
The huntsman and the tiger closed
In dreadful struggle; and the word
Groaned as the mount was in twain,
And rocks and pine were upward hurled.
The youth fought bravely, yet could not
Ward off the deadly claws that tore
His flesh, nor fend the cruel teeth
That rent the coat of mail he wore.
Bravely the youth endured the blows,
And like a bursting thunder-cloud
Struck at the tiger with such force
That down it crashed roaring loud.
The earth shook as the tiger’s weight
Pressed down the cliff with blood imbued;
The youth lay weltering in his gore;
His face with gashes was fore hewed.
But who will tell the mother how
Her son upon the mount lay dead,
How in a well-fought struggle he
Had overthrown the tiger dread?
An awful hush, then suddenly
Heart-rending screams and cries resound:
In streams of tears now turned to seas
The mother’s bursting heart is drowned.
With loosened hair the mother rushed
Where her son had in combat died;
Beside him was a naked sword
That to the hilt with blood was dyed.
“Though awe-inspiring was thy strength,
True wisdom did not guide thee on;
Though might met might in mortal strife,
Death claimed thee for its own, my son!”
She cleansed each gore-stained wound with tears;
Smoothed down the soiled and matted hair;
Then kissed the chilly pallid lips,
And heaved a sigh of cold despair.
“My son, no more will I mourn thee,
Weep bitterly, nor beat my breast.
My son, no more will I mourn thee,
Weep bitterly, nor beat my breast.
My son, no more will I mourn thee,
For thou art sleeping and at rest;
Wherefore should I grieve bitterly?
Weep seas or burst my heart with woe
For thee who fought so valiantly,
And braved the tiger’s dreadful blow?
No sobs will fill thy mother’s breast;
No tears will overflow her eyes,
For proud is she to have a son
Who on the shrine of courage lies?
Farewell, my boy, farewell to thee!
May God receive thy spirit free.
No coward’s blood ran through thy veins;
My bosom swells in pride for thee!”
The mother often in her dreams
Beheld the tiger, saw him tear
In rage with deadly claws the coat
Of mail her son was wont to wear.
Then lo! The youth would seize the beast
And dash him dead upon the ground.
Such visions ever vexed her dreams,
And thus, in sleep no rest she found.
Once, waking from a troubled sleep,
Thoughts seized and shook her burning brain.
“What hand can soothe more gently than
A mother’s when in bitter pain?
Perhaps the tiger’s mother grieves
And mourns her dead with loud lament;
Perhaps her heart is bursting now
With sobs that rend the firmament.
So, quickly will I go to her
And strive to soothe her sorrow deep.
She’ll proudly tell me of her child,
And we in common grief will weep.”
“A mourning mother aspires to express her condolences to her son’s killer (in this case – the tiger), to share her grief and lament together over their lost sons. No analog has been found out in oral tradition of any people worldwide. This unique phenomenon is the national heritage of Georgian folk poetry.”
* Bakhtrioni – a stronghold built in the 17th century with the approval of Shah Abbas II is associated with freedom and love for the Fatherland in Georgian history and literature. The walls of now ruined Bakhtrioni fortress had witnessed a great deal of furious combats, one of which is the 1659 uprising in Kakheti that became the main theme of Vazha Pshavela’s brilliant epic poem “Bakhtrioni”.
** Yakhsar and Kopala – the deities charged with the duty of liberating human beings from the tyranny of demons
*** devi – demon, evil spirit
**** Giorgobistve – November in old Georgian
***** panduri – a Georgian string instrument