The Unsilenceable Belfry – Paruyr Sevak

The Unsilenceable Belfry

The poem “The Unsilenceable Belfry” is the most significant creation of the great Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak. It revives the tragic fate of an outstanding musician, composer, scholar, and great son of the Armenian people Komitas.

At the same time, this is a poem about the high and difficult quest of the Armenian people on the path to social and spiritual liberation.

Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak dedicated the best years of his creative life to the poem “The Unsilenceable Belfry”. Even after the poem was published and enthusiastically met by the readers, Sevak continued to work on it until his untimely death.

What is this work about which, without exaggeration, became a reference book in every Armenian family and is equally exciting for both the young reader and the people of the older generation? Well, it is based on the tragic fate of great Armenian composer and enlightener Komitas (born Soghomon Soghomonyan).

Born in 1869 in Western Turkey into a poor Armenian family, Komitas was orphaned at an early age. He scarcely earned money by singing, wandering around the yards of likewise impoverished Armenians in exile.

For his voice of rare beauty, the boy was accepted into the Etchmiadzin Theological Academy, where he received the name “Komitas” and the rank of archimandrite.

In this had already been laid the tragedy of Komitas’ personal and social life. Unusual musical endowments, an inquiring mind, an irrepressible thirst for knowledge, an inextricable connection with the common people – all this could not possibly allow Komitas to prevent the conflict with the stale world of the “non-brotherly brotherhood” of the Etchmiadzin monastery.

The churchmen around him could not understand and forgive Komitas’ “purely worldly” hobbies, such as working on deciphering ancient Armenian musical manuscripts (khazes), being close to commoners, recording worldly songs, and making trips to Europe to international congresses of musicians where he performed as a singer and as a performer on folk instruments.

All this, and especially the democratic convictions of Komitas, enraged the clergy and led to the overt persecution of the composer. He was forced to leave for Constantinople. By doing this, he took another step towards his tragic end.

It was in Constantinople, the home of almost all of the masters of Armenian culture and literature, where the monstrous Armenian Genocide began, when by the order of the then Ottoman rulers of Turkey, over a short period of time, more than a million Armenians were killed – innocent men, women, children, and the elderly.

Carried away among the first victims and miraculously saved, Komitas went insane from everything he had seen. He would spend the remaining 20 years of his life in a psychiatric hospital.

The Armenian people deeply honor the memory of their great composer, and not just because he has given a powerful impetus to the development of Armenian music.

The image of Komitas, a man from the people and who shared with the people the most terrible tragedy in its centuries-old history – the Genocide, which only the Nazi fascists would be able to “beat” – became a symbol of the Armenian nation, one of those names that it was always proud of.

Therefore, the poem of Paruyr Sevak is not only and not so much a biography of Komitas as an epic canvas of the life of a nation, a literary work that shows that only indissoluble ties with the people give rise to and nourish a genius.

The translation work [to Russian] was highly laborious but excitingly interesting. The architecture of the poem is complicated. It is divided into 6 large sections (peals), which in turn are divided into chapters (rings) with unusual rhyming and highlighting of individual lines, which I followed rigorously.

The bright, dense imagery created by Paruyr Sevak is such that it was a pity to lose even one of his countless characters. And then, there are the authentic lines of poems, songs, and spiritual hymns of Komitas himself woven into the fabric of the poem.

Even the rhyme was particularly difficult – the whole poem, with the exception of a small chapter, was written in a masculine rhyme, which deprived the translator of the main treasure of Russian poetry – feminine and dactylic rhymes.

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