Spotlight: Literature (3)
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written one of these. You can find previous Literature Spotlights here and here. Today’s feature is the matriarch of Azerbaijani poetry, Xurşıdbanu Natəvan (Khurshidbanu Natavan). Commonly referred to as Natavan, she is one of the most influential poets in Azerbaijan, and you can find numerous monuments to her scattered throughout the country (and in that picture to the left).
Natəvan was born in the Karabakh city of Şuşa (Shusha) in 1832. She was the daughter of the local khan, Panah Ali Khan. Shusha, itself, is considered a center of Azerbaijani literary prowess. On the musical side, the city has been referred to as the Conservatory of Transcaucasia. As daughter of the khan, she was obviously a highly prized potential wife. Her father died in 1845, when she was thirteen, and five years later, she married a Dagestani, Hasay khan Usmiyev. During this time she moved with her husband from Shusha to Tbilisi to Baku through the decade. With Usmiyev, she gave birth to two children, both of whom became poets themselves. Beginning in the 1860s, however, her husband wanted to move back to Dagestan and she refused to follow him there, returning instead to Shusha. There, she remarried and remained for the rest of her life, having a further five children with Seyid Huseyn. Natavan is known particularly for her philanthropy, helping the development of Shusha, including building a water main to supply the city.
Of her literary works, Natavan’s full complement of poetry hasn’t been preserved. However, what is left shows a vibrant and emotional soul, enjoying the gifts of love as much as expressing the grief of loss, celebrating the beauty of nature as well as mourning misery in society. Her poetry comes to us in the form of Gazals, a form typified in Urdu, Persian, and Arabic poetry. She wrote both in Persian and Azeri. One of her more famous themes was the loss of her son at a young age. It provided inspiration for many poems, including To My Son, Abbas. It’s probably too long for a blog post, but here it is anyways:
Parted with you, I burn night and day,
Like a thoughtless moth in a candleflame.
Like a rose you were destined to fade and die;
Like a nightingale mourning its rose sing I.
My heart aches with longing to see you, my star,
I roam like Medjnun in search of Leili.
I whisper your name, for your presence I sigh,
Like a grief-stricken dove on a bough sing I.
Like Farhad from the source of my happiness banned,
At the foot of the mountain of parting I stand.
Your name all these days I have chanted and sung
Like a parrot with sugar under its tongue.
Haunted with sorrow, all day I wander;
Burning with grief like a Salamander.
My heart, that once soared in a heaven of love,
Broke its wings and was dashed to the earth from above.
Blind to the light of the sun and the moon,
Like a moon eclipsed, I am shrouded on gloom.
Through my tears your image I always see,
You dried up so soon, o my cypress-tree!
Oh, would I were blind not to see you dead.
The sun now scorches the earth, your last bed.
My hopes were frustrated; you left me and died,
I did not live to see you join your bride.
Your brown eyes expectantly looked at me;
Was it only that mine your shrine should be?
I weep tears of blood, to sunlight I’m blind,
As a lost soul I wander, Abbas, my child.
The anguish of losing your gnaws at my breast,
Tears flow from my eyes without respite or rest.
(Translated by Dorian Rottenberg)