November 25, 2008

In memoriam: S. Kurghinian

Proletarian poet Shushanik Kurghinian died eighty-one years ago yesterday.

She died quietly, in her apartment in Nor Malatia, in Yerevan. She was 51 years old and suffered from a bad heart that had been rapidly failing because of a rare case of exophthalmic goiter, a disease of the thyroid gland. She was in a lot of pain and was bedridden since 1925 when she broke her left leg. Here is a picture of her taken on June 4, 1926 in Moscow at the Botkin clinic where she was supposed to undergo an operation.
She looks youthful in the picture, sitting up on the narrow bed and—unlike herself—she is smiling at the camera. Kurghinian never smiled in photographs, maybe because she hated taking posed pictures. But this one isn’t a posed photograph. Perhaps the nurse had said something kind to her and the photographer was just taking a picture for a youth newsletter to demonstrate how the Soviet clinics were progressing in a new country even before its first pyatiletka, the Five Year Plan, was implemented. She believed in progress, in the new woman, and in socialism. The surgeon is German, she wrote in a letter to her daughter, Anush. He is a graduate from one of the best medical schools in Europe. Her tone is hopeful. She smiles. A few days later the German doctor will tell her that he cannot perform the operation due to her heart condition. She will return to her apartment in Nor Malatia and spend there her final days until her death on November 24, 1927.
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Here is one of her anarchist poems, where she has abandoned the conventional quatrain structure. It's one of her best works—

Demon or Angel
by Shushanik Kurghinian
trans. S. Avagyan

Were I a tempest or a lightening bolt,
through the spaces of the infinite void,
under the pendulous hills of cloud
with thunderous flames ablaze I would roll,
mixing all creation in the galaxy, so that
He would tumble down from His sovereign throne,
so that the moon and stars would collapse in terror
from the plague of furies.
And the sky would weep, and so would
every idle spirit, the poison of anguish
would turn into bread, and the dream
of eternal life into excruciating labor.
And all creation into chaos, all into discord,
remain blurred in gloom and darkness:
an abyss of the deep and silent, the Inferno,
as it was in the past, immaterial and unfinished.

Having suckled all the liquids of heaven,
I would descend with invincible force,
holding that titanic captive under my heel,
hurling everything—winter and spring,
bird, animal, water, fire, mountain and stone,
maggot, worm, human, coiling serpent,
tree, flower and plant, seedling and blossom—
all crushed to the ground, I would pass
through His creation disguised as death,
everything to perish, all His work destroyed,
nothing remaining above or below. And I,
independent, autonomous, belonging to none,
would roam freely inside the unknown
so that no one could taste or see
my life, my face, my palpitating chest,
free and alone—demon or angel.

(20 May, 1907)

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