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Pasternak, "Nikoloz Baratashvili"

An essay on this Georgian poet by this Russian man of letters and translator from the Georgian.  You can read the original as part of this collection.

Among Baratashvili's poems is "Georgia's Fate."  Its hero, the last Georgian Tsar Heraclius II, is on the cusp of letting his war-plagued homeland fall under Russia's protection.  He excuses such a desire with the understanding that he can spare his country further incursions by its Eastern neighbors.  Once free from violence it could, he imagines, finally enjoy the fruits of peacetime diligence and enlightenment.

This was the Georgia into which Nikoloz Baratashvili, the greatest Georgian poet of the new era, was born.  The Georgian nobility married into the Russian nobility and, in so doing, entered the arena of Russian governmental concerns and the highest intellectual interests of both Petersburg and Europe.  The previously existent Western influence was now strengthened.

The circle of several princely families in which Nikoloz Baratashvili grew up was the same progressive circle where, thanks in all likelihood to Griboedov, both Pushkin and Lermontov ended up in the Georgian Caucasus. 

In addition to this motley eastern foreign land, which Tbilisi certainly offered its visitors, they also encountered a powerful, kindred leaven which evoked life in their souls, propelling to the surface the most natural, the most slumbering, and the most repressed elements from within them.  Everything in this circle was much like it was in Petersburg: wine, cards, razor-sharp wit, French conversation, skirt-chasing, and that audacious pride ever ready to parry the slightest slip into arrogance.  The circle was just as well-acquainted with debts and creditors, hatching plots, and landing in military jails as it was with endless blather, plaintive tears, and the composition, at the age of eighteen, of burning, impetuous verse of unrepeatable spiritualization – and, after all this, with dying young.

The father of Nikoloz Baratashvili was an impoverished marshal of the Georgian nobility who had squandered his fortune on receptions and banquets.  The life of his son Nikoloz was marked by few happenings and spent in penury and obscurity, the price for his father's luxuries.

Baratashvili was born on November 22, 1816 in Tbilisi.  He studied at a parish school and finished gymnasium.  His dreams of a military career were dashed just like the leg he had broken as a boy, leaving him lame his entire life.  His other wish – to complete his education at a Russian university – similarly did not come true.  His father's troubles and the need to support his family forced him to look for work as a government official.  After having served in minor positions with various administrative duties he was appointed as the assistant to a district commander in Ganja in 1845.  On the trip there he fell ill from a particularly pernicious form of malaria that was rampant in the area and died on October 9 of the same year. 

This series of bureaucratic positions diametrically opposes our notions of Baratashvili; in fact, it seems more like his reflection in a crooked mirror.  His true traits were sharp and significant.  These traits persisted in the minds of his contemporaries and were preserved with devotion.

As a child Baratashvili was a mischievous and venturesome lad; in school he was a good chum.  As an adult he would infuriate Tbilisi society with his pranks and the venom behind his mockery.  His habit of telling the truth to people's faces made him seem deranged.

It was the sister of Nino Griboedova, Princess Ekaterina Chavchavadze, whom he really loved.  But she married another man.  He would spend his whole life beset by this festering wound, a wound he salted with the tenderness and zeal of his lyric poetry and the scores he had to settle with the upper echelon of the Georgian aristocracy.  For him the sovereign Mingrelian Princess Dadiani was the beloved, the brightest star that could ever grace his firmament.

Baratashvili was surrounded by literati: Grigol Orbeliani was his uncle; Alexander Chavchavadze a friend of his father's. 

Yet his own writings were accorded so little significance that he could scarcely hope to see them in print in the near future.  His further projects were foiled by his premature demise.  Perhaps the way in which his poetry lies before us does not represent its definitive edition; perhaps the author would have preferred to subject his works to further selection and polishing.  The trace of genius that remained in these poems, however, is so great as to imbue them with perfection arguably more final, more significant than if the author had actually had more time to tend to their appearance.

Baratashvili's lyric poetry is distinguished by its notes of pessimism, motifs of solitude, and the general mood of Weltschmerz.

Happy days and their belief in man and the receptivity of posterity allow artists to express only the main idea in their works, almost not touching upon secondary matters, all in the hope that the reader's imagination alone will fill in the missing details.  Hence we can explain the imprecision in language and fecundity found in the classics, so natural in the ease of their very general and abstract problems.

Artist renegades of a gloomy stripe love talking to the very end.  They are meticulously clear from a lack of faith in the powers of others.  Lermontov's intelligibility is insistent and arrogant.  His details conquer us with almost supernatural force.  Between his hyphens we discover what we should have been left to figure out by ourselves.  This is the magical reading of our thoughts from a distance.  The secret to such an effect was possessed by Baratashvili.

His dreaminess commingled with fragments of life and everyday activity.  In his oeuvre one finds an individual imprint unique to him alone, in which nevertheless the particularities of his age are registered.  His descriptions in "Dusk on Mtatsminda" and "Nights on the Kabakhi" would not have exerted such a magical effect upon us if, along with being descriptions of the state of the soul, they had not been even more astonishing descriptions of nature.  The bursts in the visual element in his peerless, mad, and inspired "Merani" cannot be compared with anything else.  This is the symbol of the faith of a great personality in the throes of struggle, convinced of his immortality and that aim and meaning mark the movement of human history.  

Baratashvili's best verse has already been mentioned above: namely, the poems dedicated to Ekaterina Chavchavadze as well as all those from the final two years of his life, including the stunning "Blue flower."

In 1893 his ashes were transferred from Ganja to Tbilisi.  On October 21, 1945, following the lead of Georgia, his homeland, the entire country solemnly celebrated the centennial of his death.

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