Hovhannes Tumanian: David of Sasun

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Translation of poem by Hovhannes Tumanian
1902


I
Lion-Mher of fabled glory
For forty years at Sassoun reigned;
He reigned with might, and in his day
No flocks made flight o’er Sassoun's steeps.
Far and away from Sassoun highlands
His mighty name was rurnoured wide;
His name bespoke his valour, his fearsome deeds—
The single name, Lion-Mher.
II
Thus, seated like a fearful lion
In the Sassoun fastnesses, he had reigned
As lord for forty years. For forty years
He had never raised a wail of woe;
But now, fallen upon declining days,
Into that fearless heart there crept a sting.
Thus the legened-laden eld to thinking fell;
“Alack, the autumn days of my life are come,
The black earth soon will claim me for its own,
Like smoke will pass the glories of Lion-Mher,
Even my name, terror and fear;
Alas! On my unowned and orphaned realm
There rise a thousand upstart braves and fiends..
Upon my passing, Mack, no heir remains
To buckle on my sword, protector be to Sassoun.
Pondered thus the troubled childless grey-beard.
III
Thus on a day, his iron-grey eyebrows knitted,
Deep he pondered , when down from the sky,
Fronting the giant, stood a fiery angel,
His feet enwrapped in billowing clouds.
“Greetings! All-powerful giant of Sassoun,
Your voice has reached the throne of God,
Soon he shall grant to you a child.
But hearken well, O lord of the Mountains,
On that day, when God grants you an heir,
On that selfsame day will you die and your wife."
“His will be done,” spake Lion-Mher, “we are ever
Of death and death of us; but if of this world
We gain an heir, with him deathless we remain.
Here the fiery angel once more took aloft;
And onward from that happy day of joyous tidings,
When nine months did pass and nine hours more,
Lion-Mher a child did have; and David
He named his cub, and called to him his brother,
Big-Voiced Ohan: bequeathed his lands and scion
To him. That day died he and his dame, too.
IV
And in those times in Egypt there sat as king
Melik of Musr, mighty and unvanquished;
When he heard that Lion-Mher no more was,
Straight upon Sassoun he marched to fight. Ohan,
The Big-Voiced, set a-quake with fear, came before
The war-like hosts unhelmeted and bowed,
And seeking mercy, fell upon his knees.
“O Melik be you the master of our heads,”
He said, “while beneath your shadow we live;
Ever may we your servants be, our tribute pay,
Only lay not waste our tillage and our lands,
And with benignant ear hark you to us.
“Nay,” roared Melik, “your people all must pass
Beneath my sword and homage pay, so that
Henceforward whatever I will to do, not one
Sassounite may raise a sword against me.
Thus Ohan went and brought all Sassounites
Together and passed them all beneath the sword
David alone, despite whatever moves
Were tried, came not near the foeman Melik’s sword.
Vexed, the Sassounites came and tugged at him:
He bolted once, scattered the throng here and there,
The while his little finger grazed a rock
And drew from it a flight of fiery bolts.
To the wise men gathered all about him,
Spoke the King: “I must kill this little fool!”
“O King,” they said, “beneath your sword today
All Sassoun stands; sure you are the mighty one.
What is there a mere child could do against thee,
Though he were instead altogether fire?”
“You know best,” said the Egyptian king, “but if,
On a day some harm should fall upon my head,
This day be witness
From him will it come.”
V
When this event occurred our husky David
A mere child was, seven or eight years old,
I say a child, but one with so much strength,
Man to him or mosquito was the same.
But, alas! for the poor orphan on this earth,
Though he come forth from the lions of a iion.
Now Big-Voiced Ohan had a waspish wife;
Once or twice she held her tongue, but one day
Thus she began fighting with her helpmeet;
“A lonely soul I, heir to a thousand ills,
Why have you brought another’s orphan here,
Weighed me down with a useless trencherman...
Would that I could cast sod upon his head!
No handmaid I, dancing attendance upon others!
Find a way to lose him, put him to a task,
Pack him off that he may labour for himself.”
Saying thus, she ‘gan to wail and weep,
To mourn her hapless days, to curse her fate,
That she luckless was to be on earth,
That nor master her did own, nor pitying spouse.
Ohan set out and brought back a pair
Of iron boots for the child’s feet,
Placed an iron staff upon his shoulders,
And made him the shepherd of Sassoun-town.
VI
The mighty shepherd drove his flock of sheep
And mounted Sassoun’s peerless fastnesses
“O endearing highlands,
Highlands of Sassoun. .
When he called, of such force was his voice,
That canyons and highlands sounded with it,
Wild animals sprang from their lairs, scattered
From rock to rock, and became homeless.
David went after them all, those from the valleys,
And those from the hills—fox, hare, wolf, and deer
He gathered and brought and mixed with his flock,
And at night drove them all on Sassoun-town.
The noise and the din, the sounds and the roars,
The charging of numberless beasts let loose,
The townspeople suddenly saw and heard.
“Oh! Help! Run.
Old and young,
Panic-stricken,
Away did run
From their chores,
Some ran home, some to church, some to shops,
All bolted doors fast and closed shutters tight.
Boldly David strode and stood in the town square—
“Well! How early these people are gone to sleep.
Ho there! Goat-owners, sheep-owners,
Get up, swiftly unbar your doors;
He who had one—I’ve brought him ten,
He who had ten—I’ve brought him scores.
Up, get up swiftly, come and take them,
Take your sheep to the barns and your goats.”
When David saw that no one stirred, no one
A door unbarred, he placed his head upon
A stone, lengthened out himself upon the square
And soundly slept until the break of dawn.
At dawn the nobles arose together
And went to Big-Voiced Ohan and said:
“Thou Big-Voiced Ohan, be thou taken by Death,
You it was who brought this fool, made him herdsman;
He parts nor sheep nor wolves, nor foxes,
Thus with wild beasts has he filled our town.
If lovest thou God, put him to another task,
Else he’ll burst the galls of all our townsfolk.”
VII
Ohan arose and went to see David.
“Uncle Ohan, take care, tread softly,
Else the goats will scamper off.” And hard by
An ash-coloured hare, its ears fixed rigid,
Aff righted became and bolted away.
David was up in a trice and after it:
In the hills he caught the hare and brought it back
And placed it once again among the goats.
“Oh, how hard it is, Uncle Ohan. ...
God has blessed those black-black goats, but these that be
Ash-coloured goats, are ever escaping
And ever scattering into the hills.
So much did I scurry yesterday,
Until I gathered them and brought them back.”
Ohan saw that David’s boots were not what
They were, his goatherd’s staff worn to the butt,
So much in a single day had he run.
“David, my soul, I cannot leave thee thus,
The ash-coloured goats are torturing you.
Tomorrow take the flocks to the pasture,"
Ohan said. And the next morning he went
And brought still another pair of iron boots
For David’s feet, and brought an iron staff
A hundred pounds in weight, and made David
The pasture-keep of Sassoun-town.
VIII
The mighty shepherd drove his herd of cattle
And mounted Sassoun s peerless fastnesses.
“O endearing highlands,
Highlands of Sassoun,
How sweet the slopes rise
Against thy rock—ribbed sides..."
When David sang, of such force was his voice,
That canyons and highlands sounded with it,
Wild beasts from their lairs sprang forth and scattered
From rock to rock, became homeless. David
Fell after them all, those from the valleys,
Those from the hills—wolf, leopard, lion, bear, tiger
He caught and brought and mixed with his herd,
And at night drove them all on Sassoun-town.
The noise and the din, the sounds and the roars,
The charging of numberless beasts let loose,
The townspeople suddenly heard and saw.
“Oh! Help! Run....
Old and young,
Panic-stricken,
Away did run
From their chores,
Some ran home, some to church, and some to shops,
All bolted doors fast and closed shutters tight.
Boldly David strode and in the town square stood. ...
“Well, how early these people are gone to sleep!
Ho there, oxen-owners, cow-owners,
Get up, swiftly unbar your doors;
He who had one—I’ve brought him ten,
He who had ten—I’ve brought him scores.
Up, get up swiftly, come and take them,
Take your oxen to the barns and your cows."
When David saw that no one stirred, no one
The doors unbarred, he placed his head upon
A stone, himself lengthened out upon the square,
And soundly slept until the break of dawn.
At dawn the nobles arose together
And went to Ohan, the Big-Voiced, and said:
“Big-Voiced brother Ohan, alas, Death take you,
You it was who brought this fool, made him herdsman;
Our cows and our oxen, unshepherded
Let them be, but rid us of this madcap lout.
He parts nor bear nor ram nor ox;
Some day he’ll bring great harm upon our town,
Make it a lair for bears, a forsaken land.”
IX
A nuisance David! No peace from the lad!
Put to it, and to his wit’s end driven,
Ohan fashioned and to David gave
Bow and arrows. “Go you forth, hunt among the hills.”
From Ohan David took the bow and arrows,
Went forth beyond the bounds of Sassoun-town,
Huntsman he became. Into a barley field
He sallied forth, killing quail, shooting sparrow.
And at dusk, he took haven in a hut
Cared for by a poor and childless beldam,
Betimes to his father known. There, alongside
The fire, like an immense dragon and long,
He would lengthen himself out and sleep.
On a day, when he was from the hunt returned,
The beldam raged at him. “Goodness, David!” she said,
“Death take you! Are you indeed your father’s son?
That field alone and I remain below
The skies and God. An old lady, I, weak
Of hand and foot—Why do you trample
My field under foot, and lay it waste,
Cut off my whole year's living? If you are
Huntsman, take up your bow and arrows—bctake
You to the headlands of Zudsmaga, all
The way to Seghansar—your sire held there
Of an entire domain the tenancy;
Well-stocked are its highlands with roaming game;
There be deer there, mountain-goat and wild sheep.
If you can, begone, go seek your game there.”
“What is it, you hag, that makes you curse me?
Still a stripling I, now only have I heard.
Where be then the fastness of our game preserve?”
“To your uncle go, Ohan will tell it thee.”
X
Next day at sunrise David stood before
His uncle’s threshold with bow in hand.
“Uncle Ohan, why have you not told me
My father owned a mountain game preserve?
There be mountain goats there, rams and deer.
Up, Uncle, bestir yourself and take me there.”
“What!” cried Ohan, “These are not your words.
Whoso told them you, may his tongue be tied.
That mountain game preserve, my son, is lost
To us, as also the game of that range....
No more are there mountain goats, rams, deer.
In the days when your father was still quick,
(O what wondrous days, whence are ye fled?)
Oft have I eaten there the flesh of game...
Your father died, God forsook us, Egypt’s king
Gathered soldiers, came upon us, ruined
Our country, and the game from this mountain
He took, he plundered: the deer, the hind are gone...
Hence our fate’s scroll has thus been written.
All is past, my son, go back to your work,
The king of Egypt else will hear your voice.”
“What can the king of Egypt do to me?
What do I ask from the king of Egypt?
Let the king of Egypt stay in Egypt.
To my father’s highlands what right has he?
Up, Uncle, take up your bow and arrows,
Your quiver buckle on, to the highlands
Let us go, to the mountain game preserve!”
Ohan stood up, not knowing what to do.
They went, and what a game preserve they saw..
The high walls demolished, thick forests felled,
The high turrets made level with the earth.
XI
Night fell and there they remained fast. Big-Voiced
Ohan placed beneath his head the quiver
And the bow and peacefully snored. David
Was plunged into a sea of reckonings.
And soon he saw, in the distant darkness,
A strong and flaming fire burning bright.
Toward the fire David moved, and held by
Its spell, straightway was borne upward upon it;
Upward and upward he went, alighted on
A rock, ascended again, saw a great
Cleft marble stone, from its centre belching forth
A pure flame, rising and falling, billow
Upon billow, on the selfsame stone.
Now David came down from the place, came down
And called Big-Voiced Ohan. “Up, Uncle, up
And see that bright fire, burning brightly there.
How long wiii you sleep! A light has come down
From the steep hill, the steep hill of marble stone.
Arise, Uncle, from your sweet sleep. What light
Be that that issues forth from yon marble stone?”
Ohan stood up and made the sign of the cross
Against his face. “Alas, my son,” he said,
“How I cherish that light! That be the light
From our great peak Marouta. In the place
Of that light there once did stand our Sassoun’s
Patroness (what wondrous days!), Sassoun’s guardian,
The blessed Madonna’s monastery
Of charghopan. Always, when to war he went,
It was there your father made his prayers.
Your father died, God was wroth and forsook us,
The king of Egypt gathered up soldiers,
He marched upon our abbey on that hill,
He levelled it, but from the altar still
The sacred flames of our patroness rise.
XII
When David heard this, too, “Sweet Uncle,” he said,
“Uncle sweet, orphan I be and liegeless
In this world. Lacking a father, be you
To me a father good. I’ll not again
From Marouta’s heights come down until
Once again our abbey stands as it used.
From you I ask five hundred artisans,
Five thousand toilers, too, with them to work
So that this very week they come and build
Our former abbey as it erewhile stood.”
Now Ohan went forth and with him brought back
Five thousand toilers, five hundred artisans,
Who, mid sound and fury, builded again,
Much as before with glories overlaid,
Our Blessed Mary’s abbey, Marouta.
The scattered clergy once again came back,
And once again the sound of canticle
And prayer re—echoed through the abbey’s walls.
When once again his father’s monastery
Full-peopled was and merry, David came down,
And only then came he, from Marouta’s heights.
XIII
This news was taken to Egypt’s Melik.
“Well, don’t tell me! So David has rebuilt
His father’s abbey and become the ruler,
While I have yet the seven years’ tribute to
Collect!” Now Melik was exceeding wroth:
“Go,” he said, “Patin, Gouzpatin, Sitvin,
Charghatin, Sassoun’s earth and stones lay waste.
To me bring back my seven years tribute rich.
Bring forty virgin girls, nimbus-lit,
Forty short women to turn the millstones,
And forty tall, to load the camel trains,
To be at beck and call my household slaves.”
Gouzpatin marshalled up his soldiers true.
"Gladly, my Lord,” he said, "so be it.
I go to Sassoun even now to lay
It bare, to bring back groups of forty women,
Forty camel-loads of yellow gold,
And ruin the home of the Armenian race."
Thus he spoke. Egyptian maids and women
Together danced and raised their voice in song:
“Our Gouzpatin has to Sassoun gone...
‘Groups of forty women have I brought,
Forty saddle bags of gold,
Before my eyes in serried order
Have I brought mitch-cows red...
In the springtime let us butter churn,
O Gouzpatin, brave Gouzpatin,
Cast is David in the dust.”
Now Gouzpatin, swollen with pride, roaring said,
“I thank you sisters all, but patient be
Till I return—it’s then that you should dance.”
XIV
Thus with a song,
With soldiers strong
Haughty Gouzpatin entered Sassoun;
Straight when Ohan heard this he was tongue-tied:
With salt and bread,
With cries and tears,
He bowed his head
Before the spears,
For mercy prayed.
“Have whatever you wish, so be it; take
Rosy-cheeked girls, of Sassoun-town the womenfolk,
The yellow gold that’s hard come by, take these,
Take these but mercy show our hapless race.
Do not cut us down nor do us in to death,
Above is God, below are you,” he said.
He brought row on row of rosy-cheeked girls
And womenfolk of Sassoun—town. Uu stood
Gouzpatin and gleaned; he lodged the likelier of them
Deep within the hayloft and locked the door.
Forty virgin girls beauteously nimbus-lit,
Forty short women to turn the millstones,
And forty tall, to load the camel-trains,
To be household slaves of Egypt’s Melik.
And from its hold mound on mound of yellow gold...
A pall of mourning hung on the Armenian race.
XV
Where are you, O David, you guardian of
The Armenian race, O let the rock be rent,
Only come you out into the open!
Once David had repaired the abbey of
His sires, he dropped down from Marouta’s peak,
He found a tarnished, helveless blade and stepped
Into the grandam’s turnip field. The hag
Came forth with cries and curses. “Fool David,”
She said, “may you one day eat fire and pain
Instead of turnips. in this wide world
Do your eyes see only me and what are mine?
My field you’ve levelled to the ground, you have,
This only had remained my winter’s hoard,
This too have you cut off; how shall I live?
If you be brave, take your bow, begone,
Hold sway over your father’s domains,
Eat from the treasures of your father
Which you have so long unprotected left
That Egypt’s king has sent to pack them off.”
“Why be you so angered with me, grandam?
I know not a thing of what you say.
What is it that Egypt’s king takes from us?”
“The Egyptian king, heavy-footed David,
Gouges your very eyes: already is
He here. On Sassoun-town have come Patin,
Gouzpatin, Sitvin, Charghatin; the whole
Of Sassoun-town they plunder even now.
Forty saddle-bags of gold for tribute,
Forty beauteous virgin girls, nimbus-lit,
Forty short women to turn the millstones,
Forty tall women to load the camel-trains,
All to be slaves to the Egyptian king.”
“O grandam why do you curse me? But show
And let me see—these demands, where are they made?”
“Death take you David! ‘Where are they made!’
Are you really the son of that father.
You who are come here to munch on turnips?
In your very house Gouzpatin measures
Out your gold, while the pretty girls
Are together herded in your hayloft.”
David left off eating turnips. He went
He spied Gouzpatin in his home, counting
The gold before him spilled, and Charghatin
And Sitvin holding back the barking dogs,
While at a distance, his neck to one side bent,
His arms folded across his breast, Ohan stood.
David saw, and his eyes were gorged with blood.
“Stop! Gouzpatin, stand apart. My father’s
Gold this be. I’m the one to count it out.”
Gouzpatin said: “Well, Big-Voiced Ohan,
This seven years’ tribute will you give or not?
If not, may my whiskers witness be, I’ll leave
And tell Musra-Melik, and he will come,
He will lay waste your Sassoun countryside,
Burn it down and plant a garden over it.’’
“Begone, you unfeeling Egyptian dogs.
Have you yet to hear of Sassoun's madcap braves?
Think you we are dead, or mere shadows all?
Think you to place our country under tribute!”
David’s wrath was great. At once he clapped
The weighing scales, which smashed Gouzpatin’s head,
Their fragments flew beyond the walls: till now,
To this very day, still are they in flight.
Now they rose up, let be the scattered gold,
Left far behind the Armenian world and fled..
Patin, Gouzpattn, Sitvin, Charghatin.
XVI
“Well, well, Uncle, what shall I say to you?
We have here mound on mound of gold.
Of me a servant of the town you've made,
Abandoned me before an alien’s door."
“You crazy fool,” his uncle said, “I've kept
For Melik all this gold that he might kindly
Look upon us. Now that you gave it not,
Who is there will front his wroth, fight with him,
When he comes forth with soldiers and with fire
To lay in ruins Sassoun’ s earth and stones?”
“Stay, Uncle, let him come forth, I shall go,
I shall go forth and answer make to him.”
He smote the door against the dark hayloft,
Let out the pinioned girls and set them free.
"Go," he said, “in freedom live, and fail not
To pray long days for David of Sassoun.”
XVII
So, battered in this way and bathed in blood,
Homeward bound they fled and reached their native land,
Patin, Gouzpatin,
Sitvin, Charghatin.
Egyptian women saw them in the distance,
Saw them in the distance and were right glad. ...
From the rooftops they clapped and cheered them home.
“They come, they come... they bear, they bear...
Our Gouzpatin has come from Sassoun-town
Brought back groups of forty women, red milch cows,
In the spring we’ll butter make and chortaan.”
But once they saw
At closer range
Gouzpatin bloodied,
They ceased giggling
And wagged aloud:
“Well Gouzpatin, you loud-mouthed runaway,
Down what dales and over what mountains have you fled,
Your thick head cleft in half? Did you not say,
‘To Sassoun I go to fetch groups of forty women,
To fetch forty saddle—bags of yellow gold
To lay waste the country of the Armenian race?’
As a breathless, fleeing hound have you returned!”
Gouzpatin, now angered much, began to speak:
“Silence, you brats, you’ve seen only your breed
Of men and not the madcap Sassoun braves.
Sassoun's madcap braves are mountain-like,
Their arrows thick as stakes, and their country
Withal a stony fastness: canyon-walls,
Impenetrable, abound and deep hollows....
Even their blades of grass stand curved as swords.
They slaughtered three hundred men, Egypt’s best.”
Thus he spoke and, once he had, he tarried not,
But ran fast, head over heels, pell-mell,
Ran right up to the king. The king laughed from
His throne. “Live, O live, brave Gouzpatin
The famed medallion of Ghouzghoun richly
You deserve, and from your neck shall it hang.
A guerdon for your great triumphal stroke.
But where are they? Bring Sassoun’s girls and gold.”
Thus Melik spoke: but Gouzpatin had bowed
His head clear to the very ground. He said.
“Long live, O great king! Barely did I flee
Though mounted on my horse. How could I
Have borne Sassoun’s yellow gold? A fool is
Born among the Armenian race who brooks nor
Lord nor fear nor mighty men. See how he’s
Had at my bloodied head and smashed it through.
‘I will not give,’ he said, ‘my father’s gold.
Nor will I give the womenfolk of my
Armenian people. In Sassoun-country
There is no room for you. Your king,’ he said,
‘Let him come, let him come and fight with me.
If brave he be, let him come and take by force.~
The Egyptian king, enraged, boiled over and over.
“Call,” he said, “call all my soldiers together:
A thousand thousand males, young greenhorns,
A thousand thousand males, beardless, without rnoustach’
A thousand thousand males, downy-lipped,
A thousand thousand males, fresh from the couch,
A thousand thousand males, black-moustachioed,
A thousand thousand males, grey-haired,
A thousand thousand males, to sound trumpets,
A thousand thousand males, to strike the war-drums,
Have them come forth, take up arms, get into mail, —
I go to wage war on David, desolate
Sassoun-town and plunder it to the ground.”
XVIII
Thus he assembled an innumerable
Host, marched on the plains of Sassoun and encamped
In full solemnity, did the Egyptian king.
So great a population did they make,
That those who came to Batman’s banks bent down
And drank their fill till the river went dry,
And Sassoun’s townspeople were parched with thirst
Big-Voiced Ohan was taken by surprise.
His fur-skin on his shoulders, he scaled the heights,
He scaled the heights, and, lo, what a sight he saw:
The white tents had so whitened all the plains
That one might say mid-winter night had come,
And with white snow had covered Sassoun-town.
His gall to water turned, his tongue stood tied,
And shouting ‘Halloo’ he rushed hack home.
"Halloo, run, it’s come.... Holla, soho, it’s come..."
“What, Uncle, what? What has come who has come?”
“(Fell fire-and-pain has come to David’s nose.)
Egypt’s king has risen and come, come and pitched
His tented armies on our plain. The stars
May be numbered but not his numberless hosts.
Alas, for our lives, alas for our world!
Come, let us take the gold, let us take the girls,
Let us fall on the ground before him, say prayers,
Perchance he may relent, forbear the sword.”
“Stay, Uncle, be not afraid; get you to
Your restful room and sleep on peacefully.
But now I’ll get up, gain the Sassoun plain
And make answer to the Egyptian king.”
Straight went David to his wonted grandam.
“Granny, my soul,” he said, “give me some scraps
Of iron, tarnished and old, a grate, a spit
Gather whatever you can and give it to me...
Also find me an ass on which I may sit...
Against the Egyptian hosts I go to war.
“My goodness, David,” she said, “Death take you!
Can you indeed be the son of that sire?
Your father had in war a fiery steed,
Fully caparisoned, with a bellyband of gold:
A club of steel, a pearled saddle, helmet
Hardy, and a ready cross on his right arm,
Mailed vest, and a sword lightning-laden.
And now here have you come, O you warped fool,
Asking from me an ass and an old spit.”
“O granny, not yet have I heard such things.
Where is now the armour of my father?”
“Go now to your uncle, ask it of him,
Say, ‘Where are they? Find, bring them, give to me."
If willingly he gives them not to you,
Gouge his eyes, she said “and take them forcibly.”
XIX
And David went to see his uncle Ohan.
"O Uncle, he called angered , "for battle
My father had a fiery steed fully
Caparisoned, with a bellyband of gold:
A club of steel, a pearled saddle, helmet
Hardy, and a ready cross on his right arm,
Mailed vest, and a lightning-laden sword.”
“Oh David, my soul,” Ohan roared in fear,
“Since from the day of your father’s death
I have not brought forth the steed from the barn,
Nor from the arms-chest the sword of lightning.
The mailed vest, the golden bellyband.
For goodness sake, let me be, plague me not,
If these you want scamper off and get them.”
XX
David clapped on his armour and his mail,
Buckled on, too, the belt of his lightning-sword
And, with the cross on his all-conquering arm,
Mounted his lion-hearted father’s steed,
Mounted his father’s steed and lashed it forth.
Weeping, Big-Voiced Ohan sang:
“Mercy, a thousand mercies
For the steed,
Alas, the fiery steed,
Mercy, a thousand mercies
For the bellyband,
Alas, the golden bellyband,
Mercy that the rich array is lost,
Alas, the rich array is lost.”
David flew into a rage,
Turned his horse and drove it back;
Poor Ohan paled, stood sore afraid,
And changed the burden of his song:
“Alas, my infant David’s lost,
Alas, my David’s lost. .
This when David heard,
His temper cooled—
He dismounted and kissed Ohan’s hand;
And Big-Voiced Ohan, as a father should,
Blessed him and gave him paternal counsels,
And put him on the road to Sassoun plain.
XXI
Now David of Sassoun an uncle had—
Toros by name—a fearful, giant-like man.
When he, too, heard of the rumors of war
With an elm-tree on his shoulder, he strode forth.
From afar he comes; roaring aloud he cries:
“Why are you come upon this field? Who are you,
How many heads may there be among you?
Have you no knowledge of David of Sassoun,
Have you not heard he’s on his way here,
And brings his winged horse to pace him around?
Clear away, David will be coming here,
Wherever he is—I’ve come to make a clearing.
As thus he spoke, he brought the elm-tree down
From his shoulder and swept off some twenty
Pitched tents of the army, the while David stood
On a fearsome height and roared a dragon s roar.
“You who are asleep, wake up,
You who are awake, get up and stand,
You who are afoot, take up arms,
You who are armed, saddle your horses,
"You who are saddled, mount your horses—
That you may not later say that while asleep
David stole stealthily upon you and left.. .
Thus he roared, and goading his fiery steed,
Came down like a lightning-bolt as from a cloud,
Spread terror among the Egyptian armies,
On all sides brandishing his lightning-sword.
He smashed and slew and slaughtered till high noon,
At high noon the blood rose in a floodtide~
He rounded up and drove off together
Thousands among those quick, among those dead.
Among the soldiers was an ancient man,
A sage, and one well-travelled in this world;
“Men,” he said, “make way for me, make way,
I must go to David and with him speak.”
He went to David and stood before him;
And this is how the elder spoke to him:
“O brave one, may your fist stay ever strong,
And in your hand always the stubby sword.
“But listen to the words of an old man
And see if there be any sense to them.
Pray tell, what have these men done unto you
That drives you on pell-mell to slaughter them?
“Each one among them is a mother’s son,
And each one a burning light in his home,
Far behind some have left their forlorn wives,
Wives whose eyes look on the road for their return,
“Some have left a home with many children filled,
Some have left behind parents old and poor,
And some in tears, with veils across their faces,
Are the young brides of only yesterday.
“Under sway of sword and by might, their king has
Gathered them up and marched them here together.
We are men to be pitied, with hastening days,
What harm have we brought to you, in what ways?
“Your foe’s the warring king, the king himself,
If you must fight, go fight with him instead.
Pray leave off drawing your lightning—laden sword
Spare these people—helpless, unprotected.”
“You speak right well and true, O ancient man.
Said David to the eld. “But where is the
Warring king? What can he now be doing?
Bring him forth that I may wreathe his days in black.”
"He has sent out from the great-tent, the one
That has the smoke issuing forth from its centre;
Yonder smoke is not smoke rising to the sky,
It is vapour from the king’s fuming mouth.”
Thus they spoke. Now David goaded on his
Horse and rode straight to where the great-tent stood.
He rode, and rode up to the entrance-door.
Thus he roared upon the Arabs standing guard:
“Where is he?” he said. “Why has he become scarce?
Call him out, into the open call him out;
If he knows not death, I have brought him death,
If he knows not his nemesis, she am I.”
"Melik," they said, "has fallen asleep.
For seven days must he sleep. Three days only
Have yet passed, four days more there now
Remain ere he will have had his share of sleep.”
“What! Has he brought these poor and pitiful folk,
Dumped them on this field, spilled their blood in seas,
While he seeks shelter under cover of
His great-tent, and sleeps peacefully for seven days!
“I cannot abide whether he sleeps or no.
Quick! Get him up and out into the open;
In such wise I’ll put him to sleep before
His entrance-door, he’ll never again awake.”
The men arose, crestfallen, then heated
An iron rod on the fire; they rapped upon
The open heels of the Egyptian king
Who was sunk in a deep peaceful sleep.
“How now! A body can no longer have
A peaceful sleep, the fleas are so noisome..."
So the great husky murmured to himself,
Turned around and once more fell asleep.
They went and with a great plough they returned,
In the strong and burning fire they placed its share,
And red-hot when it was, reddened and sparkling,
Straightway they clapped it on his naked back.
“How now! A body can no longer have
A peaceful sleep, mosquitoes are so unjust.
Slowly the great husky opened his eyes,
He wanted so to fall asleep again,
But David he saw. Muttering to himself,
He lifted his great head from where he slept.
A great blast of air he blew, on David,
Thinking in this way to set that giant to flight.
And when he saw that David stood stock-still,
Surprise and dread struck through his very soul.
His menacing, bloodshot eyes he cast sidelong
Gloweringly at David’s unblinking eyes.
But just as soon as he had looked, he felt
From him had ebbed the strength of half-score oxen.
So on the place he slept he now sat up,
And smiling, thus began to speak with him:
“Hello, well-met, David, you are still tired...
Come, sit down a bit—let’s talk as is proper,
Later we may still engage in combat,
That is, if you seek another combat.
The scheming tyrant, within his great-tent
Had caused a deep pit of forty spans to be dug,
Of which the black mouth had been covered over
With a screen and, over yet that, some bright throw-rugs.
His was ever the habit fawningly to lure
Unto him all those he failed to vanquish;
He coaxed them to sit within his great-tent,
Directly over that black and deadly well.
Dismounting from his horse, David came down,
He went in, he sat, he fell into the well.
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ho-ho, ho-ho, hee-hee,
Laughed Egypt’s merciless king, the king of Egypt.
“There, now let him go and stay in that dark
Well till he rots away and then some more.
Saying this, he brought an immense millstone,
A millstone immense, and rolled it over the well.
XXII
On that selfsame night Big-Voiced Ohan slept.
He dreamt that there appeared, up in the sky
Over Egypt, a bright sun, bright with rays,
But over Sassoun's fastnesses, a black cloud.
Ohan was terror-stricken. From his bed
He sprang. “O wife,” he said, “bring up a light.
Our artless David is in trouble again,

"And a black cloud hangs over Sassoun-town.”

“May the sod fall on your head!” said his wife.
“Who knows how or where David’s having fun...
Yet here you are asleep in your cozy home,
Seeing dreams and about others worrying.”
Ohan fell asleep. Again he started up:
“O wife, David is come to narrow straits.
So brightly glimmers Egypt’s brilliant star,
But sicklied over glows our star and yellow.”
“What’s come over you, man, in the middle of
The night?” his wife shouted in a fury.
Ohan again crossed himself upon the face,
Turned around and slept, though with a troubled heart.
He saw another dream, more fearful than
Before from heaven’s high arch there now sparkled,
Full-resplendently, Egypt’s star; Sassoun's
Waning little star sank slowly, toward the dark.
He woke up, afraid: “Wife, may your house be wrecked!
How could I listen to your witless brains!
Alone unto himself our young and orphaned
David now is lost. Up! Bring me my arms.
XXIII
Ohan arose and went forth to the barn
And gave his white horse a pat on the back.
"Well, white horse,” he said, "how long will it be
Ere you betake me to where David fights?”
“By dawn you shall be there,” and saying this,
The white horse stooped for him to mount.
“Your back be broken! What’ll I do at dawn,
View his corpse or his funeral attend?”
He gave the red horse a pat on the back.
That horse, too, stooped for Ohan to mount.
“O red horse,” he said, “how long will it be
Ere you betake me to where David fights?”
“In one hour you shall be there,” the red horse said,
“In one hour I’ll take you where David fights.”
“May you burst your gall! Pain and Death take you!
Alas for all that barley you have eaten.”
And now to the black horse the turn came around;
The black horse, too, stooped for him to mount.
“O my black little one, how long will it be,’’
He said, “ere you take me where David fights?”
“If on my back you can stay fast,’’ the black
Horse said, “No sooner your one foot’s in the
Stirrup and before the other one s thrown over,
I will have brought you where David fights.”
XXIV
Swiftly the black horse bore Big-Voiced Ohan:
He placed his left foot in the stirrup,
By the time he threw his right foot over,
The black horse had brought him to the highlands.
Now Ohan saw David’s steed, unmounted,
A-roaming in the highlands and neigbing aloud;
Below, he saw the Egyptian encampment,
Undulating endlessly like the sea.
And that he might not burst with his straining,
Ohan put on the skins of seven oxen.
And Ohan stood, like a cloud, atop the
Topmost peak in Sassoun’s highlands, and roared.
“O David, O David, where can you be!
But call to mind the cross on your arm, give
The name of Our Blessed Madonna
And come you out into the hnad daylight.”
His voice floated, reverberatingly,
And into David’s inner ear blared strong.
“Ho-ho! That is my uncle’s voice,” he said,
“From Sassoun's fastnesses he calls for me.
“O blessed Madonna of Marouta,
O intrepid cross of our litany,
I call on you—succour David now...
He called, and from his place rose to his feet:
In such strength, in such wise he smote the millstone,
The stone was smashed into a thousand pieces,
The pieces upward flew to high heaven,
And still to this day are they in flight.
Melik, formidable, came out of his lair;
By fear his fiendish spirit was possessed.
“Brother David, do still come over here,
Let us sit at board together and parley..."
“Never again at board will I sit with you,
You base, you crooked, you poltroonly man;
Get up, quick, take up your arms, mount your horse,
Come out into the open and let us fight.”
“Indeed let’s fight, let us fight,” Melik said,
“But mine is the right to strike the first blow.”
“Oh very well, it’s yours, strike,” David called.
He rode and stopped in the middle of the plain.
Musra-Melik arose, came to his feet,
He took up his lance and mounted his horse,
And dashed off all the way to Diarbekir,
And from that place yet again returned.
Three thousand boulders was Melik drawing
By the handle of his gigantic lance.
He charged and struck a blow—at once the dust
Arose and the world’s globe trembled strong.
“There’s been an earthquake or the world’s destroyed,”
Said many people throughout the world;
"No," others said "bloodthirsty giants,
Men of might, are having at each other.”
“From but this single blow hath David died,”
Musra-Melik told his myriad soldiers,
But David from beneath a cloud called forth,
“Musra-Melik, yet am I among the quick!”
“Well, from short distance only did I charge,
But you’ll see now from where it is I come!”
Arose the mighty one, came to his feet,
And sprang on his mount for a second time.
Clear to Aleppo he rode the second time,
On his way back from there he left free the reins.
Reins came and hail, and a strong hurricane
With its tremendous force, shook the whole world.
He came, he struck, and from the clamour of
The blow, standers-by were fully deafened.
“Lost is David to the House of Sassoun,”
Announced the haughty Egyptian monarch.
“Among the quick am I,” shouted David,
“Charge once again — ’tis still your turn.”
“Well! From short distance only did I charge,”
Melik shouted, and sprang upon his mount.
The third time now that he mounted his horse,
Out and away he rode to Egypt’s own soil,
And from that distance, the lance in his hand,
Back he rode, charging full-tilt on David.
He charged on David and struck with all his strength,
Struck with a crushing and formidable blow:
The dust went up as high as Sassoun s steeps,
So dense it was the sun’s face stood beclouded.
For three nights and for three days, the dust lay
Like a cloud over all the countryside.
For three nights and for three days, the rumours
Went forth that David of Sassoun had died.
When there had passed three days, like the dust
That stood cloudlike, David too did stand;
Yea, as the peak, the peak of Mount Kur-Kur
Stood David, fog-shrouded, majestic.
“O Melik,” he roared, “whose turn is it now?”
The proud soul of Melik was terror-stricken:
Death’s tremors now possessed his very heart,
His haughty, puffed-up spirit was now let down.
Melik strode forth and dug himself a deep well,
He let himself down into the dark grot,
He covered its opening with forty skins,
And covered these again with forty millstones.
That lion-hearted son of the lion hearted,
David, stood up from where he sat, grumbling,
Mounted his stormy steed, made it career,
As aloft he held his gleaming Lightning-Sword.
There now came forth, her hair loosed before her,
The mother of Melik, a mean old crone:
“O David, by my hair draw me beneath
Your heels, but deal thy very first blow on me.
The second time he lifted high his sword,
There came running Musra-Melik’s sister:
“O David, if it be your wish,” she called,
“Strike your second blow on my fainting heart.”
Now the hour had come for the final blow;
And for the third time David raised his sword.
“Now one blow have I left. I must strike for God’s sake,”
He said, “I must strike... no one else remains.”
Saying thus, he mounted, careered his horse.
His fiery steed took flight and sailed high,
In the heavens careered, defiantly—
Then downward came the lightning-laden sword.
Through forty hides of oxen did it pass,
Also through forty millstones did it pass,
Clear through the loathsome monster did it cleave,
Cut into his flesh seven feet deep.
“I am among the quick! Strike once again!”
Melik roared from deep within the well.
David heard, and was much astonished
At the blow he’d struck and his Lightning-Sword.
"Melik," he said, "do move about a bit."
And Melik made a stir within the well.
Right down the middle his body split,
One section falling here, another there.
The Egyptian soldiers, when they viewed that sight,
Terror-stricken, their blood to water turned.
David called: “Be none of you in fear,
But listen yet to what I have to say.
“You are but tillers of the soil, farmers,
Benighted and denied, hungry, naked,
With a thousand and one ills and pains,
With a thousand and one troubles to boot;
“Why have you taken up the bow and arrow,
Spilled over onto far and alien plains?
Know you not that we too have homes and hearths,
We too have tender babes and the aged?
“Have you tired of the quiet and peaceful life,
The quiet and peaceful life of the husbandman?
Are you tired of the threshing-floor, the field,
Tillage and sowing, your harvests and greens?
“Return you by the paths that brought you here
Return to the native soil of Egypt;
But if once again by might and in arms
You should dare to march against these freeborn men,
“Be the wells you dig forty measures deep,
Be they covered up with forty millstones,
Against you will rise, just as today,
David of Sassoun and his Lightning-Sword.
“And at that time, only God will know
Who between us shall the sorrier be...
We who rise to wage a battle great,
Or you, who’ve made of us your enemy.

Translated by Aram Tolegian




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