from Song of Bread
TO THE MUSE (OVERTURE)
Muse of my ancestors, tell me how the plowman,
grabbing the crooked horns of his plow,
tears the barren breast of the earth;
how the torrents of the sun fertilize wounds
Tell me how one raises bundles of tawny wheat,
how the mill-stones whine, how the dough
overflows from the mixer, how
one shoves it in for a trial by fire
Tell me of the joy of bread,
Muse, crown my lyre with ears of wheat!
By the bushels, in the shade of the willow
I sit—and I bear songs.
In the blue haze of dawn, the plow mutters, stirring the earth.
On the side of the hill: oxen,
heads low, bells ringing,
still thinking of the stable hay.
Springing from the shoulder of the mountain,
the sun brushes lips against the tiller’s forehead.
The man sings, gripping the handles,
and the path he traces is as straight as his soul.
Steaming furrows open up,
fertile clods align,
The plowshare casually traverses the space in its entire length,
flooding the tillage with its silver shards.
Mutilated, massacred, fat worms squirm,
fear seizes moles in their dark holes,
and the blood of decapitated snakes
sprays in the trenches.
The sun, brimming with fire, pours it into fragrant furrows.
This year the countryside has stayed fallow,
but the plowed surface has already grown
The oxen pull fiercely, the waxen hair of their bellies
shivering when the lash flays skin.
What does it matter that the plow groans against an obstacle in its path,
or that peasant sweat drips down into the earth.
Even before the rattle on the other side sounds,
the side of the hill will be thrown into shadow,
the plowing finished—blessed
by the evening mist and the foam of oxen.
When, at the end of the field,
suddenly the muddy plow refuses to move any further
the tiller, exhausted, thinking only of crops, will say to themselves:
the plowshare has just hit a vase filled with gold.
Underground teeming sap, silent bursting of the seed,
tonight, under the Spring moon, my fields began to green…
Mother, bring me a sprout,
covered with the dew of my sweat
Look how furiously the wheat has sprung and found the air,
the plains are clothed in emerald…
Little Sister, bring me a sprout,
covered in the foam of my oxen
From field to field, small green candles sparkle,
on the lips of each shoot
shines a pearl
Shepherd, bring me a sprout,
covered in the glow of sunlight
The shoots adorn the naked earth with life
bringing the early scent and flowers of bread,
the black soil swims in the greenery
My bride, my dear, bring me a sprout,
covered in the perfume of your fingers
In my fields bristling with shoots
over there all alone
my almond tree has blossomed
Mother, sister, shepherd,
and you, my bride, my dearest:
bring me flowers, pink flowers
covered in the hope of the harvester.
About the Author
Daniel Varoujan (1884-1915) was a 20th-century Armenian writer and poet. Born in Prknig (now Çayboyu), he attended the University of Ghent and later returned to his village to teach. In 1914, he and fellow intellectuals Aharon Parseghian, Gostan Zarian, Hagop Oshagan, and Kegham Parseghian founded Mehian (Temple), a literary group and magazine aimed at centralizing Armenian artists into a new renaissance. Varoujan was arrested and killed by Ottoman authorities during the Armenian Genocide in 1915, but an unfinished manuscript of his poetry was reportedly saved through bribery. This collection, entitled Song of Bread, was published posthumously in 1921 by Aras Publishing. It was later translated into French and Italian, and excerpts appear in English for the first time here.
About the Translator
Yesenia Vargas is a public diplomacy scholar based in Los Angeles. She currently works in communications and volunteers with the nonprofit press Phoneme Media, an imprint of Deep Vellum Publishing dedicated to literature in translation. Her writing has appeared in outlets ranging from Autostraddle to The Diplomat. Song of Bread is her first book-length translation project.