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Mateos Zarifian

Mateos Zarifian, the last great lyrist of Western Armenian poetry, was born in Constantinople. He received his education at Perperian School. Afterwards he worked as a teacher in the city of Adana in Cilicia and later at the very school he graduated from, Perperian School.

He also worked with periodicals “New Year” and “Battle”. He read a lot. In his diaries, letters and poems you often come across names of world literature giants.

A talented athlete, he was training to compete in the World Olympic games but these hopes were dashed abruptly when at the age of 27 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He turned to poetry, a catharsis, to cope with the reality. Three years after the sudden onset of TB the life of a shooting star ended leaving the light of it. His diaries start from 1916.

Zarifian’s first book of poems, “Grief and Peace Songs” was published in 1921. A year later the second book, “Life and Death Songs” was published. Separate poems were published in newspapers. Following the great tragedy of Armenians in 1915 the people in search of songs of spiritual peace and noble feelings close to the heart found relief in Mateos Zarifian’s poems, simple and pure, sensitive and stirring. His songs are true reflections of 1919-23 Constantinople life of Armenians – the nightmare of war, the grief were yet alive but the life itself demanded to live on without weeping and to love life not forgetting the past.

Zarifian the poet brought both the song of new days, of peace and the song of grief rooted deep in heart. The poetic meditation of human frailty and death often produces its opposite, confirmation of the value of life: Zarifian’s poetry affirms the new life. Feelings of sorrow and death take their root in the national as well as personal grief.

The grim destiny drove the poet to seek “the summits of mountains blue”, to enjoy “a dreamy silence and peace”. The poet seeks solace in nature to absorb its splendor as balm to his suffering soul. He is rebellious against the nothingness of early death and is determined that he shall yet live, even in the shadow of death.

The collection “Grief and Peace Songs” is an expression of peace in the sorrowful spirit. The collection “Life and Death Songs” is the love of a dying youth to life, the confirmation of life against death. Characteristic to his poetry is the description of the moment, the present experience. Mateos Zarifian"s poetry is a flow of life’s glory and a desire for its possible fullest enjoyment. They encourage to defy death, however imminent.

Witnessing “the dying colors of the sky” the poet wishes to breath his last like a sunset. “Who could not wish a demise such as this, one from which stars are born”, he says.

Love is a dominant motive in Zarifian’s legacy. To him love, the supreme manifestation of life, already meant to live, he was ready to give his whole life for an instant of love. His love songs involve bliss of love and infinite satisfaction of spirit, eagerness and longing, waiting and sorrow of farewell, compassion and pain for the beloved (“The Little Girl”, “Compassion”).

The poems of unrealized dreams, of unlived possibilities and impossible love, are marked by beautiful imagery as a backdrop to an insight into a tortured spirit. As his end draws nearer the poet is at a loss how to react the declared love of a young girl - should he refuse her first love and break her tender heart or should he love her and give his heart on the verge of death? To do the last would be deceit, for he could give nothing in return.

“She has not seen the infinite darkness of my eyes... she has not seen into the deep dark abyss of my soul”, the poet says. Therefore, like a brother, he just asks her to go home and sleep.

Mateos Zarifian’s songs are whispers of a youngster in love with life yet experiencing the ghost of death, murmurs of a vivacious spirit, bright and gloomy, rebellious and calm. The bright light of the soul with melodies of nature was the only way to conquer death.

Zarifian suggests impressive glimpses into the emotional and intellectual world of those who, struck down by some tragic turn, refuse to succumb to pessimism and idle despondency. Though the personal pain turns his soul into “a cold winter midnight” but there still “burn a few remaining lanterns that look up to the heavens”.

The following piece from his diary was written three years before his death: “I shall live. With my teeth I shall tear to pieces the black paw that death offers to my soul.

I have yet an infinite strength. This seemingly fading and ruined essence still has so many springs. A proof? The bright eruption of my will from the depths of despair... I shall live.”
Writer: Hasmik Muradyan
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Thursday August 31, 2006 09:00:16 

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