Abai Kunanbayev. Octaves

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You start your flight from a distance,

Impinging on the soul’s resistance

      You penetrate all existence.


In a flash

      Dashing to overtake the prey in flight.

      You ninety-times strung and well-tensed tongue,

      Speak, if you will-to speak is your right!


Engravers’ tools cannot achieve,

Nor needlewomen ever weave

      A pattern such as you conceive…

Pure pearl for the wise,

Cheap in fool’s eyes-

      Something ignorance feels it won’t need.

O tongue, heed no fools! Don’t grieve in vain-

So deaf are their ears, so dull is their brain!


An empty chuckle-head,

Where all thought lies dead-

      That’s the trait of a mulish brain.

Such people say, “Now let us agree,

What most folk think is what it must be!”

      Whenever you hear, if ever you see,

Such lapses in logic and absence of will

Let them serve as a warning-don’t talk, tongue, be still.


The blood throbs hot,

Fierce rage runs rife

      Seeing the sots and their way of life.

“Wake up! Stand up!

Get up! Step up!”

      You tell them time and again.

      But they, without shame, will listen no more.

     They flop on their backs and soon start to snore.


To brew mischief and trouble,

While they spout at the double,

      Provides these types with the keenest delight.

All bluster and gas,

Crass brains of an ass-

      Sons who defame their father’s good name,

      Petty and narrow, lacking in shame,

      To no saving grace can they lay a claim.


Gibbering nonsense and balderdash,

Sneaking, intriguing, provoking a clash-

      That is the favourite game of such trash.

At the beck and call of scum.

Braggarts beckon-just see them run!

      The lower the type, the closer they come.

      Honour and truth have both fled away,

Nobody cares for such things today.


No bitter rancor should you feel.

Devote your life to the common weal.

      The joy in hard work will be lasting and real…

Peals of laughter, loud and hollow,

Follow on jokes licentious and vile,

      But never yet led to a deed that’s worth while.

      A hard-working man will not lack a square meal,

      For alms, like a beggar, he need not appeal.


Learn to trade, or plough a field.

Reap the fruits such labours yield.

      Improve your skill and work with zeal.

Be honest,  man, don’t lounge about!

Abjure the role of scrounging lout

      Then wealth you’ll acquire, good fame and health.

As long as Kazakhs can’t respect a Kazakh

The good things of life our Kazakh clans will lack.


Among yourselves, Kazakhs, make peace.

Let none abuse you, None can fleece

      United clans. Your quarrels cease.

While powers-that-be can lie and steal,

Misusing trust, with no appeal.

      Your life will be one long ordeal.

      Let honour and your heart awake!

      My warning stands for all to take.


If a man is idle and also replete

You can be sure very soon he will meet

      His shame before men and utter defeat.

In discord misfortune grows rife-

Stop hating, stop baiting your neighbours in life,

     For evil and ruin lie lurking in strife.

      Stop your informing. Silence is better.

May you never again writc a poison-pen letter.


You’re so idle I know when you ride

It’s to steal someone’s cattle you hope you can hide.

      Cattle-thieving-by whom were you taught?

      … But someone shall judge you. He shan’t be bought,

Then things that for years have been rousing your lust

Will be things that may yet bring your head to the dust.


It is not in my body that I am infirm,

But deep in my soul, so that I must yearn

      For fugitive solace at every turn.

I find the air stifling and heavy all round…

For hours I weep without making a sound,

      Held in the grip of depression profound.

      This dull satiation is numbing my heart,

      Distracting, divorcing my mind from my art.


My spirit is weakened. It lacks all resistance.

My acts, like my thoughts, are devoid of consistence.

My life’s days are numbered, my goal is still distant…

Without the gay whirl of days long gone by,

Or erstwhile beauty-here beauty must die –

      I cannot endure this repulsive existence.

      No pilgrim am I of the kind who holds back,

      Yet travel I cannot, provisions I lack!


One honest man cannot defeat

The legion of rogues who bait us and cheat-

      With the our  existence is riddled, replete…

My life’s finest years have faded and fled,

My most precious forces lie shriveled and dead,

      While the hot coals of scorn are heaped on my head.

Time flashes by, yet life is untasted…

Intentions and efforts all have been wasted!


To seem to possess news from inside,

To pass as an orator, wise and lynx-eyed,

      Well versed in law, is a headman’s pride,

There is a sight oppressors find sweet-

Poor people crawling in dust at their feet

      Fawning like curs that bad masters beat.

      Headmen ruin a man whose conscience is clear,

      And yet raise up another who cringes with fear.


You who have taught men the meaning of fear,

Spreading the bane of black terror here,

      Should know that your acts won’t bring good fortune near.

The people have learnt that they cannot trust you,

And you can’t trust them, whatever you do.

      Just try to make people take part in your game…!



At mountains I shouted and cried.

I sought for an answer, and cach time I tried

      I heard many voices resounding again.

I had to make sure that the sounds that I heard

Could in fact form an answering word.


            As lonely I stand

As an old shaman s tomb that all men avoid –

Such is the truth, and truth leaves my soul void…


                                                       (Abai Kunanbayev: Abai Kunanbayev: Selected poems. «Octaves» Translated by Tom Botting)


Ardakh Nurgaz. At the bottom of fruit tree (The essay about the poem “The Garden of Trees”)


Ардақ Нұрғазы. Шығыс пен Батыстың поэзиясы...


Abai Kunanbayev: Abai Kunanbayev: Selected poems.


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