Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Abai

Hello! I hope you’re all healthy and safe. To those who celebrate, happy Passover.

Today I’m reviewing a book that I stayed up late reading…

Selected Poems, by Abai Kunanbayev

Señor GIF - falcons - Greatest GIFs Of All Time - Pronounced GIF or JIF? -  Cheezburger

“My puppy grew into a dog—
And my leg it bit one day.
I taught a youngster once to shoot
He may take my life away.”

This book was written by Abai Kunanbayev, considered to be the greatest poet in Kazakhstan. It was super-interesting, which was why I stayed up late with it.

First of all, the poems themselves were interesting and fresh. The gist of a lot of them was “you need to pay attention to what I’m writing” or “life is transitory” or “politicians are corrupt” or “people these days don’t try hard enough.” Sometimes Abai seemed pretty cynical, but the disappointment he expressed in his poems also had a hint of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if the right person were to read his poems, Abai would be able to get his point across and help someone become less lazy.

What was also interesting about these poems was how much they reminded me of other poems. Many of them made me think of Attar’s “The Conference of the Birds” (which you should definitely read if you haven’t). The same ideas came up in both—the poet offering riches that are overlooked by ignorant masses, life being transitory and poisonous, and the importance of reading things closely. I’d say Attar did it slightly better, since Abai’s poems sometimes had an echo-like quality, as if he were just going through the motions of saying “poets throw pearls before swine” instead of always meaning it.

There was also a poem by Abai that reminded me a lot of Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.” Interestingly, Abai wrote his poem in 1892, four years before Housman wrote his. Could Abai have influenced Housman? Probably not, but it’s cool to see that Abai beat Housman to the punch.

So in the end I would definitely recommend this book. Some of the poems felt like watered-down imitations of Attar, but the majority of them felt fresh and original and worth the read.

Have you read any poems that reminded you of others? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s