Cho’lpon’s A Girl of the East
Here is an Uzbek poem I translated from the Jadid period in the early 20th century.
This is Abdul Hamid Cho’lpon’s 1920 poem Girl of the East. It was chosen as an excellent example of veiled references to politics, cloaked in the metaphor of a young girl’s whimsical musings. It is a calm and subtle call for political independence and the access to self-governance of international affairs for Turkestan in the light of growing Soviet power.
They say, a cold, sorrowful, black winter
In passing, may bring the beauty of spring.
And supposedly, birds who love flowers will sing.
The flower, too, may look coquettishly to those birds.
Only I, alone, a girl of the East, do not feel the coming of that spring.
As the long, black winter’s traces have not yet passed,
I go to meet its friend, the fall.
For me, the pleasure of this light-filled world
Is but to dance my eyes around four walls.
For me, the time of greatest joy
Is when I awaken the dreams inside my heart.
I am an Eastern girl, like the East itself.
My entire body and soul is the nest of dreams.
My black eyes are like a deer’s,
Unaware of the hunter’s arrow’s aim.
They say in summer, everything is alive.
One can breathe freely, be happy, and enjoy oneself.
They say, about women of the East,
When will they enter that light-filled world?
The poet’s vantage point of a ‘girl of the east’ is clearly in reference to the East itself (in case that was unclear, he lets us know with “I am an Eastern girl, like the East itself.”) The reference to spring and the blossoming of foliage here refers to the political developments around the world following breakup of the old world order in the wake of World War I. Around the world societies were opening up, peoples were asserting themselves as national entities with self-determination, but Central Asia was once again falling under the dominion of a foreign occupying power. The reference to her life inside four walls is both a cultural reference – women in Central Asia are said to live ‘inside four walls,’ i.e., that the woman’s place is in the home – and a reference to the geographic enclosure of Central Asia between four countries, political giants compared to Turkestan. Here we also see two other major stylist devices of Jadidist poetry. Again, the flower, about to blossom and come into its flourishing beauty, is used as a metaphor for Turkestan. We also see the comparison to a deer- an unwitting, unaware victim about to be pounced upon by a predator. His line, ‘Unaware of the hunter’s arrow’s aim,’ refers to those nations who sought to sweep in and exploit the land and its people.
If spring represents the burgeoning hope of independence and summer the full blossoming of political freedom, Central Asia here skips over both and goes from dismal winter right back to fall’s ominous dark clouds. As the hope and optimism that came with the downfall of the Czar waned with the consolidation of Bolshevik power in the 1920s, Jadidist leaders saw their first great opportunity for independence and self-determination being taken out from under them.