The Forgotten Poet: Joseph Dzhugashvili

Lev Kotyukov

In the canonical biography of J.V. Stalin published by the Institute of Marx-Engels-Lenin during his lifetime and, as some maintain, written and edited by him, there is not even half a word about the poetic creativity of the leader.

In their youth many people dream of becoming poets, but running out of wind in their race to be published and attain fame, they reconcile with their failure and in their mature age muse over their homespun doggerel with a smile. Therefore the leader did not consider it necessary to talk about his passion for poetry in his monumental life-story. This is the most apparent conclusion. But it would be a wrong one. Joseph Dzhugashvili, in contrast with the failed artist Adolf Schickelgruber, did not dream just about poetic recognition: he was a poet, was recognized and distinguished as a poet in the very early years of hazy youth. Georgian journals and papers readily gave him space on their pages and his verses were fondly learned by heart. Especially noteworthy is the fact that, not anybody else but the living classic of Georgian literature Iliya Chavchavadze marked Joseph Dzhugashvili out as a ‘young man with burning eyes’ and included his verses in the reading book for schools. Who among the present young and not so young poets can boast of such early recognition?

Then why did the proud ambitious young Dzhugashvili did not follow his passion? Why, being born a poet and like Arthur Rimbaud, having attained fame in the very beginning, he goes into the revolution and forgets himself as a poet? Lets' try, as much as it is possible, to answer this question.

The end of the XIX Century in Russia was marked by the tumultuous development of capitalism. The 1880-1890 years were indeed very anti-poetic. Forgetting about eternity people were turning Time into Money; with contempt for poetry they were engaging in business. The fact speaks for itself that the brilliant work ‘Evening lights’ of Afanasii Fet, published by the poet from his own pocket, remained practically unsold. It would not be out of place to remember the contemptuous words of Lev Tolstoi that were so popular at the time: ‘Writing poetry is like dancing around a plough’.

The young, much too mature for his years, Joseph Dzhugashvili knew well that a poet’s career promises not only fame, but also humiliation, and he did not want to reconcile with such a fate as, from childhood, remaining under the weight of the secrecy of his background, he knew well what awaits him. He moves away from poetry … moves away in order to struggle against universal oppression. The result of this struggle is known.

What we do not know is whether Joseph Dzhugashvili forgot the poet in himself forever after coming out in the world under the name of Stalin. Poets jealously hide their secrets for eternity. But who knows…But we know that during the Soviet period his verses where never published and, moreover, were never included in any reading book, though, visibly, to do so must have been just so easy.

It is true that in 1949, on the initiative of L.P. Beria, an attempt was made, secretly from Stalin, to publish his verses in Russian as a gift edition on his 70th birth anniversary. For this purpose, under strict secrecy, the best translators were involved including B. Pasternak and A. Tarkovskyi.

Having acquainted themselves with the anonymous verses, not being able to guess the name of the author, one of the master translators exclaimed: ‘this work is worth the Stalin Award of the first order’.

But in the middle of the work on the translation a stern order was received to immediately stop the work. I think, there is no need to guess where the order came from – the poet Joseph Dzhugashvili did not become a laureate of the Stalin Award by the will of Stalin.

The end of the present century (XX century – trans.), as the previous one is renowned by a precipitous decline in interest for poetry among our public educated on Mexican tele-serials. On the minds and the lips of every one there is only money, money and money…and the delusion that the wind blows not through the green leaves of the Russian birch tree but through these satanic ‘greenbacks’, and everywhere – humiliation, humiliation and humiliation …it comes to ones mind with sadness and apprehension that maybe at this very moment a young boy with the Divine gift in his heart, having experienced a thousand humiliations in his search for a so called ‘sponsor’ for the publication of his brilliant book gazes with a devastated look thorough a dark dead space and crumples a sheet of paper with unfinished verses and reaches out for a new sheet and writes the application for joining a newly formed party of ‘fighters for peoples’ happiness and justice’.

And the young boy is sad at heart, and grief be upon the people, when true poets and prophets turn to revolution and politics, and the run of the mill politicians and presidents vainly yearn for the recognition fit only for prophets and artists.

The poetic interest of Joseph Dzhugashvili lasted only four years from 1893 to 1896. The manuscripts of his verses have been irrevocably lost and the search for those published during his lifetime is very limited due to well- known reasons. At present we are publishing some of his verses that have been unjustifiably forgotten by us and the poet himself.

‘Zavtra’ No. 41 (46), 1994
Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar


Joseph Dzhugashvili

To The Moon (1)

Swim untiring, as before
Over storm hidden earth
Blow away the thick storm of gloom
With your silver radiance.

To the earth unfolded sleepily
You bend with a tender smile
Sing to Kazbek* a lullaby
Whose blanket of ice rises to embrace you.

But know it well, one who was once
Banished and plunged to ashes,
Will rise to the height of Mtatsminda
With his inspiration having taken wings.

Sitting in the dark heart of the sky
Playing with its pale rays
Illuminated my land to the brim for me
With your even light.

I will open my heart to you
Stretch my hand in meeting
Once again, with a thumping heart
I look at the bright moon.

* A reference to the Caucasian mountain known in Georgian as Mkinvari. According to tradition this was the mountain to which Prometheus was bound.

Oh Bard! Since you were moved to tears
By the peasants’ bitter fate
From then on, it has been your fate
To feel the intense burning pain.

When you triumphed, deeply moved
By the grandeur of your homeland
Songs called out to you, as if
Flowing from the divine heights.

When, inspired by the fatherland
You touched your most intimate strings
It was as if a young man in love,
Was dedicating to it his dreams.

From that moment onwards,
You are bound to the people with ties of love
And you built a monument for yourself
In the heart of every Georgian.

To the immortal song of my land’s singer
An award must be conferred,
Already the seed has taken root
Reap the harvest now!

Not for nothing people glorify you
You shall live unto eternity
And many like Eristavi*
Let my country raise her sons.

* Eristavi, Rafael Davidovich (1824-1901). Georgian poet, ethnographer and folklorist. The most prominent theme of his work was the hard life of the peasantry.


A rose bud opened
Clinging to the blue violet
Awakened by a light breeze
Bends the lily upon the grass.

The lark sang in the blue sky
Flying higher than the clouds
And the sweet sounding nightingale
For children sang her song from the bush.

Blossom my Georgia!
Let peace reign all over my homeland!
And you my friends through knowledge
Bring glory to your homeland.

Our friend Nininka is getting older
Weighed down under his grey hair
His strong shoulders have drooped
Our hero is becoming feeble.

What a stroke of bad luck
He once with his furious sickle
Crossed the squalling field
One step falling heavily after another.

He walked straight on the stubble field
Wiping the sweat from his face
And then the flames of merriment
Illuminated the young man.

But now his legs do not move
Evil old age does not spare anyone
And the old man lay crippled
Telling stories to his children.

When the songs of free labour
Are heard from the corn fields
The heart as always
Beats faster filled with wonder.

Bending over his crutches
The old man stands up
With a smile for the children
His face lights up.

As he walks from house to house
Knocking on strangers’ doors
With his oak mandolin
Playing his simple song.

And in his song, in his song
Pure as the radiance of the sun
Grand Truth can be heard
Of lofty sublime dreams.

The hearts that turned into stone
Are forced to beat once more
For many he ignited Reason
That once slumbered on in Darkness.

But instead of bestowing on him glory
The people of his land
Brought the outcast
Poison in a cup.

They told him "Damn you!
Drink! Drain it to the bottom
Your song is strange to us
Your truth we do not need."

When the moon with her radiance
Suddenly illuminates the earthly world
Her pale blue sparkle
Plays on the farthest corners.

Upon the azure grove
The nightingale sings her song
Her tender voice can be heard
Not waning but free.

Silenced for a moment
The stream shall sing again in the mountains
The dark forest in the night is
Awakened by wind’s gentle wings.

When haunted by hellish Darkness
You return to your homeland
Haunted by hellish Darkness
You fortuitously glimpse sunlight.

Then the clouds tormenting the soul
Shall clear the dark veil
And Hope awakens my heart
With its deafening sound.

The poet’s spirit rises high
And the heart beats for Reason
I know that this Hope
Is blessed and pure.

I.V. Stalin, Izbrannye sochineniya v 3-kh tomakh, Tom I, Izdatelstvo gazety ‘Patriot’, Moscow, 1999, pp. 1-4.

Translated from the Russian by Shubhra Nagalia

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