LAST >>International PEN Publication << PREVIOUS

The poet’s achievement, separate from time

by D Magsarjav (Mongolian literary critic) | 18 August 2011


It was T S Eliot who gave me the title of this essay. Eliot, whose first lyric poem, “The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock” the American poet John Berryman described as “our first modern poem,” held that “The Wasteland” had left “deep tracks in poetic tradition.” When, in 1948, the Nobel Academy awarded him that year’s Literature Prize, referring to his “exceptional work to renew poetry,” Eliot replied to their encomium by saying that “for a poet, to receive the Nobel Prize confirms the value of poetry to human civilisation. Because of this, it is necessary always to reward poets.

I view the award of this Nobel Prize not as an award for my own gifts, but for the achievement of poetry.” Eliot had studied Sanskrit and Buddhism at Harvard and had subsequently begun to write in an avant-garde style, graduating to the ranks of the school of New Criticism at Cambridge. He received literary awards in Germany, France the United States and Great Britain, including academic recognition from sixteen universities. He declared himself a royalist, and an Anglo-Catholic by religious persuasion, and became a British national. For Eliot, moreover, the question of faith was central to his poetry, his spiritual life being at every moment as much a part of his existence in the world as of his own personal existence.

A Mongolian poet G.Mend-Ooyo

From the 1980s onwards, while the economies of the Soviet bloc nations were blinded by a hysteria which intended to preserve communism, a crisis was fomenting among the higher echelons as much as among the ordinary people. Mongolia too was touched by this and, following the democratic revolution of 1990, the problematic of communist theory having been responsible for the destruction of socialism, many and various ideologies developed beneath the standard of freedom, and thus the crisis of theory grew ever deeper.

Mongol letters is today subject to a problem similar to that which affected the European tradition during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The advocates of modernism and postmodernism tend to deny the older forms without even considering the implications of their approach, and so here the torrent flows along, gathering to itself the detritus from the gullies surrounding the writers’ encampment.

But among those writers of what is called new poetry, who prefer not to associate with the old ideas, there are some who have forged for themselves a fruitful path. One group has sought to plant in Mongol soil the roots of European and American postmodernism, while another has sought to renew and support the pre-existing traditions. T S Eliot may not be familiar to Mongol readers, but in choosing not to deny tradition, even as he moved from the avant-garde to classicism, he placed the new literature together with the classics.

He desired that each might exercise its own influence, and so brought together the works of European literature, starting with Homer, and including myth and epic and oral poetry, which thus constituted the culture as a whole. Critics regard “The Lovesong of J Alfred Profrock,” published in 1915, as Eliot’s poetic response to writers such as the French symbolist Jules Laforgue, such as the seventeenth century English metaphysical poets, such as Shakespeare and Tennyson, while the complex allegories and myths of “The Wasteland” call forth extensive critical analysis. Thus we can see that for Eliot, innovation and excellence should come together in the same work. Eliot saw that literature, like society itself, developed over time, but that tradition remained unaffected by both time and society. Thus Eliot was constantly seeking to understand the past, for which reason he needed always to deny his individuality.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the poet who has been pursuing in Mongolia a path similar to Eliot’s has been Gombojavin Mend-Ooyo. But Eliot and Mend-Ooyo were not of the same breed. And although Mend-Ooyo is an oriental, although he wears a tattered old sheepskin deel, still he wraps his books in the finest silks, he is a child of Mongolia, its ancestral wisdom, religion, culture and customs preserved in its songs and prayers and stories and epic poems.

Mend-Ooyo wrote his first poems under the influence of a famous translator and poet named Dorjiin Gombojav, whilst he was studying at middle school in Dariganga, in the area around the famous sacred site of Golden Hill. His father was also named Gombojav and was a famous local horse trainer. Some people say that the horse trainer shown in Dagdani Amgalan’s well-known picture “The Country of the Little Sharga” is Mend-Ooyo’s father. Mend-Ooyo’s mother was a storyteller, a woman full of ancient wisdom. And, beneath the powerful wings of Golden Hill, these four – the wide and blue-mist country of Dariganga, the horse-trainer, the storyteller and the translator-poet – exercised their influence over Mend-Ooyo’s mind as it grew and developed. The lovely country of Dariganga selflessly offered beautiful sights to his eyes and beautiful sounds to his ears, and his father and mother passed down to him their popular wisdom. And his teacher, the poet Gombojav, extended what they had given by introducing to his young student the very best of world literature.

Read the full version of "The poet’s achievement, separate from time" at:

Read G.Mend-Ooyo’s other poems at:

publications home

Uyghur Pen

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict Valid CSS!     W3C Validated website. Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict & CSS Level 2.1.