Skip to content
For literary responses to COVID-19 from writers around the world, check out our Voices from the Pandemic series.
from the August 2007 issue

St. Mesrop Cycle


Most holy grave of Oshakan,

Soil of intellect today, from whence

An illustrious history of fifteen stormy centuries,

From East to West--two Armenias entire,

Moves freely, praying, toward You . . .

Endless dead one of Oshakan,

You with thousands of branches,

Golden-tongued river of knowledge,

Redeemer of the mind, Titan of hope, Center of life,

You, reduced to eternal dust,

You, vault of inextinguishable torches,

To whom I came, like a beggar,

In my days of youth, to illuminate my mind . . .

Most high master of Oshakan,

You, most-learned monk and cup of God,

You, Jesus' abundantly sweet-smelling cassock,

Fountain of words, summit of speech,

Peak of endless possibility,

You, basin of knowledge and blue rain of prayer,

The entire world still is perfumed by a handful from your soil . . .

You of Oshakan, imperishable, pious,

A hermit plunged into the desert,

You innocent and templelike recluse,

Forest of incense, garden of frankincense,

You, lordly disseminator of Christ's fine Words,

And just pillar of granite,

And dome of the mind and immense horizon of the soul,

You, autumnal fountain of grace,

From your faith, I believing also cry . . .

Dead undying one in Oshakan,

Ineffable and first-born tutor,

I, a dreaming six year old child,

Your alphabet primer in hand, innocently spelling

The first cross from my brow to my heart,

Believe me, O paternal one,

I have made the sign of the cross before your picture . . .

And listen today, the murmuring of the flower garden,

From the young lilylike bodies,

To the old who smell of earth,

They praise your Holy name . . .

Oshakan's intellectual potsherd,

Inglorious slumberer near the church altar,

And of the big Book of the messenger Jehovah,

You the holy word translator,

Diamond-encrusted key of the golden ages,

You, unbounded window to Armenian learning,

You, assembly of languages, resting place of beauty,

You, marble walkway of thought,

Allow that your drunken disciple

Fifteen centuries later, may worship you . . .

Our vigilant God of Mind from Oshakan,

You, the founder of comprehension,

The Golden-age tower filling us with light from the stars

Where our mind smiles at us . . .

You, silver sea for those thirsty for thought,

You, giant Movsçs of Tarawn,

You, inaccessible author of the mother tongue,

At my last light, let my skull

Along with my lyre, filled with my ashes,

Be burnt by my cortege not upon a censer

But upon your plot of earth . . .


Give me light, irrefutable God,

Inexplicable architect of the cosmos,

Creator of predestination and knowledge,

Breath's tempest, central power,

Mesrop, the Deacon of your holy Table,

In his great indistinct dream

Beseeches from your hands, clarity . . .

Help me, generous wisdom,

I, crookless shepherd of your great sermon

I, pitiful mortal, discolored steward

Of the frightful Armenian race . . .

I, unlearned scribe and illegitimate master,

I, unwaving flag of your faithful multitudes,

I, reciter without a gift, vine-grower without rain,

I, blind fountain and humpbacked traveler,

I, unworthy glorifier of your endless glory,

Pray for light for my uninscribable sign . . .

Help me, fragrant God . . .

I, piteous seeker and inconclusive investigator,

I, talentless explorer and infertile atom,

I, ascentless ascetic and flightless rhetorician,

Bitter-smiling vagabond and uninstructed student,

Wandering visionary and untalented dreamer,

I, confined window and closed door,

I, an iron wave breaking before my soul,

I, guardian of the grave and accountant of the dead,

I, needy harvester of your fiery bread . . .

I, night without portholes and thirst without a pitcher,

I, lone tiller lost in thistles,

I, darkness without rays, I, stringless lyre,

Pray for a key of elucidation

For the soul of the still speechless Armenians . . .

Help me, father of the Centuries,

I, dim eye and impenetrable sight,

Empty-headed auditor and ear that has heard evil,

Inharmonious musician and slack-voiced singer . . .

I, field of unworkable soil, vacant storeroom,

Waiting at the table without bread and drained ration of wine,

I, uninvited guest to the wedding of Christ,

I unanointed sacristan and thinker without books,

And compassionless caresser and lover devoid of love,

I, charmless sermonizer and Christian stoned to death,

A beggar bearing gifts and rich without gold . . .

I, unkissed lips and lamenter without a soul,

I, loveless heart and imperfect maidenhood,

I, unfixed ambulant and vacillating voyager,

From your beacon of salvation, give to me a drop of light,

And with your celestial doors

Let the doors of spiritual life open like Paradise . . .

Help me, infinite God . . .

I, unbubbling brooklet and obstructed cataract . . .

I, untaught teacher and uncertain master,

I, master of literature still without laureate,

I, lowerer of the curtain before the wretched . . .

I, a wall casting darkness, infernal prisoner,

I, lost splinter, ungiven seed . . .

A thicket-grown path, tortuous tunnel . . .

I, inhospitable inn and dying one denied a bed . . .

Don't refuse me the light of your lantern . . .

Help me, whole Beginning,

I, basin of baptism without holy oil,

I, half-ruined hall of prayer,

I, farmer without a plough, reaper without a scythe,

I, unscented anointer and bitter-tasting oil,

I, doctor without balsam and bandage without muslin,

I, broken lamp and parched wick,

I, forest agitated by the wind and weeping willow . . .

I, unhewn timber and moldy beam,

I, soil-built censer and unsmoking incense,

I, vine without grape clusters and contaminated oat,

I, untrue forehead and uneven hand,

I, unable ecclesiastic and priest without host,

I, in my ashen solitude, a desert without caravans,

Grant me visitation . . .

Help me, O incomparable Law,

I, a hesitating man and hopeless person . . .

I, fearful individual and astonished animate one,

I, wind-chased waverer in doubt,

Inaudible uproar and unsounding trumpet,

I, a dried autumnal leaf descending,

I, brittle branch and scentless rosebush,

I, specter of sagacity,

I, short-sighted knowledge and degraded sense,

Lamenter under the vaults of your Church,

Face to face with your Christian people,

I, Reader of foreign tongues and illegitimate translator,

Of your great Book, the Bible, breath of God . . .

Help me, unending knowledge,

Powerful Lord, infinite inventor,

Zenith of light, unknotted wisdom,

Celestial water, uncleft soul,

Incalculable dispenser, cataract of dreams,

Let your luminous covering of knowledge,

Float down upon my desolate shoulder,

On this evening of the fortieth night

Of vigils, laments and prayers,

Timeless God, shoreless God,

Extend your creator hand to my brain,

To ferment there my discovery . . .


O miracle! O spiritual flame of faith!

O admirable strength!

O flaming talisman! O unfused thought!

Mesrop in slumber beheld a Cherub,

Who inscribed in a flash of an eye

With his right hand illuminated

The Armenian Alphabet upon the abbey wall . . .

Suddenly the Saint, moved to ecstasy by the great Vision,

Like a corpse bounding to his feet,

Quill pen and tablet in his hand,

Weeping under the miracle,

Before the wall kneeled endlessly . . .


Mesrop, set against the Armenian ages

You, stony mass of diamond,

You, from the naked brain of children,

To the intellect of germinating reflections,

Rare beacon of knowledge . . .

You, whose crash of the chisel,

Like the hours, unceasing with the minutes,

Casts the statues of the museum of wisdom . . .

You, sleepless overseer, you titanic Seer,

You, lullabying to the grave

Our only words, our only breath,

Beautiful-voiced explicator,

You, creator of speech, prince of the Word,

You, unlimited labyrinth of permanence,

You, fruitful father of substance,

You, wheel of light, invitation of faith,

You, upon the native soil like a storm rising up,

Infinite forest, forest of the heart

Whose individual solid giant trees,

Are one by one lyre, one by one pandora to our breath . . .

One by one trumpet to our strategic aspiration,

One by one rampart to the scourge of fate . . .

You, the plain of unspent wheat, you, free bread,

You, rich harvest and you, miraculous wine press,

You, vessel of wine and of intoxication,

In which I too have plunged my golden urn . . .

Crazy from my thirst of suns . . .

You, apostle of great penetrating gazes,

You were the one for whom the race sang from this day

From the ingenious and ardent Greeks

And from the conquering of the sons of great Rome,

And from the neighboring fire-worshipping Persians,

By means of the ruby headstone of your mother tongue

You freed the offspring of the Armenian descendants . . .

You, third God,

And you, first creator of thought . . .

You, fertile beneficence, fountain of the heart,

Treasury of colors, throne of compassion,

You, vaulting the flying centuries one by one,

Unlined bridge, by which your race by the millions

Either splendidly or basely,

From life to death, come and pass over . . .

You, from the famed Greeks,

The great-titled assembly,

O lone one! O Magistrate! Behold

Two Armenians "Hosanna to you" shout . . .

And hosanna to the Patriarch of Vagharshapat

Sahak Partev equivalent to your acolyte,

And King Vramapuh,

Because the buttress of your great discovery,

The one his Cross, the other his Sword, equal in power,

By walking with your steps

To the dawn of Ararat

Opened the door of literature to you . . .

Ah, all the blood of Your brain,

From what fevers such fever,

And from shudders what shudder,

What twisting from hellish twisting

And perplexity from perplexity and from hypothesis to hypothesis,

And from marine waves to wave,

And from scale to scale, transported you . . .

And only an atom from your soul,

Only a beam from your eyes,

Only a drop from the sparks of your genius,

Your windy panting and dispensed violence of your flights,

The fiery ardors of your prayers,

Forty days and nights,

In your solitude, alone as a corpse,

They moved you toward your vision . . .

And sprouting from the left bud in the dream,

And from the bud still not opened,

You from extinguished light, you from the visionary shade,

From the colorless line and the lofty rose of dream,

You, from the circumvolution, from the voiceless accent, from the uncolored word,

You, from the undulating and rootless seas,

From alliance you created the Alphabet . . .

And from the Gold Threshold of the Fourth century,

Until our day, dark with our blood,

Behold the multivious Armenian mind,

Is melded in Your ways . . .

O indissoluble enigma!

O cluster of lightening nerves!

Furnace of blood, pure bulk of dreams . . .

O wondrous and abiding seizure of senses!

Lyrical chimera-seeing frightful pupil of the eye,

You, rainbow drawn by God . . .

Bringing the fire of conciliation to us,

You, master of doubt and uncertainty,

You, unusual and sublimely traced dome . . .

You, monk of great emotion,

Man of God, brother of the mind, sister of the lyre,

Allow that I too may drink from your cup . . .

And today, nourished  by your holiness

I, incapable lyricist,

And unpaid and unworthy grateful one,

I bring to you the mirror of the soul of your race . . .

I took into my eye the flame from his eyes . . .

And my words I have collected from his heart,

And whatever you read on my forehead,

Whatever you see in my smile,

With his Hope I am inscribed . . .

And allow today, O Mesrop,

That from Armenian soil stretching to the stars

I will ascend your golden staircase,

And sure-footed, from step to step

And from coronet to coronet and light to light,

Like a child of your thought,

I will come to you, singing this song of mine . . .

Completed in 1912, the Mesrop cycle consists of four poems, differing in genre, form, and person, yet constituting a quartet of variations upon the theme of Saint Mesrop Matoc and his invention. These four poems form a narrative of the alphabet's creation, yet their temporal sequence is nonlinear. The quartet opens with an epideitic lyric, "Eulogistic," which takes place after the creation, and then moves to a "precreation" prayer poem, "Prayer to the Holy," spoken by Matoc himself, who invokes God. The third poem, "The Vision," imagines the event itself, taking place in the "now" moment of the overarching narrative. Finally, the cycle ends with a "postcreation" poem, "The Glory of Discovery," whose temporal location mirrors that of the first poem. These entrance and exit poems, occurring after the event of discovery or invention, frame the event and its preparation, providing Siamanto with the means to enter into Matoc's creative process and to link this process to his own literary aspirations.

The quartet is in essence a conversation between a trinity of figures who either speak or are invoked, consisting of Siamanto, Matoc, and God (God, of course, remaining silent and only ever invoked). Siamanto displays an agility for continually shifting the grammatical person of the poems. In doing so, he establishes a correlation between himself and Matoc, (even speaking in the first person as Matoc in the second poem) as well as between Matoc and God (in his descriptions of Matoc as a "God of the Mind" or "third God"), thereby breaking down the barriers not only of historical temporality, but subjective identity. This correlative impulse provides the basis for the last poem's final request that Matoc raise him up to his (Matoc's) literary stature, " [that] Like a child of your thought,/ I will come to you, singing this song of mine . . . " (penultimate and last line, "The Glory of Discovery"). In contrast, Siamanto's invocation of Matoc in the first poem concludes with the simple wish to have his remains burnt on Matoc's "plot of earth," instead of upon "a censer." The difference between Siamanto's first and last pleas to Matoc is the distance which the cycle traverses. The poems exist to transport Siamanto from his historically and existentially isolated human condition to a place from which he can speak to Matoc as "the mirror of the soul of your race" (final stanza, "The Glory of Discovery"), and from which he can also "rise from your golden staircase," joining Matoc on equal footing as a great figure of national and literary importance.

-Susan Barba

Read more from the August 2007 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.