Treatise on Uzbek modern poetry

Treatise on Uzbek Modern Poetry.

  1. If we accept that the main tool of the Uzbek modern poetry is the Uzbek language, so we have to look first at the Uzbek language, which is an agglutinative language with S-O-V (subject-object-verb) structure.
  2. Agglutinative nature of Uzbek is reflected in adding up the qualitative suffixes to the base of the word: so’z – so’zda – so’zdagi – so’zdagilar – sozdagilarning etc (word – in the word – that in the word – those in the word – of those in the word etc…).
  3. There are no flexions or mutations in the word, it develops in an evolutionary, not revolutionary way: the constant base is enriched by different variables.
  4. Word is fulfilled in its totality, when all necessary suffixes or endings are added.
  5. Subject-object-verb structure reiterates this totality: the meaning of the sentence is never clear and fulfilled until it’s ended.
  6. This model of the language is reflecting the relevant mentality, or even is the model of the Uzbek mentality.
  7. Therefore the Uzbek modern poetry could be understood on the basis of Uzbek classic or even ancient Turkic poetry, as it’s linear, evolutionary extension. A symbol of a tree, ever extending and growing, could illustrate this development.
  8. Uzbek as a language is a Turkic language and the idea of ever extending poetry at its extreme is represented in Kyrgyz or Altaic epos, which extends in case of ‘Manas’ poem to over a million verses. Uzbeks have the same epic poems, comprising thousands and thousands of verses.
  9. Linear nature of this and therefore of the modern Uzbek poetry in its essential part is not the weakness of it, but its difference. This mentality is extremely regular and methodical and goes through every possible theme, angle, and nuance. It’s nearly impossible to find something uncovered by Uzbek poetry in its ever extending totality. It’s nearly impossible to surprise an educated Uzbek poet with anything unknown in poetical technique or with an unusual rhetoric figure.
  10. Strictly speaking there’s no modern Uzbek poetry in that incessant continuum, poems of Navoi or Mashrab from the 15-16 century are used as texts for the contemporary songs more often than poems of any contemporary poets; and even technically those “old” poems could be often written in more “modern”, let say, surrealistic or deconstructive way.
  11. One of the most popular Uzbek songs over the last 50 years, witnessed by myself, is “Qaro ko’zum” by Alisher Navoi (15 century) and here are some images from it:

                        My beauty of black eyes, come and make the art of pupil,

                        Make your motherland in the blackness of my eyes like the pupil.

                        Make a garden grafting the rose of your face to the flowerbed of my heart,

                        And engraft the net of my soul to the shoot of your young figure.

Put the henna of my bloody heart on the leg of your horse,

Make the sad chain of tendons of my life for your dog.

If you want hearts to be at the rendezvous of your face,

Make sure that from head to toe your hair falls in tight braids.

The gardener can’t do anything with the army of dead foliage,

Even if he hooks with thorns the roof of the garden.

Friends, if seeing the sweat on her face, I die:

Wash me with the water of the flowers, sew my shroud from their leaves.

Navoi, if in the trans of the soul, you make a gathering,

Make the flame of the candle out of the pinnacle of her arrow.

  1. The image of the ever extending and growing tree may help to understand the ways of classifying so called modern Uzbek poetry both content-wise ad formally. Uzbek classic poetry in case of the same Alisher Navoi worked out and canonised a universal pattern of five epic poems, which is called “Hamsa” or a “Fiver” each of which is dominated by one of the basic human values, namely: Good, Beauty, Truth, Wealth and Happiness and the following poetry until now has been developing according that pattern as ethic, aesthetic, philosophic, pragmatic and hedonistic poetry. One can easily designate the examples of modern Uzbek poetry in one of those classes, though changing in details or like a word – in suffixes, whereas the basis stays the same. So, for instance the pragmatic type of the modern Uzbek poetry has swiftly changed over the last dozen years of the newly found independence “glorious communism” for “fascinating Uzbekness”, “immortal Lenin” for “everlasting Tamburlaine”, “the greatest Gorbachyov” for “even greater President Karimov”
  2. There’s a fundamental poetic principle, which is called “nazira”, translation of which is very close to original meaning of a “parody” without any pejorative meaning, or even better to “mimesis” and this principle multiplies the existing Uzbek poetry in all directions. “Nazira” could be of “ma’no” or of a meaning and of “lafz” or of an expression. Both ways are quite preservative, since the original which is meant to be said afresh, goes back centuries. Therefore it’s nearly impossible to find any material gadgets and accessories, marking “the modernity” in even a modern Uzbek poem. Concepts around those five values are prevailing and if it’s not a pragmatic type of poem it’s quite difficult to tell the time when it was written.

I came, at the place where you forgot me

I’m staying, and

If you recall, a river passed between us…

Here’s green grass to which we laid our bosoms,

Naturally, it blossomed once again

And maybe raised our bosoms to its head

“what amount of water flown” – say you, I know

But you don’t know, that the water is not flowing any more,

That the river is stuck in its bed.

Epochs are not moving, time is not passing,

Wind is not blowing, tree is not growing,

Bird is not flying, happiness is not landing

Since you left and forgot

Body is not feeling, spirit is not wandering

I came… only I’m staying paralysed…


  1. In order not to fall into the same trap, but staying an Uzbek, I can offer another symbol or a “gadget of the moderately recent modernity” both for Uzbek language and respectively for Uzbek poetry a Rubik cube, which goes through the multiple side transformations, with non-moving central axis, until is fulfilled in one total piece. In the continuum of modern Uzbek poetry, if we’d considered such as poetry of the 20th century, one can take any of denominators and build a line of poetry, based on them. Once I’ve chosen poems about a heart of leading Uzbek poets for every decade of the 20th century and like in a hologram managed to see a picture of the whole development of the Uzbek Soviet poetry over the whole century. But first I set up a basis of comparison or a paradigm of Uzbek classic poem “ghazal”, which usually consists of five elements: subject, which is a lover or a poet, object (beloved, God) relationship between them, which is usually separation, and benevolent against malice forces, which are either helping or obstructing this relationship.
  2. So in the 20-ties of the 20th century in case of Cholpan the context of the poem shifts from “love” to “liberty”, Cholpan’s heart is separated from “me” and liberty is separated from the heart. In his passionate love to freedom the heart wants to break the existing order, but just as the thorax is a protector and a prison of the heart at the same time, Cholpan ends up in doubts and questions, rather than answers. It was a period, when Uzbek consciousness was still struggling with the Bolshevik revolution, but forces were already unequal.
  3. In 30-ties Hamid Alimjan’s poem replaces “me” with “we” and an individual heart becomes “any/every heart”. In simple words the poem states: “there’s some kind of love in every heart, but its obscurity is strange to us”. So was the beginning of socialism in the Uzbek consciousness.
  4. In the 40-ties the leading Uzbek poet Gafur Gulyam writes a poem “Reason and Pen” in which the heart turns into a pen and ends up in the grave. By that time there were 2 ways for Uzbek poetry: to choose a road to death or a road to life. Gafur Gulyam chose both of them: on the road to death he put his heart to grave, while on the road to life he raised his pencil like a flagstick. The heart dies, the tongue remains to continue its hollow exercises.
  5. In the 50-ties the heart of Maksud Sheykhzade transformed even further into a scrap of a paper used for oaths for the sake of communism, Stalin and motherland, becoming fully “national by form and socialistic by sense”.
  6. But in the 60-ties in the poems by Abdulla Aripov and Erkin Vahidov the heart turns into the ocean. Though “me” hasn’t found shape yet, but the national consciousness returns to its national ground, which is attached to the mother tongue, pride of ancestors, national history.
  7. The cycle has been fulfilled in the 70-80-ties by poets like Rauf Parfi and Muhammad Solih. What makes them different from the previous decades is the following accent: we do not have to change the terms of the world, but to find unity, equality of a person and his heart, and therefore the lost liberty in order to make inner and outside worlds compatible and transparent[1].
  8. One could use another denominator: “hair” in the Uzbek poetry, or “jealousy” in it, or any other odd word, and I’m sure, he will come to the same conclusions with the ultimate and total picture. So is the Rubik cube of the modern Uzbek poetry.
  9. It doesn’t mean that there were and there are and there will be no revolutions in the Uzbek poetry, but the history of Uzbek poetry shows that they are extremely rare and their initial impulses come from other languages. Historically there were not more than 2-3 groundbreaking shake-ups of it, once with the influx of Arabic and Persian, which gave a flourishing classic Uzbek poetry of Navai, Mashrab and Babur in the medieval time, and in the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century with invasion of Russian, when poetry of Fitrat and Cholpan broke all the previous rules, and when Cholpan famously said about the previous Uzbek poetry: “I read all of them. It’s all the same, the same, the same…” Fitrat and Cholpan’s revolution blew up the very basis of the Uzbek poetry: prosodic “aruz” metre, coming from Arabic origin through the Persian poetry has been replaced by accent “barmak” metre, which is based on the folk tradition and goes back to ancient Turkic poetic roots. But even more importantly Fitrat and Cholpan have given up with the phrasal way of writing poems, which is by the way still prevalent in Uzbek poetry on the whole. The classic Uzbek poetry had worked out tons of ready-made phrases, constructs to express anything, so “curl on the face” never meant in that sense a curl on the face, but accidental obstruction in achieving beloved or God, all these “belts of enthusiasm” or “ridden horses of rush” are still filling the mosaic of the Uzbek poetry. Fitrat and Cholpan started a process of rediscovery of pure Uzbek language – word by word, and every word has started to reappear in their poetry as a self-containing autonomous unit with its own meaning and uniqueness. An eye became the eye and a word became the word. Their immediate followers went even further, in the 20-ties of the 20th century there was a poet Altai, who wrote poems in syllables, however the unstoppable flow of the mainstream poetry washed away the very attempt, which, by the way, could be found once again in folkloric poems of the same medieval Alisher Navoi. No, there’s nothing new under the sun of this poetry.

  This singer does not understand the poem he sings

and I do not understand it.

Someone says, “I learned this poem by heart

but I do not understand what it says.”

I say: “This poem is mine:

I would like to understand it myself.”


  1. Nowadays, when the closed Uzbek poetry meets the open world, be it on the Internet or ventures like this one, one could expect another possible revolution in it, the ground is swollen for it and the first indications of it have already appeared, though through the medium of Russian language in so called “Ferghana school of poetry” under Shamshad Abdullaev. He has got many followers both in Russian and increasingly in Uzbek. It’s a modern vers libre, but expressed through the oriental Sufi meditativeness. Philosophy of edge and suburbs, non-focused sight, when denial of a “poetic technique” becomes a technique – are among features of that newly established tradition.
  2. Am I applying the same technique and in fact writing a long, never finishing poem about Uzbek poetry and its modernity, which can’t be understood without its all previous history. Why poem? Because its form reflects perfectly well its content. Because it bears the same universal Uzbek ghazal pattern: me – my beloved poetry, our relationship, beneficial and obstructive circumstances… But have I added up any new points or over and over again just repeating and commenting what was said for instance by the same medieval and ubiquitous Sir Alisher Navoi about the same poetry? “Thus it’s obvious, that in this language (Turkic/Uzbek) there are lots of odd, strange, wonderful words and expressions. Therefore there are challenges and difficulties in connecting them into an exquisite and well-balanced order. Taste of a beginner finds it fearsome and chooses easier options. It has happened so many times when novices had given up with those challenges, and apart from that the shape and form of the epoch dictates a mainstream flow in which they fall and never get out… I myself looked at it (Turkic/Uzbek) and saw a world bigger than 18 thousand of existing worlds, its beauty twinkled at me and it was richer than wealth of nine spheres, treasures of it were brighter than light of all celestial stars and gardens with flowers more beautiful than the flower of the sun. Man’s foot never stepped in there in wonderland and no hand touched that wonder-world. Serpents of those treasures are lethal; thorns of the flowerbeds are poisonous.  But my sight was enchanted and my heart was mischievous…”
  3. Is it me or him writing these words? The Uzbek sentence should be fulfilled in Verb or action. The tree of the Uzbek poetry should end up, indicating with leaves and tender branches into the sky. All mosaic sides of Rubik’s cube should be quelled in one piece. Spider solitaire on my computer screen should come to an end with a screen fireworks… So here I interrupt my treatise, so here’s the core of the Uzbek word, which hopefully gives sense to everything, which follows it, and here I leave you with the modern Uzbek (partly Tajik) poetry, which I haven’t touched, but gave a background to understand and to relate, here I’m leaving you to fulfil what I have started. Let your sight be enchanted and your heart be mischievous…

I’m opening a door, it transforms into a tree

squeaking in the wind,

I hide from the wind, it transforms into a tree

growing from the holes.

I shut the holes with my hand, the palm transforms into a tree

all of a sudden dumbs.

Dumbing I call my friend, he transforms into a tree

shouts, showing off.

It seems to me that the soul is tearing off itself, it transforms into a tree

drops the leaves,

I cry, I wait breathlessly and the cry transforms into a tree

of fingers sticking to the face.

I’ll throw myself towards you – semi-dead and you will transform into a tree

and between your branches a sunset

will look with no stranger’s sight, but as the last from the generation of trees

at the left and empty garden …

 Hamid Ismailov

  1. (A big chapter on Tajik-Uzbek linguistic and literary relationship both from the historical point of view, with extensive excerpts from Navoi’s “Muhokamatul Lug’atayin” – “Discussion on Languages” as well as from the contemporary perspectives with extensive quotes from Sokrat Sharkiev’s “Muhokamatul Lug’atayin – 2” [2])

[1] Curious or methodical reader could find the research in full glory in “Bamberger Zentralasienstudien. Konferenzakten ESCAS 1Y, Klaus Schwarz Verlag, Berlin, 1994, pp 185-204

[2] Curious or investigative reader could find the research in full glory in “Yosh kuch” magazine, issue 4, 2005