Issue 6, 2012. December-January



Lyn Coffin, a well published American poet, is working with Georgian translators to bring the rich legacy of Georgian poetry to the English speaking world. With translations ranging from Shota Rustaveli to Galaktion Tabidze, Coffin and her colleagues are gifting readers wisdom, love, and passion from centuries of Georgian bards.

A Rose By Any Other Name...

The tale of how Lyn Coffin came to Georgia and fell in love with Georgian poetry unfolds like a short story. It begins with Professor Gia Jokhadze, a historian turned translator. While working on a book about Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, he discovered an essay Coffin - a well published American poet and playwright - wrote about him and sent her an email.

Their correspondence about Brodsky led to a discussion about Georgia and Georgian poetry. Coffin, a gifted lyrist, has used her ear for language to translate Czech, Mongolian, and Russian poetry, to name a few. Jokhadze, a professor at Ilya State University, sent her a few poems by Ilya Chavchavadze - the Georgian saint and poet - and she sent back her versions.

"I understood that she was a real poet and she understood the essence of Ilya's poems to explain the situation of Georgia within the Russian empire," Jokhadze said.

"About a month later I asked her when she has a chance to come to Georgia as a professor of American literature or whatever she wished."

The result is history - or, rather, a whole collection of histories built around a beautifully crafted anthology of Georgian poetry translated into English: Rustaveli to Galaktion.

In the process, Coffin has translated Georgian verse from the father of Georgian poetry, Shota Rustaveli, to modern poets like Davit Barbakadze.

"Of all the peoples I've known (and I've traveled around the world), Georgians are the clearest about what poetry is and why it matters," she said in an email interview.

"Georgian poetry is great because Georgians know what it is to drink deeply of suffering and joy."

The book, scheduled for release in early 2013, is just one of the many collaborations Coffin is working on with Georgian poets. She and Jokhadze are also working on a verse translation of Shota Rustaveli's The Knight in the Tiger's Skin, which is planned for 2014.

A New Generation of Translators

Coffin's work also contributed to a seminar for creative translation at the Shota Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature in September.
Coffin, along with other translators, coached participants through the process of modern translation - and helped usher in a new generation of translations that skip the Russian language middleman to go directly from Georgian to English, or French, or any other language.

"I know some of the Russian translations of Georgian poetry, where the poems were translated by famous Russian poets but when I worked on those translations I came across things that are not identical - sometimes it is completely different...the meaning was completely lost... because the music and rhyme was lost," noted Gaga Lomidze, a literary critic and staff member at the institute.

"We are trying to do word for word translation and then make it perfect; I mean to make it more close to the original so all of those students were trying that and I think they were successful."

For Coffin and Jokhadze, the work is time consuming and intense: Jokhadze does an initial word for word translation from Georgian to English. He then reads the original piece to Coffin, who, using her ear for language and rhythm, turns it back into poetry.

Coffin's initial translations have been praised in Georgia for her ability to capture the essence of the poem - and its poetry.

"Her skills to find out the characteristics of Georgian poetry are amazing," Nana Svanidze, an amateur translator, said.

"It comes to her easily, this rhythm, but she is also very hard working in studying languages and she has such a talent to understand the soul and nature of poetry in different [languages]... She has captured our soul and poetical genius..."

Poetry - First and Foremost!

Let us have souls than snow more blameless!
Friends! Till I die, I will try to sing
the single joy I'll not leave nameless
Poetry's the first and foremost thing!
You won't see me after selfless fights
lie down exhausted too weak to sing:
I'm always lit with light-giving lights
Poetry's the first and foremost thing!
Always, like death, is my wish to give
the whole spinning world a song to sing,
to shine a light as long as I live:
Poetry's the first and foremost thing!
Even if my home won't bless my life,
my lips will frame songs of joy and strife.
When I lie dying, I'll try to sing:
Poetry's the first and foremost thing!

Galaktion Tabidze


When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

Though I'm as faithful as a slave is, you don't care.
You mean to kill me, I say nothing. I don't dare.
No matter where you go, you know I will be there
I'm always with you even if you aren't aware.
When speech disturbs you, then it's silence that I share.
I whisper to myself: "See how she shines tonight!"

When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

I think your waist as slender as a poplar bough,
I think a rainbow has been wound around it now,
I think your eyes as dark as thunder will allow,
I think your breath the same as roses breathe somehow.
And someday I will say: "Sweetheart, you're mine tonight."

When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

I have ten ways to go, and all ten lead to you!
I have my thoughts but know only your face is true!
I can only say your name again, not one thing new!
With what has happened in my heart, what can I do?
Please ask me just this once: "Why are you here tonight?"

When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

Who grieves for me in all my sorrow, do you know?
And is that griever living, tell me yes or no?
What does this person do on earth, where did he go?
If no one uses me, what am I but a show?
You are a kind soul and don't answer as you might!

When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

I'm sitting in Ortachala - that's who I am.
See me at a garden party - that's who I am.
See me toasting as toastmaster - that's who I am!
See me scuffle in a street fight - that's who I am!
See me and you'll say: "I fell in love with you tonight!"

When I'm asleep, you sit within my soul so bright!
And when I wake- then on my lashes you alight.

Grigol Orbeliani