NOMADS ARE COMING FROM THE HORIZON
(Features of Mongolian Poetry during the Age of Globalization)
It is said that in time immemorial, when the ice-covered Earth began to melt, first of all a mountain appeared. Later this mountain came to be known as Otgontenger, or “the youngest son of heaven. Now the mountain is one of the most important sacred sites in Mongolia. The vast territory known as the Central Asian plateau, bringing together khangai (forested area), steppe and the great Gobi, is the homeland of the great dinosaurs and early horses that lived many millions years ago. Traces of the first humans were found here. All these testify that poetry did not appear late in the Mongolian motherland. Mongolia is a country with distinctive seasons and a harsh climate --reaching an unbearable hot +40 degrees C in summer yet experiencing frigid snowstorms of -40 degrees C in winter-- and nomadic culture and civilisation. Now towns and permanent settlements have appeared and the nomadic and settled cultures and civilisations exist side by side. A process of differentiation and synthesis of both traditional and modern, globalised culture is taking place.
It is clear that contemporary Mongolian poetry develops along distinctive Mongolian lines but also takes poetic features from the rest of the world. The first Mongolian poet is the people. The song and poetry of the nomadic people are collective creations. The shortest Mongolian verse is the khos uyanga, or the couplet:
The world is summed up in these two words.
There are also the “universal trinities”. For example, here are the three boundless universes:
The sky has no column
The ocean has no cover
The earth has no belt
Interestingly, the Mongolians are able to describe great notions and ideas in short lines of poetry, just like they can fit a huge amount of beef in the small heart's membrane of a cow to take it on a long trip. On the other hand, the epos 150 Nasalsan Khugshin luu (An Old Dragon Who Lived 150 Years), the longest Mongolian poem, has 14000 lines. It takes a whole month to recite.
The Mongolians, who have been following a nomadic way of life since ancient times, have very few inherited written literary monuments, but they have a rich oral tradition that has been passed down up to the 20th Century. From the Middle Ages the poetry of classic Mongolian literature has flourished under the influence of Indian, Tibetan, Chinese and Oriental literature. Chinggis Khan and Khubilai Khan gave their decrees in verse. The poems of Tsogt Taij, Injinnash, Danzanravjaa and Gulirans survive as the classical heritage of written poetry. The 20th Century brought a strong creative outburst of Mongolian literature, which combined the influence of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese literatures and the special features of traditional Mongolian poetry.
Mongolian poetry was enriched with new and original colour and style, combining the influence of East and West, through the works of the Western-educated D Natsagdorj, B Rinchen and Ts Damdinsuren in the 1930s, and B Yavuukhulan, M Tsedendorj and N Nyamdorj in the 1960s. Poets such as Sh Surenjav, D Uriankhai, M Shirchinsuren, B Lkhagvasuren, L Dashnyam, T Galsan, P Badarch, D Shagdarsuren, D Nyamaa, D Tsoodol and S Oyun constitute a new chorus of Mongolian poets, and their works express the combined colour and character of the atmosphere of Western poetry and the Oriental tradition of expression and thought.
In my opinion, the high point of Mongolian poetry was the 1980s, and from that time to the beginning of the new century poets such as D Nyamsuren and D Dashbalbar created truly bright, lucid, quiet, melodic and deeply significant lyrics, yet unfortunately today such poets are no longer among us. Many poets such as S Dulam, Ts Chimeddorj, D Turbat, D Tsogt, D Banzragch, L Myagmarsuren and I belong to this period. One of the unique features of our poetry is that it uses the fundamental character of the Mongolian language: its wide capacity for lyric expression.
A group of young poets with their own original voices --including Ts Bavuudorj, L Ulziitugs and -- has emerged as the continuation of the poetry of the late 20th Century. Young poets like G Ayurzana, Ts Buyanzaya, Kh Chilaajav, G Badamsambuu, B Ichinkhorloo, Ts Khulan, J Bayarjargal, T.Erdenetsogt and others belong to the same generation. The poems of Sh Uyanga, J Bold-Erdene and S Battogtokh, whose names must be included in this list though they passed away at a young age, remained with us as a valuable heritage at the end of the 20th Century.
It must be mentioned that, unfortunately, Mongolian poets tend to have a very short lifespan: G Ser-Od, who created wonderful poetry in the 1930s, lived only to the age of 23. Though their creators didn't live to an old age, their works enjoy eternal life. True poetry --free from time, space and social reform-- doesn't loose its nature and isn't influenced by the cycle of life.
At the beginning of the 21st century, as Mongolian poetry is stepping into the flower garden of world poetry, I would describe its characteristics in the following ways:
- Mongolian literature presents to mankind a new, striking poetry, with Mongolian nomadic culture and civilization as its special features.
- Mongolian literature also presents a poetry of the latest trends, in step with the latest trends of world poetry.
- We, the writers of present-day Mongolia, carry the responsibility to preserve, reveal and proclaim the heritage of our long poetic tradition for humanity so it can occupy its rightful place in the treasure chest of the world's poetry.
In this age of globalisation, all coming together in brand new forms of poetry with their own, brand new characteristics, ancient Mongolian poetry, 20th century Mongolian poetry and the bright and lucid poetry of the nomadic culture and civilisation are taking their place among the poetry of the world.
To express this in one line:
Nomads are coming from the horizon
31 October 2002
at the World Congress of Poets,Yasi, Romania.