Culture
Ilia Chavchavadze and William Blake on truth and lies
14 July, 2018
“Tell your friend the truth and keep it from your foe”. This is the epigraph of Ilia Chavchavdze’s novel “Is a Man a Human?”! Ilia Chavchavadze was a Georgian writer, political figure and publisher in the19th-20th century. His novel Is a Man a Human?! depicts the life of the nobleman Tatqaridze. Throughout the satirical story, the writer’s aim is to draw the reader into recognizing themselves in the ridiculous antics of the characters.

Mr. and Mrs. Tatqaridze allow days to go
by without reflecting on themselves, caring more about food and non-existent problems. The fictional characters are unable to have children of their own suggesting that their future life will be futile and idle. The nobleman Tatqaridze is a composite image of certain Georgians (and Humans in general) rather than a reference to any individual.
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Mr. and Mrs. Tatqaridze counting flies on the ceiling, Photo courtesy: www.mcheishvili.blogspot.com

The first part of the epigraph (“Tell your friend the truth") leads us into the underlying truth of the novel: If you wish the best for those you love, give them a “mirror”, so as to help them identify their weaknesses or strengths before they are ridiculed.

The epigraph has another part too – “keep the truth from your foe”. Why should we reveal the truth to our friends but hide it from the enemies? The poem A Poison Tree by William Blake, an English poet of the 18th -19th century attempt to enlighten us on this proposition.

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

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A Poison Tree, Photo courtesy: www.commonwealmagazine.org

The first two lines of the poem imply the very idea of the first part of the epigraph. The protagonist uncovers his worries to his friend, as does Ilia Chavchavadze through his novel. If you store up hostile feelings towards your friends, your beloved ones, one day the accumulated negativity might burst and tear up your relationship. You realize it somehow, may be subconsciously and try to neutralize negativity by being straightforward with them.

The second part of the epigraph emerges in an intriguing and menacing way in the poem. The protagonist is furious with his foe. He remains silent and keeps the anger in his mind, metaphorically speaking, it grows, watered by his internal anger. Why should one do this? William Blake believed, that the world possesses a balance - whenever something goes wrong (and so there is a loss of balance), the world uses its power to restore it. It may not be just a mere coincidence that the poet repeats the conjunction “and” several times. If something occurs and it is followed by the word “and”, it means, it has to be continued, another action is going to take place. Cause and effect – it is a round chain of balance. How would we recognize unfairness if there were not fairness or good as opposed to evil and vice versa - two contrasting concepts create the balance.
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Great architect of the universe by William Blake, Photo courtesy: www.pinterest.co.uk

If we go back to the poem, we can observe that the accumulated negative feelings in the protagonist’s mind are figuratively transferred to the earth, god, nature or whatever we may call it. The latter turns the anger into a negative power. As we see later on, the enemy eats the materialized anger (an apple) and dies. The power of the world interferes in human space to restrike the balance on the earth.

You may ask: Why does he let nature handle it? Some consider his choice as a virtue and here is why. Have you ever heard how orthodox fathers interpret God’s punishment of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden? They believe that God’s anger was not his response to the act of the eating of the apple but Adam and Eve’s impatience. They tried to receive something earlier than it was due according to the judgment of God. Each stage of human life requires appropriate experience and readiness which at that point Adam and Eve didn’t have. Again, we are taken to the phenomenon of balance. God’s established balance on the earth was broken but first there was human negligence. The reference to the Bible cannot be excluded as an apple itself (a symbol of sin) leads us here. Thus, the virtue of the protagonist could be his patience to let the earth restore the balance.
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An apple tree, Photo courtesy: www.noa-betweenthelines.blogspot.com

Apart from the conjunction “and”, repetition of the pronoun “I” would probably catch the reader’s attention. The latter could be a reference to the power one’s mind possesses. As everything around us is reflected in our mind and thoughts, the protagonist may create a reality in his mind to take revenge on his foe. He has been thinking so much about the anger that he takes an action against the enemy through his mind. Alternatively to the theory of balance, the poem could be just a scary journey in the protagonist’s mind or possibly an indirect reference to both.
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A Poison Tree, Photo courtesy: www.stunnedbanana.blogspot.com

Thus, we observe that the epigraph from a Georgian novel resonates with an English poem in an interesting way. “Tell your friend the truth and keep it from your foe” – we choose to be honest with our beloved ones to feel a relief. But we do not act in the same way with our enemies. By so doing, do we resemble our enemy in our actions or not?! Or, as the poem alternatively suggests, sometimes, an anger just in our heads is better for our peace than a real revenge.


Author: Eka Kiknadze

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