Achtamar – two poems

Achtamar – two poems

In Armenia, I learned the story of Achtamar. With the help of Ofelia Melikyan, I translated the famous poem by Hovhannes Tumanyan about this story. And with the help of John Vandenberg, I rewrote it into a poem of my own, that could possible serve as a song text…? 🙂

Using the familiar trope of of star-cross’d lovers, the story of Achtamar is about a young woman named Tamar and the young man who loves her. They meet in secret on an island, until Tamar’s father discovers their trysts and sets a trap for the youth. He manages to escape, but he is mortally wounded and cannot swim across the lake. As he dies, his last action is to whisper her name across the water: ‘Ach, Tamar!’.


Achtamar / Akhtamar
– a poem by Հովհաննես Թումանյան – Hovhannes Tumanyan – translated by me –

Their whispers are felt in her heart
The time has come… and once more
One into the waves does dive
While the other prays on shore.

“Who is the brave young man,
who, drunk on love,
removing pain and fear from his heart
cuts through the lake at night

He crosses the lake from across the shores
and kisses our Tamar so
He’ll take our lady from us, he thinks
What does he take us for?”

This is what was said in hurt
by the youth of the isle
And the fire Tamar had lit
the light was put out that night

Lost in the murky waters
Was the swimming man in love
The wind carries with it, brings forth
The moans of “Ach, Tamar!”

The voice is near, in deepest dark
under the sharp rocks of shore
Where the water rapids roar
His calling falling on deaf ears
but sometimes one cane hear a muffled
“Ach, Tamar!”

In the morn, the tides were calm
And brought forth the body of the man
On his lips so cold, so still
Two words were frozen:
“Akh, Tamar!”

And ever since, for this reason,
They call the island Achtamar.



This beautiful collage (including Achtamar as a mermaid playing with fire under the sea!) was made by Isabel Verhaegh. 🙂


Achtamar – a poem by me

Now grief fills the air,
here, where once a story of love dwelt.
Two lovers were lost in each other,
but the world conspired against them!

The two lovers –
a sister bird and her brother –
locked wings and rubbed heads
finding peace amidst the tumult.

Alas! The sister was a monarch’s daughter
and her brother was but a mere commoner.
Oh! Two lovers, joyful lovers they were! –
two shining hearts flying amongst the stars.

The princess waits with aching limbs,
when the night is high, along the shores of lake Van
Raising a burning torch in her hands
While the flames of love shine brightly in her heart

Her beloved cuts across the water
swimming every night to meet his Tamar.
He folds her in his wings with no fear.
The things a newly found brother for his sister will do.

Love flows like water falling from a cliff,
not knowing or caring about differences or any limit.
But the world abhors such bonds.
To humans, this relationship is a curse.

One night the world struck a blow against their bond.
Hatred extinguished the flame of her love
and left her beloved in the waves of the lake.
To die in cold as he wailed “Ach! Tamar!”

Her love was felled in hatred’s face
as Tamar’s torch was doused by her kindred.
And her beloved was left to die
while she was dragged away into the night.

When the loss of love became too much to bear
in search of her beloved, Tamar jumped!
Into the water to be with her lover
a mermaid to hide from the cruel world above.

To this day, the wind still tells their story.
“Ach! Tamar! Ach! Tamar!” is heard along the shore!
And grief still fills the atmosphere,
where once a story of love did dwell.




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