Author: Maharram ZEYNAL Baku
The 19th century is a landmark period in Azerbaijani literature. It is a period when new unseen talents sprouted due to the interpenetration of cultures.
In the first half of the century, the most popular genre in Azerbaijani literature was social satire. The literary luminary of this new era, Mirza Fatali Axundov, said: "In my time, whatever you see, everything causes laughter and irony. When you begin to write a work, the theme also attracts satire together with it ... satire arises not in accordance with the desire of the master of words, but independently from him."
One of enlightened intellectuals
A huge role in the satirical prose and poetry of the time was played by Qasim bay Zakir. He can be called the founder of the genre of realistic satire. It is not in vain that in his letters, Axundov himself referred to him as one of his teachers. The circle of satirical objects was wide. They criticized tsarist officials and rulers, bays and landlords. Zakir, in the best tradition of our culture, criticized the clergy and ridiculed ignorant quacks and greedy village officials. The realistic style and attention to detail make the poetry of Zakir unique and bear not only literary, but also historical value for us today, showing the true life of that era.
In this context, the biography of Zakir is characteristic and even typical of representatives of enlightened intellectuals and educators. He was born in a noble family, was educated in a theological school and served in the Russian army for several years. Well aware of the literature of the East, Qasim bay familiarized himself with Russian and, through it, European culture during his military service.
An important place in the poet's creative work is occupied by his poetic correspondence with famous contemporaries - Axundov, poetess Natavan and Georgian poets. The letters also have an important historical character as a reflection of the everyday and creative life of the intelligentsia.
Despite its topicality, a lyrical spirit is inherent in Zakir's creative work, and technically it is close to the poetry of folk singers - ashugs. Nevertheless, his legacy is multifaceted - it includes hajvas, fables and fairy tales. And all this stands out for its boldness and truthful criticism of those in power, local bays and tsarist officials.
Zakir's poetry was often directed against specific individuals and groups ("Reproof for Huseyn bay", "Divanbayi"), but nevertheless, it had a general nature. The poet was the most critical of the clergy ("Susa mullahs", "The situation in the volost", "Look"). Cleverly noticing little things and types of characters, Zakir created a kind of set of archetypes of contemporaries.
His poems are so realistic and relevant that sometimes Zakir wrote even his letters in the form of verses. His poetic letters to Axundov are of great importance today. In an address to his young friend, Zakir often writes about how tsarist officials and people of the local bay cheat and rob ordinary people in his native Susa. His "Epigrams on quacks" and his pamphlet "On the Susa qazi" have survived. His poetic tales and fables, which continued the unmasking tradition of Azerbaijani classics, harmoniously combining them with elements of the new time, are of great interest. These are primarily poetic stories "The old man and young wife", "Last wife" and several others. It is important that Zakir was not just a satirist, but also praised pure and true love in his poems, protesting against traditional marriage through parents and marriage of convenience.
New standards of poetic realism
The creative life of Qasim bay Zakir could not but cause him trouble. As a landlord, he owned land and rented it out, but did not own peasants on principle. In the end, enemies expelled him from his native Susa.
The matter is that after retirement from military service, the poet lived in a small village called Xindiristan given to him by Mehtiqulu Xan Cavansir. And soon Qasim bay was accused of spiriting away a cousin of Behbud bay Cavansir, who was on the run. It is not known whether there were grounds for prosecution or not, but Zakir was arrested, held in Susa for a year and then sent away to Baku. Here he lived for a few years and was able to return home only with the assistance of friends. But he, a freethinker, was also under the watchful eye of officials here.
"Zakir made a great contribution to the improvement of the modern literary language," says art historian Lacin Samadzada. "But the most important thing he did was that he created new standards of poetic realism, which were followed by other authors after him."
The 19th century was a milestone period for Azerbaijani literature, during which samples of Western literature began to penetrate here. "Classics of both Russian and Western European prose came here, met with their contemporaries and Azerbaijani authors Qasim bay Zakir, Natavan, Axundov and others," says the art historian. "These new standards, which were brought here by Pushkin, Dumas and others, fell on fertile ground and created a new form of national poetry and then drama." According to Samadzada, neither ideologically nor aesthetically the creative work of Zakir and his contemporaries can be called feeble imitation (mechanical imitation by belated followers of any art school of the ideas and methods of their predecessors in the changing situation - editor). "It was not an imitation. It was a harmonious synthesis of East and West, and to see it, you just need to open any poem of Zakir," he says.
The traditions of creativity founded by Zakir were later continued not only by his friend Axundov, but also by such poets and realists of the second half of the 19th - early 20th century as Said Azim Sirvani, Mirza Alakbar Sabir and many others. And if satirical-realist Russian prose "grew out of Gogol's overcoat", our satirical poetry originated from the poems, pamphlets and epigrams of Qasim bay Zakir.