Master and the Laborer by Hovhaness Toumanian put into English verse
Hovhaness Toumanian is without doubt my favorite Armenian author. I have translated and put into English verse one of his inimitable short stories about the Master and the Laborer. I hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did putting it into verse.
The Master and the Laborer
There were two brothers who were very poor
The older found work as a laborer
He worked for a greedy farmer man
Who made a deal to hire him as a hand
The farmer stipulated the laborer work til spring
Until the first cuckoo would break out and sing
But if either would become angry first
He must pay the other a heavy purse
“One thousand rubles would be the prize.”
The laborer said: “I have no money. I have no guise.
How can I pay you if I lose. Please advise.”
“Oh, You can work another ten years, with no goodbyes.”
The worker thought: “This is a trick, I must refuse.”
But on second thought: “I’ll never get angry. I cannot lose.”
So naive, so mindless, he could not see the evil ruse
Accepted the offer that gave license to the Master to abuse
Master said “take this scythe with blade so sharp and bright
Cut down the tall barley with all your might”
The poor worker toiled hard until the night
Returned tired and worried about his new plight
Master said, “Why have you come back? There is still light!”
The moon is shining with its brightness so white”
The worker looked at him aghast with fright
“Sir, the sun has set, the world sleeps, its night”
“If I understand, cruel sir, I can never rest!
Surely you don’t mean this, it must be a jest”
Master said, “Aha – you are getting angry and stressed,
Remember our agreement that we both did attest”
Forlorn and depressed, the worker plied his way
Back to the grassy fields to work til the light of day
The crescendo of dawn was not a source of joy
The worker cursed his fate and his master’s ploy
“Your field, your bread, your money are a bane
That bridle an honest man to suffering and pain”
At that moment as if destined the cruel master came,
“You are angry, sir, pouring forth so much blame”
“Pay me a thousand rubles or work ten years without pay
Hard labor will teach you a lesson. Now you must stay!”
The poor laborer could not work for such a cruel master
He agreed to sign an IOU and leave the nasty bastard.
He returned home to his younger brother and told him all
“Don’t worry,” said the younger brother, forget your gall
Now stay at home, relax, don’t worry, I’ll go to find work
To make enough money for us to live and pay off that jerk!”
He went straight away to the farmer so deft at cheating
Discussed the same conditions as his brother in their meeting
With one exception, he said, “Let’s up the bet, it’s not enough
You pay me 2000 rubles if you get angry and tough”
“Or, If I get angry I pay you the same or work 20 years
Of hard labor, under the sun and moon with sweat and tears.”
Tasting the sweetness of the deal, the master said yes
Aware that his worker would be exhausted without any rest.
Next morning, the sun was already high
But the worker was asleep, his head in the sky
“Get up you lazy bum, it’s nearly noon!”
Said the cleaver master in an angry swoon.
“Are you angry,” said the worker opening his eyes
“No, not at all! I want you to know it is time to rise.”
“There is plenty of time for that,” he said with a yawn
Slowly, he readied, as if half the day was not gone
“Can you not hurry up! It is so late,
It is not very pleasant to make me wait.”
“Are you getting impatient and irate?”
“No, no! I am pointing out your slow gait.”
“I must remind you that you are hired to work
A duty you must do, not delay or shirk.”
“Oh yes, that is true. I am a man of my word.
But remember I am human, not an animal in a herd.”
On reaching the field, it was time for noon lunch.
“Look, said the worker, all are eating. Let us have our brunch.”
They sat with the others under a shady tree and ate to their fill
Then they all took a short nap remaining silent and still
After a good break the others awoke and went back to the fields
While the worker slept as if work was a choice he could ignore or yield
The master roared “Wake up, wake up! Have you no shame
The others have reaped their crops while you play the sleeping game.”
The worker opened one eye and said, “Seems to me you are really angry this time!”
“No, no, not at all! I only meant it is time to go home. The dinner bell chimes.”
On reaching the farmer’s house the master saw a guest waiting for him
The master ordered the worker to slaughter a sheep, not too fat and too slim
“Which one shall I kill?”, said the worker with his voice so shrill
“Any you can catch and do it fast so it comes quickly to the grill.”
The worker went off with knife so sharp ready for the kill
Soon a neighbor came screaming that caused a dreadful chill.
“My friend, my neighbor, your worker has lost his peasant’s head.
Your beautiful sheep, once fatted and serene, are all lying dead!”
Red faced and boiling, the master ran toward the woolly flock
But when he saw the bloody sight, he was stunned with shock.
“What have you done you stupid pig head?
Not my sheep, but you should be killed instead!”
“But you said, Master, I should kill any I catch.
I was quick and nimble, the fat sheep were no match.”
“Can it be that you are angry and full of hate?”
“No. But, you killed the sheep meant for my plate.”
“Ah, you are not angry then, I can do my work.”
The master thought, “Your work is making me go berserk.”
As the months passed the master was more than convinced
To get rid of his worker whose tricks gave him a constant wince
As a lawyer tries to find a loophole in a contract for his client’s gain,
the master found a way to free himself of the worker’s bane.
The agreement said the worker should stay until the first cuckoo sings.
But, normally this would not happen until the early days of spring.
Winter was just beginning, the first cuckoo’s song was far away.
But the Master became desperate. He could not tolerate any delay.
So he took his dear wife into the forest and had her perch in a tree
Until he returns with the worker, she sings like a cuckoo and he is set free.
The master went home and ordered the worker to fetch the rifle gun.
For the joy of the hunt, they hiked to the forest under the morning rays of the sun. On approaching the fated tree, the wife sang out like a cuckoo chick. The worker became suspicious, he quickly saw through the trick
The master said, “Ah, the cuckoo sings, our agreement is done.”
The worker cried out in a ruff voice as he raised the hunter’s gun
“What kind of strange cuckoo that sings in early winter the spring song? I’ll shoot the strange bird because I am sure there is something wrong!”
The Worker aimed quick at the tree and was about to click
When the Master deflected the gun by a strike of his stick
“Curse you, evil trickster, I hate you with all my heart,
I won’t tolerate you another minute, you must leave, depart.”
The Worker said, “Now you are really angry, admit it, you’re in a rage.”
“Yes I am, you rascal, take your cursed money, your bloody wage.” Now leave me in peace, go far away, you’re not a person I want to see ever again. “Never will I make pitfalls for others that I may fall into not knowing how or when.”
ahrmahdnehruh yev tzoghounnehruh
The roots and stalks
ahrchuh parehgamatzahv kuughatzeeee muh hehd
A bear became friends with a villager.
ahnohnk voroshetzeen shoghkahm tzahner
They decided to plant turnips.
The villager said.
ahrmahnehruh eentzee, tzoghounnehruh kehzee.
“The roots for me and the stalks for you.”
togh kou uhsahdzut uhllah, uhsahv ahrchuh
“So let it be as you have said,” said the bear.
It became fall.
kuughatzeen ahrahv ahrmahdnehruh, eeshk tzoghounnehruh ahrahv ahrchuh.
The villager got the roots and the bear got the stalks.
ahrchuh muhrtmuhrtahtz, paiytz eench guhrnahr uhnehr
The bear grumbled, but what could he do.
hahtchohrt dahreen kuughatzeen uhsahv ahrcheen.
The next year the villager said to the bear.
yehgour nohrehn meeahseen tzahnehnk
“Come let us plant together again.”
hahmahtzaiyn yehm. Meeaiyn teh aiys ahnkahm toun ahr tzoghounnehruh , eeshk
ahrmahdnehruh eendzee douhr, uhsahv ahrchuh
“I agree. But this time you take the stalks and you give me the roots,” said the bear.
sahd aghehk. ahys ahnkahm ahl togh kou ouzadzut uhllah, uhsahv kuughatzeen.
“Very good. So this time let it be as you have said,” said the villager.
yehv ahnohnk tzahnetzeen tzohrehn yehv ahrahd pehrk uhsdatzahn.
And (this time) they planted wheat and had a bountiful harvest.
kuughatzeen tzoghounnehruhn ahrahv, eeshk ahrchuh tzohrehneen ahrmahdnehruh.
The villager got the stalks and the bear the wheat roots.
ahrchuh dehssahv vohr tahrtzyahl khahpvehr eh.
The bear saw that he was cheated yet again.
The old woman and her son
The old woman and her son
An old woman had ten sheep and a son. Every day her son would take the sheep to pasture, and the mother would mix a cup of water with the sheep’s milk that she sold to the neighbors. One day the son asked his mother why she mixed water with the milk. The mother answered:
“Son, we have very little milk, so I mix water with the milk to make make more money so that in winter we have more to eat.”
One day, when the boy took the sheep again to pasture, it began to rain. A bad storm with torrents of rain fell and the raging river swept the sheep away and they drowned. The son was luckily able to return home before sunset that day. His mother asked, “Son, where are the sheep, and why have you come home so early?”
The boy answered, “Mother, that cup of water you added to the milk everyday to sell more milk to the neighbors accumulated and swelled to the size of a great tidal wave that swept away and drowned our sheep.”
This is a fable by Vartan Ayhkegtzee (1170-1235).
He puts one and counts two
Meg guh tehneh, yergoukuh guh hahmreh
This is the typical math of cheaters.
A crooked ruler cannot draw a straight line
dzour kanag ehn sheedak keedz chehl leer
Praise the Lord, we were able to calculate the bill with a white face (meaning we made the calculation honestly)
Park astdoudzoh, Jermag yeresov haseev muh deesank
In the villages of Turkish Armenia, butchers would purchase young sheep in the early spring. They would give the sheep to Kurdish shepherd who would graze the sheep during the summer months to fatten them and return them in the early fall. For their work, they would keep five sheep and return five fatted sheep to the butchers. In the fall, one butcher goes to see a Kurdish Shepard to whom he entrusted 10 sheep to fatten. The Kurd receives him and offers his a large bowl of sheep’s yogurt for refreshment. As the Armenian eats the yogurt, the Kurd begins to explain the accounts for the sheep.
One day, as I brought the sheep down the mountain, the lead one slipped off a rock and fell to its death.
Five other sheep followed it over the cliff.
Another one was eaten by a wolf.
I gave one to a butcher.
Let’s not mix in another one in this calculation (or make an exception of one)
The last one was taken by my stubborn brother who hung it around his neck and made off in a hurry. He won’t return that one to you, nor will he give it to me.
Shocked and angry, the Armenian butcher threw the bowl of yogurt into the face and beard of the Kurdish Shepard. The Kurd says in Turkish, “Ahl hamdoulah, aghlugh, eeleh bir heesab gehordeuk or Praise the Lord, we were able to calculate the bill with a white face. In Armenian, park astdoudzoh, germak yereesov haseev muh desank, Praise the Lord, we were able to make an honest calculation with a white face.”
This proverb uses the image of a white face to communicate that the calculation was done honestly (a white face equals honesty). The Armenian butcher angrily threw his bowl of yogurt into the face of the Kurd because he was cheated.