THE CAUCASUS AS A GATE TO THE ORIENT. ORIENTAL MOTIFS IN TADEUSZ ŁADA-ZABŁOCKI'S OEUVRE
The East, its culture and literature were always part of the rich, erudite poetic imagination of
Tadeusz Łada-Zabłocki (1811–1847), a tsarist exile to the Caucasus. He spoke Oriental languages (Georgian and Persian) and had a thorough knowledge of the Koran, a short fragment of which he even translated (probably from French). Although today we only have his poetry inspired by the Caucasian mountains, he was also no stranger to extensive travel accounts (unfortunately, his Dziennik podróży mojej do Tyflisu i z Tyflisu po różnych krajach za Kaukazem (Journal From My Journey To and From Tiflis Across Various Countries Beyond the Caucasus) and notes from his Armenian expedition were lost). An important source of inspiration for Zabłocki, encouraging him to explore the East, were the Philomaths’ translations of Oriental poetry by Jan Wiernikowski and Aleksander Chodźko, while his model of reception of the Orient were the oeuvres of Mickiewicz (primarily his Crimean and Odessa Sonnets), Byron and Thomas Moore (especially the fragment of Lalla Rookh — Paradise and the Peri). The exile brutally brought Zabłocki into contact with the real Orient, terribly dangerous and diametrically different from the one described by Western travellers. It is, therefore, not surprising, that their superficial and simplified accounts were criticised by the Polish poet and soldier.
Zabłocki’s oeuvre, both pre-exile and Caucasus period works, is full of various Oriental reminiscences: from the Biblical topos of the Paradise ab Oriente, through numerous splendid images of Caucasian nature, scenes from the life of Caucasian highlanders, poetic imitation of the metre of Caucasian folk dances, apt ethnographic observations in the verses, borrowings from Oriental languages, extraordinarily sensual eastern erotic poems, to translations of texts of Caucasian cultures (Tatar, Azeri and Georgian songs). Zabłocki drew on both folk culture of Caucasian tribes, and on Eastern mythologies as well as universal culture of the Islamic world. He presents an ambivalent image of Caucasian highlanders in his poetry: sometimes they acquire traits of noble, free, valiant and indomitable individuals, typical of the Romantic idea of highlanders, on other occasions the label “Son of the East” becomes a synonym of Asian barbarity.
Freed from the service in the tsarist army, Zabłocki planned travels across nearby Persia, Asia Minor, and even Arabia, Nubia and Palestine. However, the plans never became a reality, owing to a lack of funds and the poet’s early death of cholera.
Zabłocki’s “Eastern” oeuvre fully reveals the “liminal”, demarcational nature of the Caucasian mountains, for centuries constituting the limes between Europe and Asia, the East and the West, a meeting place of the Christian and the Muslim Orients.