Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Where did Grebenshchikov 45 come from?

Studying Manchu poetry requires a great deal of detective work. Certainly much of this poetry did not survive to modern times, and the scraps that have survived are somewhat enigmatic. Jakdan is the exception among Manchu poets in that we know his name and details of his life, but no authors are named for the Staatsbibliothek and Grebenshchikov poems, and it’s difficult to see how the different stylistic traditions relate to each other chronologically.

Grebenshchikov 45 (G45) is stylistically quite different from Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poetry. The rules of meter and rhyme that reign in most of the SBJ poems do not seem to apply to G45, nor do we see the Mongolian-style head rhyme that we see in many early Sibe poems. If we could establish the provenance of the manuscript, it might help fit this piece into the larger puzzle.

G45 was written in a European-style notebook, so dates to the early 20th century. It seems most likely that it was written by someone that Grebenshchikov visited on one of his research trips to Northeast China. Indeed, the handwriting looks similar to that which appears on some of pages of the Yasen sama-i bithe manuscript that he acquired near Aigun in 1909, particularly the pages toward the end of that manuscript. Given that the end pages of a manuscript are easily damaged by handling, it seems quite possible that the end pages of Yasen sama-i bithe are replacements, copied out from damaged originals by the owner.

If my handwriting comparison is valid, then perhaps G45 was written out for Grebenshchikov in Aigun in 1909. However, it was not necessarily composed in Aigun, because a note at the beginning suggests it is a copy of another text which was becoming damaged by Grebenshchikov’s handling of it:

wesihun-i beye ere bithe be tuwara hūlara oci, usihin eici derbehun gala-i afaha be neici bithe mafulabumbi.    When your honorable self looks at and reads this book, if you open the pages with moist or damp hands, the book is being [warped?]
geli sahaliyan icebumbi.    And it is also being stained with black.
uttu ofi donjibume arahabi.    So I had it written out through dictation.

It may be that this text was composed in Aigun, even by the person who gave it to Grebenshchikov, or it may be that it was collected from somewhere else. So far most of the pieces I have read are not strongly connected to a particular place or time, though I will soon share a poem describing scenes of Hénán province. Ultimately the content of the works in this manuscript may be the best clues to its origin.

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