“The new-blown orchard of Tajik literature has set great hopes on the profusely irrigating dispositions of this evergreen young man.” It was by such words that Sadr al-Din ‘Ayni introduced the works of Payraw Sulaymani (1899-1933) to an assembly of Tajik writers and literati for the first time, in the early thirties. Silenced too soon by the Soviets, Payraw did not live past his thirty-fourth birthday, and the whole of his writings hold in a single volume. He is nevertheless acknowledged as a prominent figure of the nascent literary modernity in Tajikistan, and should perhaps be deemed one of the major contemporary poets in the Persian language. To this day, however, his works had never been properly edited. With this new “scientific” edition of hers, Khursheda Otakhonova can rightly claim to provide the first complete and critical edition of the poet’s works. In so doing, the editor achieves the goal Lola Sulaimoni, Payraw’s daughter, had appointed for herself, but left unfinished when she died. Long painstaking efforts finally yielded most convincing results, and Payraw’s poetry is now available in a full, reliable version.
Chiefly concerned with philological issues, the Editor strived to complete the collection of well-known verses with any unpublished writings available (including a couple of short stories in prose and over twenty letters), and to establish the text of the poems decently. This meant collecting and collating the scattered versions of previously edited texts with the manuscripts of the poet, the three notebooks of which are now kept at the Rudaki Institute for Language and Literature in Dushanbe. Noteworthy variants are collected in the appendixes, at times even commented upon in the preface. The Editor also displays an overall concern with matters of chronology of composition. The composition of “Qalam (The Pen),” for example, had been mistakenly dated 1920 for years. Kh. Otakhonova proves that it was definitely written in 1928. Redefining the chronology of the poet’s works also appears as a means to reappraise Payraw’s attitude towards the major political events of his time. In particular, it tackles the difficult question of the poet’s commitment to the Bukhara Revolution. The earlier domination of the Emirs had forced him to spend a few months into hiding in his own homeland. Did he later intend to escape the new-formed government, the same he praised in his poems, during his short flight to Iran in 1924? The various hypothesis concerning the life and political motivations of the poet are handled with nuance and care by the editor, who relies on the memories of contemporary Tajik intellectuals and friends of the poet, as well as on the recollections of Lola Sulaimoni.
Only recently rediscovered by his daughter after years of censorship, the poems written in exile hold an important place in the poet’s compendium. These poems point out to a long hidden aspect of the poet’s character and works: his lyricism. Indeed, Payraw’s poetical works prove more diverse and more complex than could be thought. Apart from the official socialist-oriented pieces, Payraw’s lyrical production had long been kept secret during the Soviet era, when it was outcast as dangerous bourgeois poetry. This extant edition displays the larger scope of Payraw’s writings, ranging from political and social to lyrical, elegiac, and even humorous and satiric. Their chronological ordering is indebted to an earlier edition of Payraw’s poetry by his friend Rahim Hashim, in 1934, acknowledged by Kh. Otakhonova as one of her major sources. It further enables to show an evolution in style and contents in Payraw’s writing, while treating his political and his lyrical poems on an equal footing. The poems which could not be dated with certainty are grouped by genre at the end of the volume.
One might possibly have expected a deeper critical insight into the literary aspect of the poems on the part of the Editor. Not a word is said of the poetic form or style, of the innovations in rhythm and rime, or of the decisive influence of such formalist Russian poets as Maiakovski on Payraw’s writing. Payraw owes his special position in the history of modern Tajik poetry to the intertwining of traditional Persian-stock patterns and modernist forms that he initiated, as well as to the alternately classical quantitative and folk syllabic metrics he made use of. Apart from a few hints to his practice of intertextuality with the work of such poets as Fitrat and Lahuti, this edition does not appear very concerned with literary theory and analysis. From this perspective, Payraw’s poetry still remains to be studied in depth. Kh. Otakhonova’s edition nevertheless provides the indispensable material for any further research on Payraw’s life and works. Displaying, alongside the texts in full, reliable indications on the poet’s life illustrated by a dozen well-selected archive photographs of the poet and his folks, the editor aims to gather enough evidence to build the image of the poet anew, and to reinstate him in the reference skyline of Tajik literature. One can only hope that this edition will be greeted with the enthusiasm it deserves, and stir emulation among the possible editors of the many other Tajik poets that, up to now, have not yet been properly edited.