The personality and art of Gabdoullah Tukay illume the Tatar culture. He occupies a special place in the Turkic-Tatar spiritual world. Consciously or not, the poet comes to our life from childhood. The melodiousness and extraordinary beauty of his style is realised later, when you reread his works. Delicate, nervous, lambent, inspired, ironic, this is how Tukay looks in his publicistic and amorous poetry. It is philosophically deep and modern. At the same time, he is a poet of his time, and the epoch he showed so nicely and deeply rises visibly and graphically.
Tukay was born at the turn of epochs. He came to this world to restore the significance of the nation and raise it to a remarkable level. The foundation was laid by enlighteners who based their views on works of philosophers and poets of the Oriental Renaissance: al Farabi, Ibn-Sina, Ibn-Rushd, Nizami, Khayyam, Saadi, Navoi; the humanist poets of the Volga Boulgaria, the Golden Horde and the Kazan Khanate: Kul Gali, Qutb, Sarai, Muhammedyar. The Tatar enlighteners of the late 19th century, Marjani, Nasyri, Qultyasi, have woken up self-consciousness of the Tatars. The role of Gabdoullah Tukay is special and exclusive: he created a new, understandable to everybody Tatar language, his translations introduced the Tatar people to Russian and European poetic classics. Through verses, fairy tales, poems, and accusatory publicistic works, the poet managed to express the soul of his people. Having endured the burdens of orphanhood, loneliness and wanderings, the enmity of enviers, he felt its pain.
«Yesterday I beard someone singing a song,
The one which was composed by our people.
And I thought to myself: how much sadness is in it,
How boundlessly mournful it is.
It disturbs my heart. In it lives
a long-suffering soul of the Tatars.
In plangent sounds is the three-hundred-centuries-old oppression.
It is bitter and still it is beautiful.»
(«National Melodies», 1909)
Every people, at this or that period of its history, produces its Poet, whose mission is to become the personification of its genius and soul. Homer in ancient Greece, Dante in medieval Italy, Shakespeare in England, Goethe in Germany, Pushkin in Russia. Tukay has become such poet for the Tatar people. His poetry sounded in unison with the strings of the people’s soul.
Tukay was born on 26 April 1886 in the family of a mullah in the village of Kushlavuch. He did not remember maternal love or his father’s kind hands. Having become an orphan very early, he was given for care to a quarrelsome and unkind old woman named Sharifa. Hunger, cold, angry shouts… Kushlavuch, Uchille, Kyrlay, Kazan… In this list of places, where little Tukay happened to live, only Kyrlay remained in his memory a place of his childish games and pastimes accompanied by a charming odour of herbs and flowers, and kind people. It was Kyrlay which induced him later to create the image of immortal, crafty and, at the same time, naive Shurale deftly deceived by Byltyr.
That bright period of Tukay’s life was short: he was taken to Kazan, where he was given to another family. «Who will take a child for care?!» — this phrase stuck in memory of little Tukay. When he was nine, the future poet left for his father’s sister in Uralsk. He spent there twelve years full of different events. It was in Uralsk where he spent his boyhood and manhood and where he understood his mission.
"quot;Pleasure? Tell me, what is pleasure?
We are fated to see many good things in this world.
But only serving my people I recognise as happiness,
In this I see the best pleasure and joy of my life.»
(«What is Delight?», 1907)
Life in the early 20th century was changing rapidly under the influence of global events in Russia and the world. These changes reached even remote outskirts of the huge state. In Uralsk, a small town on the Kazakhstan’s border, half of the population of which were the Tatars, the newspapers and magazines began to be published: «Fiker» («Thought»), «El-Gasr-el-Jadid» («The New Century»), «Uklar» («Arrows»), with which the young poet was collaborating. It was in those years when the sharp and ready-witted language of the writer has shaped up and which have given birth to a fine lyric poet, sharp satirist, and exceptional improvisator. For the Tatars, he became their everything: an accuser, messenger, advocate, guide, hope… Also at that period he got acquainted with and studied Russian literature. Pushkin’s poetry amazed the young poet. Intuitively he also felt his own mission.
«…Your humble servant is happy to be a part of you,
And being your modest poet is my greatest honour,
With all my soul I love the nation, the nation’s spirit is so close to me,
Give me joy: let my people call me a people’s poet!..»
(«To the People», 1906)
The source of Tukay’s art was in the people and folk art: folk melodies, ornaments, myths, fairy tales, and legends. The classics of Oriental, Russian and European literature has refined the poet’s style and broadened his range of vision. With rapture he was reading not only the poetry and fairy tales by Pushkin, which induced him to create his own poetic fairy tales, but also the works of the ancient world, translated by Russian writers, such as, for example, «The Odyssey» by Homer in poetic translation by Zhukovsky. «The Odyssey» is abundant with mythology and fairy tale characters and contains similar scenes.
«Many bold ideas I have translated into our language.
I used to translation like I did to a five-time prayer.
The grieving heart has become sunny like dale in spring
And then, at leisure, I have translated «The Words of Tolstoy».
If they say «Gainel-Gylem» was in the same vein.
«We used to have everything», I shall be answering to everybody.»
(«At Leisure», 1913)
In Tatar mythology and epos, the most wide-spread, «national» and living «only in Tatar forests» was Shurale. The panorama of images in the world’s mythology reveals a picture of some kind of unity: of images, plots, motifs, and, probably, the unity of highest level of consciousness of peoples. This is manifested not only in monuments of oral folk art, but also in ornamental motifs, which are a kind of language of the ancient art. The motifs and images appeared independently of each other in remote cultures that, at first sight, did not cross with each other. The appearance of similar plots and mythological characters in different spatial and time dimensions puts them into one typological row, the phenomenon of which has been recorded in numerous monuments of art.
The works by Tukay have inspired artists, poets, and writers to create works of art. His verses became truly popular; his lines became sayings and aphorisms. Along with suras of the Koran, they were carrying their Word in shamails, turned into music, representing «mon», the soul of the people…
The early 20th century was very rich with events and turning points. Much happened in the Tatar culture as well: emergence of theatre, new literature, music, the first graphic drawings. The magnificent names of G. Iskhaki, F. Amirkhan, G. Ibragimov, S. Kamal, G. Kamal, G. Kulakhmetov, M.Gafuri, Derdmend, S. Rameyev, S. Sunchalai have enriched and glorified it.
Significance of Tukay can hardly be overestimated: in his art he has generalised the experience of the centuries-old Tatar and entire Turkic poetry; through Oriental poetry he has absorbed the canons of Persian and Arabic classics that rested on ancient traditions. What unites Tukay and this world of ancient culture is the spirit of the Renaissance humanism and the thoughts about a dignified mission of man. The works by Tukay sparkle with aphorisms and irony illuminated by smile of a wise man. At the turn of the centuries, the oral folk art reaches a high level in its development, with song lyric shaping up along with its traditional kinds. The transparency and purity of feelings intrinsic to baits, the epic poetic stories, were, to a great degree, absorbed by the poet.
Many works were created based on Tukay’s poetry. In music, these are ballet performances, such as «Shurale» by F. Yaroullin and «Kisekbash» by R. Gubaidoullin; a cycle of songs titled «Native Village» by A. Monasypov; romances by R. Yakhin; folk songs «Taftilyau» and «To Tatar Girls»; in literature, they are represented by «Tukay», a novel by A. Faizi, a poem by S. Khakim; in graphic arts, we can mention works by B. Urmanche, F. Aminov, Kh. Yakupov, R. Nigmatoullina, etc.
Tukay dreamed of prosperity of his people, of its rise, of its inclusion into common movement of advanced ideas of his time. The poet did not see many far away places. In the last years of his life he visited Astrakhan, Petersburg, Ufa, and Troitsk. But it is not the geography that determines the range of vision, the greatness and scale of spirit. Tukay has expressed the people’s soul; his poetic language has become close and understandable to the people. Tukay means homeland, people’s soul, whose image is in a homespun towel, in a flowing melody, in the inscribed Word of the Prophet, in flowers, herbs and the sky.