Tartary…. An old, old memory recalled II

I was telling you about how the title of a book caught my eye and brought back many old memories. The title contained the word Tartary and it immediately evoked an old poem I had first read more than 25 years ago….

But what is Tartary?

Tataria or Tataria Magna (Latin for Great Tartary) was the name used, since the Middle Ages, by Europeans for a sprawling expanse of northern and central Asia stretching from the Caspian Sea and the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean  – inhabited by Turkic and Mongol peoples of the Mongol Empire who were generically referred to as “Tartars”, i.e. Tatars.

In present terms, this would encompass what is now  Siberia, Turkestan (including East Turkestan), Greater Mongolia, Manchuria, and sometimes even Tibet.

Tartary was often divided into sections with prefixes denoting the name of the ruling power or the geographical location. Thus, western Siberia was Muscovite or Russian Tartary, eastern Turkestan (later Chinese Xinjiang) and Mongolia were Chinese or Cathay Tartary, western Turkestan (later Russian Turkestan) was known as Independent Tartary, and Manchuria was East Tartary. Well I guess that should satisfy you all…..

As the Russian Empire expanded eastward and more of Tartary became known to Europeans, the term fell into disuse and till the 20th century, it disappeared except as an archaism….. where it survived most in an early 20th century poem and then in this book.

Kaplan’s book traces his journey from Hungary to Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel before he returns to Turkey and goes up through the Caucasus – through Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia before crossing the Caspian to Turkmenistan – so the title is justified. Though in the last step, he does go eastward to Tartary….

And now for the poem… It took me over a 1000 words almost but I have come to it at last. It is by English poet and novelist Walter John de la Mare (April 25, 1873 – June 22, 1956). As I said, it evokes very vivid images – my favourite is the second half of the second stanza for some reason…. but I shall let you read, savour and enjoy it by yourself now without any more from my side……


If I were Lord of Tartary,
  Myself and me alone,
My bed should be of ivory,
  Of beaten gold my throne;
And in my court would peacocks flaunt,
And in my forests tigers haunt,
And in my pools great fishes slant
  Their fins athwart the sun.

If I were Lord of Tartary,
  Trumpeters every day
To every meal should summon me,
  And in my courtyard bray;
And in the evening lamps would shine,
Yellow as honey, red as wine,
While harp, and flute, and mandoline,
  Made music sweet and gay.

If I were Lord of Tartary,
  I’d wear a robe of beads,
White, and gold, and green they’d be–
  And clustered thick as seeds;
And ere should wane the morning-star,
I’d don my robe and scimitar,
And zebras seven should draw my car
  Through Tartary’s dark glades.

Lord of the fruits of Tartary,
  Her rivers silver-pale!
Lord of the hills of Tartary,
  Glen, thicket, wood, and dale!
Her flashing stars, her scented breeze,
Her trembling lakes, like foamless seas,
Her bird-delighting citron-trees
  In every purple vale!

I hope you liked it as much I did… and still do


One response to this post.

  1. […] have written a lot about this poem earlier. I suggest you visit  https://vahshatedil.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/tartary-an-old-old-memory-recalled-ii/ if you are interested in reading the full […]


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