The first word 30 September, 1890

The first word

Abai Kunanbaev is the Shakesphere of Kazakh literature. His Book of Words, «Kara Sozder», created by the great thinker constitute an ethnic philosophical work. This creation of his is an exploration of Kazakh national life in the second half of the 19th century. He influenced social affairs in the country where he lived.

Whether for good or ill, I have lived my life, traveling a long road fraught with struggles and quarrels, disputes and arguments, suffering and anxiety, and reached these advanced years to find myself at the end of my tether, tired of everything. I have realized the vanity and futility of my labors and the meanness of my existence. What shall I occupy myself with now and how shall I live out the rest of my days? I am puzzled that I can find no answer to this question.

Rule the people? No, the people are ungovernable. Let this burden be shouldered by someone who is willing to contract an incurable malady, or else by an ardent youth with a burning heart. But may Allah spare me this load which is beyond my powers! Shall I multiply the herds? No, I cannot do that. Let the young folk raise livestock if they need them. But I shall not darken the evening of my days by tending livestock to give joy to rogues, thieves and spongers.

Occupy myself with learning? But how shall I engage in scholarship when I have no one to exchange an intelligent word with? And then to whom shall I pass on the knowledge I will have amassed? Whom shall I ask what I do not know myself? What's the good of sitting on a desolate steppe with an arshin[1] in hand trying to sell cloth? Too much knowledge becomes gall and wormwood that hastens old age if you have no one by your side to share your joys and sorrows.

Choose the path of the Sufi and dedicate myself to the service of religion? No, I'm afraid that won't do either. This vocation calls for serenity and complete peace of mind. But I have not known peace either in my soul or in my life—and what sort of piety can there be amongst these people, in this land! Educate children, maybe? No, this, too, is beyond my powers. I could instruct children, true, but I don't know what I should teach them and how.

For what occupation, for what purpose and for what kind of community am I to educate them? How can I instruct them and direct their paths if I don't see where my pupils could usefully apply their learning? And so here, too, I have been unable to put myself to any good use.

Well, I have decided at length: henceforth, pen and paper shall be my only solace, and I shall set down my thoughts. Should anyone find something useful here, let him copy it down or memorise it. And if no one has any need of my words, they will remain with me anyway. And now I have no other concern than that.

Абай Құнанбайұлы

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