Tuberculosis, the “romantic disease,” as it was regarded in the nineteenth century, had its own share of victims among Armenian poets from 1868 to 1924. Between those dates, several prominent names in Armenian literature, aged between 21 and 40, died due to that dreaded illness, including Megerdich Beshigtashlian (1828-1868), Bedros Tourian (1851-1872), Misak Medzarentz (1886-1908), Vahan Terian (1885-1920), Mateos Zarifian (1894-1924). Less prominent names were also among its victims. There was a young poet who joined that list, whose name still appears in some anthologies: Heranoush Arshagian.
She was born on July 28, 1887, in the suburb of Beshiktash, in Constantinople. Her father Hagop Arshag died when she was three; he had been a prominent activist in the Armenian community. The young girl entered the Sisters’ School of Makrikoy, where she stayed for a year and half. Afterwards, she transferred to the Makruhian girls’ school in her birthplace. She was a very successful student and her teachers admired her essays.
However, her studies were interrupted when the physicians advised that the only possible cure for the deadly disease was to spend time within a natural environment, far from the city, and to breathe the fresh air of a village. In 1902 Arshagian moved with her family to a farm outside Yedi-kule, another suburb of the Ottoman capital. It appears that she wrote her undated poems between 1903-1904, influenced by her imminent death and the beauty of nature that surrounded her.
The sky is blue; the pretty eyes
Watch us with infinite blue.
Blue are all the sweet objects,
The infinite seas, the soft flowers,
The immaterial clouds, the enlightened soul
When comes out from its closet.
I have loved that color, faint or burning,
As it smiles constantly through the tones of white.
I have loved it as if it were incense,
As I love the fire-haired stars.
In the middle of the pages of a beloved book
I put a very humble, blue flower,
To make sure that whoever sees it one day
Will remember my sweet emotions with the flower
She read a poem by another young poet, Hrand Nazariantz (1880-1962), entitled “A Sister,” in an issue of the journal “Puragn” (1904).
The poet spoke about his dream of having a sister to share his thoughts. Arshagian send him a warm letter: “If you wish a sister, I need a brother; let’s find together what we don’t have...” They started to correspond.
The young poet, according to her friends, had written prolifically including a novel, several novellas, various poems in French, and some five dozen poems in Armenian. She passed away on March 27, 1905, a few months before her eighteenth birthday. Some of her writings were published in the journal “Dzaghig,” edited by writer Haiganoush Mark. Nazariantz published a book about her life and poetry in 1910, where he gathered 24 poems and some excerpts from her letters. This was, essentially, her literary testament.