Born July 29 (Aug. 10), 1845, in Chingis-Tau (now the village of Karaul), Abai Raion, Semipalatinsk Oblast; died there June 23 (July 6), 1904. Kazakh poet and educator, father of modern Kazakh written literature.
Born to the family of Kunanbai Uskanbaev, a prominent feudal lord, Abai studied at a madrasah (mosque school) under Mullah Akhmet-Riza in Semipalatinsk and also attended a Russian school. The humanistic views of eastern poets and scholars—for example, Firdawsi, Nawai, Nizami, Fizuli, and Avicenna—were instrumental in shaping Abai Kunanbaev’s conception of life. The Russian classics had a profound impact on him—he translated I. A. Krylov’s fables, poems by M. Iu. Lermontov, and parts of Evgenii Onegin by A. S. Pushkin—and he urged his people to acquire a knowledge of Russian culture.
Abai Kunanbaev’s poems, which are rooted in the experience of a life of toil, called for an end to ignorance and oppression. He ridiculed Islamic dogma and the outmoded customs of the ancestral aul (village) and protested the servile position of women. In his satirical poems “At Last I Have Become a Volost Official” (1889), “The Bailiff Delights in Authority” (1889), and “Kulembaiu” (1888), Abai overtly condemned the evils of his society.
An unsurpassed master of Kazakh poetry—author of such works as “A Moment Out of Time” (1896), “Dead, Am I Not Bound to Turn to Dust” (1898), “The Moon Like a Skiff on Water” (1888), and “When a Shadow Lengthens” (1890)—Abai Kunanbaev introduced new verse patterns, including six- and eight-line stanzas. Inventiveness characterizes his poems on the seasons—“Spring” (1890), “Summer” (1886), “Autumn” (1889), “Winter” (1888)—and his poems on the function of poetry. His long poems Masgud (1887) and The Legend of Azim are patterned on motifs from classical Eastern literature. In his long poem Iskander, Abai Kunanbaev censures the conqueror Alexander the Great for his greed, which he contrasts with the wisdom of Aristotle. His prose work Exhortations touches on themes relevant to history, pedagogy, and law. Abai Kunanbaev arranged some of his lyric poetry for music. His life has been vividly depicted in the novel Abai by M. O. Auezov (vols. 1–2, 1958).
WORKSQazaq akïnï Ibrahim Qünanbay üghlĭnïq, ӧlengĭ. St. Petersburg, 1909.
Shïgharmalarïngïng byr todïq tolïq jïnagha. Almaty, 1961.
In Russian translation:
Stikhotvoreniia i poemy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
REFERENCESAuezov, M. O. Mysli raznykh let: Issledovaniia i stat’i. Alma-Ata, 1961.
Auezov, M. O. Abai Kunanbaev: Stat’i i issledovaniia. Alma-Ata, 1967.
Zhumaliev, Kh. Abaygha deyĭhrĭ qazaq poëzĭyäsï jane Abay poëzĭyäsïgnïgn jílĭ. Alma-Ata, 1948.
Kenesbaev, S. “Abai—osnovopoloznhik kazakhskogo literaturnogo iazyka.” Sovetskii Kazakhstan, 1955, no. 9.
Akhmetov, Z. Lermontov i Abai. Alma-Ata, 1954.
Sil’chenko, M. S. Tvorcheskaia biografía Abaia. Alma-Ata, 1957.
Karataev, M. “Pushkin i Abai.” In Rozhdennaia Oktiabrem. Alma-Ata, 1958.
Abai Kunanbaev: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Alma-Ata, 1965.
I. T. DIUSENBAEV