Literary Images of the City in Lia Sturua's Poetry

DOI: 10.55804/jtsuSPEKALI-17-2


Urban space is one of the significant issues in the history of both Georgian and world literature. The city has been studied from many angles. Therefore, it is of utmost interest to explore the impact living space may have on human perception. It is noteworthy from an emotional and mental point of view; that is why the city is not just a static space, a landscape and a back-ground. This topic is diverse and is becoming more and more relevant from the cultural and social point of view. It is interesting to study how this issue is manifested in literary texts.

Lia Sturua is one of the most prominent poets of the twentieth century. At all stages of her work, interest in urban space is evident; therefore, the variety of materials enables observation and discussion.

People go through a process of self-awareness following the perception of the images of the city and its cultural codes. This kind of influence is also reflected and transferred in poetic samples. For this reason, it is interesting to study which symbols and functions the city presented to us as a multicultural space in the collections of poems created in different periods. As a fact, urban space models change depending on the author's desires. In this article, we will analyze the works by Lia Sturua and explore the forms and images the urban space is presented by, the is-sues related to this process and the features that distinguish them. Apart from discussing the artistic characteristics of poetic samples, I will also analyze the opinions and views of cultural researchers, enabling me to present the issue in a broader aspect.

In Lia Sturua's work, the urban space appears in the very first collection titled "Trees in the City" (1965). In the poem "Self-Portrait", the author indicates that her first book was named after Vazha-Pshavela to show her love for this poet. Thus, in a way, it explains the principal theme of the collection in the preface of which we read: "The poet's desire to combine the beau-ty of nature and the modern city can be seen in the title. Sometimes the author conveys the rhythm of the modern city by introducing real details and conversational intonation into the poem." Indeed, in this and subsequent collections, the author presents the city as the present, everyday life as a place of changes and indifference, as well as the poetic images of a specific city - Tbilisi.

In the poem “The Trees Stand”- a tree is a symbol of truth and nature.

"There's something truthful  about trees

something Georgian, as in the oxen,

with a candle stuck to their horns"

[Sturua, 1965:12]

The semantic meaning of the trees is determined by a specific place - the city, the addressee of the speaker; it is in this space that the thoughts and lines: "You carry felled forests in your soul" should represent the loss of the path of search for salvation. In order to associate the trees with the bull, the author uses an allusion to the folk poem "Built on Mondays". The lines at the be-ginning of the folk poem are important:

"Castle-city on the mountain

was built on Mondays”

[Folk poem, 1987:14]

According to the poem, a person is destined to die when a bull appears as a saviour.

"The ox said with a light face

Write it on my horn.

Angels rushed around him

and kissed both of his eyes.

Making a pair of candles,

They stuck them to both horns"

[Folk poem, 1987:15]

This motif is used to connect the trees and the ox. “The poem ‘Built on Mondays’ is a remarka-ble song about the ox's nature, duties and activities. It clearly shows that the ox is given by God, it is a necessary condition for the establishment of man on the earth. The ox saved a man, for which he is blessed by God” [Kukuladze, 2008:25]. We think that the author assigns the function of saving man to the trees in the city, through the images of the ox and the trees. It al-so indicates the folk context. Thus, taking into account the interpretation of the ox's face in orally transmitted folklore, Lia Sturua's poetic codes are logical and convincing, and the multi-layer nature of the poem enhances their expression.

The very first collection includes a poem called "Laughing Men". Men drawn with chalk by children on the street "are not afraid of cars". Children's naive attitude and ability to see beauty are dreamy and admirable. Smiles conveyed through "two dots instead of eyes" and "a mouth till the ears" conveyed by the "artists" is a harsh reality that creates people's everyday life.

The fate of people who cannot adapt to the city is the subject of many poetic and prosaic works. Lia Sturua conveys this issue in an interesting artistic way in her free verse "Wolf": "An old wolf sits in a cage and looks for the red sun every morning" and “he dreams of dry trees". It is unusu-al that the author unites "savages, children and beasts" with one sign - love of the sun (that is, life and freedom).

"Somewhere deer are drinking from a river,

And, from the sun of the city, he gets old.

And in the cage, on a moonlit night,

believes in Ochopintre - the kind God"

[Sturua, 1965: 36]

A wolf locked in a cage will sacrifice himself for a person whom he trusts and "knows by smell" - although there is no such person in the city (The image of the wolf is multifaceted in the po-et's work, and the author named the collection published in 2016 "The Hour of the Wolf”). The tree is an important image in the first collection of poems where the trees transform the city to some extent:

"I was glad that the asphalt is also land somewhere

And that the spirit of the forests entered the city...

that flowers in clay pots look like lies

And that there is truth in the trees."

[Sturua, 1965:41]

In Lia Sturua's first collection, the person presented in the urban space is burdened with exis-tential conflicts. The main subject of reflection is the subjective world of a person, urban images are used as a means of showing this world, trees are like mediums and connect the hero living in the city with nature and life. This attitude also occurs in other collections:

My forests, adding

blue and ease

To the horizon,

Urging the mountains,

To let me stand next to them,

A city girl, painted with watercolours…

I feel you think about me with every leaf”

[Sturua, 2013:85]

The main value is the forest, which saves the speaker from living in "eternal autumn". The for-est, as a symbol of being in harmony with the world and life, evergreen, acquires a special pur-pose in the city, because it affects by its tentacles, airlessness and monotony. "The city has slow-ly started to disintegrate me" - this is the main pain of the author, and the reader realizes that the existing lines are not addressed to one specific person, but are generalized to other citizens, although they do not notice this danger.

To understand the perception of urban space and cultural environment, one of the important texts is the essay "Paris, Capital of the 19th Century" by Walter Benjamin. Analysing the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, the author described the flâneur, as a spectator of modern urban exist-ence, a person who wanders into the city and gazes at the surroundings. However, the term, which derives from the Old Norse verb flana (to wander aimlessly), has also acquired additional meanings, it refers to a passer-by who experiences an accidental or expected psychological in-fluence from the environment, from its appearance. Also, flâneur has become the subject of a number of interpretations, it is used to explain mass culture, alienation in modern existence, and the gaze of an observant person. We can see such a person in the works by Lia Sturua with literary reminiscences. In addition, it is interesting that the wandering poetic hero, unlike the flâneur, implies new features in the poetic texts. He directs his gaze primarily to his own sub-jective world, and the environment he perceives is revealed in the form of impressions refracted through this prism. Also, unlike the flâneur, he does not seek refuge in the crowd. The similari-ty is interesting, the emotional-cognitive experience of the lyrical subject in the role of a poet-observer, flâneur. All the more so when a specific urban toponym enters the creative vision of the poet. In particular, in 1975, "Literary Georgia" published Lia Sturua's poems called "From the Italian Cycle" - which include four poems: "Via Veneto", "Florence", "Pieta" and "Assisi on a Windy Day". Next to the toponyms, the images associated with these spaces are described as "Exquisite porcelain Madonnas", "Asymmetric shadow of Michelangelo", "Church of St. Fran-cis", and "Giotto's frescoes", although these are not reference texts described by the tourist, the perceiver experiences the enchanting impact of this space and the unusual visions appear in her imagination.


"When the saffron fades in the sun,

"Michelangelo walks in the city of such colour."


"It seems to me that I have already died

And some woman comes in the rain

She scratches the moulded candle cheeks

and brings to me

a man not yet born of me,

Envious from the beginning."

"Assisi on a Windy Day":


The old monk says his name

so carefully

As if he was holding a fragile enamel icon in his hand."

[Sturua, 1975:4]

By being abroad, in a different space, a person has the opportunity to see himself differently, to discover different aspects of his character and views, and to analyse the range of impressions. Thus, the emotion derived from works of art, streets and cities, conveyed in the literary text, is very interesting for the reader.

Urban spaces are represented in all stages of Lia Sturua's work. The very first poem of the 1977 collection is "Music". The urban environment is described in the lyrical sample. Mothers kneel-ing in front of buses and cars demand:

“Give music to children

Dismayed by the exhaust and the stereo sound!

[Sturois, 1977:6]

At first glance, the demand for oxygen in an ecologically unhealthy environment is more logi-cal, however, in the city, in this indifferent and colourless environment, survival is possible on-ly through music or art.

In Lia Sturua's poems, the images of the city often move to the background, and the speaker tries to continue communicating with himself and to convey the impression that arises from the interaction with the environment, and sometimes the observer's gaze is presented as a palimp-sest, the urban space and the emotional spectrum alternate with each other and come forward with different intensities. In this way,  the artistic vision in the poem "August in the City," is depicted and characterized by tropical features:

"An afternoon condensed like candied honey...

Asphalt grey sky, as if it never

was transparent.

Tram cars do not carry people,

but transfer heat, red, bright,

full of the chiming of bells,

The endless city

From one end to the other...

A woman walks down the street

The only transparent body...”

[Sturua, 1977:14]

Subjective feelings are brought to the fore, therefore the urban space, which in another context has its personal characteristics, now assumes a specific function, expresses an attitude towards the space - "condensed afternoon", "asphalt-grey sky", "tobacco-colored sun" - the presented ep-ithets also indicate this. It has been repeatedly noted in critique that Lia Sturua is a poet of im-aginations and associations, she is able to perceive poetic forms in a detached manner. "Lia Sturua does not try to be easy to understand, because what you grasp quickly is also quickly forgotten because the eyes of the masses immediately adapt to the familiar sight. And Lia Sturua offers us the so-called "difficult poetry", which corresponds to the psyche of a civilized person and is translated into verse lines" [Sigua, 2009:33]. In the discussed poem, the city is not only a place for the development of action, the compositional integrity is achieved not in a narrative form, but by understanding the entire spectrum of faces, symbols and emotions.

It should be noted that in Lia Sturua's work, codes, hints and perspectives are constantly chang-ing. Instead of a conventional descriptive style, through own feelings and self-immersion, new faces are introduced into the complex imaginary space, unusual and at the same time, so accu-rate that the reader does not stumble, therefore, the crane seen in the dream and the people through the artistic imagination are united with a completely clear sign:

"When all white and long,

but still, no one can see

The background of the city is unprofitable for him,

of the city that is the movement of

people and the traffic

so endless and pointless

as if you are bringing water through a sieve

But to stop is to die..."

[Sturua, 1986:163]

In this environment, the crane is doomed, even though it stretches its throat and "even looks like crucified"; it cannot survive just like a person who does not belong to this space. It is differ-ent, sharp as a daisy in a green field, but although it should be clear and visible, it remains be-hind the gaze:

"Now the city will test

As if it is turned into art

The ability not to notice.."

[Sturua, 1986:166]

The main pain is conveyed in the last line. However, we think that the words used in the poem: "crucified", "death", "compassion", "surprise", "stranger", and "flattery" ... create such content that makes it easier for the reader to perceive the emotional-cognitive context of the poetic sample. The cultural aspects of this issue are interesting. The American researcher, one of the founders of urban sociology, Louis Wirth, deals with the same topic in his essay - "Urbanism as a Way of Life" (1938). He believes that in the city, the individual means little by himself, he is given importance only if he expresses the interests of a large group of people. "The city is char-acterised by secondary, not primary contact. Contacts in the city, even when dealing with face-to-face relationships, are faceless, superficial, fleeting and segmented. The closedness and indif-ference shown by citizens towards each other may be considered as a means of defence against the personal attraction and expectations of others" [Wirth, 2014:36] What has been established as a result of social studies, in the works of Lia Sturua’s, it is revealed through symbols, literary faces, different codes and poetic form.

The poetic form of the urban space is shown with special expressiveness in the poetry of Geor-gian symbolists, the issue is extensive and is not the subject of our research, this time we will only dwell on Paolo Iashvili's outstanding poetic sample with symbols and expressive means - "Peacocks in the City". In the symbolist poem, the urban space is depicted with terrifying artis-tic faces: blood, disease, madness and death have taken over the city. Peacocks with burnt wings suddenly appear in this terrible chaos. Repeated "red" makes the artistic imagination more expressive. The poem is dynamic, it is a poetic illustration of trembling and fear. "Literary criticism perceived the symbolic difference between red monsters and storms in the poetic in-stallations of "Peacocks" as a kaleidoscopic expression and symbolic continuation of the Red Revolution. It is a fact that the rich variety and diverse artistic passages of this poem allow such a conclusion" [Paichadze, 2018:138]. The discussed poem by Paolo Iashvili is interesting to us, as parallels with it, some kind of reminiscences appear in Lia Sturua's free verse "Peacock". To-gether with the title, the place of development of the action, artistic faces are common. To show the parallels, we will illustrate it with the poetic lines:

a) Beginning of verses:

"It was hot in the city.  The sun was torturing dizzy thoughts

and suffocating them in the hot downpour"

[Iashvili, 2012:13]

"It is the month of July, beneath

The asphalt is soft as a feather

[Sturua, 1985:16]

b) Expression of pain caused by the sun, heat:

“Wicked is when the sun gathers the red snakes,

and will turn into stinging blood in the gutter of the streets"

[Iashvili, 2012:13]

“When the afternoon comes, the bronze rays of the sun

will sink into the joints like nails"

[Sturua, 1985:16]

c) Artistic appearance of trees and birds:

"Like shredded, blood-colored, wet cloths,

Tired sunbirds sit on the trees."

[Iashvili, 2012:15]

“Dusty sparrows and crows

are bowed down like fruit on ripe trees"

[Sturua, 1985:17]

It is valuable when the author uses allusion, thereby enriching the content context. However, when comparing Lia Sturua's poetic sample with Paolo Iashvili's highly artistic text, it would lose its value, if not for the clear difference that refers to the main type of poems - “The Pea-cocks". Lia Sturua has something specific to say, that's why she is not afraid of clear parallels, and in the wake of a deliberate association with Paolo Iashvili's poem, she creates completely new poetic faces:

"And suddenly I see, at the end of the street,

By the rusty bush, the peacock stands,

The orange, screaming horror of my childhood

In this city, on this dull day!

I stop

The rope melts around the neck

And not with a mouth full of screams,

but with beautifully rounded lips

I pronounce the word "peacock".

My pursuer is amazed, nothing has changed around him,

molten asphalt, cars, Dusty sparrows and crows

are bowed down like fruit on ripe trees"...

[Sturua, 1985:17]

The passer-by is being chased by a stranger with "busy steps", they meet a peacock on the way. Only the speaker can perceive this strangeness, although his pursuer is amazed and calls him "crazy", people walking in the city cannot see "the beautiful, illegal, clear fire of the peacock" - and this is the reason why the speaker dies. He is different from society, and people who cannot recognize and see the peacock will be his demise. The peacock is a symbol, it is a way of salva-tion, but next to the "rusty bush," it is difficult to perceive this beauty, the speaker is strangled by "the noose knot by the hand of a zealous man". The poem can be understood as follows: an imaginary wandering in the space of a particular city, which is associated with a creative pro-cess, I pronounce the word "peacock", which implies a creative process, the power of the word, as a result of which the imagination creates an unusual image, which transforms into a specific image - a peacock. We think that this is an attempt by the poet to show us that the place of the most unexpected meetings is poetry, and not everyone has the ability to find a way in this world, that's why the fate of the creator in such a space can be tragic. Guram Kankava's insight is interesting: "The reader is fascinated not only by the grotesque environment in which the ac-tion of the poem takes place but also by the intense irony resembling a wielded, sharp sword held by the lyrical character of the poem. The moral and aesthetic peripeteia of the poem are related to the extent to which it is permissible for the imagination to see a peacock capable of crowing instead of a bush colored by the rusty sun, growing near one of the sidewalks in Tbili-si…” [Kankava, 1985:112].

In the collection published in 2021, "Do I Continue to Play?!" - urban space continues to be one of the important topics.

“The first time I was born was when I was born

The second time - when I left the city

and I saw grass"

[Sturua, 2021:7]

"The only land in the city is the cemetery,

If you tear up the asphalt on the street there too"

[Sturua, 2021:235]

Thus, whether the author refers to the urban space in general or to a specific area, there is al-ways more to say than just showing the image of a certain environment. "The city is a meta-phorical symbol of everyday routine, existence, in one word, life... It should stir the instinct of "striding towards life" immanently present in a person. It should open a wide channel to one’s imagination, encourage free action, improvisation, and “play” [Andriadze, 1987:33]. Despite the title of the collection, which implies various interesting aspects, for the lyrical subject, the city is not presented as a space that gives impetus to life and play.

In Lia Sturua's poems, the city is shown as a space of harsh intervention in nature, an artificially changed landscape. These realities confront the village with this sign. Georg Simmel - a German philosopher and culturologist, studied the signs of the relationship between the city and the countryside and their impact on people. In the essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903), he writes that the rapid rhythm of the city makes it difficult to achieve spiritual peace because internal and external impressions are continuous in the city. Presented, which requires more psychological effort from a person, "the metropolis creates just such a feeling basis and psycho-logical conditions with its street bustle, fast pace and diverse economic, professional and public life. When living in a big city, the level of vigilance that we, beings dependent on differences, need for our own organization, is deeply contrasted with the life of a small town or village, which is characterized by a slow, equal rhythm of spiritual and mental activity" [Simmel, 2014:10] The vision conveyed in the lyrical texts of the Georgian author coincides with the sci-entific assessment.

Moreover, it is important that the literary models of the city in Lia Sturua's works differ from each other. Urban space is an ecologically unhealthy, excessively noisy place, which lacks natu-ralness, that's why the lyrical subject aspires to life, nature, and forests. It should also be noted that the city is the residence of the poet, which creates the present and everyday life of the lyri-cal character. Thus, for Lia Sturua, the city is not only perceived in one context but is seen as multi-layered and combines the poet's life and imaginative, literary experience.


The research was carried out within the Doctoral Research Project of the Shota Rustaveli Na-tional Science Foundation (project code PHDF-22-1585)



ანდრიაძე დ.,
ქალაქი, სიტყვა, ნიშანი. საბჭოთა ხელოვნება N1.
ვირთი ლ.,
ურბანიზმი, როგორც ცხოვრების წესი. თბილისი,
კუკულაძე ლ.,
ხარის სიმბოლიკა გიორგი შატბერაშვილის შემოქმედებაში.ბათუმი.
ზიმელი გ.,
მეტროპოლისი და მენტალური ცხოვრება. თბილისი.
კანკავა გ.,
წერილები, პორტრეტები. თბილისი.
პაიჭაძე თ.,
ქალაქი — კულტურული სივრცე სიმბოლისტურ ტექსტში (ინტერტექსტი და ქართული შემოქმედებითი გამოცდილება). სჯანი. N19.
სტურუა ლ.,
ხეები ქალაქში. თბილისი.
სტურუა ლ.,
იტალიური ციკლიდან. ლიტერატურული საქართველო 4 ივლისი. N27.
სტურუა ლ.,
ლექსები პოემა. თბილისი.
სტურუა ლ.,
ლექსები, პოემები. თბილისი.
სტურუა ლ.,
ვაგრძელებ თამაშს?! თბილისი.
ლექსის თქმა მწადის ერთისა. თბილისი.