Rasul Gamzatov was born on September 8, 1923, in the Avar village of Tsada in the north-east Caucasus. His father, Gamzat Tsadasa, was a well-known bard, heir to the ancient tradition of minstrelsy still thriving in the mountains.
Bards were held in high honour. When Makhmud, famous poet of the previous generation, sang in a busy market-place, plucking the strings of his pandura for accompaniment, young and old would listen in silence with bated breath: even a bee’s flight could be heard.

In the early twenties of this century when the first Soviet lecturers came to a village women would sit with their backs to the speaker, who was not supposed to see their faces. But when a bard followed with his songs they would face him out of respect for his art and were even permitted to throw back their veils.

The young Rasul, impatient of any interruption, would listen for hours on end to the Avar stories, legends and fables his father would relate. «When I was quite small,» he recalls, «he would wrap me in his sheepskin cloak and recite his poems to me, so I knew them all by heart before 1 ever rode a horse or wore a belt."

From the small window of his father’s flat-roofed house of solid stone he could see a patch of green field spread like a tablecloth below the village and, above it, overhanging rocks.

Paths wound like snakes up the steep slopes where caves gaped like the jaws of wild beasts. Beyond the mountain ridge rose yet another, arched and rough as a camel’s back.

As a boy Rasul would graze a neighbour’s horse for three days with the telling of a story as his reward. He would climb half a day to join shepherds in the mountains and walk half a day back just to hear a single poem!
In the second form at school he walked twelve miles to see an old man, a friend of his father’s, who knew many songs, poems and legends. The old man sang and recited to the young boy for four days from morning till night. Rasul wrote down what he could and went happily home with a bagful of poems.