Monday, March 28, 2005

Vedikkai Manidhar (Tamil - Risible People) by Subramaniya Bharathi

(Assuming we won't have any objections to poems in the vernacular....)

Thaedi choru dhinam thindru
pala chinnanchiru kadhaigaL pesi
vaadi thunbam miga uzhandru
pirar vaada pala seigai seidhu
narai koodi kizhapparuvam eidhi
kodum kootrukkirayaagi maayum

sila vedikkai manidharai poLavey

naanum veezhven endru ninaiththaayO?

- Subramania Bharathi

It is very tough to attempt a translation of anything written in pre-1950s Tamil, and infinitely tougher to translate someone like Bharathi. My sincere attempt follows (better translation welcome)

Scavenging for their daily rice,
And wagging chins on various insignificant fibs
Dejected in spirit, and toiling in vain suffering
Performing deeds that scathe fellow-men
Aging with greyed hair (in due course)
Burdened to hear noxious bile (churned of them)

Like these risible people (who live in vain)

Did you think I would fall suit
And be Struck down?

That being the translation in literal, following is the message in spirit....

Did you think, (Oh Time),
that i too would give up and fall ,
like these risible fools who -
in search of food,
in useless gossip,
in suffering,
in speaking ill and while spoken ill of
get older and die ?

I hope that came across - at least half as passionate as how it sounds in Tamil. Bharathi - to beginners - was a fire-brand nationalist poet from Tamil Nadu, who in his 39 years of existence, penned such passionate verses in Tamil - that still reverberate in Tamil consciousness. He was a revolutionary in letter and in spirit, and espoused a unique brand of "Secular-Hindu-Indian-reformist-nationalism" quite contrasting with the latter day secessionist literature. The very fact that Bharathi's verses have survived the onslaught of the Dravidian movement speaks volumes of the depth of his writings. India's own Pablo Neruda.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


While on Wilfred Owen, I thought I must post 'Miners': one of my favourites. One of his earlier poems, this poem is best known for it's drastic -- in fact, sudden -- imagery shift from that of miners to one indicative of a war. In fact, the tale goes that Owen meant to write on a mining accident but, in the process, also ended up sketching vivid pictures of war.

Vivid phrases like "Bones without number" never fail to affect me, no matter how recently I have read the poem. One of my favourites, along with Dulce Et Decorum Est.


Wilfred Owen

There was a whispering in my hearth,
A sigh of the coal.
Grown wistful of a former earth
It might recall.

I listened for a tale of leaves
And smothered ferns,
Frond-forests; and the low, sly lives
Before the fawns.

My fire might show steam-phantoms simmer
From Time's old cauldron,
Before the birds made nests in summer,
Or men had children.

But the coals were murmuring of their mine,
And moans down there
Of boys that slept wry sleep, and men
Writhing for air.

And I saw white bones in the cinder-shard,
Bones without number.
For many hearts with coal are charred,
And few remember.

I thought of all that worked dark pits
Of war, and died
Digging the rock where Death reputes
Peace lies indeed.

Comforted years will sit soft-chaired
In rooms of amber;
The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
By our lifes' ember.

The centuries will burn rich loads
With which we groaned,
Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids,
While songs are crooned.
But they will not dream of us poor lads
Left in the ground.

Anthem for Doomed Youth - Wilfred Owens

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Inspection by Wilfred Owen

'You! What d'you mean by this?' I rapped.
'You dare come on parade like this?'
'Please, sir, it's-' ''Old yer mouth,' the sergeant snapped.
'I takes 'is name, sir?'-'Please, and then dismiss.'

Some days 'confined to camp' he got,
For being 'dirty on parade'.
He told me, afterwards, the damned spot
Was blood, his own. 'Well, blood is dirt,' I said.

'Blood's dirt,' he laughed, looking away,
Far off to where his wound had bled
And almost merged for ever into clay.
'The world is washing out its stains,' he said.
'It doesn't like our cheeks so red:
Young blood's its great objection.
But when we're duly white-washed, being dead,
The race will bear Field-Marshal God's inspection.'

- Wilfred Owen

I needn't say much about Owen or this poem - but a couple of years ago I happened to read something on the web which floored me....

Dear Sir Rabindranath:

I have been trying to find courage to write to you ever since I heard that you were in London - but the desire to tell you something is finding its way into this letter today. The letter may never reach you, for I do not know how to address it, tho' I feel sure your name upon the envelope will be sufficient. It is nearly two years ago, that my dear eldest son went out to the War for the last time and the day he said Goodbye to me - we were looking together across the sun-glorified sea - looking towards France with breaking hearts - when he, my poet son, said these wonderful words of yours -

'jabar diney ei kawthati boley jeno jai -
ja dekhechi, ja peyechi tulona tar nai' -

'when I leave, let these be my parting words:
what my eyes have seen, what my life received, are unsurpassable.'

And when his pocket book came back to me - I found these words written in his dear writing - with your name beneath. Would I be asking too much of you, to tell me what book I should find the whole poem in?

This was the letter written by Owen's mother to Tagore after the death of her son. The book was of course 'Gitanjali'. Tagore had been awarded the Nobel Prize for this - a year back, but was largely unknown to the world... I had read a little of Gitanjali before ... but was never too impressed with it. I couldn't reconcile with the simplicity of the verses, and I thought it was just another example of writing from the orient overtly obsessed with a simplistic sense of beauty and resigned melancholy...

War would have been the last thing I would have associated with Tagore. But, the above two quoted lines seen through Owen's eyes gave me whole new dimension to his verses. How neatly they fit into the extreme negatives of war - just as they fit with things of beauty? The fact that these could have inspired one of the most celebrated war poets, was a revelation.

Will try and post a few more Owens that I enjoyed... (I am still very poor on Tagore... is there anaybody here who could post more on him? Maybe Chitra...??)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

suicide in the trenches

ive been reading a few of the war poets. i wanted to share this one by siegfried sassoon:

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Twinkle on you little star....

The Star or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

by Jane Taylor, 1806

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder ? what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the trav'ller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often thro' my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

'Tis your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the trav'ller in the dark:
Tho' I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Hickory Dickory Dock

This is a poem from "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis" by Wendy Cope. She's one of my personal favourites as far as modern poets go. Never fails to get me laughing. ( The obligatory smiley smiles at you. )

A Nursery Rhyme

as if it might have been written by T.S. Eliot

Because time will not run backwards

Because time

Because time will not run

Hickory dickory

In the last minute of the first hour

I saw the mouse ascend the ancient timepiece,

Claws whispering like wind in dry hyacinths.

One o'clock,

The street lamp said,

'Remark the mouse that races toward the carpet.'

And the unstilled wheel still turning

Hickory dickory

Hickory dickory


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

H W Longfellow

This is a personal favorite...the stanza on "footprints on the sands of time" very famous...the whole poem is a beauty..and never fails to inspire...


(What the heart of the young mansaid to the psalmist. )

Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time; -

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

H. W. Longfellow

Monday, March 07, 2005

Canto XII from The Heights of Macchu Picchu by Pablo Neruda

Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.
Your rasping voice will not come back,
nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays--
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
say to me: here I was scourged
because a gem was dull or because the earth
failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.
Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,
the wood they used to crucify your body.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.

I come to speak for your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth
let dead lips congregate,
out of the depths spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,

and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

- Pablo Neruda

This is from my latest Neruda fixated readings. He is begining to grow on me these days. I picture him as Moses standing on a valley and commanding the lakes to breach and cascades to fall... or like he is tapping a volcano underneath and begging it to erupt. Can someone embody passion better?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

william blake

One of my favorite poets...

both these poems have the same title and come from two different books - "songs of innocence" and "songs of experience". infact, every poem written in the latter corresponds to one in the former. note the change in tone and perspective.

A CRADLE SONG (Songs of Innocence)

Sweet dreams, form a shade
O'er my lovely infant's head!
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams!

Sweet Sleep, with soft down
Weave thy brows an infant crown!
Sweet Sleep, angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child!

Sweet smiles, in the night
Hover over my delight!
Sweet smiles, mother's smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes!
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child!
All creation slept and smiled.
Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
While o'er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy image I can trace;
Sweet babe, once like thee
Thy Maker lay, and wept for me:

Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When He was an infant small.
Thou His image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee!

Smiles on thee, on me, on all,
Who became an infant small;
Infant smiles are His own smiles;
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.


A CRADLE SONG (Songs of experience)

Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel,
Smiles as of the morning steal
O'er thy cheek, and o'er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful light shall break.