Of the Musk Deer
Musk lies in the musk deer’s own nave,
But roam in the forest he does – it to seek;
Alike, God pervades heart to heart,
But men of the world this don’t conceive.
In man himself the Master dwells,
But man, deluded, knows not this,
So similar to the musk deer who
Again and again the grass sniffs.
The seeker of Ram*, says Kabir,
To the Singhal Island** did march;
When in himself he was convinced,
He found that Ram pervaded his heart.
God exists, profuse, in each place,
So don’t think He’s less here and more there,
Those who say He’s far – He is far,
Those who know Him near – He’s near.
I knew God to be far away,
But He is ubiquitous – here and there;
Thou didst know Him to be far off,
He’s far off though very near.
* Ram, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, and
the central character of the Ramayana epic
** Today known as Sri Lanka
Of the Virtueless
It drizzled in graceful drizzles,
On the stone fell showers of rain,
Soil melted when it got watered,
But the stone showed no mark of change.
Who utters as wells forth the tongue
Without thinking what he doth say,
Holding the sword of his tongue in hand
The souls of others he doth slay.
Cow-rich, elephant-rich, horse-rich,
And rich treasures of precious stones,
All those riches are like the dust
Until to man contentment comes.
Of the Middle
If I say I’m Hindu, I’m not,
Nor as well a Muslim I’m,
An effigy of five elements
– in me plays the spark divine.
It’s not good in excess to speak,
Nor good in excess to keep mum,
To rain in excess is not good,
Nor good an excess of sun.
Pardon suits the magnanimous,
One who is low mischiefs befit;
Speak! In what way did Vishnu lose
When Bhrigu a kick did Him hit?
Where there’s mercy there’s religion;
Where there’s avarice there’s sin;
Where there is anger there is Death,
Where there’s pardon there God dwells in.
Kabir was born in 1440 in Lahartara (modern-day Varanasi), on the sacred Ganges River of India.
His mother, a Brahmin widow, had given birth to him long past the death of her husband – hence she
was socially disgraced. She left her new-born in some shrubs where he was discovered and adopted by
Neema and Neeru, a Muslim couple who were weavers.
Kabir became a disciple of Ramananda, who revered Vishnu as one of the Forms of God.
But as his devotion to poetry grew hand in hand with the breadth of his religious education,
Kabir worked out his own distinctive spirituality, drawing upon both Hinduism and Islam,
and bringing together what is essential in each faith.
Biographer Evelyn Underhill wrote that upon Kabir’s death in 1518 ” his Muslim and Hindu disciples disputed the possession of his body; which the Muslims wished to bury, the Hindus to burn. As they argued together, Kabir appeared before them, and told them to lift the shroud and look at that which lay beneath. They did so, and found in the place of the corpse a heap of flowers, half of which were buried by the Muslims at Maghar, and half carried by the Hindus to the holy city of Benares to be burned – fitting conclusion to a life which had made fragrant the most beautiful doctrines of two great creeds. “
Poems translated from Hindi into English by Mohan Singh Karki
Àlùpàyídà / Metamorphosis
I stay very long in the river
And I become a fish
With a head made of coral
And fins which tame the distance
Of billowing depths
I stay very long in the fish
And I become a mountain
With a mist-cradled crest
And feet carpeted by grass
Which sweetens dawnbreath with jasmine magic
I stay very long on the mountain
And I become a bird
With a net of polyglot straw
And songs which stir the ears
Of slumbering forests
I stay very long with the bird
And I become a road
With long dusty eyes
And limbs twining through the bramble
Like precocious pythons
I stay very long on the road
And I become a cigarette
Lighted both ends by powerful geysers,
Ash-winged firefly on nights
Of muffled darkness
I stay very long with the cigarette
And I become a clown
With a wide, painted face
And a belly stuffed to the brim
With rippling laughters
I stay very long with the clown
And I become a sage
With a twinkling beard
And fables which ply the yarn
Of grizzled memories
I stay very long in s-i-l-e-n-c-e
I become a Word.
Àlùpàyídà = the Yoruba word for Metamorphosis
Niyi Osundare was born in Ikere-Ekiti, Nigeria, in 1947.
He is a poet, dramatist, and university professor,
now teaching in the USA.
Writing under successive dictatorial governments in Nigeria,
Osundare has always been passionate about free speech and
is political as a poet, knowing how very necessary that is in the
contemporary African context. “To utter is to alter” is his belief;
we must use the power of words.
Niyi Osundare (nace 1947, Nigeria)
“La palabra es un huevo” *
Mi lengua es un fuego rosado
No le permitas que prenda fuego a tus orejas
Cuando los proverbios chocan
En La calle de risas esperandos
Y momentos murmurandos sacan
Un canto fúnebre de los labios del sol atardeciente
Contaremos los dientes
De la luna
Y cantaremos coronitas
Para las estrellas desaparecidas…
La Palabra, es un huevo la Palabra:
Si se cae en el saliente
De una lengua tropezando
Se quiebra sin reunirse.
* un proverbio del idioma yoruba
Niyi Osundare (born 1947, Nigeria)
“The word is an egg” *
My tongue is a pink fire
Don’t let it set your ears on fire
When proverbs clash
In the street of waiting laughters
And murmuring moments eke out
A dirge from the lips of the setting sun
We shall count the teeth
Of the moon
And sing little wreaths
For missing stars…
The Word, the Word
Is an egg:
If it falls on the outcrop
Of a stumbling tongue
* a proverb from the Yoruba language
“Comida de oído”
¿Lo has visto
a quién que puede alimentar a una multitud de orejas
Con siete pescados de imaginación
y tres panes de silencio?
¿Has visto a la Palabra
que brotó una serpiente
a la sorpresa frenética de Faraón?
Caminan estas Palabras sobre el mar
Y nunca se hunden.
Have you seen him
who can feed a multitude of ears
With seven fishes of fancy
And three loaves of silence?
Have you seen the Word
which sprang a serpent
to Pharaoh’s frenetic surprise?
These Words walk on the sea
and they never sink.
Traducción del inglés al español / Translation from English into Spanish:
Claude McKay (Jamaican-American poet, 1889-1948)
“The Easter Flower”
Far from this foreign Easter damp and chilly
My soul steals to a pear-shaped plot of ground,
Where gleamed the lilac-tinted Easter lily
Soft-scented in the air for yards around;
Alone, without a hint of guardian leaf!
Just like a fragile bell of silver rime,
It burst the tomb for freedom sweet and brief
In the young pregnant year at Eastertime;
And many thought it was a sacred sign,
And some called it the Resurrection flower;
And I – a pagan – worshipped at its shrine,
Yielding my heart unto its perfumed power.
Poema para el Domingo de Pascua: “Cristo de Corcovado” por Jair Córtes / Poem for Easter Sunday: “The Corcovado Christ” by Jair CórtesPosted: April 8, 2012
(Poet and translator, born 1977, Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala, México)
“The Corcovado Christ”
There was no beginning to this path:
that slope is the continuation of the water that washed your face,
of the light you lit in that dark hour when you awoke.
Rise. And elevate yourself from among the living.
Languages. New tongues have met, all suddenly
” in the same boat”, joined together in the air.
And at the summit
His arms open above the clouds to receive you:
to receive you
to receive you,
and you arrive.
Every rock, petrified words, frozen eyes that shine.
His arms are open to receive you
you whose lips are glued to a passport,
and you don’t know how someone so huge, at such a meridian,
someone like Him, can have arms open wide, saying:
LOOK, see what I see,
this marvel is also for you.
(Poeta y traductor, nace 1977, Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala, México)
“Cristo de Corcovado”
En este camino no hubo comienzo:
esa pendiente es la prolongación del agua con la que lavaste tu cara,
de la luz que encendiste en la hora oscura cuando despertaste.
Asciendes. Te elevas entre los vivos.
Lenguas. Idiomas encontrados de repente,
puestos en el mismo vagón para mezclarse con el aire.
Ya en la cumbre,
Sus brazos se abren encima de las nubes para recibirte:
Cada piedra, vocablos pétreos, ojos incrustados que relumbran.
Sus brazos están abiertos para recibirte,
a ti, que llegas con los labios cosidos al pasaporte
y no sabes cómo, qué tan grande, cuál meridiano,
quién como Él, que tiene los brazos abiertos y dice:
MIRA, mira lo que yo miro,
también es para ti.
Traducción del español al inglés / Translation from Spanish into English: Lidia García Garay
(for the unknown child)
They say souls of the dead
Sometimes turn into birds
In the still morning
Metal rings against stone and sand
The men in a semi-circle
Display minds in flux
There is no sadness here:
The morning offers only greenery
Rude petals distract the mind
With sudden beauty.
Petals that wither
Like a child’s body
Not having lived to sin
Not having sinned to die
Birds in bright feathers
Fan out behind bushes, fresh, like hidden fire
Roaring suddenly into flame
Into life, into maturity…..
They say the souls of the dead,
Small children, often persist as birds,
To strive further, not to return empty
To their maker.
Not having known sin and growth,
The doom, the antidote.
A Prayer for a Good Death
I offer this prayer for a good death
May I never fall from a Molue on a Monday morning
May I never know the hard feel of asphalt’s bite
On bare skin
May the road and its ogres never bare their fangs
when I tread the pathways
Secrets have sprouted tendrils
And like the spider’s feet they spin
A web of fear around my mind
I stutter, I flutter, I flutter like a candle
In the cold embrace of the wind
I find empty solace in silence
There in the cloying warmth of the womb
The unborn child suckles silence
Weaving toneless ditties
From the sad monodies of nascent dreams
Why are we born? Why do we die?
Hard questions that crack the teeth
Hard questions that eclipse answers
Drowning them in the penumbra of their beginnings
So I circle the pregnant gloom
I reach a febrile finger into its depths
I finger its rancid entrails
Exciting worms and maggots
I feel the osmosis, the kinesis
The end of life’s ultimate synthesis
So I offer this prayer, dear Lord,
On this morning of death and renewal
Having tasted joy and supped on tears
And having seen that man fall and die
I, who have known love and heartache
Sweet passion and its after-glow
I beg of thee, Sweet Lord,
May I not lose my head in the urgent dialogue of
tar and tyres.
The servant was startled
To see his master at the door,
Staring at him
What! He thought aloud
I should be cleaning the rooms
And dusting the tables
I should be washing his clothes;
Those clothes, soiled
By the spoils of high society
The boy stopped his morning meditation
And put his bible aside
“where are your roots?”
The voice was calm,
Was clear enough
“The streets, my lord. You picked me from the streets
As I walked through the valley of the shadow of death”
The servant answered tremulously
The lord said nothing, but rather
Cast a cold glance at the bible
Beside the poor boy’s pillow
“Who then is your God?”
The servant fell on his knees
Raising his hands as if in supplication
“You are my God; for you provide me shelter
And give me my daily bread”.
The New Testament
I walk the coasts of Ibeju Lekki
White sands, a blue sea and a
Happy sun distil putrid visions
I run into the winds;
A kite buoyed on the wings of fun
I race the wind to an infinity of sands and shells
Until my feet are shocked by the magic of Mammon**:
Asphalt scarifies the polish of the sands like tribal marks
Beyond the billowing wrapper of the sea,
In places secret to the coastal eyes,
Principalities and powers are violating
Our maiden of mercies
In Ogoni** the fishes are fevered
From the typhoid of crude
Oil paints the sea black
And all the waters mourn.
** Mammon – wealth or greed as a deity
** Ogoni refers to Ogoniland in Nigeria,
where The Shell Oil Company vastly polluted the Niger River Delta.
The Dual Call
Hayyal al salat, hayyal al salat
Hayyal al falah, hayyal al falah
Awake my soul
Hearken to this call
The first call of the five chores
When the dawn is falling down
Over the dull slumbering town
Awake my soul
Al salat hairun min al naum
Al salat hairun min al naum
But an incubus clad to my bosom
Weighs me down in the cozy embrace
Of another call
The intimate voice of her throbbing heart
Mixes with the distant voice of the minaret
In the sensuous ears of my soul
And I am lost in the dual call
Awake my soul
Awake from the cozy embrace of a siren
To the real call of the distant minaret
Awake my soul and say
Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar
La ilaha illallah, Allahu akbar
_ _ _ _ _
Translation of the poet’s transliterated Arabic:
Hurry to prayer, hurry to prayer
Hurry to success – to salvation
Prayer is better than sleep
Prayer is better than sleep
God is most great, God is most great
There is no God but Allah, God is most great
This compilation © Nigerian poet and editor Toyin Adewale
We are grateful to A. Z. Foreman for the following translation from Arabic into English.
Visit his site: http://www.poemsintranslation.blogspot.com
Mahmoud Darwish / محمود درويش
We travel like anyone else
We travel like anyone else, but do not return to anything
as if travelling
Were the way of the clouds. We buried our loved ones deep
in the shadow of the clouds and among the trunks of the trees.
We told our wives: give birth by us for centuries,
that we may complete this journey and see
A moment of a country, a meter of what can’t be.
In the carriages of the psalms we travel, in the tent of the prophets we sleep,
we come out of the words the gypsies speak.
We measure space with a hoopoe’s beak
or sing to while the distance away or wash the moonlight clear.
Long is your path, so dream of seven women to bear this long path on
Your shoulders. Shake the palmtree for each one
to know her name and which shall be
the mother of the boy from Galilee*.
Ours is a country of words. Speak, speak,
that I may lay my road on stone of stone to something.
Ours is a country of words. Speak speak
that we may know the end of this travelling.
* “the mother of the boy from Galilee”
refers to Mary, mother of Jesus