कबीर Kabir: “Of the Musk Deer”: 15th-century Hindi poems


Kabir (144o-1518)

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.


Of Thinking


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.



Of Contentment


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.



Of Pardon


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

Niyi Osundare: “Àlùpàyídà” / “Metamorphosis”


Niyi Osundare 

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: “La palabra es un huevo” y “Comida de oído” / “The word is an egg” and “Ear food”


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


It breaks





* 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.




“Ear food”



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:

Alexander Best

Hope springs eternal…

Claude McKay: “And some called it the Resurrection flower…”


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 Córtes


Jair Córtes

(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.



Jair Córtes

(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:

para recibirte

para recibirte

y llegas.

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,

esta maravilla

también es para ti.


Traducción del español al inglés / Translation from Spanish into English:  Lidia García Garay

Two Nigerian Painters: Ehikhamenor and Ofili

Of God and “Hard questions that crack the teeth”: Five Nigerian Poets


Helon Habila

(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.




Tony Kan

A Prayer for a Good Death


Dear Lord,

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.




Sunday Ayewanu

God’s Voice


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

I should…


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”.




Nike Adesuyi

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.


Those Quarrelsome Nigerian Cousins_Christianity and Islam


Abubakar Othman

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

Speak speak, that we may know the end of this travelling: Mahmoud Darwish محمود درويش

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

نسافر كالناس
محمود درويش
نُسافِرُ كَالنَّاسِ، لَكنَّنا لاَ نَعُودُ إلَى أي شيْءِ… كَأَنَّ السَّفَرْ
طريقُ الغُيُومِ، دَفَنَّا احِبَّتنا في ظِلاَل الغُيُوم وَبَيْنَ جُذُوع الشَّجَرْ
وقُلْنَا لِزوْجَاتِنَا: لِدْنَ مِنَّا مَئَات السَّنين لِنُكملَ هَذَا الرَّحِيلْ
إلى سَاعَةٍ مِنْ بِلادٍ وَمتْرٍ من المُسْتَحيلْ
نُسَافِرُ في عَرَبَات المَزَامير نَرْقُدُ في خَيمْةِ الأَنْبيَاءِ ونَخْرُجُ مِنْ كَلِمَاتِ الغَجَرْ
نَقيسُ الفَضَاء بِمِنْقَار هُدْهُدَةٍ أو نُغَنِّي لنُلْهي المَسَافَةَ عَنَّا وَنَغْسل ضوءَ القَمَرْ
طَويلٌ طَريِقُك فَاحْلُمْ بِسَبْع نسَاءٍ لتَحْمِل هَذَا الطَّريقَ الطَّوِيلْ
عَلَى كَتِفَيْكَ وَهُزَّ لَهُنَّ النَّخِيلَ لِتَعْرف أَسْمَاءَهُنَّ وَمِنْ أَيِّ أُمَّ سَيُولَدُ طِفْلُ الجليلْ
لَنَا بَلَدٌ من كَلاَمٍ تَكَلَّمْ تَكَلَّمْ لأُسْنِد دَرْبي عَلَى حَجَرٍ مِنْ حَجَرْ
لَنَا بَلَدٌ مِنْ كَلاَمٍ تَكَلِّمْ تَكلَّمْ لِنَعْرفَ حَدّاً لِهذَا السَّفَرْ!