September 27, 2008

Perilous wonder

I found an English translation of one of my favorite Bangla poems:


-Jibananda Das

It was heard
They took him to the morgue.
Last night in the February dark
When the crescent moon, five days toward full, had set
He'd had the urge to die.

A wife had lain beside him-a child, too.
There had been love, hope, in the moonlight.
Then what ghost did he see? why was his sleep disturbed?
Or maybe he hadn't slept for days. Now, Iying in the morgue, he
He had sought this sleep perhaps.
Like a plague rat, maw smeared with frothy blood, neck slack
In the bosom of some dingy cranny, now he sleeps.
Never again will he wake.

"Never again will you wake
Never again will you know
The unremitting, unrelenting grievous
Pain of waking."
As though some stillness stretched its camel's neck
Through his window
And said these words to him
When the moon had sunk into strange darkness.

But the owl is awake,
And the decrepit, putrefying frog begs a few moments more
Among anticipated warm affections-beckoned by another dawn.
I sense all around me the unforgiving opposition
of my mosquito net, invisible in the swarming dark.
The mosquito stays awake in his blackened monastery, in love with
life's flow.

Flies alight on blood and filth, then fly again to sunlight.
How many times have I watched the play of winged insects on waves
of golden sunshine.

An intimate sky it would seem-some pervasive life force
Controls their hearts.
The grasshopper's constant twitching, caught in the mischievous
child's grasp,
Fights death.
Yet in that foremost darkness after moonset, you, a coil of rope in
Had gone alone to the aswattha tree,
Knowing that the grasshopper's life, or the doyel bird's, never meets
That of man.

The aswattha limb,
Did it not protest? Did not fireflies in cordial throngs
Appear before you?
Did not the blind and palsied owl come and
Say to you: "old lady moon has sunk in the flood, has she?
Let's now catch a mouse or two!"
Did not the owl screech out that raucous news?

This taste of life-the scent of ripe grain in an autumn afternoon-
You could not tolerate.
In the morgue, is your heart at ease
In the morgue, in that suffocating stillness
Like a flattened rat with blood-smeared lips.

However, to this dead man's tale. He lacked
Not love of woman,
Nor did married life's expectations
Go unfulfilled.
From time's churnings emerged a wife
And honey, the mind's honey
She let him know.
Never in this life did he shiver
In the cold of hunger's draining pain.
And so,
In that morgue,
Flat out he lies upon a table.
I know, yet I know,
A woman's heart-love-a child-a home-these are not everything,

Not wealth nor fame nor creature comforts-
There is some other perilous wonder
That frolics
In our very blood.
It exhausts us-
Exhausts, exhausts us.

That exhaustion is not present
In the morgue.
And so
In that morgue
Flat out he lies upon a table.
But every night I look and see, yes,
A blind and palsied owl come sit upon the aswattha branch
Blink her eyes and say: "old lady moon has sunk in the flood, has she?
Marvelous !
Let's now catch a mouse or two!"

Oh profound grandmother, is today still so marvelous?
I too, like you, shall grow old-shall cast old lady moon across the
flood, into the whirlpool.
Then we two together shall empty life's full store.

(Via Ahmad M. Kamal)


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