Monday, October 18, 2021

La umanità nuova

Come the revolution our poems will all conform

to the deepest ideal within the heart of man

pure egalitarian esteem will become the norm

that nurtures each through a long fruitful lifespan

happenstance will join love's madcap caravan

time itself assuming a mode gentle & warm

violence will cease! & to the spiritual plan

come the revolution our poems will all conform

Each event of life will be seen as a petal unfolding

in the perfect place at the choicest time & we

will be daily astounded how we're now beholding

blussful wave on wave in a boisterous sea of glee

humankind will at last have hit its winning spree!

like an alchemist whose crucible is a'golding

every thought being wreathed in gossamer poetry

each event of life will be seen as a petal unfolding

That an age of intuition will emerge

to replace in time our era of rational thought

that of such a fresh chapter we're on the verge

that its rosy fragrance can e'en now be caught

that this is largesse from God not an ornament bought

at the TED Talk shop where oftentimes we'll splurge

is a pearl through hide & seek our souls have sought

that an age of intuition will emerge

Now we find ourselves a'sail on a novel voyage

over waters dark toward an unknown haven of landing

like a couple cloistered in their wedding carriage

like a newborn who must crawl in lieu of standing

like a slumberous dreamer suddenly at the ending

of a nightmare like a vessel amid the boyage

of an unknown port with darkling dusk descending

now we find ourselves a'sail on a novel voyage

We assume the ego's conflicts are required

to push forward in the narrative of our lives

& the same expanded keeps society fired

for the thrust that drives our buzzing social hives

yet the ones who into Unity's ocean dive

when they surface bring a vision so inspired

it retools the route whereby our thoughts arrive

to assume the ego's conflicts are required

Humankind is ready for a complete reboot!

like a noisy day that's ready for night's hush

like a wilted flower ready for fine fruit

like a gambler waiting for his royal flush

like a Californian in a new Gold Rush

like a milkmaid hearkening Lord Krishna's flute

like a field well sown awaiting verdure lush

humankind is ready for a complete reboot!

That the New Humanity can become our reality

Is a point worth adding to our computations!

yes we've weathered many a scrape in rough duality

having scuffled through a myriad reincarnations

yet of revelations meriting contemplations

let us use (to quote Cole Porter) our mentality

& review Meher Baba's bright prognostications

that the New Humanity can become our reality


This rather ambitious poem contemplates the topic of "the New Humanity" (as described and predicted by Meher Baba in a discourse with that title, first published I believe in the late 1930s).

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

"Of gentle maidens" [translated from the Shi Jing]

Of gentle maidens she most fair awaits me by the wall's corner she I love but see not there I scratch my head – a forlorner Of gentle maidens she most comely brings a red-hued reed to me the red-hued reed indeed is lovely pleasing is the girl's beauty She yields from the meadow a soft leaflet truly lovely! yea 'tis rare not that thou art comely but thou art the gift of one most fair

I first translated this poem more than 40 years ago. It came to mind today, and I've given it a fresh polish.  My prior rendering of verse 1 had been:

Of gentle maidens she most fair
awaits me by the wall I know
she I love but see not there
I scratch my head bewildered so

My new translation of line 2 is more literal, more accurate.
If I recall correctly, Arthur Waley translated line 4 as:
"I scratch my head and pace up and down"

The Shi Jing -- an anthology of ancient folksongs -- is traditionally believed to have been compiled by Confucius. He makes reference to some of the poems in some of his discourses. This courtship poem has always struck me as quite special. And I like how the poet addresses the leaflet-gift (in the 3rd stanza) directly.

What sparked my recollection of this olden poem today?  A terse tweet:
"what is the theme of this poem" liking boy
Pascale/Palaces @pascalepalaces
10:55 AM · Jan 4, 2021

Thursday, December 31, 2020

ghazal for JANET FINE

Too soon for trips!   don't leave   this festive party
the moon's eclipse would grieve   this festive party

we met along a road   toward a rare concert
the tablas' taps retrieve   this festive party

you twirled in kathak   as   a whippersnapper
must Rudra's steps re-weave   this festive party?

you found a manuscript   on pleasing women
God's microfische conceived   this festive party

the dusk of palaces   caught your affection
you threw Raj Pipla's eve   this festive party

you sliced my heart   critiquing   my first movie
don't seal your lips!   nor leave   this festive party

I still have tales to tell!   who'll understand me?
don't doubt my quips   believe   this festive party

I won't be brief!   I'll flourish   my bandana!
I've got tricks up my sleeve   this festive party

the kiss of death   they say   is liberating
reluctant lips receive   this festive party

the smile of Tukaram   lives in the painting
newspaper clips   frame Jiv   this festive party

does Bollywood recall   one who first named her?
the skinnydips are brief   this festive party

Mumbai Cairo New York   pearls for your piercing
low-budget trips don't peeve   this festive party

Ellen sends love from yon   out at East Hampton
there's contretemps with Steve   this festive party

too swiftly time's page flits!   we were still reading!
the boat tips   and upheaves this festive party

the ghazal's wit   wraps love   in lamentation
a form that fits the sleeve   this festive party

a million notes   the soul jots   on its journey
we've still   chits to retrieve   this festive party

in Haridwar   there's aarti   morn & evening
trays wave   as Shiv bereaves   this festive party

from Raphael accept   gratitude's bandish
his note   slips through the sieve   this festive party

Sunday, December 27, 2020

"What birds express" by Han Shan (寒山)

What birds express   my heart just cannot grapple with

at such times   I'll recline in my thatch hermitage

the peach & cherry   blossoming scarlet-scarlet

the willow & poplar   spangling slender foliage

the daybreak sun   o'er-sailing azurite hills

the limpid clouds   awash in the kelly ponds

who'd guess I pass beyond the dust of worlds

in swiftly ascending southerly Han Shan?

鳥 語 情 不 堪

其 時 臥 草 庵

櫻 桃 紅 爍 爍

楊 柳 正 毿 毿

旭 日 銜 青 嶂

晴 雲 洗 淥 潭

誰 知 出 塵 俗

馭 上 寒 山 南


Some Notes

I've repeatedly worked at / polished my translation of the above poem (now & then) over the past 40 years or so.

This fresh rendering was instigated when I recalled a couple relevant couplets from the Han Shan poem, in the course of dashing out what became an almost-mini-essay (in the form of a twitter thread) late last night. The impromptu Twitter essay grew out of my (initially one-word) response to a one-sentence question posed by a literary acquaintance, Sridala Swami (who lives & writes in Hyderabad, India).

Han Shan (literally Cold Mountain) was an otherwise anonymous (except for his nom-de-plume) poet of Tang dynasty China, believed to have flourished in the 9th century AD. Evidently he may originally have been some sort of petty official, but apparently grew disgusted with worldly life and (like other seekers influenced by Chan / Zen Buddhism in that era) he precipitously withdrew from society, residing (as his collected poems attest) for at least 30 years as a hermit at the eponymous, remote mountain in Suzhou Province, where he took to meditation with his shadow as his sole companion (though sporadically he may've gone down to chat with another poet-recluse at a small temple below).

Gary Snyder translated line 1 of the above poem as "I can't stand these bird songs"! About 40 years ago, I rendered that line as What birds express my heart cannot endure. Till today, I've been satisfied with that version. Why did I alter the phrase? In intervening years, my sensibility has been schooled by exposure to Farsi / Urdu poetics, with those traditions' ubiquitous use of baḥr [cadence] percolating into my poetry practice, this cadence principle impacting how I write in (or translate into) English in the past couple decades.  Today, I felt I needed line 1's cadence to better approximate line 2's cadence. (And last night I newly re-settled on "thatch" [rather than "grass" or "rustic" etc.] for the character 草 cao.)

Re: Snyder's rendering of line 1, there's an idiomatic truth to it (情不堪 qíng bùkān commonly signifies "I can't bear it"), while my old translation ("my heart cannot endure") is arguably more literal. If my latest rendering (w/ "grapple") invokes a new image, c'est la vie.  I might add: I owe much to Snyder, whose Han Shan translations (along with Burton Watson's [that's a PDF link] invited me to read this exceptional poet in the original. I remember first stumbling on a small-edition, large-page printing of Snyder's Cold Mountain Poems at erstwhile Shambhala Bookstore (on Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) in the 1970s. At times, such chance meetings with certain books can have long consequences. I think I only later (albeit not much later) began to appreciate Snyder's own work in its own right (but I digress).

In my above rendering of line 4, the poet's typical & beautiful & rigorous parallelism is admittedly partially obscured, for sake of affording a suggestion of the poet's rhyming (heard in the original); but I'd hasten to point the interested reader to my above-linked "essay" where I offer a more literal (& ergo a more elegantly parallelistic) translation of the parallelistic couplet (lines 3-4).

I might also add a caveat re lines 3 & 4: I'm not 100% sure "willow & poplar" represent (as they seem to) those two trees -- with ditto  re: "peach  & cherry"; or whether, contrarily, these phrases could've (at Han Shan's time) been, e.g., terms signifying a single (more specific) conifer & a single (more specific) fruit tree, respectively. Regarding such lexical questions, if UC Berkeley's late Prof. Edward Schafer were around, hypothetically he could've been pestered to address the issue (as he did many other obscure questions of Tang dynasty language in his writings). I only took one class from Prof. Schafer, and two classes from Prof. Michel Strickmann -- both of whom are now no more. The loss of olden associates (whether eccentric Sinologists or one's immediate family & friends) is a theme familiar in Han Shan's poetry -- as in life.

Re: line 7, the phrase 俗塵 súchén (which I render "the dust of worlds") is from the Buddhist lexicon. This Wiktionary note suggests its general meaning or connotation. To delve into this more deeply might require a new mini-essay. But not today.

p.s.: in my "essay" (comprised of tweets) I didn't bother to translate the Bengali utterance Kolkatar Gaan, Kolkatar Pran -- a motto I'd incessantly hear on radio, when living some weeks in Kolkata a dozen years ago. It means: "Calcutta's song(s) / Calcutta's life-breath." (But Sridala prob. didn't need a translation.) For sake of thoroughness, I append this footnote.


This is my 1st blog post in abt. 20 months.  Glad to be back to Bhairo in the Morning (in the morning). I'll offer hat-tips to Han Shan, Snyder, Watson, Professors Schafer & Strickmann, and 
Sridala Swami -- as well as new Twitter-met acquaintance Joe Lamport -- for spurring this prodigal's return.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Logging-Out [ghazal]

Simply to be at ease & not in pain   seems such a blessing
Simply to be not wholly down the drain   seems such a blessing

Requisite for accomplishment   is nuts & bolts survival?
Logging-out from concerns of loss & gain   seems such a blessing

Multiple worlds   the tragicomic soul perforce traverses
Knowing how God exists on every plane   seems such a blessing

From the first dawn   far destiny was marked upon my forehead
Feeling at length the marker's darkling stain
                                                                           seems such a blessing

Somebody zoomed to storied heights?   others fell off the radar?
Walking the hushed prosaic earth again   seems such a blessing

Well you might ask that painter Raphael   where did he wander?
Somewhere he's grinding plants for paint:  the twain
                                                                               seem such a blessing

[April 5, 2019]