Friday, April 22, 2011

Rabindranath Tagore's 150th Birth Anniversary - 5

Translating a Poem — The Year 1400

The first stanza of the poem by Rabindranath Tagore
In a poem from the collection, The Gardener, Rabindranath imagined a poet reading his poems a hundred years later:

The Gardener (LXXXV)
Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring,
  one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished
  flowers of an hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one
  spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.
Later on in 1896 he wrote a poem titled “The Year 1400” in which he returned to the theme more expansively. This poem was recalled exactly a hundred years later by many people and it was widely recited in 1996.

The Year 1400 was written in 3 stanzas of 13, 16, and 10 lines. In the first Rabindranath sends his wishes forward in time to a poet a hundred years hence who is reading his poems. In the second stanza Rabindranath wonders if the poet of the future will be able to sense the passion that flowed in his veins when he wrote this poem for him. In the third stanza Rabindranath acknowledges the song of the future poet filling the house, and dispatches his joyful greetings laden the sounds of the earth from a hundred years ago.

I will give you three versions. 
The first is by the well-known bilingual author, poet, and littérateur, Ketaki Kushari Dyson. She translated it to mark the year 1400 of the Bengali calendar (corresponding to 1996), and read it at a function organised jointly by the Nehru Centre of the High Commission of India in London and the Tagore Centre of London.

I. Translation by Ketaki Kushari Dyson.
It is perhaps the most faithful of the three translations, and yet succeeds with a fine balance. Five stanzas of 4, 7, 14, 5, and 10 lines; 242 words.

A hundred years from today
who are you, sitting, reading a poem of mine,
under curiosity’s sway -
a hundred years from today?

Not the least portion
of this young spring’s morning bliss,
neither blossom nor birdsong,
nor any of its scarlet splashes
can I drench in passion
and despatch to your hands
a hundred years hence!

Yet do this, please: unlatch your south-faced door,
just sit at your window for once;
basking in fantasy, eyes on the far horizon,
figure out if you can:
how one day a hundred years back
roving delights in a free fall from a heavenly region
had touched all that there was -
the infant Phalgun day, utterly free,
was frenzied, all agog,
while borne on brisk wings, the south wind
had suddenly arrived and in a flash dyed the earth
with all youth’s hues
a hundred years before your day.

There lived then a poet, ebullient of spirit,
his heart steeped in song,
who wanted to open his words like so many flowers
with so much passion
one day a hundred years back.

A hundred years from today
who is the new poet
whose songs flow through your homes?
To him I convey
this springtime’s gladsome greetings.
May my vernal song find its echo for a moment
in your spring day
in the throbbing of your hearts, in the buzzing of your bees,
in the rustling of your leaves
a hundred years from today.

II. Translation by KumKum Cleetus.
Five stanzas of 7, 12, 4, and 6 lines. At 189 words, rather more economical.

A hundred years hence
Who be you, I wonder,
Reading my poems with such keenness?
My verses about flowers and birdsong,
And the multiple hues of nature,
– Will they affect you a hundred years later
With the same intensity I felt?

If the essence of these poems escapes you,
Please open the window to the south,
And sit there gazing at the far horizon;
Slip out of the present and imagine …
A time, a hundred years ago;
Be transported there, imperceptibly,
For then, I'm sure you'll discover
The same feelings I had on a beautiful spring morn,
When the south wind wafted a sultry fragrance of flowers,
And nature seemed so intoxicating,
So youthful in its variegated attire,
Frolicking in the breeze!

You may also imagine me,
The poet, working passionately,
To set down the tenor of this fleeting moment,
A hundred years ago …

A hundred years in the future,
Who is the new poet that captivates you?
Here is my song-offering to her, this spring
With the hope that she'll sing, in passing,
My madrigal of spring, at your festival
A hundred years hence.

III. Translation by Joe Cleetus (with the help of KumKum).
Joe was influenced by James Elroy Flecker's Poem
To A Poet A Thousand Years Hence, written in ballad meter, quatrains of iambic tetrameter rhyming ABAB. Stanza 1 in the original by Rabindranath is translated into 3 quatrains, stanza 2 into 4 quatrains, and stanza 3 into 3 quatrains. Joe claims: “While one is free to create another poem in another language, if it is to be considered, in some sense, a translation, the original poet's word choices and images should not be ignored. What's below is still a free translation.”  232 words to render the sense and convey the music.

To the reader a hundred years hence –
Who be you that scan my poem
And make the keenest sense
Of the spring that imbues the proem?

Do you read the happiness there –
The birdsong, the flower, the feeling
Imbrued in the morning air
That to your hand I am sending?

If you fail to catch the passion,
Then open the southern door,
And gaze at the horizon
While sitting by the window.

Saturate your imagination,
Look back a hundred years past,
Divine the very elation,
And the blessing unsurpassed

That floated down from heaven,
And struck the breast of the earth
In the mad impetuous month of Phalgun,
In flight on the southwind's breath.

Of a sudden the earth was filled
With the colours of quickening youth,
A hundred years before you dwelled,
With a happy spirit, forsooth.

Immersed in song, your poet is awake
For words to blossom and flower
That you, though far, may now partake
However old my hundred-year power.

To the poet a hundred years later
Whose ardour will make new song
This century-old poet shall cater
By sending this verse along.

At your spring let it sound
With your heart-beat for a moment
Let the song surround
Like the hum of the bee's intent,

That murmurs like rustling leaves
Enfolding the heart's desire
Which the poet forever weaves,
Your poet a hundred years prior!


Shipra said...

Hi Joe, that's a lovely translation! I like the Form of the poem too.

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hi KumKum,

I tried to capture the spirit and make it sound like a poem in English too, as though it had not been translated at all, but was written originally in English. For example, 'please' is never used in English poetry; that's a giveaway. And 'unlatch your south-faced door' is a bit stilted by KKD.

Form helps, hardly ever does it hinder expression, as it can by forcing a rhyme where nothing true could be snatched. Form also helps to take the motion forward by dealing with an event in each division, and focusing the full poetic force of the imagination on that one image.

Nevertheless, there are many imperfections in my translation. I gave up after a while. That's the problem in translation, one gives up more easily than the original poet would have given up when extruding his imagination into words on paper.

-- joe

Priya said...

That is a wonderful translation, Joe and what a tribute to the poet in his 150th year

Management - Learning from Experiences by Reflection said...

Hello Priya,

I am happy if you discovered in my translation some of the poetry that was in the original.

- joe