Monday, May 14, 2012

Poetry Session on May 11, 2012


Long dead poets, recently deceased poets, and living poets inspired our readers' selections. The poets spanned the globe: India – 2, UK – 3, USA – 2, and Russia – 1.


For the first time there was a clash of the poets chosen by two readers, which indicates we need to pre-announce the choice. Perhaps, this will extend to the readings chosen within a novel too. Joe will work on a method to do that coordination online.

 Mathew, Sunil, Gopa

Our loyal reader, Thommo, is on a tour of India in a Tata Nano (the world's best car for the buck). We are all following his progress. Currently he is in Gangtok, driving on his way to the lovely Seven Sister states in the North-East.  Check out:


Since this is the two-hundredth year of Robert Browning's birth, the readers decided to celebrate it with an exclusive session that will feature Robert Browning, on Sep 14. At the top right of this page are the future programmes.

 Kavita, Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Gopa, Mathew, Sunil, Joe

Read on for a Ghalib exercise after scanning the full account below ...

Attending: Sunil, Mathew, Joe, KumKum, Priya, Gopa, Talitha, Kavita (new member)
Absent: Zakia (?), Bobby (busy), Thommo (on Tata Nano Tour), Sivaram (uncertain)

The fiction novel selected by Mathew and Sunil for reading is Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. The next fiction book for reading will be selected by Talitha & Zakia. Here are future dates:

Jun 14   A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (note Thursday, not Friday)
Jul 13    Poetry 
Aug 10  Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
Sep 14   Poetry of Robert Browning

Since Sunil and Mathew will have Lodge meetings on the third Friday of the month we'll try to stay clear of that.

Since May 7 this year marked 200 years since Robert Browning's birth, the readers decided to dedicate a whole session to his poetry on Sep 14.

KumKum – Akhmatova
Anna Andreyevna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966)

This is the second time KumKum was choosing to read from Akhmatova. Her oeuvre is large and varied; she was a truly gifted poet. She had a distinct stature among the other major poets of Russia in the twentieth century; namely, Osip Mandelstam (whom Joe selected two years ago), Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Nikolai Gumilyov, Vladimir Shileiko and Nikolai Punin, etc. Incidentally, the last three men became her husband (serially, mind, not at once; there was laughter among the readers when KumKum left out the 'serially' bit). 

Akhmatova's influence was acknowledged by all the poets of her time. She possessed stately good looks, grace and she was, intellectually equal to the brightest among them. One senses subtle feminine traits in her poems in spite of that.

In 1912 Akhmatova gave birth to her only son Lev Gumilyov; but motherhood almost passed by her, as the child was brought up by her mother-in-law. She once wrote : “motherhood is a bright torture. I was not worthy of it.”

All her life Akhmatova remained an elusive diva at the centre of a throng of admirers. She had a few serious relationships, but she could not be held down by marriage. One senses this free spiritedness in many of her beautiful love poems. They are not overtly sentimental, for they provide only glimmers of her intimate life, here and there. She had a perspicuous style, easy to read. Her 'nationalist' poems are powerful in depicting the suffering of war, but optimistic in their yearning for better times to come. She is at her most personal when writing about nature, always alert to capture its transient beauty.

Akhmatova blossomed during the time of the Russian Revolution. She and all her intellectual compatriots got drawn into it as believers. However, because they also believed in the freedom to express the truth, they were subject to banishment across the Urals, imprisonment, and even death (Osip Mandelshtam,and Lev Gumilyov, her own husband). It was a very unsettling time. There was a period between 1925 and 1940 when her poems were banned from publication. But, such was her immense following, that they remained in circulation by word of mouth. Later, all these poems committed to memory were gathered and published as fragments, poems without titles.

Her poems dealt with the usual things poets connect to: love, and nature most of all. But she also wrote many poems for her friends, nearly all of whom were literary types, poets mostly. Joe asked if she too was forced to write encomiums about Stalin. No, she didn't, replied KumKum and that was the reason she was forbidden publication for fifteen years, and reduced to silence, though she continued reciting among close groups. KumKum has long possessed the big volume of 700 pages of her poems translated by Judith Hemschemeyer; she loves dipping into it from time to time.

The question arose who was the 'N.V.N.' of the third poem chosen. It was certainly not one of her husbands. Joe later tracked it down as the name of one of Akhmatova's close friends, the critic and poet, Nikolay Vladimirovich Nedobrovo. The poem reminded KumKum of Demi Moore the actor taking up with a young man, a comment that had the readers in titters; but from the book referred to below the poem, it is clear NVN was not a lover, though indeed they had a close friendship. Her allure as a woman coupled with her stature as a popular poet, made her quite a dame among her literary admirers; Pasternak, also a poet, though he made his reputation as a novelist, wanted to marry her when he was already hitched. But then Pasternak had other women whom he loved, Olga Ivinskaya in particular.

At this point KumKum mentioned it was Robert Browning's 200th birth anniversary, and Priya suggested we have a whole session on him. This was readily agreed and now's the problem of coordinating so we all read different poems of his. Joe recalled Rabbi Ben Ezra and My Last Duchess were chosen by Thommo and Indira on previous occasions.

Kavita – Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

When Kavita announced she was going to read Wordsworth in her inaugural session, Joe asked if it was The Daffodils. Yes, she said, and then KumKum remarked in jest she had a friend who expressed a willingness to recite this poem, when he, if ever, was asked to join us – it's Nainan, the husband of our Talitha! He promised at our lunch on Feb 12, “I'll come, I'll come, I'll recite The Daffodils.” Such poems remain the residue of schooling in India, a time in life when we read poems, not for pleasure, but for their being on the prescribed syllabus, generally some venerable oldies like The Daffodils.

KumKum recalled that when our readings were once reported in the Manorama newspaper (we used to meet in Bobby's JustFiction bookstore) a young girl came, accompanied by her parents, and recited The Daffodils, holding a bouquet of not-quite-daffodils in her hand. It was touching, the girl's enthusiasm to recite and the parents keenness to thrust forward their girl.

Talitha remarked these daffodils of Wordworth's are not just a few standing in a garden hedgerow, but a whole sea of them:
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

 She referred to her experience of seeing vast fields of bluebells and daffodils. KumKum from her gardening knowledge in America said the chipmunks there propagate daffodils by burying their bulbs all over the place. Wordsworth may have been in the Lake District observing fields of them growing on the hill-side next to a bay of the sea. You can check out the following to note that it was a diary entry by his sister, Dorothy, that actually triggered the poem:
Dove Cottage Grasmere, where Wordsworth wrote this wonderful poem ....
Daffodils are a sign of hope that the winter is over and summer is coming. ... Daffodils was composed in 1804, two years after Wordsworth saw the flowers while walking by Ullswater on a stormy day with Dorothy, his sister. Wordsworth's inspiration for the poem came from an account of the daffodils on Ullswater written by Dorothy.

Dorothy Wordsworth in her journal entry for 15 April 1802 , describes the daffodils:
'I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing.'

Daffodils have become the symbol of the Lake District. In spring daffodils are found everywhere.

The four stanzas are in iambic tetrameter rhyming ABABCC.

Kavita picked another high-school fav, The Solitary Reaper. It has a haunting quality:
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,

Gopa has lived in the Lake District and she mentioned the cuckoos calling. Kumkum wondered if they really are our koels. No, it's another bird, quite common in Europe, with its famous cuckoo clocks. Mathew mentioned the cuckoo spotting efforts of people in England as the precursor to spring. They would write letters to The Times of London, and these letters have been collected in an amusing book titled, The First Cuckoo: New Selection of Letters to "The Times": see

But Gopa said she had never heard cuckoos calling in London. Someone suggested it may have been the accent – and there broke out the kind of laughter that makes these exchanges of trivia so entertaining to the readers.

Sunil noted that sparrows are vanishing in Fort Kochi, thanks to the aggression of the crows. KumKum can vouch for this with her sad story about two kites nesting on a coconut palm opposite our house. They were distracted out of their wits from their nest by a murder of crows, then two of their number dived into the nest and carried off the eggs. Barn owls can't see in the daytime, and if they are disturbed from their secret hiding place during daylight, they are immediately set upon by crows and the end is short and bloody. No parliament of owls exists to rescue them. Crows prey on kittens and pups too. But the magpie robins are thriving.

Gopa – Bhatt
 Sujata Bhatt

This poem was read previously by Amita when she was in Kochi. The poet is of Gujarati extraction but has lived in UK and USA. She was in America studying English, and feared she was being ‘Americanised’ and losing her Indian identity. She was convinced she'd forgotten her mother tongue. Then she dreamt of the tongue growing back again, in the image of the poem. She manages by exerting herself to excavate the Gujarati language back to her consciousness.

A number of our readers being bilingual or multi-lingual volunteered their own encounters with language.

Gopa married to a Malayali who knows little of her language (Bengali) feels inadequate when speaking in Malyalam, though she gets along okay in the bazaar. They decided the lingua franca of their marriage would be English. When she is in Bombay she finds herself slipping an occasional Malayalam word ('ippol' or 'eviday') into her Marathi speech. One morning she woke up and unconsciously asked her husband, 'kota baje' (what time is it?) and he was taken aback; it was the first time he had been addressed in Bengali. Another out-of-state lady kept her expert knowledge of Malayalam under wraps in the bazaar, but one day when the merchant was speaking disparagingly she came out with such an erudite observation in Malayalam, that she has become well-known since then. Joe vouched that KumKum did not want him writing letters in Bengali, as he attempted for a while, because she felt his mental acuity was lowered to accommodate his sparse vocabulary in the language. Talitha had an itinerant all-India upbringing in her youth, and although she knows Malayalam well-enough, she feels unsure of it in the literary form.

Sujata Bhatt has four collections of poetry to her name. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Iowa.

[What is MFA? Master of Fine Arts, said Joe, but there was some doubt as English does not belong to the fine arts. However, the degree is given in liberal arts subjects too if the student demonstrates competence and is adjudged on the practice of the subject, rather than on academic knowledge; in the latter case the degree awarded is the usual MA. You can check this out in a long interview she did with Carcanet Press, her publisher:

Bhatt emigrated to USA but now lives in Germany with her husband, a German writer. In 2008 Sujata Bhatt was up for Best Collection of the Forward Poetry Prize for Pure Lizard. See

The poem has been selected for the GCSE syllabus in UK. In 1994 Search for My Tongue was choreographed by Daksha Sheth and performed by the UK-based South Asian Dance Youth Company in nine cities in England and Scotland, under the title 'Tongues Untied'. See

Sunil – Satchidanandan

 Koyamparambath Satchidanandan (1946 – )
For a bio of the Malayalam poet K. Satchidanandan see:

You may look up an encounter KumKum, Talitha, and Joe had at the Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram in Nov 2011 when Satchi (as they call him) spoke about Kamala Das:

One of Das's poems about multiple languages is more expressive and passionate than Sujata Bhatt's on the same subject:
I am Indian, very brown, born in
Malabar, I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one. Don't write in English, they said,
English is not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak.
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone...

She ends:

I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

Satchidanandan finds something wonderful in persons who are labeled 'mad'. In the poem, The Mad, he expands on their innocence and their extravagant gestures and associates them with actions on a grand scale. KumKum noted that we heard him read this poem at the Hay Festival in Nov 2011 in Thiruvananthapuram.

Sunil said for a while Fort Kochi was a dump-yard for old men wandering the streets. No more. Is it because they have been taken in by charitable organisations like Good Hope on KJ Herschel Road, asked KumKum? Joe recalled an incident in recent times when he prodded a down-and-out person who was asleep by the roadside, intending to inquire about him. But the bloke woke up with a threatening growl, and Joe left him alone. He was not drunk, that's certain, for Joe can make out the smell of liquor from ten metres.

Satchidanandan has translated his own poems into English, showing that Indians have few problems transiting between languages. But to do so expertly is still a problem. Even Kamala Das compartmentalised her Malayalam and English between short stories and poetry respectively. Talitha mentioned she has problems in Malayalam grammar though she is using it more and more. Gopa's in-laws may forgive her lack of fluency, but this is not Talitha's case, since she is a Malyalee by birth. Kavita mentioned that her in-laws would laugh at her Malayalam. Blessed are those who are not put out by mere scorn, from adopting whatever language they choose! Joe averred that spouses do not encourage the language of the other, if it's different from their own – that's his experience.

Satchidanandan has also translated many foreign poets into Malayalam. He is the second poet from Kerala to be nominated for the Nobel Prize (Kamala Das was the first).

When Sunil read these lines from the second poem, Stammer,
Did stammer precede language
or succeed it?
Is it only a dialect
or a language itself? – these questions
make the linguists stammer.

there arose a wave of sniggers among the readers. Linguists being tongue-tied is a nice image of a deserved comeuppance.

Stammer brought Sunil memories of the recent movie, The King's Speech. Unusual techniques were used to help GeorgeVI overcome his stammer (using cuss words with abandon). It had amazing results. The case of Siddharth Goswami, a local tea-taster, was given; he has a noticeable stammer in ordinary speech, but let him only start singing and all stops vanish. Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist, notes that music has a calming effect on many a disturbed mind, for example on autistic people. See

Talitha conducts interviews for students, and in her experience when she commands the student that he shall not stutter during the 10-minute interview, she has found it has a positive effect. She advises students to use their stammer as a pause in speech, instead of ploughing through and stumbling. Hearers can acquire the corresponding patience by keeping this opening line of Satchidanandan in mind:
Stammer is no handicap:
it is a mode of speech.

Mathew – Waller
Edmund Waller (1606-1687)

You may read a short biography of the poet and MP, Edmund Waller at his wiki site:

He was a Cavalier, not a Roundhead, was a piece of intelligence Talitha provided. There's a statue to him outside the British Parliament. His Poems were first published in 1645.

Waller is thought to have refined the couplet form. Waller's lyrics were once widely admired, but they have lost their shine, except a few like the song, Go Lovely Rose. Mathew read this first; it is a conversation with a rose, comparing its fate were it to bloom in an arid region, to the lover who scorns his attention. Here is the image of a rose blooming
In deserts, where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died

The lines bring to mind Gray's famous Elegy written a century later:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Priya who owns the café T-Pot clamoured for Mathew to read the poem: Of Tea, Commended by Her Majesty. The lines
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.

refer to China, not India as Joe thought. For tea which grew wild in China and was a beverage already (chay) was brought to India as a domesticated plant. It was suggested that Priya could frame and hang the poem in her café.

Mathew said that tea was grown in India as a medium of exchange for opium. This is a bit confusing. Joe suggested that putting it thus absolves the British of their criminal doping of China. Refer to Amitav Ghosh who spoke to us in Kochi in connection with the release of his book River of Smoke ( ):
You must remember that Britain had a difficult balance of payments problem at the time. Tea, silks, and porcelain were valued imports from China to Britain (indeed to Europe). And taxes on tea constituted an important part of the revenue of the British Crown, 10 percent. How to pay for the imports? There was incredibly large budget deficit. Tonnes of silver and gold had to be exported from Britain to China. The Chinese did not want to buy anything from Britain, because they were confident they could make any product from Europe even better themselves.

It was at this time Warren Hastings in India strategised with his advisers how to fix Britain’s deficit: it would be by trading in cotton, and vastly expanding the opium trade. It was a deliberate, desperate and nefarious strategy. He sent ships up the Pearl River with opium to penetrate the Chinese market.

For further reference on how the Queen pushed dope, read:

Priya mentioned a recent move by Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission to elevate Tea to the status of the National Drink. That will begin its slide from popularity, was Mathew's rejoinder. It truly is a national drink, all the way from N to S and E to W. Even in S India where coffee holds a special place, tea is grown and drunk in even larger quantity. Indeed, explorers traveling to the North Pole from Canada will find the last shop before hitting the Pole is a tea room in the frozen north, owned by a Sri Lankan Tamil.

Joe – Jonson
 Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)
Ben Jonson (BJ), the Elizabethan poet, dramatist, and delightful wit of the age, who knew Shakespeare well, is referred to in a recent biography as the first literary celebrity and England's first lit critic. He was ten years younger than Shakespeare and hailed from Scots roots. His education, unlike Shakespeare's, was at a first-rate public school and later he attended Cambridge. He was learned and scholarly, but also an adventurer and pugnacious by nature. In 1616 he received a pension of 100 marks (about £66) and became thereby England's first poet laureate. He married a woman who did not seem to make a great impression on him but yielded him children. In the age of the plague they did not survive long. Here is a poem by BJ on his first son's death. Intimate though it is, it conveys a universal grief.
Poem 1. On My First Son

Jonson knew Shakespeare personally as he too was an actor, and at one point he acted in the same company in which WS had equity (The Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men). It's a marvellous fact that they acted in each other's plays. The publication of WS's collected plays in the First Folio in 1623 was the effort of the actors Heminge and Condell; it has a famous prefatory poem by BJ, titled “To the memory of my beloved, the author, Master William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us” This tribute represents the first extended critical appraisal of Shakespeare’s genius.
Poem 2. To the memory of my beloved, the author, Master William Shakespeare

In a later essay on Shakespeare he said “I loved the man, and do honour his memory (on this side idolatry) as much as any.” From which Bernard Shaw coined the word bardolatry.

Like WS, BJ wrote songs that have been set to music. Here is one which lads have used in the refined task of paying compliments to maidens:
Poem 3. Song to Celia

Talitha asked Joe to sing it, and in default she gave the readers her rendition to great applause. Joe regrets he didn't have his iPod with him to capture it for the record.

BJ was a bibulous man who grew to an imposing weight of 280 pounds. He dined once with his wine-merchant to whom he owed money. He promised to forgive the poet his debt if he answered these four questions immediately:
What God is best pleased with?
– What the devil is best pleased with?
– What the world is best pleased with?
– What he was best pleased with?
Pat came the answer: Poem 4. Reply to the Vinter

BJ was buried in a narrow plot in Westminster Abbey perpendicularly, head-first with a stone slab on which a lesser poet paid the workman 18 pence to have inscribed these words “O RARE BEN JONSON” 


Talitha & Priya – Rich
Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012)

 Ms. Rich died recently on Mar 27. The notice of her death appeared in many newspapers. Here is the New York Times report:

It turned out that both Priya and Talitha had chosen the same poet, even the same poems for this session. Perhaps, we should find a coordinated way in future to avoid a clash of our reading selections.

Two distinctive traits of Ms Rich were
(1) she was quite political as a poet, participating in Vietnam War protests, and writing anti-war poetry, and 
(2) she came out as a lesbian in 1976 after her husband, through whom she had three sons, had committed suicide.

it is noted that the publication of Twenty-One Love Poems in 1976 in effect marked Rich's coming out as a lesbian. Talitha cited the critic Meghan O'Rourke: 
“Adrienne Rich’s death leaves a hole in the culture that can’t easily be filled.” See 
( )

In an unusual reversal she was a woman “writing about her envy of women who didn’t have children, speaking about her jealousy of her own children, and, of course, her profound love for them.”

Talitha hoped on her next visit to America to look up Ms. Rich who lived in Baltimore, where Talitha's son is currently studying. Talitha alluded to the views of Ms. Rich on a couple of important things:
1. Do poets need to 'come out'? What are the connections between the public sphere in which men operate, and the private sphere of women?

2. The difference between 'comfortable' poetry and 'wild' poetry. Ms Rich inclined to the latter: “There's a lot of what I would call comfortable poetry around. And I would have to say that some of that comfortable poetry is being written by gay and lesbian poets ... But then there is all this other stuff going on -- which is wilder, which is bristling; it's juicier, it's everything that you would want. And it's not comfortable. That's the kind of poetry that interests me.” See an interview Ms. Rich gave on poetry, politics, and personal revelation:

Joe asked in the context of Ms. Rich what does it mean to say she was a political poet? Talitha replied that it consisted in her taking positions publicly on events and movements in society, such as Black Power, lesbianism, the Vietnam War, and so on. In France such writers would be called engagé. Writing poetry about such things was not the practice in America at the time (the sixties), although quite normal across the Atlantic.

Talitha mentioned that Ms. Rich declined the National Medal for the Arts in 1997, saying the she could not accept such an award "while the people at large are so dishonored" by racial and economic injustice. She won the National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for Diving Into the Wreck and a MacArthur "genius" grant in 1994.

Priya referred to the Role of Poetry as enunciated by Adrienne Rich, who contrasted the limitless corporate greed in evidence today with the concerns of poetry which are: beauty and kinship.

The first poem, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, seemed to suggest a physical lesbian encounter of such intensity that even poetry can't compete. But in a confused medley of fragments, the poet ends with a challenge to the reader to construct a sentence diagram to parse her ending (see for sentence diagramming methods to create parse trees.)

Joe won't try because mechanical parsing is of no avail if the sentence itself makes no sense.

Talitha alluded to the alliteration in the following lines:
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid

Poetry, it's clear goes out the window faced with the intense experience described. Did you see the 'supermoon' on May 5, asked KumKum out of the blue – a question that may have only a tenuous relevance to the poem.

The next poem, Diving into the Wreck, teems with detail about the experience of a diver. The suspense of the poem keeps the readers on edge and Mathew pointed out how vividly the poem describes the dive. Priya and Talitha shared the reading of the text; Priya read up to you breathe differently down here. The lines
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power

heightens the sense of panic, but it is accompanied by beauty. KumKum sighed at the end 'how nice' was the feeling left by the poem.

Priya read Aunt Jennifer's Tigers. It is in the Plus 2 curriculum in India, but students don't understand it and don't take to it, said Talitha. It's a dense poem. It concerns an embroidered screen Aunt Jennifer made. Gopa saw the importance of the line
They do not fear the men

Aunt Jennifer is not Adrienne Rich, Talitha said, when the question was raised whether the aunt represents the poet. Jennifer is one of those women who have had to submit to men in their lives. Adrienne Rich on the other hand was arguing and talking since childhood. You can from one point of view think the poet is erecting a monument to Aunt Jennifer in this poem, for, after her death,
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

These lines reminded Joe of the lines from the Ode on a Grecian Urn. Keats describes the animation etched on the urn, now frozen into permanence:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

An unexplained comment from Mathew is noted, about Bangkok tigers being sedated. I think the connection is that like the harmless tigers in Aunt Jennifer's embroidery, the tigers in the Bangkok park that wander among the people are sedated to the point of having all their wildness extinguished.

Adrienne Rich has dabbled in the ghazal form too, in the volume Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib. She follows Ghalib's use of a minimum of five couplets, each couplet being autonomous and independent of the others. The continuity and unity flow from the associations and images playing back and forth among the couplets in any single ghazal. See

Here is Adrienne Rich's fourth ghazal from the volume Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib:

Did you think I was talking about my life?
I was trying to drive a tradition up against the wall.

The field they burned over is greener than all the rest.
You have to watch it, he said, the sparks can travel the roots.

Shot back into this earth's atmosphere
our children's children may photograph these stones.

In the red wash of the darkroom, I see myself clearly;
when the print is developed and handed about, the face is
nothing to me.

For us the work undoes itself over and over:
the grass grows back, the dust collects, the scar breaks open.

Priya quoted these lines of a ghazal couplet that Rich wrote:
When you read these lines think of me
And what I did not write here.

KumKum said this does not contain the sense of yearning for something that the ghazal is famous for. Mathew agreed, and Sunil told about Agha Shahid Ali attempting to make the form popular among American poets. See

Exercise for the Attentive Reader:
Mirza Ghalib is celebrated as a writer of ghazals. He was constantly writing letters to friends which contained many throw-away lines that others could use. Here are two examples and the idea is to translate and turn them into English couplets (rhymed AA), or quatrains (rhymed ABAB using tetrameter or trimeter).

(1) A couplet
Sou kos se bay-zaban-e-qalam batein kiya karo
Aur hijr
(separation) mein vasl (meeting) ke maza liya karo.

[Literally, from a hundred miles away speak through the tongue of the pen
and take delight in the joy of meeting even when you are separated]

Turn this into a couplet, or if you can't, then a quatrain.

(2) A one-liner
Ghalib wrote this:
main koshish karta hoon keh koi aisi baat likhoon jo parhay khoosh ho jaaye

[Literally, I want to write such stuff that whoever reads it should enjoy it]

Turn this into a couplet in English.

Contributions by Readers in response to the Ghalib Exercise:
(1) Couplet

The pen can span the hundred miles that keep you far apart,
Though voiceless, winging joyous union to the sundered heart

When the pen sends words across
A hundred mile, without uttering.
The lonely heart learns to be joyous
Despite the chasm that's dividing.

Speak with the tongue of the pen
From a hundred miles away;
Through the aching absence, yen
For the joy of the meeting day!

Grieve not the hundred miles,
That keep you apart,
Speak up and pen your voice,
And find the miles dissolve.

(2) One-liner

Talitha – ('I found his line most uninspiring and have done a creative translation using his one-liner as a springboard')
This is my sole desire - to strike a word of fire,
A line that will inspire,
Delight your eyes - and lift them higher.

I endeavor to pen only such thoughts, and hope,
The accidental readers will delight in my scope.

Such things I wish to write
That reading, you'll delight.

My little wish is this
To write such words forever
That will light up a heart
When read by whomsoever.

The Poems

KumKum – Akhmatova
The first two are from her uncollected poems and fragments, composed between 1904 –1917. They do not carry any titles.

I know how to love
I know how to be submissive and tender.
I know how to gaze into someone's eyes with a smile,
Alluring, inviting and hesitant.
And ,y supplee figure is so light and slender,
And the fragrance of curls is caressing.
Oh, the one who is with me is troubled
And enveloped in languor ....
I know how to love. I am deceptively shy.
I am so timidly tender and always silent,
Speaking only with my eyes.

They are clear and pure,
So transparently radiant,
Offering happiness.
Believe me--- they will deceive,
Only become more azure,
More tender and bright,
Light-blue gleaming fires.
And on my lips, crimson bliss,
A breast whiter than mountain snow,
My voice -- the murmur of azure streams.
I know how to love, My kiss awaits you.

I plucked lilies, lovely and fragrant
Modestly closed, like a host of innocent maids:
From their petals trembling with dew
I drank the aroma, and happiness and calm.
And my heart winced, as if in pain,
And the pale flowers nodded their heads,
And I dreamt once more of that far-off freedom,
Of that land where I was with you.

3. N.V.N.
All year you've been inseparable from me,
And as joyful and youthful as before!
Can it really be that you're not exhausted
By the troubled song of the slackened strings--

Which before were taut, and rang out,
But now only softly moan.
They are tormented to no end
By my dry and waxen hand ...

Truly it takes so little to please
Him who is tender and loves radiantly,
Whose young brow is untouched by
Anger, spite or jealousy.

Gentle, gentle, he doesn't ask to be caressed,
Only gazes at me
And endures with a smile of bliss
The frightful ravings of my semi-consciousness.

Spring 1915, Slepnyovo
(From the book White Flock. )
Note: N.V.N. is Nikolay Vladimirovich Nedobrovo (1882 – 1919), poet, critic and close friend, about whose death of tuberculosis of the kidneys she learned from Osip Mandeshtam when he visited her. (see Anna Akhmatova and Her Circle by Konstantín Polívanov; )

Kavita – Wordsworth


I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The Solitary Reaper
BEHOLD her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:

A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:

Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate'er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;—

I listen'd, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more.

Gopa – Bhatt
In Search for My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt
You ask me what I mean
by saying I have lost my tongue.
I ask you, what would you do
if you had two tongues in your mouth,
and lost the first one, the mother tongue,
and could not really know the other,
the foreign tongue.
You could not use them both together
even if you thought that way.
And if you lived in a place you had to
speak a foreign tongue,
your mother tongue would rot,
rot and die in your mouth
until you had to spit it out.
I thought I spit it out
but overnight while I dream,

(munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha)

(may thoonky nakhi chay)
(parantoo rattray svupnama mari bhasha pachi aavay chay)
(foolnee jaim mari bhasha nmari jeebh)

(modhama kheelay chay)

(fullnee jaim mari bhasha mari jeebh)

(modhama pakay chay)
it grows back, a stump of a shoot
grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,
it ties the other tongue in knots,
the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,
it pushes the other tongue aside.
Everytime I think I've forgotten,
I think I've lost the mother tongue,
it blossoms out of my mouth.

Sunil – Satchidanandan
Poems by K. Satchidanandan, translated from the Malayalam by the poet.
The Mad
The mad have no caste
nor religion. They transcend
gender, live outside
ideologies. We do not deserve
their innocence.

Their language is not of dreams
but of another reality. Their love
is moonlight. It overflows
on the full moon day.

Looking up they see
gods we have never heard of. They are
shaking their wings when
we fancy they are
shrugging their shoulders. They hold
even flies have souls
and the green god of grasshoppers
leaps up on thin legs.

At times they see trees bleed, hear
lions roaring from the streets. At times
they watch Heaven gleaming
in a kitten’s eyes, just as
we do. But they alone can hear
ants sing in a chorus.

While patting the air
they are taming a cyclone
over the Mediterranean. With
their heavy tread, they stop
a volcano from erupting.

They have another measure
of time. Our century is
their second. Twenty seconds,
and they reach Christ; six more,
they are with the Buddha.

In a single day, they reach
the big bang at the beginning.

They go on walking restless for
their earth is boiling still.

The mad are not
mad like us.

Stammer is no handicap:
it is a mode of speech.

Stammer is the silence that falls
between the word and its meaning,
just as lameness is the silence
that falls between the word and the deed.

Did stammer precede language
or succeed it?
Is it only a dialect
or a language itself? – these questions
make the linguists stammer.

Each time we stammer,
we are offering a sacrifice
to the God of Meanings.

When a whole people stammer
stammer becomes their mother-tongue
as it is with us now.

God too must have stammered
when He created Man.
That is why each word of man
carries different meanings.
That is why everything he utters
from his prayers to his commands
like poetry.

Mathew – Waller
Poems by Edmund Waller
That which her slender waist confin'd,
Shall now my joyful temples bind;
No monarch but would give his crown,
His arms might do what this has done.

It was my heaven's extremest sphere,
The pale which held that lovely deer,
My joy, my grief, my hope, my love,
Did all within this circle move.

A narrow compass, and yet there
Dwelt all that's good, and all that's fair;
Give me but what this ribbon bound,
Take all the rest the sun goes round.

Go, lovely rose!
Go, lovely rose!
Tell her that wastes her time and me
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts, where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired;
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die! that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

See! how the willing earth gave way,
To take th'impression where she lay.
See! how the mould, as both to leave
So sweet a burden, still doth cleave
Close to the nymph's stain'd garment. Here
The coming spring would first appear,
And all this place with roses strow,
If busy feet would let them grow.
Here Venus smiled to see blind chance
Itself before her son advance,
And a fair image to present,
Of what the boy so long had meant.
'Twas such a chance as this, made all
The world into this order fall;
Thus the first lovers, on the clay,
Of which they were composéd, lay;
So in their prime, with equal grace,
Met the first patterns of our race.
Then blush not, fair! or on him frown,
Or wonder how you both came down;
But touch him, and he'll tremble straight,
How could he then support your weight?
How could the youth, alas! but bend,
When his whole heaven upon him lean'd?
If aught by him amiss were done,
'Twas that he let you rise so soon.

Venus her myrtle, Phoebus has her bays;
Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapors which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.

Joe – Jonson
1. On My First Son
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ’scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry;
For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

2. To the memory of my beloved, the author, Master William Shakespeare
To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame;
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age !
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our Stage !
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme !
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part;
For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile : turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
Sweet swan of Avon! what a fight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight fro' hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.

3. Song to Celia
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

4. Reply to the Vinter
God is best pleased when men forsake their sins;
The devil is best pleased when men persist therein;
The world's best pleased when thou dost sell good wine;
And you're best pleased when I do pay for mine.”

Talitha – Rich  
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich
Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon's eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but not oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb disgraced goes on doing

now diagram the sentence

Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Priya – Rich
Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich (see above)

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich,
Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.


Talitha said...

Talitha writes – here is my contribution
(1) A couplet
Sou kos se bay-zaban-e-qalam batein kiya karo
Aur hijr (separation) mein vasl (meeting) ke maza liya karo.

"The pen can span the hundred miles that keep you far apart,
Though voiceless, winging joyous union to the sundered heart."

[Literally, from a hundred miles away speak through the tongue of the pen
and take delight in the joy of meeting even when you are separated]

(2) A one-liner
Ghalib wrote this:
main koshish karta hoon keh koi aisi baat likhoon jo parhay khoosh ho jaaye

[Literally, I want to write such stuff that whoever reads it should enjoy it]

"This is my sole desire - to strike a word of fire,
A line that will inspire,
Delight your eyes - and lift them higher."

Priya said...

Joe i really like your couplet, succint, simple and soulful