Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Poetry Reading – June 13, 2014

KRG readers gathered to read poetry on June 13, 2014

Thirteen of us met on an occasion when two new members were trying us out, while (sadly) our youngest member, Esther, was on her way out with a new position in Chennai. It was much later than usual when we finished, testament to our fervent discussions and the number who were in attendance.

Sujatha Warrier, Sreelatha Chakravarty, KumKum, Talitha

Two poets from Russia, four from India, and one each from Pakistan, Greece, and Iraq, stood apart from the usual bag of British and American poets, five in number. Most unusually, we had a ghazal chanted by a new reader, Pamela.

Talitha, Gopa, Ankush, Thomo

Poets without rhyme, or reason, or metre, combined with those who performed exquisitely within those constraints. While all poets are contemporary in their time, very few remain ‘contemporary’ hundreds of years later.

Preeti, Pamela, Zakia, Sujatha, Sreelatha

Here is a picture of the group, a bit exhausted after the ardent session.

Preeti, Esther, Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Gopa, Pamela, Sreelatha, Ankush, Joe (Zakia, Sujatha, & Thomo left early)

For a full account of the poems we read and the discussions they provoked, click below.

Full Account of the Poetry Reading on June 13, 2014

Present: Pamela, Preeti, Joe, Esther, Thomo, Priya, Ankush, Gopa, Talitha, KumKum, Sreelatha Chakravarty, Sujatha Warrier, Zakia
Absent: CJ Mathew (meeting), Sunil (children’s admission), Kavita (?), Priyadarshini (?), Vijay Govind (?)

The next reading for the novel Howards End by E.M Forster has been fixed for July 11, 2014. I propose these further dates
Aug 8, 2014: Poetry
Sep 26, 2014: Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

We are very sad to take leave of Esther Elias who will join the Chennai office of The Hindu in July.

1. Zakia
Rabia al-Basri

This was the second time we were reciting from a Sufi poet – in Jan 2012 Sunil selected poems from Hafiz. And some dohas of Kabir Das were recited by Soma, our erstwhile reader, in June 2010.

Rabia al-Basri lived in the 8th century in Basra, Iraq, and is generally considered to be the first female Sufi saint. There are many fascinating myths surrounding her life, though there doesn’t seem to be any definitive narrative of her life. What is sure is that she never married, and that she devoted her entire existence to God, surrounded by some very faithful disciples. Since she never wrote down her compositions, it was left to her disciple, Farid ud-Din Attar, to assemble what she said; he became her voice.

The first line of the poem Love really communicates the essence of mystical Islam: “In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.” Here, we find the idea of there being no reality but God: God is omnipresent. God and man — God and all of creation — are one. It is easy to understand this if you have ever been in love.

All of this puts one in mind of the Sufi practice of Silent Dhikr. Silent Dhikr is a form of meditation; it is the constant prayer of the Sufis. It literally means ‘remembrance of God.’ The prayer consists of contemplation of the First Kalima, which is heard in the Islamic call to prayer:
La Illaha, Il Allahu.

2. Sujatha Warrier
Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion, reading poems April 2009

Our newest reader, Sujatha, selected poems by Andrew Motion. She said he was relatively less known in India. Not so for KRG readers!

Sir Andrew Motion, (born 26 October 1952) is an English poet, novelist, and biographer, who was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. During the period of his laureateship, Motion founded the Poetry Archive, an online resource of poems and audio recordings of poets reading their own work. In 2012, Sir Andrew became President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, taking over from Bill Bryson.

Motion was born on 26 October 1952 in London; his mother was Catherine Gillian Bakewell (known as Gillian) and his father Andrew Richard Michael Motion (known as Richard). The family moved to Stisted, near Braintree in Essex, when Motion was 12 years old. Motion went to boarding school from the age of seven joined by his younger brother. Most of the boy's friends were from the school and when Motion was in the village he spent a lot of time on his own. He began to have an interest and affection for the countryside and he went for walks with a pet dog. Later he went to Radley College, where, in the sixth form, he encountered Mr Peter Way, an inspiring English teacher who introduced him to poetry – first Hardy, then Philip Larkin, W. H. Auden, Heaney, Hughes, Wordsworth and Keats.

When Motion was 17 years old, his mother had a horse riding accident and suffered a serious head injury requiring a life-saving neurosurgery operation. She regained some speech, but she was severely paralysed and remained in and out of coma for nine years. She died in 1978 and her husband died of cancer in 2006. Motion has said that he wrote to keep his memory of his mother alive and that she was a muse of his work.

When Motion was about 18 years old he moved away from the village to study English at University College, Oxford; however, since then he has remained in contact with the village to visit the church graveyard, where his parents are buried, and also to see his brother, who lives nearby. At University he studied in weekly sessions with W. H. Auden, whom he greatly admired. Motion won the university's Newdigate Prize and graduated with a first class honours degree.

Motion writes: "I deeply adored my mum. She was an extraordinary person, even for the prejudice I’m likely to have. She was beautiful, amusing, a tremendous elaborator of things into comic proportions and extravagant in her imagination. Tragically she fell off her horse when I was 17 and spent three and a half years in a coma, then six in a strange in-between. That day was the end of my childhood, but it was probably even worse for my father. It was difficult to tell how aware she was of her situation, though I think she knew something very bad had happened. It says pneumonia on her death certificate, but eventually she died of depression. The fact it took her so long to lose heart says something amazing about her. I miss her all the time, but when my father eventually died at the much riper age of 86, I felt as he went into the ground that I could stop grieving for my mother as I had."

The first poem A Dying Race is about his father. Every year Motion writes an anniversary poem about his parents. In the Attic recalls his mom by her dress, still kept hanging in the attic. A sigh of ‘beautiful!’ arose from the readers as the poem ended.

3. Sreelatha Chakravarty
John Brehm

John Brehm was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was educated at the University of Nebraska and Cornell University. He is the author of Sea of Faith, which won the 2004 Brittingham Prize, and Help Is on the Way, which won the 2012 Four Lakes Prize, from the University of Wisconsin Press.

Brehm has published a chapbook, The Way Water Moves, from Flume Press (2002) and was the associate editor for The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006). His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, Boulevard, Gulf Coast, The Missouri Review, New Ohio Review, The Best American Poetry 1999, and many other journals and anthologies. He has taught at Cornell, Emerson College, and Portland State University and received fellowships from Oregon Literary Arts and Yaddo. From 1996-2008 he lived in Brooklyn, working as a freelance writer and as a senior copywriter at Oxford University Press. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where he continues to freelance. He also teaches reading-as-a-writer courses at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.

Sreelatha got in touch with Brehm on e-mail and he responded. He is quite contemporary in feel as a poet. When Joe inquired what that meant, Sreelatha replied that the poet dealt with contemporary things.  In that sense Homer was probably just as contemporary in his time, if not a bit avant-garde. One is struck by the lines
I guess being an unsuccessful poet
isn’t as attractive as it used to be.

The poem Of Love and Life Insurance ends on this hopeful note with the last word reflecting the subject with a light touch:
Words have such power, I wanted to tell her.
You never know what may come of them.
Or who will be the beneficiary.

4. KumKum
Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)

Bosis Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago, was first published in Italy in 1958, two years before his death. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year “for his notable achievement in both contemporary poetry and the field of the great Russian narrative tradition.” 

Pasternak voluntarily decided not to accept the Nobel Prize, considering the reaction in his native land, and telegraphed the Swedish Academy, asking them "not receive my voluntary rejection with displeasure."

The epic novel about the life and loves of physician and poet Yuri Zhivago during the political upheavals of 20th-century Russia was acclaimed as a successful combination of lyrical, descriptive, and epic dramatic styles. The book, which concludes with a cycle of Zhivago's poetry, was translated into 18 languages.

You can read about how MI6 and CIA smuggled this novel, banned to readers in Soviet Union, after a British spy managed to photograph Pasternak's original text:

Though, he was already a celebrated poet and author in Russia, not many knew of Pasternak outside Russia. Owing to Soviet censorship Doctor Zhivago was published in Russia only in 1988. But after 1958, all his work was received eagerly abroad and translated and published in English.

Boris Pasternak was born in Russia in 1890. Both his parents were artists. The father, Leonid, was a portrait painter and art teacher. The mother, Rosa, was a concert pianist. The Pasternak family was a part of the Russian intellectual and cultural elite of the time. Young Pasternak had the most fortunate upbringing in that milieu. He learnt to play the piano at the Moscow Conservatory, and showed early promise, but gave up the career, after realising he did not have the highest talent for music.

Then he spent a few years studying Philosophy in Germany. He left that behind too. It was clear from his restless nature that Boris Pasternak, a creative man, was searching for an artistic outlet to express his thoughts. In 1922, Ida Dovidovna, Pasternak's lover at the time, refused to accept his marriage offer. He poured out his disappointment and sadness in poems. Thus was a serious poet born.

These are some of the collections of his poems:
My sister, Life (1922)
On Early Trains (1914)
Over the Barriers (1916)
Poems (1954)
Selected Poems (1946)

He also authored a few books and wrote essays. Doctor Zhivago is considered his masterpiece. The novelist, the philosopher, the poet, the musician and the painter in him came together in this beautiful book. These lines have a special quality in the second poem, Winter Nears:
A silvered hazel October.
Pewter glow since frost began.

Joe said many poems of Pasternak's were included in the original published novel Doctor Zhivago, whose translation by Max Hayward and Manya Harari, Joe recalls as being superb when he read it soon after it came out; it is far better in feel than the more recent translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. KumKum couldn't tell who made the translations of the poems she recited. The 1965 movie by David Lean was beautiful too. Who was more gorgeous, Omar Sharif or Julie Christie? You be the judge. It is counted among the best romantic films.

Doctor Zhivago - Julie Christie and Omar Sharif in David Lean's 1965 classic 

5. Talitha
W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

A long biography of W.H. Auden may be found at the Poetry Foundation site:

A much shorter capsule bio is at the BBC site:

There is also the Auden Society’s site, replete with links:

Talitha said Auden wrote in many verse forms, and stood out as a modern poet for using rhyme and meter. Indeed, he seemed to take pride in the craft of poetry.

Epitaph on a Tyrant, dated Jan 1939, is one of his famous political poems. Concise and scathingly witty, it’s readily applicable to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, or whichever dictator you hate most.

The Unknown Citizen is a satire on politicians who assume the guise of a faceless bureaucrat; he does all the most ordinary things to conform. It was written after Auden moved to America. An analysis of the poem is here:

Gopa was reminded of Sukumar Ray (father of Satyajit Ray) who wrote nonsense verse in a book called Abol Tabol (meaning nonsense in Bengali).  There was a faint burst of laughter from KumKum at the lines
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.

More laughter invaded the audience on hearing the lines - 
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,  is the first line of a poem, now famous for being recited in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, under the title Funeral Blues by John Hannah, playing Matthew. It starts on an irreverent note (‘juicy bone’ shatters the pathos don’t you think?) and then becomes more elevated in tone, said Talitha. She added that Auden wrote several poems whose subject matter is Protestant theology.

6. Gopa

"Gulzar is regarded as one of India’s foremost Urdu poets today, renowned for his unusual perspectives on life, his keen understanding of the complexities of human relationships, and his striking imagery. After Selected Poems, a collection of some of his best poetry, translated by Pavan K. Varma, was well received, Gulzar has chosen to present his next sixty poems in an inimitable way: labelling them Neglected Poems. ‘Neglected’ only in name, these poems represent Gulzar at his creative and imaginative best, as he meditates on nature (the mountains, the monsoon, a sparrow), delves into human psychology (when a relationship ends one is amazed to notice that ‘everything goes on exactly as it used to’), explores great cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and New York (‘In your town, my friend, how is it that there are no homes for ants’?), and confronts the most telling moments of everyday life. " (From the blurb helpfully provided by Penguin India)

Gulzar suffers at the hands of his translators, even the well-qualified Pavan Varma, diplomat and litterateur. So it’s better to read him, if possible, in the original in Urdu or Devnagiri script, or Romanised transliteration, – using a crib for what’s obscure.

Gopa offered a song of Rabindranath Tagore, No. 98 in the collection Prokriti of the Gitabitan, concerning the month of Asarh in which the wind brings rain. Once again the translation does not do justice. She was asked to read the original in Bengali and then provide the English translation; Gopa tried but could not find it. Joe said virtually the entire oeuvre of Rabindranath is digitised and freely available online at:

and here is the song in Rag Malhar, Tal Dadra, referenced by its first line Abar eschey Asarh akash chheye
আবার এসেছে আষাঢ় আকাশ ছেয়ে,
আসে বৃষ্টির সুবাস বাতাস বেয়ে
এই পুরাতন হৃদয় আমার আজি    পুলকে দুলিয়া উঠিছে আবার বাজি
            নূতন মেঘের ঘনিমার পানে চেয়ে
        রহিয়া রহিয়া বিপুল মাঠের 'পরে    নব তৃণদলে বাদলের ছায়া পড়ে
'এসেছে এসেছে' এই কথা বলে প্রাণ, 'এসেছে এসেছে' উঠিতেছে এই গান--
            নয়নে এসেছে, হৃদয়ে এসেছে ধেয়ে
রাগ: মল্লার
তাল: দাদরা
রচনাকাল (বঙ্গাব্দ): ১০ আষাঢ়, ১৩১৭
রচনাকাল (খৃষ্টাব্দ): 1910
রচনাস্থান: বোলপুর
স্বরলিপিকার: ভীমরাও শাস্ত্রী

You can hear the famous singer Debabrata Biswas sing it:

7. Ankush
Meena Kandasamy

Ankush confessed he is not a feminist but goes along with women’s demand for dignity and respect. Meena Kandasamy is a young Chennai-based poet, fiction writer and translator who is defined by her strident feminism on the one hand, and her dedication to the cause of people in her Dalit community, on the other hand.  Her first book, Touch, was published in 2006. Two of her poems have won prizes in all-India poetry competitions. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including The Little Magazine, Kavya Bharati, Indian Horizons, Muse India and the Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore. She edited The Dalit, a bi-monthly alternative English magazine of the Dalit Media Network in its first year of publication from 2001 to 2002.

Ms Kandasamy regards her writing as a process of coming to terms with her identity: her “womanness, Tamilness and low/ out-casteness”, labels that she wears with pride. She knew, she says, that “my gender, language and casteless-ness were not anything that I had to be ashamed of... I wrote poetry very well aware of who I was. But I was also sure of how I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be taken on my own terms... I wanted to be totally bare and intensely exposed to the world through my writings. I wanted it to be my rebellion against the world.” It meant, she adds, consciously deciding that she wasn’t interested in winning “acceptance, or admiration or awards.”

Aware that “the site for all subjugation is (at first) at the level of language,” Ms Kandasamy believes that political poetry has the “pressing responsibility to ensure that language is not at the mercy of the oppressors.” The status quo is insidious, however, and Ms Kandasamy realises that a politically conscious poet has to be true to herself in order to be a genuine voice of dissent and resistance.

For further biographical background see the article:

Joe noted that she was also a woman recoiling from abuse within her marriage, which ended in her getting a divorce. Ankush said Ms Kandasamy is more militant in her stance than Kamala Das was in her time. Talitha asked what was the significance of ‘touch’, the subject of the first poem. 

Joe was thrown by the concluding lines of the poem:
But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

The jumbled sense of words in this stanza makes all meaning evaporate and a mystical ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ descends to envelop the reader in a haze.

Ankush cryptically referred, in this connection, to Edward Said and said it is ‘the portrayal of the other who doesn't speak back.’  Good on.

The last poem on Gandhiji titled Mohandas Karamchand, is a diatribe ending with:
Sadist fool, you killed your body
many times before this too.
Bapu, bapu, you big fraud, we hate you.

When Joe asked why is Ms Kandasamy so worked up about Gandhiji, the answer from Ankush came: because he had given the label ‘Harijan’ to the lower castes; that was his great crime, for which reason as far as Ms Kandasamy is concerned, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is (a) a sadist, (b) a fool, and (c) a big fraud. Had Gandhiji called them ‘Dalit’ (from a Sanskrit word meaning downtrodden or suppressed) then would all have been fine?

Joe recalled that labels change over time, in response to changes in cultural sensibility. So ‘Negro’ was once a good word before the 1960s, then it was replaced by ’black’ (which means the same in Saxon as the former word did in Latin), and now that has been further replaced by ‘African-American.’

And why would a people who want to be freed of the burden of caste call themselves the ‘downtrodden?’ Should they not call themselves the ‘liberated?’ And surely in time to come they will realise that to carry the label of the ‘downtrodden’ is no longer chic; and will call themselves something else, at which time they can inveigh against Ms Kandasamy, vintage 2002, for being so sadistic, foolish and fraudulent as to have actually edited a magazine called ‘The Dalit.’

Far more interesting to read than this broadside with a loose cannon by Ms Kandasamy is the Introduction that Arundhati Roy wrote to a recent annotated edition of B.R. Ambedkar’s book, The Annihilation of Caste. See

For a flirtatious recitation by Ms Kandasamy at the gathering Poetry Africa, see her special invitation to the men in Durban to ‘Come, colonise me …”:

8. Thomo
George Bernard Shaw

In his self-deprecating manner Thomo casually said, “You know how I am with poetry.” Then everyone remembered his very first selection of poetry – it was the song Heavy Horses, Jethro Tull’s rock number from 1978. See

Then Thomo asked if anyone could guess the author of the two poems he handed out. The first hint (Irish playwright) did not succeed; but with further hints the name of George Bernard Shaw was revealed. 

Thomo could not resist the chiastic story about beauty and brains. Shaw met the beautiful dancer Isadora Duncan. A big believer in eugenics, Duncan suggested that she and Shaw should have a child together. "Think of it!" she said, "With your brains and my body, what a wonder it would be." Shaw thought for a moment and replied, "Yes, but what if it had my body and your brains?" 

Another of his famous uses of chiasmus (parallelism in reverse order) is this maxim of his:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world;
the unreasonable one persists
to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore all progress depends on
the unreasonable man.

After Ms Kandasamy had stirred our poetry pot with pitch, it was welcome relief to hear the poem about the penurious man going out on the town with his love, possible because he had won at the races on a hot tip. The last line reflects on the humorous fact that will face them after dinner at Maxim’s (or Luigi’s or Chez Nous):
Now we will have to walk home by the light of the moon.

The second poem sounds sweet, like something you would see in a Hallmark birthday card for a spouse. It’s hard to associate such words with the great man whose devastating wit and realism was so exciting to read in the famous introductions to his plays.

Shaw is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938) for his work on the film adaptation of his play, Pygmalion.

9. Priya
Alexander Pushkin

The Bronze Horseman is a Petersburg story written in 1833. The incident, described in this story is based on a truth, writes Pushkin. The details of the flood are taken from the contemporary magazines. The curious can consult the record, prepared by V. I. Berkh, Pushkin states.

Consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bronze_Horseman_(poem) for an analysis of the poem and its influence. It was translated in 1882 by C.E. Turner. It was Talitha, I think, who declared the translation was dreadful (citation of offending verses needed as evidence). Further notes on The Bronze Horseman by Linda Shipley are here:

For details of Pushkin’s life and his duels see

Priya cited, with evident admiration, that Pushkin fought 29 duels in his life – the last one felled him! This was the honour killing of olden days. A French lieutenant had seduced his wife – so did she become the French Lieutenant’s Woman, asked Thomo? No, that was Meryl Streep, alias Sarah Woodruff. See

10. Esther Elias
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Arvind Mehrotra inscribes for KumKum in Nov 2011 at the TVM Hay Festival 

For more about this poet, anthologist, lit critic and translator see

For Mehrotra’s radical views on translating poetry, read Joe’s account of the Hay festival in TVM:

Esther first declared the good news of her promotion to Senior Sub-editor with The Hindu; and the bad news that she had been transferred to Chennai to take up her position from next month. The readers reacted with applause first, but were saddened that our bright and enthusiastic reader, Esther, would not be coming to our readings any more.

For her last reading Esther chose poems by Arvind Mehrotra, the venerable poet, and professor (at Allahabad U) who has a wonderful white mane and highly individualistic ways. It is taken from the anthology 60 Indian Poets by Jeet Thayil. Arvind Mehrotra has an essay in the collection titled What is an Indian Poet? Here is another insightful essay by Mehrotra on the topic of what the vernaculars have contributed to Indian English and how the sentiment of poetry in Indian English has been influenced by our languages:

Genealogy is probably about his family migrating from Lahore at the time of Partition. But the split imagery and disconnected phrases reflect the kind of rupture that is obligatory in some quarters for poetry to be considered modern. John Ashbery, the poet with a formidable American reputation, is cut of the same cloth. Take this poem of his:
I wouldn't try to capture it
on the page, or in a blog, the inauspicious
leavings of a day. Closer to dream
than the hum of streets, and people
who once walked along them.

Yeah, I know. Know what I'm saying?
The grounds were ultimately too large for the compound.
A tree takes flight, and patterns are coaxed
into recurring on adjacent walls,
out of thin air.
No such titan ever visited
during my days as aedile. Yet wisps
still buttonhole us in random moats:
Was it this you were expecting,
and if not, why not?
– John Ashbery

No, I am not asking what is the meaning; but what is the point of such poetry?

The poem to the Unborn Daughter, by contrast, graciously allows us into the poet’s imagination, and makes us see what he saw in a fleeting moment, and hoped to transmute by the magic of his words into nascent human flesh. Great!

11. Joe
Homer – The Iliad translated by Robert Fagles

Homer - bust in the Epimedes type. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 5th century

The Iliad is a poem of ~15,000 lines by a Greek bard called Homer who wrote down the songs that were sung for several hundred years and handed down orally. Homer was thought to have been blind, and perhaps the hand of several authors has gone into what survives to us from the manuscripts in the library of Alexandria. The story is set in the Bronze age, about 1200 BC; Homer lived about 400 years later.

The Iliad is the story of the Achaeans who came from Greece, landed in Anatolia (modern day Turkey’s west coast where Troy was discovered by Schliemann) to recapture Helen, wife of the Greek king Menelaus who decamped with Paris, a Trojan prince. But soon the cause of the war is forgotten, and fighting itself becomes the cause for more fighting. The Greek gods actively participate on both sides. The Achaeans have many heroes: Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, and so on; so do the Trojans, chief among them being Hector, prince of Troy, and his brother, Paris. The Iliad focuses only on a few weeks in the last year of the ten-year war. It’s a poem full of blood, fury, death, honour, cruelty, pity, and companionship.

The love of Achilles for Patroclus is one of the tender parts of a gruesome tale; another is Hector’s love for his wife Andromache.  Everybody dies ultimately (they are all mortal after all) but some die before the Iliad ends, and some have their deaths foretold, and they die later. Only Odysseus among the heroes returns after 20 years to his home, but none of his companions survive. And among the Trojans, Aeneas escapes to Italy where his future heirs were to found Rome.

All the great war-like western men have read the Iliad – Alexander, Julius Caesar, and the lot – and they all took away the central message that to die fighting is the greatest honour, and therefore they put little value on their own lives, for all are fated to die, but only when the time comes. Joe noted that this supreme confidence that one cannot die until Allah calls, that not a hair on the head of the jihadi can be hurt, is what gives to fanatics their fearless perversity. And when Allah calls, of course, one must go with joy.

But while the warriors suffer and die quickly, it is the women who have the worst of war: widowed, children orphaned, carried off as slaves to feed the enemies’ lust. Another lesson is that once the fighting starts, there need be no further thought about what precisely they are fighting for. But Talitha said every Achaean warrior was mindful of a fine constitutional point whereby they had to get Helen back in order to ensure proper succession on the throne back home. What inspiration!

About 80 or more translations into English exist, some in prose, some in a verse, some partly in verse, partly in prose (Robert Graves). Alexander Pope’s (published in 1720 after working for seven years) is perhaps the first verse translation by a major poet; he did it in heroic couplets, i.e. rhymed couplets in iambic hexameter. I find that if you replace thou, thy, thine, thee by modern pronouns, it’s surprisingly good and speaks to the modern mind, except for the many inversions of the normal S-V-O order, necessitated by the rhyme scheme; if you replace ‘thee’ with ‘you‘ at the end of a line you have to change another line ending to rhyme.

But I have chosen here a hundred lines in three passages from the 1990 translation by Robert Fagles, Princeton University professor of Comparative Literature.

12. Preeti
Christopher Reid

In 2005, Reid’s wife, actress Lucinda Gane, died from cancer. She was 57. For Reid, abstract understandings of what cancer is, and what it can do, became all too real. He watches his wife of 30+ years grow progressively worse. Cancer and illness have moved beyond the intellectual to the emotional and personal; they become something shared that must be lived through.

Reid wrote a series of poems, A Scattering, about his wife’s illness, death and aftermath, and he wrote them for the reason any writer would—to make sense of what was happening. When sense couldn’t be made, the poem became a way and a means to acceptance. What is clear is that death isn’t the end point; death never is. Instead, it becomes simultaneously both a mid-point and a beginning, leading to a different life for the survivors, a life already hinted at in the moment of death.

What Reid knows and expresses in these poems is this: you don’t survive the death of a beloved spouse; you change. And what follows continues to be shaped by the one you’ve lost and the love you’ve shared.

Reid is the author of some 15 collections of poetry, two children’s books, and five collections and anthologies (he served as editor of the collected letters of poet Ted Hughes). A Scattering received the Costa Book Award for best poetry book of the year in 2009 and best overall book of the year (Reid was the first poet since Seamus Heaney to take the overall award).

Honest and often pointed, the poems of A Scattering read true. They were born in loss, a loss that seems almost unimaginable, but they honour that loss and the person who was there before.

Here’s an interview with Christopher Reid:

The first poem (Untitled) has been made into a movie, A Lunch Song, a trailer of which with Emma Thompson is on youtube

In the second poem, Afterlife, the husband is on his way to work and passes the hospital to which his wife donated her organs before her death. He reflects:
My wife is in there, somewhere, doing practical work:
her organs and tissues are educating young doctors

but he does not dawdle, as he has work to do.

13. Pamela John
Muhammad Iqbal

Take a look at the wiki

for a brief history of Iqbal who was not only a poet and ghazal composer, but in 1930 inspired the movement for a separate Muslim country, now called Pakistan, where his birthday is a public holiday. He is also the composer of the famous song we sing in India, Saare Jahaan Se Achcha.  Pamela hand-copied a ghazal of his, गेसू- ताबदार को (gesuu-e taabdaar ko). We have discussed the structure of the ghazal at KRG before when Joe recited two ghazals of Mirza Ghalib. See

There we explained the Matla, the Radif and the Qaaffiyaa, and learnt that the last sher is called the Maqta and should reference the author in an imaginative way by his Takhallus, or pen-name.

The full text of the ghazal and its Devnagiri transcription is given at the link below the poem in the readings at the end; much more information can be found there. Although the English translation is just passable, the whole aspect of the voicing of the ghazal took a beautiful turn when Pamela, a practiced singer, sang the ghazal in Urdu, in the tarannum chant; see

Pamela singing the Iqbal ghazal gesuu-e taabdaar ko

We were transported. Thank you, Pamela. She has to sing it again so we may record it for the blog as a voice file. Pamela mentioned that there is an allegory of the lover and the beloved being the coloniser, and the colonised. Is that how Ms Kandasamy got her first line above, ‘Come colonise me?’

You can hear Pakistani singer Fareeha Pervaiz sing four of the couplets (1, 3, 2, 5) for an elite audience:


Joe observed the Takhallus is missing. He offers below his rather free and simplified translation of the thought in the second and third shers which appealed to him:

No. 2
If love comes in disguise
And beauty too,
Reveal yourself – surprise
And show me through!

No. 3
If you’re a river
And I a stream,
Let’s blend together
And make a team!

The Diligent Reader Exercise for this session was to produce a better (more poetic) translation than the one given of the last sher (the Maqta) of the Iqbal ghazal:

रोज़-ए हिसाब जब मिरा पेश हो दफ़तर-ए `अमल
आप भी शरमसार हो , मुझ को भी शरमसार कर !

whose translation was given as:
On the day of accounts, when my ledger of deeds would be presented
You yourself too must be ashamed — as much as I would be ashamed.

Here are the responses of four readers to the challenge:

Sreelatha's rendition:
Ledger of daily deeds, when presented, in court of accountability
You must feel the shame, and insult me for the very same too!

When my account of deeds will be exposed
‘twill be the day for mine, no less than your remorse

The day your court shall  judge my life's record,
Will you then blush for my shame, holy lord?

On the day of reckoning
When my accounting's done,
Will shame to Iqbal cling
And to you stick none?

The Poems

1. Zakia
Rabia al-Basri (c. 717-801)
I have loved Thee with two loves:
a selfish love and a love that is worthy of Thee.

As for the love which is selfish,
Therein I occupy myself with Thee,
to the exclusion of all others.

But in the love which is worthy of Thee,
Thou dost raise the veil that I may see Thee.

Yet is the praise not mine in this or that,
But the praise is to Thee in both that and this.

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?And who lives as a sign for your journey?http://emilyspoetryblog.com/2013/04/06/reality-by-rabia-al-basri/  

2. Sujatha Warrier
Andrew Motion (1952 – )
A Dying Race
The less I visit, the more
I think myself back to your house
I grew up in. The lane uncurled
through candle-lit chestnuts
discovers it standing four-square,
whitewashed unnaturally clear,
as if it were shown me by lightning.

It’s always the place I see,
not you. You’re somewhere outside,
waving goodbye where I left you
a decade ago. I’ve even lost sight
of losing you now; all I can find
are the mossy steps you stood on
– a visible loneliness.

I’m living four counties away, and still
I think of you driving south each night
to the ward where your wife is living.
How long will it last?
You’ve made that journey six years
already, taking each broken-off day
as a present, to please her.

I can remember the fields you pass,
the derelict pill-boxes squatting
in shining plough. If I was still there,
watching your hand push back
the hair from her desperate face,
I might have discovered by now
the way love looks, its harrowing clarity.

In the Attic
Even though we know now
your clothes will never
be needed, we keep them,
upstairs in a locked trunk.

Sometimes I kneel there
touching them, trying to relive
time you wore them, to catch
the actual shape of arm and wrist.

My hands push down
between hollow, invisible sleeves,
hesitate, then lift
patterns of memory:

a green holiday; a red christening;
all your unfinished lives
fading through dark summers
entering my head as dust.

3. Sreelatha Chakravarty
John Brehm (1955 – )
Of Love and Life Insurance: An Argument
“I need to accept you as you are,” she said,
“so you need to become the kind
of person I can accept.” I was
becoming bewildered, but I don’t
think that’s what she meant.
“Life insurance,” she said. “You
don’t have any life insurance.”
“But we’ve only known each other
three months. Aren’t we jumping ahead?”
“Look,” she said, “I don’t want
to have to take my child and move
back to Chicago and live with my mother.
I don’t want to have to take my child
to a public clinic. And I don’t want to
have to ride you and nag you and ask you
a hundred times about all this stuff.”
And then my heart fell from the sky
like a shot bird. “Is that how you
imagine a life with me?”
I guess being an unsuccessful poet
isn’t as attractive as it used to be.
But where’s the risky spirit,
the headlong leap into the vast
unknown of love, where anything
and everything might happen? Where’s
the wish to be surrounded by poems,
the great sustaining luxuries and dangers
of poems, or to make one’s life itself
a poem, unpredictable, meaning
many things, a door into the other world
through which even a child might walk?
Words have such power, I wanted to tell her.
You never know what may come of them.
Or who will be the beneficiary.
—from Help is On the Way, first published in The Gettysburg Review

On the Subway Platform
    —for Kate
Where are you going I said
and she said I’m going

to look for a book
and I said what kind

of book? A book on

she said and I said
make sure you get

the right one—
which brought forth

such perfect laughter
from her perfect heart.

4. KumKum
Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960)
The Steppe
How lovely those journeys into quiet!
Boundless the steppe, like a seascape,
ants rustle, and the feather-grass sighs,
mosquitoes go whining through space.

The hayricks line up with the clouds,
volcano after volcano, they fade.
Grown silent, damp, the boundless steppe,
you drift, you’re buffeted, you sway.

The mist overtakes us, washes, a sea,
and burrs are clinging to stockings, today
it’s lovely to tramp the steppe’s shore,
you drift, you’re buffeted, you sway.

Is that a rick in the mist? Who knows?
Is that one ours? Yes, it’s found.
There! Yes, that’s it all right, though.
The rick, and the mist, and the steppe all round.

And the Milky Way slants towards ,
like a path that cattle have stamped on.
Go past the houses, you’ll lose your breath,
on every side, broad, broad horizons.

Shadowy  stands by the way,
strewn with stars, that touch every verst,
and you can’t cross it, beyond the fence,
without trampling the universe.

Winter Nears.
Winter nears. Once more
the bear’s secret retreat
will vanish under mud’s floor,
to a child’s fretful grief.

Huts will wake in the water,
reflecting paths of smoke,
circled by autumn’s tremor
lovers meet by the fire to talk.

Denizens of the harsh North
whose roof is the clear air,
‘In this sign conquer’, set forth,
marks each unreachable lair.

I love you, provincial haunts,
off the map, the road, past the farms,
the more tired and faded the book,
the greater for me its charms.

Slow files of carts lumbering by
you spell out an alphabet flowing
from meadow to meadow. And I
found you always my favourite reading.

And it’s suddenly written again,
here in first snow is the spider’s
cursive script, runners of sleighs,
where ice on the page embroiders.

A silvered hazel October.
Pewter glow since frost began.
Autumn twilight, of Chekhov,
Tchaikovsky, and Levitan.

When did the stars sweep down so low,
 sink so deep in tall grass,
and drenched muslin, afraid, aglow,
long for a dénouement at last?

Let the steppe judge, and night decide.
When, if not in the Beginning,
did Mosquitoes whine, Ants ride,
and Burrs go clinging to stockings?

Close them, my darling! Or go blind!
The whole steppe’s as before the Fall:
All, drowned in peace, like a parachute,
like a heaving vision, All.

The Wind
I am no more, but you're alive.
And the wind with plaint and wailing
Sets the woods and villa swaying.
It rocks not only single pines
But all the trees in joint array
And the remote, unbounded skyline –
Like wooden hulls of frigates riding
On the broad surface of the bay.
And this - not out of waywardness,
Nor in a fit of fury blind,
But in life's anguish to seek out
Words to compose your lullaby.

5. Talitha
W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a  saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace:  when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Epitaph on a Tyrant
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

In Selected Poems of W.H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

For more poems and recordings by W.H. Auden see links at

6. Gopa
Gulzar (1936 – )
My Apologies, Sona (मुझे अफ़सोस है , सोना)
My apologies, Sona.
Journeying through the terrain of my verse
in these rains,
inconvenienced you
Unseasonal are the monsoons here.
The alleyways of my poetry are frequently damp.
Water gathers often in the ditches.
If you trip and fall here, you run the risk
of spraining a foot.

My apologies, however . . .
You were inconvenienced
because the light in my verse is somewhat dim.
The stones at my threshold
are imperceptible, as you pass.
I have often cracked a toenail against them
As for the streetlamp at the crossroads,
it has remained unlit for aeons
You were inconvenienced.
My apologies, my heartfelt apologies.
(Translated by Salim Arif)
For the Devnagiri and an oral reading see

The Monsoon Symphony
Under the densely green trees of St Paul’s Road
Shut the engine of the car
Wind up the windows
Sit with your eyes closed
And then hear the rhythm of the rain
On the roof of your car.
See gusts of wind
Like drenched bodies
Walking on the branches of trees;
Your fingers tap to the water’s narrative
A it slips down your windshield;
Some letters, some lines from the past come to mind.
In this modern symphony.
(From Neglected Poems, Translated by Pavan K Varma, Published by Penguin India)

7. Ankush
Meena Kandasamy (1984 – )
Have you ever tried meditation?
Struggling hard to concentrate,
and keeping your mind as blank
as a whitewashed wall by closing
your eyes, nose, ears; and shutting out
every possible thought. Every thing.
And, the only failure, that ever came,
the only gross betrayal—
was from your own skin.
You will have known this.

Do you still remember,
how, the first distractions arose?
And you blamed skin as a sinner;
how, when your kundalini was rising,
shaken, you felt the cold concrete floor
skin rubbing against skin, your saffron robes,
how, even in a far-off different realm—
your skin anchored you to this earth.
Amidst all that pervading emptiness,
touch retained its sensuality.
You will have known this.

Or if you thought more variedly, about
taste, you would discount it—as the touch
of the tongue. Or, you may recollect
how a gentle touch, a caress changed
your life multifold, and you were never
the person you should have been.
Feeling with your skin, was
perhaps the first of the senses, its
reality always remained with you—
You never got rid of it.
You will have known this.

You will have known almost
every knowledgeable thing about
the charms and the temptations
that touch could hold.

But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

(First published in Kavya Bharati)

The last thing she does
before she gets ready to die
once more, of violation,
she applies the mascara.

in that last and solemn moment
the call-girl hesitates.

With eye-catching eyes
she stops to shudder.
Maybe, the dyed eyes
mourn her body’s sins.

Mascara. . .
it serves to tell her
that long buried
hazy dreams
of a virgin soul
have dark outlines.

Silently she cries.
Her tears are black.
Like her.

Long Ago
in an
fa mily tree
of temple prostitutes,
her solace was sought.

It has happened for centuries. . .
Empty consolations soothe
violated bodies.

Sex clings to her devadasi skin,
assumed superficialities don’t wear off,
Deliverance doesn’t arrive.
Unknown Legacies of
Love made to Gods
haven’t been ceremoniously accounted
as karma.

But still she prays.
Her prayer words
desperately provoke Answers.
Fighting her case,
Providence lost his pride.
Her helplessness doesn’t
Seduce the Gods.
And they too
never learn
the Depth of her Dreams.

She believes—
Cosmetics were
once. . .
War paints.
She awaits their resurrection.

When she dons the mascara
The Heavens have heard her whisper,
Kali, you wear this too . . .

(First published in Indian Horizons)

Mohandas Karamchand
“Generations to come will scarcely
believe that such a one as this walked
the earth in flesh and blood.”
—Albert Einstein

Who? Who? Who?
Mahatma. Sorry no.
Truth. Non-violence.
Stop it. Enough taboo.

That trash is long overdue.
You need a thorough review.
Your tax-free salt stimulated our wounds
We gonna sue you, the Congress shoe.

Gone half-cuckoo, you called us names,
You dubbed us pariahs—“Harijans”
goody-goody guys of a bigot god
Ram Ram Hey Ram—boo.

Don’t ever act like a holy saint.
we can see through you, impure you.
Remember, how you dealt with your poor wife.
But, they wrote your books, they made your life.

They stuffed you up, the imposter true.
And sew you up—filled you with virtue
and gave you all that glossy deeds
enough reason we still lick you.

You knew, you bloody well knew,
Caste won’t go, they wouldn’t let it go.
It haunts us now, the way you do
with a spooky stick, a eerie laugh or two.

But they killed you, the naked you,
your blood with mud was gooey goo.
Sadist fool, you killed your body
many times before this too.

Bapu, bapu, you big fraud, we hate you.
(First published in The Little Magazine)

My Lover Speaks of Rape
Flaming green of a morning that awaits rain
And my lover speaks of rape through silences,
Swallowed words and the shadowed tones
Of voice. Quivering, I fill in his blanks.
Green turns to unsightly teal of hospital beds
And he is softer than feathers, but I fly away
To shield myself from the retch of the burns
Ward, the shrill sounds of dying declarations,
The floral pink-white sad skins of dowry deaths.
Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .
Colorless noon filters in through bluish glass
And coffee keeps him company. She chatters
Away telling her own, every woman’s story;
He listens, like for the first time. Tragedy in
Bridal red remains a fresh, flushing bruise across
Brown-yellow skinscapes, vibrant but made
Muted through years of silent, waiting skin.
I am absent. They talk of everyday assault that
Turns blue, violet and black in high-color symphony.
Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .
Blues blend to an unforgiving metropolitan black
And loneliness seems safer than a gentle night
In his arms. I return from the self-defence lessons:
Mistrust is the black-belted, loose white mechanism
Of survival against this groping world and I am
A convert too. Yet, in the way of all life, he could try
And take root, as I resist, and yield later, like the earth.
Open eyes, open hands, his open all-clear soul . . .
Has he learnt to live my life? Has he learnt never to harm?
For a recitation by Ms Kandasamy at Poetry Africa, and a special invitation to the men in Durban to ‘Come, colonise me …” see:

My Delhi’s Call To Dusk
by Ankush Banerjee, Poetry India, Enchanting Echoes, 2014 – published by The Poetry Society (India)

You? Is that you, there?

A menagerie of dazzling, lifeless stones
Are these your limbs, now?

Wearing paan­spits and conniving beggars
Over footpaths puddled by urine streams
Interrupted by some violated vagina’s muffled screams!

Walls peopled by pictures
Of helpless gods and towering bigots,
Over an emphatic collage of casual schemes
That plagiarize each day your daily dreams

Encompassing tepid sustenance amidst
Snoring corridors of power
Felling bridges and stadium roofs
Yet the bustling many don’t give two hoofs
And do not stop to cower!

But do remember each day,
Open­eyed we, all of us
Catch a glimpse, on our way back
Of our surrendered, forsaken selves

Beside the hot breath of CNG buses
Amongst the scowling faces of each other
In the slow moving evening traffic jam

You there? Is that you, there?
What are you making of us?

What have we made of you!

8. Thomo
George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
An Evening Out
I'll wear my Tails, You your new gown,
Then my love we'll do the town.
Dinner at Luigi's, Maxim's or Chez Nous,
The choice my Dear I'll leave up to you.
We'll eat of the best with lots of champagne,
For who knows when we I can afford it again.

I won on the races, it was not a lot,
A man gave me a tip on a very long shot.
The horse came in by a very short head,
I won't tell you what the bookmaker said.
Wear all of your jewels, you have not got many,
But at least we'll look posh as I spend my last penny.

Pay no attention if the waiter looks cross,
For once in my life, I'll be the boss.
And when we have eaten and I've paid the bill,
We will watch the waiter place the money in the till.
And if I can afford it we will do it again soon,
Now we will have to walk home by the light of the moon.

Broken Spirit
Only with you by my side,
Can I take all in my stride.
You give me a silent strength,
each pace a gathering length.
I know that I will reach my goal,
for you help me play my role.
Your guidance carries me along,
in my heart a wondering song.
What strange whim sent you my way,
I do not know, I cannot say.
I just thank Heaven that you are here,
Keeping me going with thoughts so clear.
Stay with me to the very end,
For you my broken spirit did mend.

9. Priya
Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837)
The Bronze Horseman
On a deserted, wave-swept shore,
He stood – in his mind great thoughts grow –
And gazed afar. The northern river
Sped on its wide course him before;
One humble skiff cut the waves’ silver.
On banks of mosses and wet grass
Black huts were dotted there by chance –
The miserable Finn’s abode;
The wood unknown to the rays
Of the dull sun, by clouds stowed,
Hummed all around. And he thought so:
‘The Swede from here will be frightened;
Here a great city will be wrought
To spite our neighborhood conceited.
From here by Nature we’re destined
To cut a door to Europe wide,
To step with a strong foot by waters.
Here, by the new for them sea-paths,
Ships of all flags will come to us –
And on all seas our great feast opens.’

An age passed, and the young stronghold,
The charm and sight of northern nations,
From the woods’ dark and marshes’ cold,
Rose the proud one and precious.
Where once the Finnish fisherman,
Sad stepson of the World, alone,
By low riverbanks’ a sand,
Cast into waters, never known,
His ancient net, now on the place,
Along the full of people banks,
Cluster the tall and graceful masses
Of castles and palaces; and sails
Hasten in throng to the rich quays
From all the lands our planet masters;
The Neva-river’s dressed with rocks;
Bridges hang o’er the waters proud;
Abundantly her isles are covered
With dark-green gardens’ gorgeous locks…

By the new capital, the younger,
Old Moscow’s eclipsed at once -
Such is eclipsed a queen-dowager
By a new queen when her time comes.
I love you, Peter’s great creation,
I love your view of stern and grace,
The Neva wave’s regal procession,
The grayish granite – her bank’s dress,
The airy iron-casting fences,
The gentle transparent twilight,
The moonless gleam of your nights restless,
When I so easy read and write
Without a lamp in my room lone,
And seen is each huge buildings’ stone
Of the left streets, and is so bright
The Admiralty spire’s flight,
And when, not letting the night’s darkness
To reach the golden heaven’s height,
The dawn after the sunset hastens –
And a half-hour’s for the night.
I love your so sever winter’s
Quite still and fresh air and strong frost,
The sleighs race on the shores river’s,
The girls – each brighter than a rose,
The gleam and hum of the balls’ dances,
And, on the bachelors’ free feast,
The hissing of the foaming glasses
And the punch’s bluish flaming mist.
I love the warlike animation
Of the play-fields of the god Mars,
And horse-and-footmen priests’ of wars
So homogeneous attraction,
In their ranks, in the rhythmic moves,
Those flags, victories and rended,
The glitter of those helmets, splendid,
Shot through in military strives.
I love, O capital my fairest,
Your stronghold guns’ thunder and smoke,
In moments when the northern empress
Adds brunches to the regal oak
Or Russia lauds a winning stroke
To any new and daring foe,
Or, breaking up the light-blue ice,
The Neva streams it and exults,
Scenting the end of cold and snow.

City of Peter, just you shine
And stand unshakable as Russia!
May make a peace with beauty, thine,
The conquered nature’s casual rushes;
And let the Finnish waves forget
Their ancient bondages and malice
And not disturb with their hate senseless
The endless sleep of Peter, great!

The awful period was that,
It’s fresh in our recollection…
This time about, my dear friend,
I am beginning my narration.
My story will be very sad.

10. Esther Elias
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (1947 – )
I recognize my father's wooden skin
The sun in the west lights up his bald bones
I see his face and then his broken pair of shoes
His voice comes through, an empty sleeve.
Birds merge with the blue like thin strokes.
Each man is an unfinished fiction
And I'm the last survivor of what was a family;
They left in a caravan, none saw them
Slip through the two hands.
The dial spreads on the roof
Alarms put alarms to sleep
Led by invisible mules I take a path across
The mountains, my alchemies trailing behind
Like leather-bound nightmares;
There isn't a lost city in sight, the map I had
Preserved drifts apart like the continents it showed.

My shadow falls on the sun and the sun
Cannot reach my shadow; near the central home
Of nomad and lean horse I pick up
A wheel, a migratory arrow, a numeral.
The seed is still firm. Dreams
Pitch their tents along the rim.
I climb Sugar Mountain
My mother is walking into the horizon
Fire breaks out in the nests
Trees laden with the remnants of squirrels
Turn into scarecrows
The seed sends down another merciless root;
My alembic distills these fairytales
Acids, riddles, the danger in flowers
I must never touch pollen or look
Into a watchmaker's shop at twilight.

My journey has been this anchor
The off-white cliff a sail
Fowl and dragons play near the shores
My sea-wrecked ancestors left.
I call out to the raven, "My harem, my black rose
The clock's slave, keeper of no man's land between us"
And the raven, a tear hung above his massive pupil,
Covers my long hair with petals.
Only once did I twist the monotonous pendulum
To enter the rituals at the bottom of twelve seas
Unghostlike voices curdled my blood, the colour
Of my scorpion changed from scarlet
To scarlet; I didn't mean to threaten you
Or disturb your peace I know nothing of
But you - living in these fables, branches
And somehow icebergs - tell me, whose seed I carry.
(From Nine Enclosures)

To an Unborn Daughter
If writing a poem could bring you
Into existence, I'd write one now,
Filling the stanzas with more
Skin and tissue than a body needs,
Filling the lines with speech.
I'd even give you your mother's

Close-bitten nails and light-brown eyes,
For I think she had them. I saw her
Only once, through a train window,
In a yellow field. She was wearing
A pale-coloured dress. It was cold.
I think she wanted to say something.
(From The Transfiguring Places)

11. Joe
Homer ca. 750 to 650 BC – The Iliad translated by Robert Fagles
1. Book 16 lines 477-489 Patroclus in battle goes for Thestor, the son of Enops. Concerns the blood and fury of war.
And next he went for Thestor the son of Enops
cowering, crouched in his fine polished chariot,
crazed with fear, and the reins flew from his grip—
Patroclus rising beside him stabbed his right jawbone,
ramming the spearhead square between his teeth so hard
he hooked him by the spearhead over the chariot-rail,
hoisted, dragged the Trojan out as an angler perched
on a jutting rock ledge drags some fish from the sea,
some noble catch, with the line and glittering bronze hook.
So with the spear Patroclus gaffed him off his car,
his mouth gaping round the glittering point
and flipped him down facefirst,
dead as he fell, his life breath blown away.

Book 8, lines 638-654: Hector commands his troops to rest after they’ve won a victory against the Achaeans. Description of a peaceful interlude between battles – the Trojan watchfires at night.
And so their spirits soared
as they took positions down the passageways of battle
all night long, and the watchfires blazed among them.
Hundreds strong, as stars in the night sky glittering
round the moon’s brilliance blaze in all their glory
when the air falls to a sudden, windless calm…
all the lookout peaks stand out and the jutting cliffs
and the steep ravines and down from the high heavens bursts
the boundless bright air and all the stars shine clear
and the shepherd’s heart exults—so many fires burned
between the ships and the Xanthus’ whirling rapids
set by the men of Troy, bright against their walls.
A thousand fires were burning there on the plain
and beside each fire sat fifty fighting men
poised in the leaping blaze, and champing oats
and glistening barley, stationed by their chariots,
stallions waited for Dawn to mount her glowing throne.

Book 6 Lines 479-490 Hector takes leave of his wife, Andromache. A domestic scene.
The great man of war breaking into a broad smile,
his gaze fixed on his son, in silence. Andromache,
pressing close beside him and weeping freely now,
clung to his hand, urged him, called him: "Reckless one,
my Hector-your own fiery courage will destroy you!
Have you no pity for him, our helpless son? Or me,
and the destiny that weighs me down, your widow,
now so soon? Yes, soon they will kill you off,
all the Achaean forces massed for assault, and then,
bereft of you, better for me to sink beneath the earth.
What other warmth, what comfort's left for me,
once you have met your doom? Nothing but torment! 
lines 521-533
And tall Hector nodded, his helmet flashing:
"All this weighs on my mind too, dear woman.
But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy
and the Trojan women trailing their long robes
if I would shrink from battle now, a coward.
Nor does the spirit urge me on that way.
I've learned it all too well. To stand up bravely,
always to fight in the front ranks of Trojan soldiers,
winning my father great glory, glory for myself.
For in my heart and soul I also know this well:
the day will come when sacred Troy must die,
Priam must die and all his people with him,
Priam who hurls the strong ash spear . . .

lines 556-584
      In the same breath, shining Hector reached down
for his son—but the boy recoiled,
cringing against his nurse's full breast,
screaming out at the sight of his own father,
terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest,
the great ridge of the helmet nodding, bristling terror-
so it struck his eyes. And his loving father laughed,
his mother laughed as well, and glorious Hector,
quickly lifting the helmet from his head,
set it down on the ground, fiery in the sunlight,
and raising his son he kissed him, tossed him in his arms,
lifting a prayer to Zeus and the other deathless gods:
"Zeus, all you immortals! Grant this boy, my son,
may be like me, first in glory among the Trojans,
strong and brave like me, and rule all Troy in power
and one day let them say, 'He is a better man than his father!'—
when he comes home from battle bearing the bloody gear
of the mortal enemy he has killed in war—
a joy to his mother's heart."
                                                            So Hector prayed
and placed his son in the arms of his loving wife.
Andromache pressed the child to her scented breast,
smiling through her tears. Her husband noticed,
and filled with pity now, Hector stroked her gently,
trying to reassure her, repeating her name: "Andromache,
dear one, why so desperate? Why so much grief for me?
No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate.
And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it,
neither brave man nor coward, I tell you—
it's born with us the day that we are born.

12. Preeti
Christopher Reid (1949 – )
Untitled Poem
Sparse breaths, then none —
and it was done.
Listening and hugging hard,
between mouthings
of sweet next-to-nothings
into her ear —
pillow-talk-cum-prayer —
I never heard
the precise cadence
into silence
that argued the end.
Yet I knew it had happened.
Ultimate calm.
Gingerly, as if
loth to disturb it,
I released my arm
from its stiff vigil athwart
that embattled heart
and raised and righted myself,
the better to observe it.
Kisses followed,
to mouth, cheeks, eyelids, forehead,
and a rigmarole
of unheard farewell
kept up as far
as the click of the door.
After six months, or more,
I observe it still.
(From the collection, Scattering)

As if she couldn’t bear not to be busy and useful
after her death, she willed her body to medical science.

Today, as a number of times before, I walked
past the institution that took her gift, and thought,

‘That’s where my dead wife lives. I hope they’re treating her kindly

The dark brick, the depthless windows, gave nothing away,
but the place seemed preferable to either Heaven or Hell,

whose multitudes meekly receive whatever the design teams
and PR whizzes of religion have conjured up for them.

My wife is in there, somewhere, doing practical work:
her organs and tissues are educating young doctors

or helping researchers outwit the disease that outwitted her.
So it's a hallowed patch of London for me now.

But it’s not a graveyard, to dawdle and remember and mope in,
and I had work to do, too, in a different part of town.

13. Pamela John
Muhammad Iqbal (1877 – 1938)
Ghazal गेसू- ताबदार को (gesuu-e taabdaar ko) from बाल- जिबरील (Baal-e Jibriil) (The Wing of Gabriel) (1935).
गेसु- ताबदार को और भी ताबदार कर
होश--ख़िरद शिकार कर, क़लब--नज़र शिकार कर !
Make the curly locks even curlier
Hunt down awareness and intellect, hunt down heart and sight!
इशक़ भी हो हिजाब में , हुसन भी हो हिजाब में !
या तो ख़वुद आशकार हो या मुझे आशकार कर !
Passion too might be in the veil, beauty too might be in the veil!
Either yourself become revealed, or reveal me!
तू है मुहीत- बेकिरां , मैं हूं ज़रा-सी आब-जू
या मुझे हम-किनार कर या मुझे बे-किनार कर !
You are a fathomless ocean, I am a tiny water-channel
Either make me a shore-sharer, or make me shoreless!
मैं हूं सदफ़ तो तेरे हाथ मेरे गुहर की आबरू
मैं हूं ख़ज़फ़ तो तू मुझे गौहर- शाहवार कर !
If I am an oyster-shell, then in your hand is the brightness/honour of my pearl
If I am a pottery-shard, then make me a royal pearl!
नग़मह- नौ-बहार अगर मेरे नसीब में हो
इस दम- नीम-सोज़ को ताइरक- बहार कर !
If the melody of the new spring would not be in my destiny
Make this half-burnt breath a small bird of spring!
बाग़- बिहिशत से मुझे हुकम- सफ़र दिया था कयूं ?
कार- जहां दराज़ है , अब मिरा इनतिज़ार कर !
From the garden of Paradise, why did you give me the order to travel?
The work of the world is long — now wait for me!
रोज़- हिसाब जब मिरा पेश हो दफ़तर- `अमल
आप भी शरमसार हो , मुझ को भी शरमसार कर !
On the day of accounts, when my ledger of deeds would be presented
You yourself too must be ashamed — as much as I would be ashamed.
(See http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00urdu/iqbal/gesuetab.html?nagari  where you can choose to view the original in Urdu, Devnagiri, or Roman with diacritics.)
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