A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

There are some tasks which are so difficult that the mere thought of completing them can paralyse. I don’t know whether the difficulty of this particular task has been built up in my mind to it’s incapacitating proportions, or whether the task is indeed very, very difficult.

For as long as I can remember, it seems from Nursery Rhyme days,  I have been a worshipper of Bengali poet and philosopher, winner of The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the inimitable, the wizard of words and sorcerer of ideas, Rabindranath Tagore. I have long admired his poetry, even before I began to understand it, because I could recite it end to end without any idea of what the poetry meant. The words knit into each other so well, the rhythm flows so beautifully, that the poems wield themselves into memory easily and effortlessly. As a child I could, as now, recite his poetry, and more often his songs ( I have a flat line voice which does not lend itself to singing) and be lost in the rhythm and the flow paying no particular attention to the meaning. The words fit into each other in a lilting seamless jigsaw puzzle with such precision that if one was to be removed, a substitute is not possible. This is as true of his poetry as of his prose.

This is not to say that the works themselves were superficial or meaningless. In fact much the opposite. Tagore, above all, was a philosopher. His works major and minor, are all artistic philosophy at its best. This is why translating him is such a behemoth task.

It is a great pity, there is no translation of Tagore into English that I have read that brings me to within a hoi of the original. Dare I say it? Even Tagore’s own English translations fall woefully short of the magic his Bengali works invoke. Even the philosophy behind his works gets only partial justice, let alone the raw poetry and imagery of his Bengali words. There are many who do translate his works, and very skilfully so, but …. but….

As a person who can grow emotional over skilful use of words, and as a person who has always admired the power words have in creating images, I have long wanted to translate Tagore’s “Geetabeetan”, his collection of songs. First I had to mature much to even begin to do justice to the philosophy, and I do not believe I have the depth of understanding even now. I also feel that I do not have the power to create that poetry in English.

I feel, that in order to convey the songs of Tagore to a twenty first century world, I need to be able to transcend the century that has passed since his writing, and yet show the timeless beauty of his poetry. Many songs that he wrote seem to be written specifically for today, and yet there is no way I am able to bring this this to the world. I just don’t have the words. Nor the oomph. I have tried.

I often say to myself that if reincarnation is really a thing, I do not want to be born again. But perhaps I should. Perhaps, if I were born again, and I tried more single mindedly, I could actually translate Tagore into English, and pay due tribute to a human who has brought me overwhelming joy. In the meantime, in this life, I can continue to listen, hum, and sway to his songs, feeling their glory in each cell of my body.

What a pity, only some of the very few Bengali readers of this will understand why I am having such a fan girl moment.

In the meantime here are a few translated lines from Tagore’s own pen, for a small taste of the words that reach deep into the soul, the original of which is one of my favourite songs.

The World today is wild with the delirium of hatred,

the conflicts are cruel and unceasing in anguish,

crooked are its paths, tangled its bonds of greed.

All creatures are crying for a new birth of thine,

O Thou of boundless life,

save them, rouse thine eternal voice of hope,

Rabindranath, by himself

Rabindranath, by himself

Let Love’s lotus with its inexhaustible treasure of honey

open its petals in thy light.

O Serene, O Free,

in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness

wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth.

Thou giver of immortal gifts

give us the power of renunciation

and claim from us our pride.

In the splendour of a new sunrise of wisdom

let the blind gain their sight

and let life come to the souls that are dead.

O Serene, O Free,

in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness

wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth.

Man’s heart is anguished with the fever of unrest,

with the poison of self-seeking,

with a thirst that knows no end.

Countries far and wide flaunt on their foreheads

the blood-red mark of hatred.

Touch them with thy right hand,

make them one in spirit,

bring harmony into their life,

bring rhythm of beauty.

O Serene, O Free,

in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness

wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth.

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Comments on: "Translations and trans life" (2)

  1. That guy knew a thing or three about life, I tell ya!

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