There is always a debate as to which is the language that is most suited for poetry. It is easily argued that French and Italian lend themselves most to writing poems easily since they are abundant with vowel sounds. This makes French and Italian poetry sound musical, as even the harshest objects are heard as lush sounds. Anyone who has heard an aria before an operatic scene of death can attest to this. Apart from historical tradition, this explains to some extent that most operas, even those written by German composers, are in Italian or French. On the other hand, the consonants that seem to be so derided give German poetry a certain weight, a certain intellectual air that has a different sort of beauty. Last week after listening to one of the most famous bass-baritones Thomas Quasthoff singing Schumann and Brahms lieder at the UMS, I want to totally revise the common notion that German cannot be the language of love.

Speaking in very traditional notions, despite Shakespeare and the Romantic poets, English poetry doesn't quite cut it as the language of love. Russian stakes a strong claim to being the sort of language that can be a strong contender. Word order is not strict and there are tons of vowel sounds. Apparently, it emerged as a winner at UN conference as 'the' language of love. Pushkin has everyone beat, so the story goes.

Closer to home and what I know - as any Indian is familiar - Urdu has the finest tradition of love poetry, of the sort that intoxicates and enthralls by its very beauty that the love object of those verses is a mere accessory. The poetry and its beauty is an end in itself. Urdu is a mish-mash of Hindi and Persian. It's remarkable that a language that arose from military camps in the Indian sub-continent was elevated enough to produce such wonderful poetry. Of course, any Persian worth his salt is going to argue that all the beauty comes from the Persian and the harsh consonants so to speak are all from the Hindi.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, poetry translated in any language would be just as sweet. Thanks to Mani for providing this gem from Muslih-ud-Din Mushrif ibn-Abdullah Shirazi or Saadi. A case in point that poetry is beautiful, even though it may be lost in translation to some extent.

هزار جهد بکردم که سر عشق بپوشم
نبود بر سر آتش میسرم که نجوشم

به هوش بودم از اول که دل به کس نسپارم
شمایل تو بدیدم نه صبر ماند و نه هوشم

حکایتی ز دهانت به گوش جان من آمد
دگر نصیحت مردم حکایتست به گوشم

مگر تو روی بپوشی و فتنه بازنشانی
که من قرار ندارم که دیده از تو بپوشم

من رمیده دل آن به که در سماع نیایم
که گر به پای درآیم به دربرند به دوشم

بیا به صلح من امروز در کنار من امشب
که دیده خواب نکردست از انتظار تو دوشم

مرا به هیچ بدادی و من هنوز بر آنم
که از وجود تو مویی به عالمی نفروشم

به زخم خورده حکایت کنم ز دست جراحت
که تندرست ملامت کند چو من بخروشم

مرا مگوی که سعدی طریق عشق رها کن
سخن چه فایده گفتن چو پند می‌ننیوشم

به راه بادیه رفتن به از نشستن باطل
و گر مراد نیابم به قدر وسع بکوشم

I made a few edits to Mani K's translation.

I made every effort to keep the secret of my love disguised.
However, it was impossible for me to not come to a boil from the fire.
I was cautious from the beginning not to fall in love with anyone.
When I saw you I lost both my patience and my caution.
I heard a story once about your mouth with the ears of my heart.
Since then people’s advice is just a story to my ears.
Only if you avoid me can this chaos settle down;
Since I cannot keep my calm and turn my eyes from you.
With such an untamed heart, it is better for me not to enter any dance ceremony.
If I enter on foot, people will be carrying me out on their shoulders.
Come in peace with me today and to my side tonight.
I didn't sleep last night in the hope of seeing you.
You sold me for nothing and I am still not willing to exchange a lock of your hair for the whole world.
I complain only to the injured about my wound; since the healthy will only blame me as I cry.
Don’t tell me: “Saadi, avoid the path of love”.
There is no point in telling since I am not listening to your advice.
Wandering off to the desert is better than sitting vainly; and if I don’t find my wish, I will try as hard as I can.

Kipling: You musn't swim till you're six weeks old

Kipling who was the first Indian-born (he was born in Mumbai) and the first writer in English to win the Nobel Prize in Literature presents somewhat of a difficulty in warming up to him. As seen from the eyes of someone 100 years later, his politics were all wrong and his advocacy of British imperialism makes one squirm. It's not hard to see why Orwell (one of my heroes and another Indian-born writer) was early to criticize Kipling for this. Yet, it would take the most churlish among us to not praise Kipling for creating two of the most beloved fictional Indian characters - Mowgli and Kim. And then there is of course Gunga Din. So, while Kipling might have been quite out of step with the winds of change that would set the 20th century in motion - to which someone like Orwell was more attuned to - there is no mistaking his genuine fondness for India and its people.

The Jungle Book is a world masterpiece and Kipling would have deserved all the fame just for that book. All poetry need not be weighty - it can be light and funny, and yet conceal a world of meaning.

Untitled [You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old]
by Rudyard Kipling

You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old,
Or your head will be sunk by your heels;
And summer gales and Killer Whales
Are bad for baby seals.
Are bad for baby seals, dear rat,
As bad as bad can be.
But splash and grow strong,
And you can't be wrong,
Child of the Open Sea!

Poetry - I too dislike it

Wandering around last evening I ended up the Hatcher Graduate library and in one of the display windows outside the main checkout counter they had this excerpt from Marianne Moore:

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.

It's part essay on poetry and part diatribe against mostly bad poetry. Making an excellent observation midway into the poem, " ... we do not admire what we cannot understand..."

Full text of poem

In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Interesting article in the Michigan Record on Poet Laureates at Michigan.

Previous posts in celebration of National Poetry Month:
E.E. Cummings
Mike Jarman
Neruda and Troy Jollimore

E.E. Cummings - Thank you God for most this amazing day

Of course, any poem is always yours(the readers) to keep, to have and to hold in way that you feel best. Though it's sometimes useful to know how the poet may have read it. A rare clip of
E.E. Cummings reading the poem below. Of all poets, it's perhaps most useful to have him read his poems since they can be read in so many different ways. Much has been made of his interesting word order and typography, but gimmicks apart he was the 'real deal' as the poem (Thanks J) below amply displays.

Isn't the answer to everything in life always - yes? For those seeking literary echoes: Joyce's magisterial chronicle of a single day in Dublin (Ulysses) ends with 'yes'.

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

Mike Jarman's Dispatches from Devereux

Another poem shamelessly filched from If you are interested in poetry on a daily basis, then I highly recommend signing up for their Poem-A-Day list. They have a good mix of old and new and I've discovered some great work through it. A fine example is today's poem by Mark Jarman. It's absolutely sublime - of herons, egrets, seine nets, the waves. Perhaps alluding to the wetness of burning desire.

Dispatch from Devereux Slough
Fall, 2008
The gulls have no idea.
The distant bark of sea lions gives nothing away.
The white-tailed kite flutters and hunts.
The pelicans perform their sloppy angling.
The ironbark eucalyptus dwells in ignorance and beauty.
And the night herons brood in their heronry like yoga masters, each balanced on a twig.
The world has changed. The news will take some time to get here.
3am. What a time of day! Anyone who has been awake at 3am knows what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant when he wrote, "In the dark night of the soul, it's always 3am, day after day."
In one of the poems called Shorebreak, 3am he writes,
Awake, alone, at the right hour to hear it,
That hush, for all the sleeplessness behind it,
Can lead one, walking wounded, back to sleep.
See the full text of Dispatches from Devereux Slough. It's full of wonderful lines and images, including this last one in the series:

When we are reunited after death,
The owls will call among the eucalyptus,
The white tailed kite will arc across the mesa,
And sunset cast orange light from the Pacific
Against the golden bush and eucalyptus
Where flowers and fruit and seeds appear all seasons
And our paired silhouettes are waiting for us.

Rilke: Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen - I live my life in ever-widening circles

Thanks to J. who introduced me to Rainier Maria Rilke's poetry. This is the one that touched me the most. The poet trying to grow. Poetic echo of the day - lines from Robert Browning's Andrea Del Sarto:

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp.
Or what's a heaven for?

Note: On the issue of copyright, I need to find poets who died before 1935.

First the original auf Deutsch and an English translation.

Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen

Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dinge ziehn.
Ich werde den letzten vielleicht nicht vollbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß noch nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

And here is my attempt at a translation:

I live my life in ever-widening circles

I live my life in ever-widening circles
That draw themselves over all things
I may not perhaps complete the last of these things
but I want to make an attempt

I circle around God, around the most ancient tower,
And I circle for a thousand years
And yet I still don't know: Am I a falcon? a storm?
Or a much larger song.