Kabir’s greatness as poet-saint or saint-poet is uparalleled in the whole range of Hindi literature. In the history of Hindi literature of some 1200 years no other poet, excepting Tulsidas, equals the genius of Kabir non does equal the greatness of Kabir. For Hindus he is a vaishnav and for Muslims he is a pir (Muslim Saint). The followers Kabir regared him as an incarnation of divinity. Modern nationalists regard him the pioneer of Hindu Muslim unity. For neo-vedantists he is a philanthropist. For progressive thinkers Kabir is a social reformer. He is a heretic, and at the same time, a liberal thinker. In terms of religious philosophy he is a monotheist the devotee of the unconditioned or the absolute. In leading a domestic life he was a yogi, and, in his vocation of weaving he was a philosopher who, like words worth’s skylark, was true to the kindred points of heaven and home. Western thinkers call him an Indian Martin Luther. In his multisided genius kabir is uparalleled.
In taking up the work of transversion of Kabir’s Dohas (Hindi Couplets) from the sakhi I was primarily inspired by Fitzgerald’s work Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I felt oriental by Fitzgerald’s work Rubaiyat of omar Khayyam. I felt oriental wisdom should be made available to English speaking readers who want to enjoy verse with the message of kabir. When the work was midway I came across the Gita’s blank verse translatin by Sir Edwin Arhold, and, uch later, I came across the free verse translation of Kabir’s one hundred poems (songs) by Rabindranath Tagore.
Some three years ago when I made my initial attempt at rendering a kabir couplet into an English iambic pentameter couplet I found the task unmanageable. Then I realized that a few couplets could be transverse into an English iambic pentameter couplet but other seemed totally unmanageable. I made my next attempt with an cotosyllabic line. I felt the task was manageable. Thus the stanza form adopted is of four lines second line rhyming with the forth line and each line having four iambic feet. There are some exceptions when the line is not iambic but becomes trochaic. In this respect, my doctoral studies on Robert frost helped me a lot. Frost in thery advocated and in his practice demonstrated that loose iambic lines have colloquial rhythm. Strict iambic becomes a sing song which may be metrically correct but its touch with speech is lost. Kabir’s couplets in the sakhi have a colloquial rhythm. In regards to the stanza form, I verified from the practice of other poets. I found that keats in his “La Belle dame Sans Merci” has similar form except that the last line is only of four syllables. Robert frost in “Record stride” is of the same pattern:
I touch my tongue to the shoes now
And unless my sense is at fault
On one I can taste Atlantic
On the other Pacific, salt
In William Butler yeat’s poem “The Fiddler of Dooney” the same kind of stanza is used with extra unstressed syllable at the end of the first and third lines:
When I play my fiddle at Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea,
My cousin is priest at Kilvarnet,
My Brother in Mocharabiee.
I felt a couplet of kabir finds its equivalent in the Stanza-form adopted here.
In regard to rhyme as well the practice of English and American poets was kept in mind. In many stanzas the rhyme words are not phonetically exact. This kind of variation is justified by such critical terms as eye rhyme slant rhyme and so no.
It has to be frankly acknowledged that all the qualities of the original cannot
be transverse. Alliteration, assonance, and pun in the original become the first
casualties in translation. Meaing has been the main consideration so the best
possible attempt is made to keep the meaning faithfully conveyed. A limited
free play becomes unavoidable. In this connection, it is pertinent to quote
Prakash Chander, the translator of flute and Bugle. The difficulty of rendering
Urdu into English is sought usually to be neutralized by limited free play with
words and meanings even while staying anchored to the sense of original (Underlines
The early twentieth century literary criticism of Hindi Literature was influenced by English literary criticism. Ram Chandra Shukla was a powerfully influential critic who opined that Kabir was a Social reformer and not a poet (I remember questions in examination paper were set to prove that Kabir was a Social reformer and not a poet). At the beginning of the twentieth century I feel a great harm was done to Kabir. The powerful and influential critic Ram Chandra Shukla seems to have prejudiced readers to read Kabir in the way he liked. In order to set the things in proper perspective I.A Richards is being quoted:
Any art which is infective, as he uses that word is pure art as opposed to modern or adulterated art but in deciding the full value of any work of art we have to consider the nature of the experience communicated. The value of art contents is judged, according to Tolstoy, by the religious consciousness of the age. For Tolstoy the religious consciousness is the higher comprehensions of the meaning of life, and this according to him, the universal union of men with God and with another culture, religion, instruction in some special senses, softening of the passions and the furtherance of good causes may be directly concerned in our judgements of the poetic ‘poetic’ becomes a useless sound… the third pont arises with regard to Dr. Bradley’s position, that the consideration of ulterior ends, whether by the poet in the act of composing, or by the reader in the act of experiencing tends to lower poetic value. Here all depends upon which are the ulterior ends in question and what the kind of poetry.
It will not be denied that for some kinds of poetry the intrusion of certain ulterior ends may, and often does, lower their value but there seem plainly to be other kinds of poetry in which its value as poetry definitely and directly depends upon the ulterior ends involved. Consider the psalam, Isaiah, the New Testament, Dante, the pilgrim’s progress, Rabelais, any really universal satire, Swift, Voltaire, Byron.
In all these cases the consideration of ulterior ends has been certainly essential to the act of composing. That needs no arguing but equally this consideration of the ulterior ends involved is inevitable to the reader there is a kind of poetry into the judgments of which ulterior ends directly and essentially enter a kind part of whose value is directly derivable from the value of the ends with which it is associated the separation of poetic experience from its place in life and its ulterior worths, involves a definite lop-sided-ness, narrowness, and its incompleteness in divide a reader into so many men an aesthetic man, an intellectual man, and so on. It cannot be done. In any genuine experience all these elements inevitably enter.
In the foregoing quotation, I.A. Richards seems to have concluded the controversy between ‘poesie pure’ and poetry that instructs and delights. In the present book, the basis of selection of couplets of the sakhi for transcreation rests on Kabir’s poetic merits. Poetry must stand on its own feet. Must have its permanence against the fleeting and the transitorys. The question of permanence in literature is better understood by, what Matthew Arnold called, the real estimate vis-à-vis the personal estimate. The real estimate necessarily leads to the consideration of Kabir as poet.
The first and foremost basis of selection of Dohas (Hindi couplets) from the Sakhi is Kabir’s proverbial wisdom. (Each couplet of Kabir is independent in meaning with a few exceptions where in one couplet questions are put forth and in succeeding couplet answers are given). Kabir gave them the name the witness. Kabir’s couples imply what in the western literature is called ‘the didactic verses’ to ‘the moral verses’ kabir meant them the products of his own experience (much like the ‘essai’ concept of Montaigne). Didactic instructive which is to impart instruction, advice, exhortation or some doctrine of philosophy (the ulterior ends in the quotation from I.A. Richards). The examples of the Sanskrit poet Bharthari is a glaring example. Before Kabir, the Gita is didactic. Some poets, such as, Maluk Das, Dadu Dayal, Raidas and Rahim are didactic poets.
Rights from the primary to the graduate level, wherever Kabir’s poetry (mostly from the Sakhi) is prescribed for reading, a number of Kabir’s verses have become household quotes. Even a common man is supposed to know couplets which in Trans creation are.
The company of the righteous
Others sorrows doth mitigate
While company of the unrighteous
Is grief for all the triad hours eight?
No meditation equals truth,
Equal to falsehood there’s no sin;
In whoever’s heart lies the truth,
Know it’s that heart where god dwells in.
Do today what thou’lt tomorrow,
Do just now what thou’lt today,
When wilt thou do many a task?
In a moment Deluge will sway.
The second consideration for selection of Dahos rests on Kabir’s wonderful power of analogy finding in its multiple forms. This analogy finding trait, first of all, comes to light in the use of similes. For Kabir, a righteous man is like a winnowing basket, the victim of ill company is like banana when briar’s beside, uncountable are desires like tree-leaves and sand-grains in the Ganges, like the cat that watches the rat so Death waits on man to lay seize and, like the crane that seems meditate but pounces on fish in wisdom immersed. In one of the couplets Kabir has used a metaphor which is further illustrated by a simile.
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