Sunday, August 05, 2012

Your Sunday Poem

This by Tukaram (c1608-1649), who lived in India and was "the most influential figure in the development of Marathi literature.)  From "Love Poems from God," edited by Daniel Ladinsky.

My Lucky Rock

I said to a squirrel, "What is that you re carrying?"
                  and he said,

     "It is my lucky rock, isn't it pretty?"
        I held it and said, "Indeed."

                 I said to God,

             "What is this earth?"

    And He said, "It is my lucky rock;
              isn't it wonderous?"

                   Yes, indeed.


Alon Perlman said...

Fallen of fallen, thrice fallen am I; but do Thou raise me by Thy power. I have neither purity of heart, nor a faith firmly set at Thy feet : I am created out of sin. How often shall I repeat it ? says Tuka. ' And listen yet again to the piercing cry : ' How can I be saved ? Tell me O ye saints,
and pacify my mind. How shall the sum of my past perish ?
I know not the secret, and hence I despair. How can I make myself pure? I weigh this thought continually day and night;
I am disquieted.
Tuka says, I have no strength of my own, to bring me to this final repose.

Translated by Fraser, Around 1912.

From the further found Archives of “Lost in Translation”.
For a second there, I tried to reconcile the view with that of the Bay in front of the sand spit dunes. Then the relative scale of Soda Lake and the mountains let me recognize Carrizo plains.
Size matters.
I held it betwixt thumb and index finger, its surface smooth and rolling like a marble.
It is my lucky earth, indeed.

Having looked up Tuka translated by Ladinsky again, I have to say, that though he nails the underlying ironic humor, perhaps more so than his predecessors, his translations have to stand on their own as re-creations for a recently modern age.
As timeless as Tukka’s Abhangs should be, their flavor is (probably) found in the earlier translations and more in context of the devotional development of Indian religious/philosophical thought. And though we moderns are attracted to the individualistic nature of the godhood expressed, that Indian religious thought is anchored in a devotional concept of an external deity (and coexisting pantheon of deities). A more paradoxical version of truth than “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

So like all great works and great translations, it ends up being a different “It means what you want it to mean”.

Anonymous said...

Your copy & paste skills are dazzling, Alon, but you still manage to miss the point of the poem entirely: God is in The Rock.

Churadogs said...

Ladinsky's translations throughout this volume are extremely modern, vernacular, he even uses the word "atom bomb," the concept of which surely didn't exist in anyone's 16th century mind. Every translation in every age is always stuck with words, whose meanings are constantly morphing with society's changing "realities." Historians constantly tell us that we cannot possibly understand the mind, mind-set of the past. We know more history than they did, for one and our reality is utterly different. That makes both writing history and biography a nearly impossible task and makes translating poetry/literature truly an ever-changing art form.

Alon Perlman said...

I’m not sure if I can agree with the historians. I think the conventions of literary faithfulness to source in translation have changed. In some ways the mind set is the one thing that hasn’t changed. Tuka was an ascetic, a rejecter of worldly goods, so that may be his appeal to us currently. A quick and instantly gratifying escape from materialism. A temporary attainment of a many centuries elusive peace of mind.
I agree that our data set is larger and includes the previous “written history”, but the approach we take to this data has not changed all that much.
Some of what appeals to us in tuka is the art. So there is room for ambiguity. What Archie Bunker called “the Intangerine”. I didn’t find this poem outside of Ladinsky’s translation, yet.

Many of Tukas poems were translated. I’d like to find the Marathi source and see how google translate handles it. I’m not rejecting Ladinsky’s gift (Thank you for delivering it), just curious about the flavor of the raw original.
By sheer coincidence this is the Anniversary that used to mark a boundary between ages- the Hiroshima anniversary is 67 years ago today.
Though “annihilating wind” is not imagery the Ancients lacked. In some ways it is the small changes of the last 10 years more than the 30 or 60 preceding that I find disturbing. How we communicate affects how we think. How fast we communicate affects how we communicate. And therefore how we think.
but we will take entrenched prejudices into the new frontier with us again, even more so when no one has time to read the underlying codex.
Then there is the other casualty of telegraphic speed –“Content” “Data Package size” (see next post)
Good and bad cooks
Wheat is the same in kind, but bad cooks spoil it. To know the secret of an art is the great thing, be it much or little, the secret of what to do and where to do it. By honest toil different kinds of grain may be made into different dainties. Tuka says, It is skill that is valuable; words are false and worthless.

Alon Perlman said...

From the series “Mental Prestidigitations for the Digital age”.

The Source

As dropped and scattered Squirrel nuts, these Haiku thoughts spread out.
Faster than a hundred hundred horses they thunder down the information highway.
Like birds in twilit forest they twitter past from cell to shaded cell.

Twitter version 140 characters
As fallen Squirrel nuts Haiku thoughts spread out. Faster than 10,000 horses thundering down the highway. Like angry birds twittering past.

Twitter, re-tweetable version 120 characters
As falling nuts Haiku thoughts spread out. Faster than 10,000 horses running down the road. Like birds twittering past.

Traditional Haiku form

Chestnuts fall far
Send a message by horse, fast!
The flock is restless

Alternate 2 in Traditional Haiku form

Scattered chestnuts-
Arrowhead cleaves through candle flame
First sparrows sing

Anonymous said...

But what good is 10,000 words if you don't UNDERSTAND a single word the poet wrote -- and don't live by his words?

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Maybe they were the wrong words for your own life? The poet didn't expect people to live by his words? Are you being anxious here anon 6:07PM for some reason?

Churadogs said...

Alon, if you've read Paul Fussel's book on WWI and modern meaning or Geoff Dyer's "The Missing of the Somme," it's clear that the world "broke" with WWI and it became impossible for anyone afterward to go back, hence the break between pre-modern and the modern world. Such breaks come every so often and literally transform our reality and there is no way to put ourselves back into a pre-modern mind. Can't be done because our total frame of reference has been changed.

Anon 6:07. There's an art/technique to reading/understand poetry and literature (it's a specialized "language") that can be learned (decoded) like in a literature class. Some poems are more symbolically dense than others. (T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" comes with footnotes, for crying out loud and it sure helps to have a great teacher walk you through the richness of that poem.)

Anonymous said...

Those who know what poetry is will read the poem carefully, savor every word written, and appreciate the spirit of the words.

They don't produce walls of irrelevant text and pontificate to themselves.

Alon Perlman said...

I haven’t, learn something every day. He was also a poetry critic. And had some other important observations. And he was talking (1975) about a meme that was already identified during the war, and was already cynically referred to before WWI was over "This war, like the next war, is a war to end war."[
“The Great War introduced those themes to Western culture, and therefore it was an immense intellectual and cultural and social shock”. (my bolding)
The meme is truly powerful but it is ultimately a cultural agreement and can fade. I actually agree with the loss of frame of reference and you did not of course hearken to an “age of innocence”.
That world war one therefore mitigated the cultural impact of the WWII experience?
WW2 ? It was not fought in the pastures of Europe but in peoples back and front yards.
For a sub-cultural example “The Titanic” (which I think you noted somewhere? No… a “Titanic” search did not return that comment) is a movie that was possible in its form only in the late 1990’s.
The time scales plate on my time machine has no special markings for the WW 1 period (I haven’t built it yet, a future me let me see the working unit on his test run. I would had done it differently, but oh well, I know better than to argue with myself)

Really the perspective that changes can occur that alter the human experience of the human condition, then become (somewhat) permanently embedded in the culture (until supplanted by the latest goo gah) is not something that I can argue against. But these aren’t absolute. Not even for the collective frame of reference and certainly not for the individual. I for one forgot them.

Anonymous said...

None of that has anything to do with "My Lucky Rock."

Sewertoons AKA Lynette Tornatzky said...

Thanks for the interesting words Ann and Alon, fascinating reading!

Anonymous said...

Interesting only as further proof that prolonged bouts of pedantry, pseudo intellectualism and mental masturbation have failed to ease the pain of those permanently cracked individuals who have slipped through the holes in the mental health safety net. Sad for everyone else really.

Churadogs said...

Alon: Fusell would argue that the break came because the language no longer worked to describe the new reality of the pointless mechanized mass slaughter that the war had become. There was simply no way to encompass that reality using Edwardian era definitions. In short, language failed and the culture was faced with a new reality and no way to describe it or even assign it new meaning. And when the words came, they were consistently ironic. Which is the one thing that defines the modern: irony.

Pre WWI it was perfectly possible to speak seriously of a "heroic" death in battle, ("dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"). In the post WWI modern era, dead is dead and the term "hero" was followed (sotto voce) with a muttered, "bloody fool!"

I would further argue that WWI forced a reality shift in Western consciousness (and language)that made the bombing of London, Berlin, Dresden, Hiroshima, the slaughters of Stalingrad, and the Holocaust possible (and acceptable.) After all, when "honor" is a joke, and dead is dead, and the meaning of war is redefined as endless mechanized mass slaughter more the merrier, then what you end up with is an issue of degree, not of kind.