Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Picked up a beautiful little book the other day: Songs of Kabir, Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra with a preface by Wendy Doniger.  I bought it for my daughter, who dances and teaches classical Indian Dance but who does not have any real background in Indian Culture. We wound up reading it aloud yesterday.  The brief discussion of nir-guna and guna, which my daughter knows through chance references in dances about various deities and their avatars, was illuminating.

I highly recommend it. Doniger's intro is worth it, alone, but the poems, in this punchy translation, are also wonderful.

Here's one poem, but really they were all great:

O pundit, your hairsplitting's
So much bullshit. I'm surprised
You still get away with it.

If parroting the name
Of Rama brought salvation,
Then saying sugarcane
Should sweeten the mouth,
Saying fire burn the feet,
Saying water slake thirst,
And saying food
Would be as good as a belch.

If saying Money made everyone rich,
There'd be no beggars it he streets.

My back is turned on the world
You hear me singing of Rama and you smile.
One day, Kabir says,
All bundled up,
You'll be delivered to Deathville. (KG179)

Here's another

Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Speech diminishes you.
Speak with a wise man, there'll be
Much to learn; speak with a fool,
All you get is prattle.
Strike a half-empty pot, and it'll make
A loud sound; strike one that is full,
Says Kabir, and hear the silence.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sex and Death

I just found out that someone whose spouse I know died, a few months ago.  I didn't hear of the death and found out about it in a roundabout way.  Looking for a poem to send her I stumbled on this one and was on the verge of writing it out when I realized that it was actually about sex. So I'm not sending it to her, although I think she'd enjoy it on both levels.  Oh, how I love John Donne!

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No;

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined
That our selves know not what it is,
Inte -assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin comapasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th'other do.

And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must run
Like th'other foot, obliquely run
They firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
--John Donne (1572-1631)

From a lovely collection called Enduring Ties, Poems of Family and Relationships, Edited by Grant Hardy.