Five Poems

01 October 2013
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ABOUT THE POEMS A leading light of the so-called “Hungry Generation” that remade Bengali poetry in the 1960s and 1970s, Shakti Chattopadhyay produced some of the most striking images and lyric phrases of modern Bengali verse. In poems like ‘Jete pari kintu keno jabo’  (translated here as ‘I Could Go, But Why Should I?’ ) and ‘Hemanter aranye ami postman dekhecchi’ (‘I have seen a postman in an autumn forest’), Chattopadhyay’s lyric sensibility offers a resounding example of how poetry makes meaning in a manner that is elliptical, ambiguous, autonomous—and, from the evidence of these poems, contagious. (Consider, for instance, the perfection of how earth, sky and human subject are all suddenly brought together in the opening of his poem ‘The Donkey and The Moon’, in Aditi Nath Sarkar’s 1974 translation: “Once I had only to lift my eyes/ To see Donkey and Moon go walking/ Silently through the woods/ Neither even/ Turning to see the other.”)

For these new translations of some of Chattopadhyay’s best-known poems, the prolific translator of modern Bengali literature Arunava Sinha says, “Shakti Chattopadhyay is a poet whom every generation can discover afresh to their delight. And his poetry is luminous in the language of every generation.”

I Could Go, But Why Should I?

I think it best to turn around

My hands smeared so black

For so long

Never thought of you, as yours

When I stand by the ravine at night

The moon calls to me, come

When I stand by the Ganga, asleep

The pyre calls to me, come

I could go

I could go either way

But why should I?

I shall kiss my child’s face

I’ll go

But not just yet

Not alone, unseasonably

Get Me Flowers From The Tree Now

Get me flowers from the tree now

Get me all the flowers right now

All of them will fall to earth at dusk

I will not be here either at dusk

I will go away somewhere at dusk

I will never stay here at dusk

Get me flowers from the tree now

Love me close so you can be free now

The Key

Even now I have it with me

Your favourite key, which you lost

How do you unlock your trunk now?

Is the mole still on your chin?

Will you visit a new land, my heart?

I had to write to you suddenly

But your key is very safe with me

Though only now have I found the time

Write me if you wish to have it back

Hiding in irrelevant memories

I see your face, bright with tears

Write me if you wish to have it back

Try Just Once

Try just once to love

You’ll see rocks tumbling from the breast of the fish in the river

Rocks rocks rocks and the river and ocean water

Blue rocks turning red, red rocks, blue

Try just once to love

It’s good to have a few rocks in your heart—they echo sounds

When every walking trail is treacherous, I can arrange the rocks one after another

And go all the way to the distant door of autumn’s pale stars for a look

At the naked use of poetry, of waves, of Kumortuli’s idols in gaudy, sequined, embroidered costumes.

It’s good to have a few rocks in your heart

There’s no such thing as a letterbox—leaving it in the cracks in the rocks is good enough

The heart does want to build a home sometimes.

The rocks in the breast of the fish are slowly occupying our hearts

We need it all. We shall build houses—erect a permanent pillar to civilisation.

The silver fish left, shedding rocks

Try just once to love.

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Let me visit the garden

Where dead flowers lie

I’ll pick them

It’s someone else’s fault, not hers

When they fell

She wasn’t there

Someone else is to blame

Let me see, if I can

Go tomorrow too

Dead flowers, I’ll pick you

Shakti Chattopadhyay (1933-1995) was the foremost modern Bengali poet of the second half of the twentieth century.

Keywords: Bengali translation modern Indian poetry
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