Rabindranath’s crisp poems
Subrata Kumar Das
People, who have ever got the fortune to get the book called Fireflies by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) in hand, will surely cherish the memory for the epigrammatic lines and the artworks inserted in that anthology. The beauty of the lines compiled there, furthered by the illustrations of Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965), the Ukrainian-born artist based in the United States, is no doubt a good memory that Bangla language readers never got to enjoy.
Fireflies was first published by the Macmillan Company. Let us remember that Macmillan was one of the first ones who brought the English books by the first Non-European Nobel laureate in England in cheaper editions, after India Society. The company’s New York branch published Firefliesin 1928 with Artzybasheff’s worthy works. The small note given by the author printed at the beginning reads: ‘Fireflies had their origin in China and Japan where thoughts were very often claimed from me in my hand-writing on fans and pieces of silk’. The book comprises of 256 reader-friendly crisp epigrams and short verses. The book contains brevity and wisdom of height that please the readers.
The book opens with the aphoristic lines:
My fancies are fireflies, –
Specks of living light
twinkling in the dark.
If we leaf through the book it will give us many such attractive pieces that can fill the reader’s mind with peach and happiness. Let us take a look at some of them:
Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
and yet give you illuminated freedom.
In love I pay my endless debt to thee
for what thou art.
The flowers which is single
need not envy the thorns
that are numerous.
Similar epigrams, many of which are didactic too, enrich the pages of the book with the illustrations by Artzybasheff saying nothing and as well as many things in the brush of the reputed artist.
It may be noted that a similar production in Bangla was first from the poet’s pen in 1926. In that book called Lekhon, the poet gave a long introduction explaining the context of writing such verses. Lekhon contained 189 small pieces. In the Rabindra-Rachanavali(Works of Rabindranath Tagore), it has been annotated that Rabindranath was habituated to write similar small poems from much earlier. True
that, during his China and 5-time Japan visits, he had to fulfill the requests of the visitors. Same sort of small poems full of brevity could be found in Rabindranath’s earlier book of epigrams entitled Stray Birdstoo. Published by Macmillan, New
York in the year 1916 with a frontispiece by Willy Pogany (1882-1955), the Hungarian-born artist, Stray Birds drew the attention of many from home and abroad.
This small anthology was dedicated to T Hara of Yokohama. Having a total of 326 epigrams the book begins with:
Stray birds of summer come to my window to sing and fly away
And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a
I am sure the reader will enjoy going through many of the verses given there. Some of them are:
If you shed tears when you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. (6)
What you are you do not see, what you see is your shadow. (18)
The dry river-bed finds no thanks for its past. (34)
We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us. (75)
The prose fragments provide us with poetic fullness which established Rabindranath as a highly imaginative creator. The last one of Stray Birdsreads:
Let this be my last word, that I trust in thy love.
Let us not forget that before that there had been Konikatoo in 1899. Though not that much like aphoristic in nature, the pieces of Konikahad the features that we find in the later poems too.
How nice to know that Rabindranath has some more anthologies of short poems to his credit. With the title Sphulingothose poems of similar features were collected in 1946, after the death of the great maestro. Three Sphulingobooks have been incorporated in three volumes of Rabindra-Rachanavali. I am sure the Sphulingo poems in Bangla and English could be a favourite read for the young people too.
Now a piece of information for the interested ones. An English translation of the witty and tiny Rabindra poems was published from the Angel Books of London under the title Rabindranath Tagore, Particles, Jottings, Sparks, the Collected Brief Poems. The translation of William Radice, the renowned Rabindra researcher has added a new dimension in the study of Rabindranath as his brief poems are mostly ignored. Let us cite some poems from Radice’s translation?
জাল কহে, পঙ আমি উঠাব না আর।
জেলে কহে, মাছ তবে পাওয়া হবে ভার। (ভালো মন)
Says the net, ‘I’m not lifting mud any longer!’
‘Then you won’t,’ says the fisherman, ‘catch fish either.’ (Good and Bad)
উত্তম নিশ্চিন্তে চলে অধমের সাথে ,
তিনিই মধ্যম যিনি চলেন তফাতে। (মাঝারির সতর্কতা)
The finest are happy to walk with the lowly,
Those in between are not so friendly. (Prudent Mediocrity)
I am optimistic that an illustrious colourful edition of the crisp poems of Rabindranath could make them a more attractive, more joyous and more soothing read to our readers.