Translations from Marathi

(pdf) — Please read the PDF booklet for a “finished” version of the translations. Or you can follow the blog pages linked below for a more organic though somewhat meandering development and discussion of the translations.

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This series of translations started quite serendipitously. I found an old book of Marathi songs and, leafing through it, came upon the Kokila song replete with tropical imagery and culture. I wondered whether its romanticism could be expressed in English.

Knowing that human relationships, emotions, and experiences are universal, by going deep into them, the appropriate expression can be found in another tongue and cultural context. With this conviction began the search for an effective expression in English of diverse Marathi poems and songs.

In the Kokila song, the cycle of the seasons is personified as a king, love is likened to blossoming flowers, and the bumble bee is invoked for its attraction to honey. But when it came to a bird of life that picks pearls from a stream, I had to ask a few friends, and learnt from them of the legendary royal swan whose diet is a harvest of pearls.

Thus the series of translations started to get shared in a small circle of friends under the subject “Something Romantic”. As some spiritual poems were attempted, “Something Deep” was added to the subject. I am indebted to the encouragement, suggestions, and improvements given in that circle.

For the Kokila poem, and subsequently for the others as well, first a literal translation was made as close as possible to the original. It was generally not satisfying since it carried neither the spirit nor the style of the original, and also some of the images made no sense in a literal translation, such as the pearl-eating bird and, in another poem, the burdened partridge. But the literal translation did give an unbiased starting point to trans¬create the poem. It led to an interpretation that was close to the original in imagery and style, but also accessible in English. Sometimes this already yielded the apt expression. But in most cases, another version would emerge through what can be called as the process of “the poem relaxing into English” through successive refinements.

Song selection was quite unstructured right from the first Kokila song. Friends pointed out websites that have the lyrics of various Marathi songs and suggested some of them. Two are from my mother’s poetry. As it happened, romantic or nature poems alternated with spiritual ones – until the last one which I chose somewhat deliberately for the deep collection.

The chosen poems are beautiful in the original, and have an unmixed theme and sense, but present some fundamental difficulties for translation. The difficulties could be of imagery or style or rhythm or the shade of emotion or the depth of experience alien to a non-Marathi, or at any rate, a non-Indian person.

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The preceding part of the preface was written after twelve translations were completed. I thought the exercise was over, having found the method of translation and having applied it to a fairly diverse set of poems.

But the pleasure I got from translating and then sharing the results led me to more translations, and also to a deeper connection and understanding of the Marathi culture and ethos.

Here is a sampling of a few memorable lines in this collection.

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A glimmering stream below
A swaying branch above
A heart on homing wings
A blossom of tender love

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The secret urge in things
With a rapture is filled

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The memory of
Our song so soft
Is humming still …

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Walk with me won’t you talk with me
Stand with me won’t you hold me close

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Measuring less than measurement
Tuka’s enormity is the firmament

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With a new fragrance
the night mesmerizes

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Follow the drift of a blissful stream
Into the heart of a lovely dream

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Meek and nameless, incognito he roams

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Hum in my ear, O hummingbird,
The sweetness heard of the Lord of my soul

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Won’t the bud of your lips petal into a rose

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This world is of joy, this world is of pain
This world has a boon, this world has a bane

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It’s him I see everywhere. He am I. He am I.
Everywhere him, it’s only him I hear

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I wish you the same pleasure in reading these as I received in translating, and that a window opens for you on the Marathi world.

  • The following blog pages have the translations as they happened, and also links to audio and video performances of the songs. You can browse, read, listen, and contribute online to the organic discussions.

  • A booklet version (pdf) of these pages, cleaned up for easier reading, and updated with final versions of the translations, is available here.

15 thoughts on “Translations from Marathi

  1. A poet need not be a reflective critic; he need not have the reasoning and analysing intellect and dissect his own poetry. But two things he must have in some measure to be perfect, the intuitive judgment which shows him at a glance whether he has got the best or the second-best idea, the perfect or the imperfect expression and rhythm, and the intuitive reason which shows him without analysis why or wherein it is best or second-best, perfect or imperfect. These four faculties, revelation or prophecy, inspiration, intuitive judgment and intuitive reason, are the perfect equipment of genius doing the works of interpretative & creative knowledge. – Sri Aurobindo

    http://www.savitri.in/savitri/?q=content/mirror/the-sources-of-poetry%E2%80%94-sri-aurobindo/09-mar-2012/000062

  2. Shirish, a good friend, pointed out a series of lectures by Leonard Bernstein that go deep into the relationships between language and music, touching on poetry and translation along the way – highly recommended and well worth the time needed to view them.

    Lecture 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3HLqCHO08s

    Lecture 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_fxB6yrDVo

    Lecture 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IxJbc_aMTg

    Lecture 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwXO3I8ASSg

    Lecture 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPGstQUbpHQ

    Lecture 6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWeQXTnv_xU

    Notes on Lecture 1 : Phonology

    • Music is heightened speech, hightened or intensified by emotion
    • The pentatonic scale, the 12 steps of the circle of fifths, the tonic-dominant relationship
    • Expressivity in art is ambiguity within limits
    • Expressivity in (western) music is chromatic freedom contained in a diatonic framework
  3. Congrats on some pretty cool translations! Did not know you were so creative :-)

    While they say music and emotions are universal language but the metaphors and similes are better appreciated if one is accustomed to the culture and has personal experiences. It is difficult, say for a Englishman (who sees persistent rain throughout the sprint, summer), to understand the feelings behind “Meghdhoot” and the first rains after a long, hot and dry summer. Similarly while I appreciated Wordsworth, it was only after coming to the West and experiencing the dark, dreary and cold frozen winter months and seeing first hand the magic of buds sprouting almost overnight, could I truly appreciate what “Daffodils” meant to Wordsworth.

    It must’ve been not just powerful poetry but real good translation that got Tagore the Nobel prize for Geetanjali.

  4. Thanks, Bhushan. Completely agree with your observation of needing to experience nature to understand poetry. Hence, in translating, my attempt was to change the images and metaphors and expression to what’s natural to the target language and culture while evoking the same sense and emotion as in the original. In this respect, Bernstein’s lecture on deep structure (linked above) is quite instructive.

  5. Deaf Jam – I just saw this 1 hour program – not sure where you get the whole video stream, but here’s the URL for the program with a trailer and some snippets: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/deaf-jam/film.html. Very inspiring. ASL-English simultaneous poetry. Signing gives it a dance form while chanting gives it a song form, both with the same underlying rhythm structure.

  6. Wow Akash! I read just the first one and it sent a shiver through me. I think you’ve successfully done a very difficult job of translating since there were no points in the English translation that jarred (because of vocabulary, construction or grammar) and took me out of the mood. Even when I was in a more analytical frame, the analysis was within the context of English and I never felt compelled to compare with what it would have sounded like in Marathi. An example is in the very first stanza of Kokila, where you choose to use “dulcet tones” to translate the onomatopeia which is so natural to Indian languages but is not commonly a part of English.
    After having learnt Spanish, I had a very interesting experience reading one of Tagore’s poems translated by Neruda!
    We should chat about translations sometime.

  7. Thank you, climbert8. Can you please post a link to Neruda’s translation of Tagore? Definitely, let’s chat.

  8. Thank you, Climbert8. The following description and excerpt (poem 4 from the link in the previous comment) is from Amazon.

    Neftali Ricardo Reyes, whose pseudonym was to be Pablo Neruda, was born in Parral, Chile, in 1904. He grew up in the pioneer town of Temuco, briefly encountering Gabriela Mistral, who taught there for a time. In 1920 he went to Santiago to study, and the following year published his first collection of poetry, La Cancion de la Fiesta. A second collection, Crepusculario, brought him critical recognition; and in 1924 the hugely successful Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Cancion Desesperada appeared. From 1927 to 1943, Neruda lived abroad, serving as a diplomat in Rangoon, Colombo, Batavia, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, and Mexico City. This is the period that saw the publication of the first two volumes of his celebrated Residencia en la Tierra. He joined the Communist Party of Chile after World War II, was prosecuted as a subversive, and began an exile that took him to Russia, Eastern Europe, and China. Already the most renowned Latin American poet of his time, he returned to Chile in 1952. He died there in 1973, having just seen the fourth edition of his Obras Completas through the press. In receiving the Nobel Prize in 1971, he had said that the poet must achieve a balance “between solitude and solidarity, between feeling and action, between the intimacy of one’s self, the intimacy of mankind, and the relevation of nature.”
    W.S. Merwin has published many highly regarded books of poems, for which he has received a number of distinguished awards—the Pulitzer Prize, Bollingen Award, Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets and the Governor’s Award for Literature of the state of Hawaii among them. He has translated widely from many languages, and his versions of classics such as The Poem of the Cid and The Song of Roland are standards.

    Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
    The Morning is Full

    The morning is full of storm
    in the heart of summer.

    The clouds travel like white handkerchiefs of good-bye,
    the wind, traveling, waving them in its hands.

    The numberless heart of the wind
    beating above our loving silence.

    Orchestral and divine, resounding among the trees
    like a language full of wars and songs.

    Wind that bears off the dead leaves with a quick raid
    and deflects the pulsing arrows of the birds.

    Wind that topples her in a wave without spray
    and substance without weight, and leaning fires.

    Her mass of kisses breaks and sinks,
    assailed in the door of the summer’s wind.

    Es La Mañana Llena

    Es la mañana lleno de tempestad
    en el corazón del verano.

    Como pañuelos blancos de adiós las nubes,
    el viento las sacude con sus viajeras manos.

    Innumerable el corazón del viento
    latiendo sobre nuestro silencio enamorado.

    Zumbando entre los árboles, orquestal y divino,
    como una lengua llena de guerras y de cantos.

    Viento que lleva rápido robo la hojarasca
    y desvia las flechas latientes de los parajos.

    Viento que le derriba en ola sin espuma
    y sustancia sin peso, y fuegos inclinados.

    Se rompe y se submerge su volumen de besos
    combatido en la puerta del viento del verano.

    Book listing on Amazon

  9. Thanks to Vikas Joshi who found a rare (out of print?) copy if Vilas Sarang’s thesis “The Stylistics of Literary Translation – A Study with reference to English and Marathi”, and presented me with a copy of it. Vilas Sarang, MA and PhD Bombay, and PhD Indiana, was Professor and Head of the Department of English at University of Bombay.

    Prof. Sarang has a deep and balanced analysis of the syntatic, semantic, and cultural issues of translations in both directions, with somewhat of a greater emphasis on English-to-Marathi translation. He illustrates the various issues with splendid examples and their analysis.

    My attempt in these translations has been to attain, in the end, “naturalness”. My literal translations provide as unbiased a translation as possible. But from them I develop a trans-creation that is natural in English while preserving as much as possible the sense and rhythm of the original.

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