(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.
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.
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.
A glimmering stream below
A swaying branch above
A heart on homing wings
A blossom of tender love
The secret urge in things
With a rapture is filled
The memory of
Our song so soft
Is humming still …
Walk with me won’t you talk with me
Stand with me won’t you hold me close
Measuring less than measurement
Tuka’s enormity is the firmament
With a new fragrance
the night mesmerizes
Follow the drift of a blissful stream
Into the heart of a lovely dream
Meek and nameless, incognito he roams
Hum in my ear, O hummingbird,
The sweetness heard of the Lord of my soul
Won’t the bud of your lips petal into a rose
This world is of joy, this world is of pain
This world has a boon, this world has a bane
It’s him I see everywhere. He am I. He am I.
Everywhere him, it’s only him I hear
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.