Airan

SCAN0214

You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uIXvLd6jyc

-o-

Literal Translation

O god of the anvil, let me offer you spark and spark [every spark]
Let your sky-like love remain on us

We will take the takings of poverty, eat the bean of the iron
Life should become of honor. Let my man, a warrior, god,
be like a tiger

The whisk in the hand of Lakshmi should go up and down
Pains and afflictions will go. Your grace has come
With the note of the bellow let it sing

Happiness less sorrow more [heavy], this world is good-bad
Cutting blow will sit on cutting blow. To bear, to fight
In body let strength come

-o-

This song is a prayer. It is sung by the wife of the village blacksmith, both hard-working, simple folks. It offers to the anvil-god each spark of their work and being, and asks for a decent and wholesome life, free of troubles, and strength to fight the good fight, in the sense of the biblical phrase – since this is a moral and not primarily a spiritual song of prayer.

The language is of the village working class, but with great sweetness and intimacy and also wisdom.

The imagery offers some difficulty. The anvil itself is worshipped as god, which is likely to make for an awkward translation into English. And then there is the whisk of Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess of fortune and beauty. A whisk wards off flies that afflict; in the context of Lakshmi, these are misfortunes, here the “idapida” or pains and plagues, that she removes.

The rhythm is a series of high-high-low-low beats, or to use the language of English prosody (which I recently studied – see Kau), a series of trochee-iamb (high-low-low-high), rather like the tritaal rhythm. This is simply not common to English, and is going to be difficult to translate – at least for the entire song.

-o-

Poetic Translation

O Spirit of the anvil, the hammer and the hold,
Each spark of the furnace I offer unto Thee,
Thy sky-like love — may it bless and enfold
And remain with us through eternity.

May the fruit of our work give us all for our needs,
May our life be of honor, be just in the fight.
May my man lead a step that the very tiger leads.
Fortune, bring us weal and whisk away the blight,
Let Thy grace fill our bellow and enter our deeds.

This world is of joy, this world is of pain,
This world has a boon, this world has a bane;
A blow that may fall on a wounding blow —
To bear, to strive, may Thy force in us flow.
Thy sky-like love — may it bless and enfold
And remain with us through eternity.

-o-

To make it symmetrical throughout (by removing the reference to “my man”), the seventh line could be:

May we lead a brave step that the very tiger leads.

-o-

Please read the comments below for an organic discussion of this translation, or read the “finished” version of these translations here: (pdf).

10 thoughts on “Airan

  1. “May my man lead a step that the very tiger leads” could be “May my master lead a step that the very tiger leads”. Separate the last two lines from the previous four which are outstanding in their poetic quality. A successful composition.

  2. Like the translation. Wonderful. Pure Rasa has come. Interesting to read in this language. Looks more powerful than in the original.

    Suniti

  3. Here’s an updated version, mostly cleaned up for flow and rhythm. Still not happy with the eternity line, but the fortune line is better (though the whisk is lost), and sing is restored with bellow.

    O Spirit of the anvil, the hammer and the hold,
    Each spark of the furnace I offer unto Thee,
    Thy sky-like love — may it bless and enfold
    And remain on us near through eternity.

    May the fruit of our work give us all for our need,
    May our life be of honor, be just in the fight,
    May we lead the brave step that a tiger knows to lead,
    May Fortune bring weal and erase all the blight,
    May Thy grace fill our bellow and sing in our deed.

    This world is of joy, this world is of pain,
    This world has a boon, this world has a bane;
    A blow that may fall on a wounding blow —
    To bear and to strive, may Thy force in us flow.

    Thy sky-like love — may it bless and enfold
    And remain on us near through eternity.

  4. In the line “May we lead the brave step that a tiger knows to lead” “that” is not necessary which rather dilutes it. Repetition of “May” at the beginning of each line in this stanza appears to be a flaw; three “May”s should do. In the opening line “Spirit of the anvil” either have both “s” and “a” cap or both lower case. “sky-like” could simply be “sky of love”. Third stanza is excellent.

  5. Thanks. Plus, envelope gives the right rhythm to the eternity line (- ‘ – – ‘ – – ‘ – -) even though enfold and envelope are kind of redundant. The (- – ‘) rhythm with variations underlies the poem. Also, restored the plural to needs/deeds because otherwise the grace sang in only one deed.

    -o-

    O spirit of the anvil, the hammer and the hold,
    Each spark of the furnace I offer unto Thee,
    Thy love like the sky, may it bless and enfold
    And envelope us through eternity.

    May the fruit of our work give us all for our needs,
    Our life be of honor, be just in the fight,
    May we lead the brave step a tiger ever leads,
    May Fortune bring weal and erase all the blight,
    Thy grace fill our bellow and sing in our deeds.

    This world is of joy, this world is of pain,
    This world has a boon, this world has a bane;
    A blow that may fall on a wounding blow —
    To bear and to strive, may Thy force in us flow.

    Thy love in the sky, may it fall like the rain,
    A rainbow from heaven leaning below.

  6. Here’s another take. It has the refrain in lines of (8+7), (8+7) syllables, and stanzas of lines with (8+8+8+8+7) syllables, as in the original. The rhyme structure is X A X A for the refrain as in the original, and X B X B A for stanzas in the translation – natural to English – but B B B X A in the original . I have retained Airan and Lakshmi rather than the Anvil and Fortune.

    -o-

    Each spark and each ember I give
        to you, O God of Airan,
    Your sky of love spread out above,
        be warm to us like the sun.

    We’ll eke out our honest takings,
    The table set with smithy’s fare,
    My lord a tiger, brave and bold,
    Upright and of his strength aware,
    Walk a leader among men.

    Your sky of love spread out above,
        be warm to us like the sun.

    May Lakshmi ever bless our lot,
    We pray her whisk brush up and down
    To chase away our pains and plagues;
    With the hum of our bellow’s horn
    Your song of grace has begun.

    Your sky of love spread out above,
        be warm to us like the sun.

    The world is good, the world is bad,
    A bit of joy, a bit of pain,
    A stroke will fall on cutting stroke:
    To bear, to try it all again,
    Let your strength our bodies run.

    Your sky of love spread out above,
        be warm to us like the sun.

  7. I prefer the earlier version, more poetic and also natural. Here’s the scansion of one of the stanzas:

    This world| is of joy,| this world| is of pain,|
    This world| has a boon,| this world| has a bane;|
    A blow| that may fall| on a woun|ding blow —|
    To bear| and to strive,| may Thy force| in us flow.|

    First two lines: iamb-anapaest iamb-anapaest
    Third line: iamb-anapaest anapaest-iamb
    Fourth line: iamb-anapaest anapaest-anapaest

    I must say this is a very successful presence of the two rising feet, short-long short-short-long. Good this variation has occurred which otherwise would have made it mono-tonous.

    1. That stanza in the original (“Sukha thoda … baL yeu de”) is the only universal one with a bit of a philosophical bent in the first line. So it translated well.

      I wonder if there’s some other way to get directly to the heart of this prayer – I have an inkling it might be best done in prose, shorn of all particularities of blacksmithing etc. – but by then it will hardly be a translation.

      Also, here’s a paradox that I realized. English is the language of commerce and the tongue of about the most commercially minded nation on earth. Indian languages have about the most developed psychological and spiritual palette. When it comes to such prayers, Indian languages excel at presenting naturally and with depth the almost bartering nature of the relationship with a localized deity – give us love, keep us from harm etc. and we will give you sparks, rectitude, etc. Yet English is rather poor for such transactional prayers – if said, they seem rather cheesy.

  8. Well, your observation of poetry in English — not English poetry — needs qualification. It has a very rich and growing tradition running over last few centuries, a fulfilled as well as a promising tradition. It has made successful creative-expressive experiments and these have been very rewarding. It is now moving towards what Sri Aurobindo calls the Overhead Poetry. The possibility of it is getting the pure Word in its threefold richness of sight-sound-substance, even reaching the Overmind utterance which can become in its opulence and brightness the Mantra of the coming Age, Mantra with the splendour of the Five Suns of Poetry, The Sun of Truth, the Sun of Beauty, of Delight, Life and the Spirit itself. The future poetry has to move in that direction. Savitri by Sri Aurobindo has that living-breathing preciousness.

  9. I had a narrower point.

    Take “Allow me to offer you each spark. May your sky-like love remain on us.” In English, it doesn’t give the same sense as it does in Marathi.

    For one, there is the anomaly of asking for permission to give something to a higher being while using the intimate you-form to address him.

    For another, closest rendering for “vahu” is “offering” or “collection”, as money given in church. But “vahu” is hardly usable in a commercial setting, while offer is the language of auction and market, and collection of debt and taxes.

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