Kau

SCAN0212

You can hear it here:

-o-

Literal Translation

On the far side the crow is crowing
An omen [portent], good woman [Oh my!], it is telling

Fly, fly friend crow, your feet I will line [overlay] with gold
When will the guest, the Lord of Pandhari, reach [my] home?

A mouthful of curd-rice I will apply to your mouth
The sweetness of my life’s [soul’s] darling tell me fast [urgently]

A bowlful of milk I will apply to your lips
Tell me the true story, will Vitho come visit?

On the branch of the mango juicy fruit kiss
Today, friend, [itself] sometime the omen tells

Dnyandev says recognize these signs [marks]
Will meet the Lord of Pandhari, the omen tells [avers]

-o-

This abhanga is about Dnyaneshwar’s eager and intense anticipation of the arrival of a cherished guest, Vitho, the Lord of Pandhari, to his house.

In India, a crow crowing in front of one’s house is a portent of the arrival of a guest.

For Dnyaneshwar, the crow is crowing on the other side [possibly of a river]. He asks the crow to fly [over] and tell him when the Lord will reach his house, and to tell him urgently about the sweetness of the dear Lord, and to confirm that indeed the Lord will arrive.

As inducement or as a reward he offers to line the crow’s feed with gold and to feed him curd-rice and milk, and offers the attraction of juicy mangoes on the [nearby] tree. The reference to the juicy mangoes has another interpretation depending on whether the crow is asked to kiss the fruit or whether the fruit kiss the branch. Instead of being related to the crow, or marginally related as the tree on which the crow sits, it can be taken as another sign from Nature that the time is ripe for an epiphany.

So far, Dnyaneshwar was as if a giddy boy eagerly awaiting a favorite uncle. But in the last couplet, Dnyaneshwar, the realized master, emerges and says, recognize these signs: they aver that the meeting with the Lord is imminent.

The language of this seven hundred year-old abhanga is archaic. I wonder if he is talking of just one crow or crows in the plural (which is a possible reading of the first line, but the verb “to fly” in the second line is in the singular). Also, I wonder if he says or means “the other bank” or “the other side” or “somewhat far away”. Why is the crow on the other side? What is in the gulf? Is there a significance to it?

Then there is the symbology of the crow, not only as a harbinger, but also as the eater of curd-rice which invokes “shrAddha” or the acceptance by departed ancestors of one’s memory of them in their honor. Is this relevant?

The language itself is marvellously simple, natural, fluid, and conversational, with great intimacy between the singer and the crow, the Lord, and the listener. The listener is addressed by both “ga” for female and “re” for male, though a possible interpretation has no listener — he is singing to himself, and “ge maye” is not “good woman” but rather “Oh my!” in surprise, and “re” is for emphasis (“itself”). The rhymes are loose and casual, sometimes absent even.

The musical rendering beautifully conveys the anticipation and elation in the song, though the last couplet, which is the definitive answer, is not included.

I have written such elaborate notes mostly because I haven’t a clue to translating this poem into reasonable English.

Let’s see how it turns out, and feel free to suggest corrections, changes, and improvements.

-o-

Poetic Translation

(This attempt broadens the crow to multiple agents from Nature.)

Across the way, a raven’s cry
A sign, O my!, from Pandhari

Fly, fly, O friend, O magpie,
Your wings I’ll dye with a golden shine

Tell me how soon, I beseech,
The Lord will reach this house of mine

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

I’ll set out for you, to urge your tweet,
The nectar sweet full in a bowl

These crumbs I spread, O sparrow flock,
Does Vitho knock, tell me now true

Your fruit so ripe, O mango tree,
Your branches free, to Him they grew

Dnyandev avers, I know this sign,
He will be mine, the king of Pandhari

-o-

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

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27 thoughts on “Kau

  1. Exquisite! You got the rhythm and contents in the trueness of the inspiration. Congratulations. Your Intro is also apt. I’ll leave these as they are.

  2. “… it can be taken as another sign from Nature that the time is ripe for an epiphany” — it is this.

    “… seven hundred year-old abhanga is archaic…” it is eight hundred years old.

    “…The language of this seven hundred year-old abhanga is archaic. I wonder if he is talking of just one crow or crows in the plural (which is a possible reading of the first line, but the verb “to fly” in the second line is in the singular). Also, I wonder if he says or means “the other bank” or “the other side” or “somewhat far away”. Why is the crow on the other side? What is in the gulf? Is there a significance to it?” It is a crow, single, a messenger, a Paraclete. Obviously from far. The gulf is between God and Man.

  3. How he goes from the gulf to the certitude of meeting is not disclosed – perhaps by the process of inviting the bird coupled to the readiness of Nature.

  4. Here’s another attempt in 12 syllables per line – less Nature, more English:

    -o-

    Over there alert, the blackbird eagerly sings
    A welcome surprise, an omen of joy he brings

    Fly, fly to me, O bird, your wings I’ll line in gold
    Tell me when the Lord of Pandhari I’ll behold

    Tell me of the sweetness of my heart’s cherished guest
    Tell me of his glory, of this land he has blessed

    Ambrosia on a branch, your fruit invite, O tree
    Does he yet linger? Tell him come quick and kiss me

    Dnyaneshwar avers, I know this auspicious sign
    His knock on the door, his step, his embrace divine

  5. I’ll prefer the first; its easy facility is true to the lyrical intimacy that is contained in the subject. The second is rather heavy, though perfect in its diction and form; it looks as if one has set to write it out rather than let it express itself.

  6. Yes, the first is spontaneous. The second is measured, more abstracted or refined, if you will.

    This has generally been the process of development in all the translations in this series – the poem becomes more English – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

    Hence some elements have been intentionally suppressed, such as the curd-rice/crumbs and the bowl of milk/nectar. But some extraneous elements have crept in, like the “alert” bird, and the glory and the blessed land.

    Let’s see if it works itself out into a more natural expression, both of Dnyaneshwar’s elation and in English …

  7. The second is a good literary piece and has its own value; but the first touches some deeper layers and it is that which makes it precious. I think it is that preciousness which should be the guiding joy for all such renderings.

  8. Here’s a cleaned up second version:

    -o-

    Over there afar the blackbird eagerly sings
    A welcome surprise, an omen of joy he brings

    Fly, fly to me, O bird, your wings I’ll line in gold
    Tell me when the Lord of Pandhari I’ll behold

    Tell me of the sweet and cherished guest of my heart
    Tell me did his procession from Pandhari depart

    Your fruit are ripe ambrosia on a branch, O tree
    Tell him today itself he must taste urgently

    Dnyaneshwar avers, I know this auspicious sign
    His knock on the door, his step, his embrace divine

    -o-

    6th line is 13 syllables. Procession can be changed to parade or dindi to fall into 12 (except dindi goes to Pandhari). But the line reads well as it stands, I think.

  9. “Your fruit are ripe ambrosia on a branch, O tree” –> “Your fruit ripe ambrosia on a branch, O tree”. Perhaps this is more elegant.

    “his procession” –> “the pilgrims”

  10. Permuted to: Ambrosia are your fruit ripe on a branch, O tree

    Rather than pilgrims, don’t you want the Lord himself to depart and proceed to Dnyaneshwar?

  11. Ambrosia-line has 13 syllables that is why I’d modified it. If the idea is “dindi” then “pilgrim” can stand. In any case I wouldn’t go by syllable count always; it has to be the rhythm and the metrical feet. So, I’ll recommend your original versions for both the lines. In the first, ambrosia-line, fourth foot is anapaest; in the second, procession-line, it — again the fourth foot — is dactyl.

  12. Final, after relaxing the 12 syllable limit:

    Over there afar the blackbird eagerly sings,
    A welcome surprise, an omen of joy he brings.

    Fly, fly to me, O bird, your wings I’ll line in gold,
    Tell me when will I the Lord of Pandhari behold.

    Tell me of the sweet and cherished guest of my heart,
    Tell me did his procession from Pandhari depart.

    Ambrosia on a branch, your fruit invite him, O tree,
    Tell him today itself he must taste them urgently.

    Dnyaneshwar avers, I know this auspicious sign:
    His knock on the door, his step inside, his embrace divine.

  13. In your piece there is no regular metrical scheme, and each line has to be scanned independently. While most of them are with six feet, one is certainly with five. For instance, I’ll scan the following as pentametric:

    Tell me| of the sweet| and cher|ished guest| of my heart|

    trochee-anapaest-iamb-iamb-anapaest

  14. If you make this scanned line a six footer it will be as follows:

    Tell me| of the| sweet and| cherished| guest of| my heart|

    with four trochees in it, not a happy reading.

  15. How a line of poetry is broken into feet seems to me an impenetrable art.

    There are the dimensions of stress, length, and singable rhythm. How do these three interact?

    For singing, sometimes the underlying vowel is extended for a beat or two, or silence is introduced to stand in for a beat. How is such a line scanned?

    For example, the “Fly, fly to me …” line, when sung, should probably have a lapsed first syllable, something like ” – (1) fly (2) | fly (3) to me (4) | …”.

    In the original, a lapsed syllable is introduced between ” ge maye” and “sangatahe”, and the “ti” vowel of “yeti” at the end of line 4 is extended for a beat or two.

  16. This table shows how the lines fall into a 16-beat rhythm for singing (if someone is so inclined). It also shows the stressed syllables. Thus, the stress and length are covered.

    kauscan

    It is understood that the beats are a rough guidance, with variation in pace allowed per the singer’s skill and interpretation. For example, for parallel structure around “tell me”, it could as well be:

    Tell me – when
    Tell me – of-the
    Tell me – did
    Tell him – today

    What dictates how the lines separate into feet, and what is the use of the feet? For example, in your scan repeated below – is each foot meant to indicate a measure of music? If yes, this poem will not be singable.

    Tell me | of the sweet | and cher | ished guest | of my heart |

  17. My immediate comment is: A poem is not a song, though at times it can be, and song is only once in a while a poem. I’d would not apply to it the considerations that go in singing. It is the unit of sound that counts and not the beat. In poetry the foot defines the unit of sound.

  18. So are there any rules, or is it only feel? For example, how did cherished get split? Is it because “and cherished guest” is a unit of sound, but then it split further as the stress lies into two iambs?

  19. Agreed – not all poems are songs, and not all songs are poems. But this abhanga by Dnyaneshwar is both, and the translation should strive to be also.

  20. You may like to have a look at

    All the fun’s in how you say a thing – Timothy
    Metres of English Poetry – Enid Hamer

  21. Disclaimer: I’ll confess upfront I know very little about Dnyaneshwar’s work. I probably know as much as an average Marathi person would know, maybe even less.

    But the first time I read this, before reading your exposition, I thought this was a didactic poem rather than a…, how should I term it…, a Romantic poem? And if it’s a didactic poem, it’s really masterful. If you are open to crossing the gulf, even a lowly creature as a crow can portend omens. Because aren’t there unwelcome cultural associations with a crow as well? It seems to me that D. wants to impart that same feeling of giddiness to the “lay ” person that he felt (or feels). The last couplet can be interpreted as an admonition or an insight.

  22. A popular exposition of Dnyaneshwar’s life is given in this old movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg5oT5qfm7I. If one ignores the miracles, and excessive hagiography, it’s probably a fair representation of his life and conditions of the time. What’s remarkable is the harshness of the rigid social striation contrasted with the sweetness of some of the human relationships.

    Wrt “didactic”, just by existing, Dnyaneshwar was a force for social reform when he made it his early life’s mission to try and integrate himself and his siblings back into society. Adding in his real mission of making the Sanskrit scriptures accessible to lay Marathi folks, coupled to his personal enlightenment, each of his abhanga is also a teaching.

    I agree with your points about lowly creatures and laity – especially as they pertain to the last couplet. I’ll alter the second translation to bring in this “universal” sense to it, rather than just his personal sense.

    Dnyaneshwar avers, I know this auspicious sign:
    His knock on the door, his step inside, his embrace divine.

    Change to:

    Dnyaneshwar says, realize this auspicious sign:
    His knock on the door, his step inside, his embrace divine.

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