I wont let you go, p.1

I Won't Let You Go, page 1

 

I Won't Let You Go
 



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I Won't Let You Go


  RABINDRANATH TAGORE

  I WON’T LET YOU GO: SELECTED POEMS

  SECOND EXPANDED EDITION TRANSLATED BY

  KETAKI KUSHARI DYSON

  RABINDRANATH TAGORE (1861-1941) is India’s greatest modern poet and the most brilliant creative genius produced by the Indian Renaissance. As well as poetry, he wrote songs, stories and novels, plays, essays, memoirs and travelogues. He was both a restless innovator and a superb craftsman, and the Bengali language attained great beauty and power in his hands. He created his own genre of dance drama and is one of the most important visual artists of modern India. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

  Tagore’s poetry has an impressive wholeness: a magnificent loving warmth, compassionate humanity, a delicate sensuousness, an intense sense of kinship with nature and a burning awareness of man’s place in the universe. He moves with effortless ease from the literal to the symbolic, from the part of the whole, from a tiny detail to the vast cosmos.

  He is religious in the deepest sense, wavering between a faith that sustains the spirit in times of crisis – or fills it with energy and joy in times of happiness – and a profound questioning that can find no enduring answers. To him the earth is a vulnerable mother who clings to all her offspring, saying ‘I won’t let you go’ to the tiniest blade of grass that springs from her womb, but who is powerless to prevent the decay and death of her children.

  ‘Dyson has succeeded in these new translations in restoring a sense to the reader of Tagore’s real and remarkable genius as a poet. Short of learning Bengali one does not see how our sense of him as a poet could be bettered than it is by reading her versions… if any translation can put Tagore back on the map where he belongs, this one should do it’

  – POETRY REVIEW

  Rabindranath Tagore in America in 1916.

  RABINDRANATH TAGORE

  I Won’t Let You Go

  SELECTED POEMS

  NEW EXPANDED EDITION TRANSLATED BY

  KETAKI KUSHARI DYSON

  Dedicated to the tercentenary of the city of Calcutta

  Rabindranath Tagore in 1875.

  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Preface to the Second Edition

  Acknowledgements

  List of Illustrations

  Introduction to the First Edition

  FROM Sandhyasangit (1882)

  The Suicide of a Star

  Invocation to Sorrow

  FROM Prabhatsangit (1883)

  Endless Death

  FROM Kadi o Komal (1886)

  Breasts (No. 2)

  The Kiss

  FROM Manasi (1890)

  Desire

  Death-dream

  The Amatory Conversation of a Young Bengali Couple

  FROM Sonar Tari (1894)

  I Won’t Let You Go

  Earth

  On the Doctrine of Maya

  Play

  On Her Powerlessness

  FROM Chitra (1896)

  Farewell to Heaven

  The Victorious Woman

  The Year 1400

  FROM Chaitali (1896)

  Renunciation

  An Ordinary Person

  The Ferry

  The Worker

  Big Sister

  The Mediatrix

  On the Nature of Love

  Putu

  The Companion

  A Scene of Affection

  Against Meditative Knowledge

  True Meditation

  Drought

  Hope Against Hope

  FROM Kanika (1899)

  Give Us Deeds, Not Words

  Relationship of Convenience

  Kinship Analysed

  Too Good

  Positive Proof

  FROM Katha (1900)

  The Repayment

  The Realisation of Value

  FROM Kahini (1900)

  Dialogue between Karna and Kunti

  FROM Kalpana (1900)

  A Stressful Time

  Dream

  FROM Kshanika (1900)

  What the Scriptures Say

  Straightforward

  FROM Naibedya (1901)

  No. 88

  No. 89

  No. 90

  FROM Smaran (1903)

  No. 5

  No. 14

  FROM Shishu (1903)

  Empathy

  An Offer of Help

  Hide-and-Seek

  FROM Utsarga (1903-4, 1914)

  No. 7

  FROM Kheya (1906)

  The Auspicious Moment

  The Renunciation

  FROM Gitanjali (1910)

  No. 106

  No. 107

  No. 108

  FROM Balaka (1916)

  No. 6

  No. 36

  No. 39

  FROM Palataka (1918)

  Getting Lost

  The Last Establishment

  FROM Lipika (1922)

  The Old House

  One Day

  Grief’s Ingratitude

  The Question

  FROM Shishu Bholanath (1922)

  Sunday

  Remembering

  FROM Purabi (1925)

  Gratitude

  The Apprehension

  The Skeleton

  The Exchange

  FROM Mahua (1929)

  The Identity

  Disappearance

  FROM Punashcha (1932)

  Kopai

  By the Pond

  Dwelling

  Memory

  The Boy

  The Last Letter

  Camellia

  A Person

  Writing a Letter

  FROM Shesh Saptak (1935)

  No. 1

  No. 2

  No. 3

  No. 9

  No. 11

  No. 13

  No. 22

  No. 27

  No. 29

  No. 31

  No. 46

  FROM Bithika (1935)

  The Indifferent One

  FROM Patraput (1936)

  No. 5

  No. 7

  No. 8

  No. 11

  FROM Shyamali (1936)

  Dream

  The Lost Mind

  Tamarind Flower

  The Nap

  The Uncoupling

  A Sudden Encounter

  FROM Prantik (1938)

  No. 5

  No. 14

  No. 18

  FROM Akashpradip (1939)

  The Dark Girl

  Green Mangoes

  FROM Nabajatak (1940)

  Birthday

  Romantic

  FROM Sanai (1940)

  Coming and Going

  Impossible

  FROM Rogashajyay (1940)

  No. 22

  No. 38

  FROM Arogya (1941)

  No. 7

  No. 9

  FROM Janmadine (1941)

  No. 28

  FROM Shesh Lekha (1941)

  No. 5

  No. 11

  No. 13

  No. 14

  No. 15

  Songs

  1. O beggar, you’ve made me a beggar

  2. I live with so little

  3. I want, I want, I want with all my strength

  4. So many unknowns you made me know

  5. ‘Save me in danger!’ is never my prayer to you

  6. Sunshine and shadows play hide-and-seek today

  7. A soft wind stirs the white sail without a spot

  8. Clouds have gathered on clouds

  9. Where’s the light? Where, where is the light?

  10. It is a stormy night

  11. O master sin
ger, how marvellously you sing!

  12. No! It won’t do to evade me like this!

  13. If I don’t see you, Lord, in this life

  14. My eyes keep vigil for you, Lord

  15. My heart’s ravisher

  16. For how many aeons

  17. The song I came to sing here stays unsung

  18. That is why

  19. All life’s acts of worship

  20. She won’t take no for an answer

  21. The dawn in which you called me

  22. When my pain escorts me to your door

  23. That fire of music you ignited in me

  24. Not just your words

  25. There’s no end to it

  26. I shall not beguile you with my beauty

  27. I couldn’t keep them in the golden cage

  28. A fire of flowers has hit the blue horizon

  29. Tonight the fire-flames burn in a million stars

  30. Lest he goes without telling me

  31. Come to the kadamba grove, under the shady trees

  32. Lost to myself

  33. So many times I’ve been along this trail

  34. Shiuli flower! Shiuli flower!

  35. The two of us had swung in the forest that day

  36. The moon’s laughter’s dam has burst

  37. House-bound men, open your doors

  38. Where does the road end?

  39. In the dead of night you brought me devastation

  40. You gave me the monsoon’s first kadamba flower

  41. Take the last song’s diminuendo with you

  Notes

  Glossary

  Biographical note

  Copyright

  Preface to the Second Edition

  As I sit down to write a preface to this new edition of work first undertaken twenty years ago, I am thinking of Professor Nemaisadhan Bose, at that time the Vice-Chancellor of Visvabharati, who had persuaded me to undertake the project. He is no longer with us. How he would have loved to hear that this book was receiving a new, enlarged edition! When he had first asked me to translate a selection of Tagore’s poems into English, I had accepted the task more as a challenge than anything else, and not without a degree of trepidation. In the end doing the work proved to be a rewarding and absorbing experience. To select poems for translation I had to immerse myself in Tagore’s poetic corpus for an extended period, and such sustained immersion in the work of a great poet is always a reward in itself. The process of transferring the poetry to the English language was both a pleasurable re-creative activity and an educative experience.

  My remit, as I understood it, was to take Tagore’s poetry to those who could not access him in the original language, but could read him in English, and make them see that he was a great poet. Over the years so many – both Westerners and non-Bengali-speaking Indians – have thanked me for revealing to them Tagore’s greatness as a poet that going by such feedback, a measure of success may indeed be claimed for the translation project envisioned and initiated by the late Professor Nemaisadhan Bose. Personally for me, it has led to further important work in Tagore studies and also in literary translation. I have also received invitations to seminars, conferences, and workshops, and requests to write on translation issues and review works of translation. Besides many such articles in Bengali and English scattered in magazines, I have also prefixed prefaces to two other subsequent works of translation, explaining the rationale of my work methods.

  In the 1950s the work of the great Bengali poet-translators of the post-Tagore era impacted on my generation. They were my inspiration in my first serious work of poetry translation, done in the mid-sixties, when I translated examples of Anglo-Saxon poetry into alliterative Bengali half-lines. The first fruits of those efforts were published with a preface in Visvabharati Patrika in 1971, and years later a little anthology of eleven pieces was published (Anglo-Saxon Kabita, Navana, Calcutta, 1987). My thinking on translation issues has developed from those beginnings. Those who are interested to gain a quick overview of the conceptual framework within which I currently translate may look up a short article in English available on the Internet, based on a presentation I made at a conference at the University of Hyderabad in January 2009.1 The Tagore translation project has indeed been fruitful in my overall literary life, generating opportunities for new work.

  I would like to say a few words on the new translations incorporated in the present edition. The two poems from Nabajatak (1940) were published in a special issue of the Visva-bharati Quarterly commemorating Tagore’s fiftieth death anniversary2 and were translated at the request of Professor Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, who was the journal’s editor at that time. The poem ‘The Year 1400’ from Chitra (1896) was translated for an event to celebrate the advent of the year 1400 according to the Bengali calendar. This event, jointly organised in 1993 by the Nehru Centre of the High Commission of India in London and the Tagore Centre of London, was held in the premises of the Nehru Centre, and I read out the poem on that occasion. It was subsequently published in the web magazine Parabaas (www.parabaas.com). The dramatic poem ‘Dialogue between Karna and Kunti’, from the collection Kahini (1900), was translated in the spring of 2000 at the request of Bithika Raha of London, who choreographed a dance performance to accompany the words. It was later published in the above-mentioned web magazine Parabaas. The background of this poem is elucidated in the Notes section.

  The three poems from Gitanjali (1910) included in the poems section of this edition have been done specially for this edition. One Bengali critic had lamented the absence of any patriotic song in the first edition of this book, and I have always wished to make amends. Rummaging for suitable samples of patriotic sentiment in Tagore’s word-hoard, I felt that I could do no better than translate three highly regarded poems from the Bengali Gitanjali, nos. 106, 107, and 108, but decided that they had to be presented as poems rather than as songs. Let me explain why.

  No. 106 was set to music by Tagore, but only the first, second, and final stanzas were admitted to the ‘Swadesh’ or patriotic section of the definitive collection of his songs, the Gitabitan, and I did not wish to present this great poem in a truncated form. No. 108 was never set to music by Tagore himself, but another musician, with Tagore’s permission, set it to music and recorded it. In that incarnation the song is familiar enough to Bengalis, and in my growing years I have heard it too, broadcast over the radioz, but this lyric has never been included in the Gitabitan and is not technically a ‘Tagore song’, which is defined as a piece in which both the words and the melody are compositions of Tagore’s. No. 107 is indeed a song and is included in the Gitabitan, but in the section marked as ‘Puja’ or ‘worship’, not under the banner of patriotism. This cluster of poems written in the first week of July 1910 may be regarded as companion pieces revealing some of the deepest layers of Tagore’s thinking about his homeland. First he elaborates and praises what he regards as his country’s greatest strength and most precious heritage: its embodiment of multiracial, multicultural unity-in-diversity, offering a paradigm for the future development of all humanity.

  No. 106 of Gitanjali contains, in a highly rhetorical and embellished form, that message of universal humanism – patriotic pride transcending itself and becoming an expression of transnational humanistic aspiration – that many international scholars of Tagore are now eager to claim and emphasise as one of the noblest intellectual heritages that Tagore has left behind for posterity. As we know, some years later, with the First World War revealing its horrors, Tagore would move away quite decisively from the European model of the nation-state, based on competition, aggression, and self-aggrandisement. He would reject everything that was divisive. Even in this mainly celebratory poem, no. 106 of Gitanjali, the perils of social division are not forgotten. The poem is followed by a searing acknowledgement of his country’s caste-divided socioeconomic structure, with its large underclass (no. 107), and a dire warning about the future if this state of affairs is not rectified (no.
108). Though a song-structure is plain in each poem, especially in an emphatic use of the refrain, these poems are not really in the same category as the more tender, God-yearning songs of Gitanjali which are clearly wrung from his personal bereavements, but are more in the nature of radical social discourses challenging orthodoxies. No. 107 resonates with no. 119 (not translated here), in which God is located where the manual workers are, labouring in the fields, digging roads, come sun, come rain.

  We have to remember that these poems were written long before Gandhi started his struggle for the outcastes, calling them ‘Harijans’ (‘God’s people’). When Tagore was writing these poems, Gandhi was still in South Africa. It is in the modality of social discourse that such poems have been formative influences on the consciousness of Bengalis growing up in the twentieth century. They have acted as seminal texts, showing the poet-songmaker, the patriot, and the angry prophet combined in the most creative way. Together with other works in his corpus, such as his drama Chandalika (1933), re-shaped as a dance-drama in 1938, emphatically rejecting untouchability and proclaiming the common humanity of all classes of society, such texts have left permanent marks on the intellectual and political life of Bengalis.

 
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