Sunday, September 8, 2013

Translating Tagore

I woke up early this morning to be reminded of one of Rabindranath Tagore's most beautiful songs, "মেঘ বলেছে যাব যাব". (Thank you Monobina Gupta.)  Here's a link to the song, sung by Indrani Sen. Here's another, sung by Debabrata Biswas.

What a song, what a poem.

But the links above will clarify what Problem No. 1 is with renditions of Tagore. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the songs are sung with the most dreadful instrumental accompaniment. But dreadful. What astonishing voices Indrani Sen and George Biswas have, and how these and other voices are ground into the dust by the sentimental cacophony of the sitar/sarod/violin that often accompanies them, not to mention that absolute bane of Rabindrasangeet, the harmonium

In passing, here is an example of how it might be done. It won't go down well with everyone, but there's definitely something there. I'll even take this Bollywood-style number. Just keep the lachrymosity down, please. 

And then there is Problem No. 2. I find the translations of Tagore generally impossible to take. Not least by the Great Man himself. They feel exactly like the musical accompaniments: ornate, excessive, sentimental, and without any real feel for the English language.

So there I was, completely locked into the utter poetry of this song at 7 a.m. I googled, looking for English versions. Don't try it. Well, ok, if you insist: scroll down on this link, and steel yourself. 

I'm teaching a new class this term, so I had no business floating around, wasting time, trying to translate it myself. I had spent some hours on this mad endeavor before I realized that as I was reading and re-reading the Tagore poem, a line from García Lorca was tapping gently on my subconscious:

Pero yo ya no soy yo, 
ni mi casa es ya mi casa.


(But I no more am I
Nor is my house my house.) 

Here's the entire masterpiece (avoid the transliteration).

And it unlocked Tagore's great poem into English for me. 

All right, in celebration of the previous post on Free Speech, I have decided to make an ass of myself in public. To exorcise the ghosts of this poem, I will share my translation with you:

The Clouds declare, “We're leaving.” 
The Night echoes, "Goodbye."
The Sea replies, “I touch the shore, 
And I no more am I.” 

But Sorrow says, “I will stay kept
In the imprint of His step." 
The I cries out, “Dissolve me now
There's nothing else that's left.” 

The World responds, “For you, my friend
I've made a wedding strand.” 
The Sky agrees, “For you, my friend
I've lit a thousand lamps.” 

And Love complains, “It's for your sake
That all the night I stayed awake."
But Death announces (quietly),  
"Your life’s canoe is rowed by Me.” 

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And here, for completeness, is the original:

মেঘ বলেছে যাব যাব,
রাত বলেছে যাই ;
সাগর বলেছে কুল মিলেছে,
আমি তো আর নাই |

দুঃখ বলে রইনু চুপে,
তাহার পায়ে চিহ্নরূপে |
আমি বলে মিলাই আমি,
আর কিছু না চাই |

ভুবন বলে তোমার তরে আছে বরণ মালা |
গগন বলে তোমার তরে লক্ষ প্রদীপ জ্বালা |

প্রেম বলে যে যুগে যুগে
তোমার লাগি আছি জেগে |
মরণ বলে আমি তোমার জীবন তরী বাই |