Women I love by Bliss Cua Lim

The following just connected so many dots that I long wanted to connect…Dr Neelakantan’s brief discourse on “sisterhood feminism”, mom’s story about an old woman who was travelling with her puerile husband in the same compartment as mom and the instant where “only women can see the hidden strength with which women deal with the men they love while struggling against servility”…

Thank you for the words, Bliss Cua Lim 🙂

Women I Love
Bliss Cua Lim

Listen:
One afternoon, I saw a woman
lift her head and wonder why no one stood
beside her in the train,
touching the back of her neck or maybe
whispering or smiling into her eyes.
I thought I caught her thinking,
Who sees me?
I knew she craved a lover who would
linger over her body,
cherish her strength,
return her tenderness.
I knew she had not found this love among men.
How like my mother she was.
How thankful I am for the ways
women can sometimes love each other.
There is something truer there than desire.
It is wondrous for me to see a woman
with a child’s delicate ace, and calloused, capable hands.
I love the woman who has strength enough to do anything
except hide her own strength.

I have known women whose laughter was like bells
because you knew they had been wounded before.
I prize women who look best
barefoot in their bedclothes, tousled and tired.
I know women who remember the unremarked beauty of
these tired women.
I understand women who claim to hate children
but shied their nephews from the wrath of loving parents.
And I marvel at the women who serve the men they love
while always struggling against servility.

Their quick anger,
their light slumber,
their early morning voices on the phone.
I love nape and collarbone,
a cheek wet with tears,
the line of the arm, of the ankle,
and the infinite expressiveness of their hands when
they speak,
or touch themselves, or me.

Marginalia by Billy Collins

Never thought I would read a poem about such a trivial subject that goes unnoticed even though one is constantly indulged in marginalia 🙂 Amazing thought, amazing read!

Marginalia
Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive—
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!”—
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page—
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil—
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet—
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Lost in translation – 1

The following are the lyrics of one of my best-loved songs.

The song is written by Tamil poet, literary genius, Vairamuthu for Anbe Sivam (2003).

(Male)Poo vaasam poorappadam pennae
Naan poo varainthaal
Thee vanthu viral soodum kannae
Naan thee varainthal

(Female)Uyirallathellaam uyir kollum endraal,
Uriyulla naanoe ennaguvaen?

(M)Uyir vaangidum oviyam neeyadi…

(M)Puli saernthu, puli saernthu oviyam,
Ullam saernthu, ullam saernthu kaaviyam!

(F)Koadu koadu oviyatthin bhaagame,
Oodal poda kaadhal endru aagumae,

(M)Oru vaanam varaiyil neela vannam,
Nam kaadhal varaiyil aena vannam?

(F)Yen vetkathai thira thottu, viralaendum pole kondu
Nam kaadhal varaivome, vaa.

(F)Oviyatthin jeevan enga ullathu?
(M)Ottru paarkkum aanil kannil ullathu.

(F)Pennudambil kaadhal engu ullathu?
(M)Aan thodaatha bhaagam thannil ullathu.

(F)Nee varaiya therintha, oru navigna kavignan
Penn vasaiyam therintha, oru nalintha kalaignan

(M)Megathai aimaattri maan saerum malai pola,
madiyodu vilunthaaye, vaa…

As much as I hate the fact that I cannot understand more than a couple  of words of Tamil language, I feel helpless about the fact that there are hardly any translators out there who can translate these  precious pieces of art(poetry written for Tamil cinema) into other Indian and foreign languages without diluting or trans-mutating the essence, the thought, and the sensibility of the poet. I suffer much more from occasionally coming across brutally mangled versions of these poems in Telugu (dubbed versions) cinema.

However, this is a very good English translation by blogger Jil Jil Ramamani.

The Queen’s Rival by Sarojini Naidu

THE QUEEN’S RIVAL

by: Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

I

QUEEN GULNAAR sat on her ivory bed,
Around her countless treasures were spread;

Her chamber walls were richly inlaid
With agate, porphory, onyx and jade;

The tissues that veiled her delicate breast,
Glowed with the hues of a lapwing’s crest;

But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

King Feroz bent from his ebony seat:
“Is thy least desire unfulfilled, O Sweet?

“Let thy mouth speak and my life be spent
To clear the sky of thy discontent.”

“I tire of my beauty, I tire of this
Empty splendour and shadowless bliss;

“With none to envy and none gainsay,
No savour or salt hath my dream or day.”

Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose:
“Give me a rival, O King Feroz.”

II

King Feroz spoke to his Chief Vizier:
“Lo! ere to-morrow’s dawn be here,

“Send forth my messengers over the sea,
To seek seven beautiful brides for me;

“Radiant of feature and regal of mien,
Seven handmaids meet for the Persian Queen.” . . . . .

Seven new moon tides at the Vesper call,
King Feroz led to Queen Gulnaar’s hall

A young queen eyed like the morning star:
“I bring thee a rival, O Queen Gulnaar.”

But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

Seven queens shone round her ivory bed,
Like seven soft gems on a silken thread,

Like seven fair lamps in a royal tower,
Like seven bright petals of Beauty’s flower

Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose
“Where is my rival, O King Feroz?”

III

When spring winds wakened the mountain floods,
And kindled the flame of the tulip buds,

When bees grew loud and the days grew long,
And the peach groves thrilled to the oriole’s song,

Queen Gulnaar sat on her ivory bed,
Decking with jewels her exquisite head;

And still she gazed in her mirror and sighed:
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”

Queen Gulnsar’s daughter two spring times old,
In blue robes bordered with tassels of gold,

Ran to her knee like a wildwood fay,
And plucked from her hand the mirror away.

Quickly she set on her own light curls
Her mother’s fillet with fringes of pearls;

Quickly she turned with a child’s caprice
And pressed on the mirror a swift, glad kiss.

Queen Gulnaar laughed like a tremulous rose:
“Here is my rival, O King Feroz.”

P.S. Not one of my best-loved poems when I was in school but somehow remained in my memory for a long time after I left school and entered college…and then, in a much-delayed, emotionally-charged moment of epiphany, I finally began to realize the essence of the poem and am still awaiting complete realization; the feminist thought in this one is unique…

Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
The judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

P.S. Another beautiful poem from the collection ‘Wings of Poesy’, my 8th grade English poetry book…

L’homme à la houe

The Man with the Hoe

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes.
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also a prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world.
After the silence of the centuries?

P.S. Poem written by Edwin Markham, inspired by Jean-Francois Millet’s painting L’homme à la houe. Very moving; I cried uncontrollably the first time I read this in school…7th grade I guess…