TCS: SMOKE – All That Life Unseen / Under a Bare Sky

. . .Good Morning!

    

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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The gods themselves pass
Yet poetry that reigns
Indisputably remains
More indestructible than brass.

 – Théophile Gautier, from ‘Art’

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August 31 is the birthday of  the poets Théophile Gautier  and Amrita Pritam.

Gautier was French, Pritam was born in the Punjab when it was part of  British India. Both were influential in their cultures, Gautier as a transitional poet from Romanticism to early Modernism, and Pritam as the most important voice for women in Punjabi literature, and leading 20th-century Punjabi-language poet.

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Smoke

by Théophile Gautier

Over there, trees are sheltering
A hunchedback hut… A slum, no more…
Roof askew, walls and wainscoting
Falling away… Moss hides the door.

Only one shutter, hanging . . . But
Seeping over the windowsill,
Like frosted breath, proof that this hut,
This slum, is living, breathing still.

Corkscrew of smoke… A wisp of blue
Escapes the hovel, whose soul it is . . .
Rises to God himself, and who
Receives the news and makes it his.


 “Smoke” from Selected Lyrics, translated by Norman R. Shapiro – © 2011 by Norman R. Shapiro – Yale University Press

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Me

by Amrita Pritam

Lots of contemporaries—
but ‘me’ is not my contemporary.

My birth without ‘me’
was a blemished offering on the collection plate.
A moment of flesh, imprisoned in flesh.

And when to the tip of this tongue of flesh
some word comes, it kills itself.
If saved from killing itself,
it descends to the paper, where a murder happens.

Gunshot—
if it strikes me in Hanoi
it strikes again in Prague.

A little smoke floats up,
and my ‘me’ dies like an eighth-month child.
Will my ‘me’ one day be my contemporary?


– translated by D.H. Tracy and Mohan Tracy, published in Poetry magazine, June 2011 issue

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Amrit Pritam (1919-2005), Indian novelist, essayist, and poet, wrote in Punjabi and Hindi. Her career spanned over six decades, and she produced more than 100 books of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs, and an autobiography that were all translated into several Indian and foreign languages. Her mother died when she was eleven,and she was married at age sixteen. In 1947, a million people – Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims – died during the violence that followed the partition of India. Pritam became a Punjabi refugee, leaving Lahore and moving to New Delhi. Her work is much admired in both India and Pakistan. In 1956, she became the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for her long poem, Sunehade (Messages).After her divorce in 1960, her work became more feminist. Many of her stories and poems drew on the unhappy experience of her marriage. She worked for All India Radio, and edited Nagmani, a monthly Punjabi literary magazine.

In 1982, she received the Bharatiya Jnanpith, one of India’s highest literary awards, for Kagaz Te Canvas (“The Paper and the Canvas”). India honored her twice with civilian awards, the Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan, and in 2004, with India’s highest literary award,the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, given by the Sahitya Akademi  (India’s Academy of Letters) to the “immortals of literature” for lifetime achievement. For the last forty years of her life, she lived with artist and writer Imroz. He designed most of her book covers and made her the subject of several paintings. Pritam died in her sleep, after a long illness,in October, 2005.

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The Blind Man

by Théophile Gautier

A blind man, on the thoroughfare,
Startle-eyed as an owl by day,
Piping a dismal little air,
Taps here and there, loses his way,

Tootles awry his time-old ditty
Undauntedly, as by his side
Lopes his dog, guides him through the city,
Specter diurnal, sleepy-eyed.

Days, stark, wash over him, unlit;
He hears the dark world’s constant din
And all that life unseen, as it
Rolls, rushing, like a flood walled in!

God knows what black chimeras haunt
That brain opaque, what lot befalls;
And what dire spells the mind is wont
To scribble on those death-vault walls!

Like prisoner grown half-mad, who, pent,
Rots beneath Venice in her jail
Eternal, and whose hours are spent
Scratching a message with a nail . . .

But when the torch, in tomb immured,
Dies in the breath of death, maybe
The soul, to shades’ gloom long inured,
Will see with deathly clarity!


 “The Blind Man” from Selected Lyrics, translated by Norman R. Shapiro – © 2011 by Norman R. Shapiro – Yale University Press

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Empty Space

by Amrita Pritam

There were two kingdoms only:
the first of them threw out both him and me.
The second we abandoned.

Under a bare sky
I for a long time soaked in the rain of my body,
he for a long time rotted in the rain of his.

Then like a poison he drank the fondness of the years.
He held my hand with a trembling hand.
“Come, let’s have a roof over our heads awhile.
Look, further on ahead, there
between truth and falsehood, a little empty space.”


“Empty Space” by Amrita Pritam, translated by D.H. Tracy and Mohan Tracy, published in Poetry magazine, June 2011 issue

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I Have in My Heart

by Théophile Gautier

I have in my heart, from which every sail departs,
Two ivory benches, a crystal table,
Where are they sitting, each holding their card,
Your false love and my true love for you.

I have in my heart, in my transparent heart,
Your darling name enclosed by a gold box;
None have the key: profane hands shall not pass
To open it. The key is yours to hold.

Search my heart, this heart that you disdain
And find within it only you,
And you will see, my love, that you reign
O’er a country where no man is king!


“I Have in My Heart” is in the public domain

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A Letter

by Amrita Pritam

Me—a book in the attic.
Maybe some covenant or hymnal.
Or a chapter from the Kama Sutra,
or a spell for intimate afflictions.
But then it seems I am none of these.
(If I were, someone would have read me.)

Apparently at an assembly of revolutionaries
they passed a resolution,
and I am a longhand copy of it.
It has the police’s stamp on it
and was never successfully enforced.
It is preserved only for the sake of procedure.

And now only some sparrows come,
straw in their beaks,
and sit on my body
and worry about the next generation.
(How wonderful to worry about the next generation!)
Sparrows have wings on them,
but resolutions have no wings
(or resolutions have no second generation).

Sometimes I think to catch the scent—
what lies in my future?
Worry makes my binding come off.
Whenever I try to smell,
just some fumes of bird shit.
O my earth, your future!
Me—your current state.


– translated from the Punjabi by D.H. Tracy & Mohan Tracy

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To a Young Italian Girl

by Théophile Gautier

February shivered, white with frost and snow;
The rain, in sudden squalls, lashed at the eaves;
But still you sighed: “Oh God! When can I go
To gather violets among the leaves? “

Our sky’s in mourning for our French spring,
It’s more like winter, huddled by fire.
The same month Paris lies in the mire

Florence gathers its treasures in gem-like grass.

Look! Black trees twist in the icy gloom;
Your soul, mistaken in its sweet warmth;
Your blue eyes are still the only violets,
And spring laughs only on your cheek in bloom!


“To a Young Italian Girl” is in the public domain

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A Document

by Amrita Pritam

With a cover of the
Sun and the Moon, the earth
Is a beautiful book,
But starvation, poverty and slavery . . .
God, are these your sermons
Or simply printing errors?


 – translated by Suresh Kohli

“A Document” from Selected Poems of Amrita Pritam, Dialogue Calcutta Publications. Kindle Edition 2019

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Farewell to Poetry

by Théophile Gautier

Come, fallen angel, and your pink wings close;
Doff your white robe, your rays that gild the skies;
You must—from heaven, where once you used to rise—
Streak, like a shooting star, fall into prose.

Your bird’s feet now must strike an earthly pose.
It is no time to fly: walk! Lock your prize—
Your harp’s fair harmonies—in resting wise,
Within your heart: vain, worthless treasures those!

Poor child of heaven, but vainly would you sing:
To them your tongue divine means not a thing!
Their ear is closed to your sweet chords! But this

I beg: O blue-eyed angel, first, before
You leave, find my pale love, whom I adore,
And give her brow one long, last farewell kiss.


 “Farewell to Poetry” from Selected Lyrics, translated by Norman R. Shapiro, © 2011 by Norman R. Shapiro – Yale University Press

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I Will Meet You Yet Again

by Amrita Pritam

I will meet you yet again
How and where
I know not
Perhaps I will become a
figment of your imagination
and maybe spreading myself
in a mysterious line
on your canvas
I will keep gazing at you.

Perhaps I will become a ray
of sunshine to be
embraced by your colours
I will paint myself on your canvas
I know not how and where —
but I will meet you for sure.

Maybe I will turn into a spring
and rub foaming
drops of water on your body
and rest my coolness on
your burning chest
I know nothing
but that this life
will walk along with me.

When the body perishes
all perishes
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms
I will pick these particles
weave the threads
and I will meet you yet again.


– written for her partner Imroz, translated by Nirupama Dutt

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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