Kabir's Greatness as poet-saint or saint-poet is unparalleled in the whole range of Hindi literature. In the history of Hindi literature of some 1200 years no others poet, excepting Tulsidas, equals the genius of Kabir nor does equal the greatness of Kabir. For Hindus he is a vaishnav and for Muslims he is a Pir (Muslim saint). The followers of Kabir regard him as an incarnation of divinity. Modern nationalists regard him as an incarnation of divinity. Modern nationalists regard him the pioneer of Hindu-Muslim unity. For neo-vedantists he s a philanthropist. For progressive thinkers Kabir is a social-reformer. He is a heretic, and, at the same time, a liberal thinker. In terms of religious philosophy he is a monotheist-the devotee of the Unconditioned or the absolute. In leading a domestic life he was a yogi, and, in his vocation of weaving he was a philosopher who, like Wordsworth's skylark, was 'true to the kindred points of heaven and home'. Western thinkers call him an Indian Martin Luther. In his multisided genius Kabir is unparalleled.
In taking up the work of transversion of Kabir's Dohas (Hindi couplets) from the Sakhi I was primarily inspired by Fitzgerald's work Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I felt oriental wisdom should be made available to English-speaking readers who want to enjoy verse with the message of Kabir. When the work was midway I came across the Gita's blank verse translation by Sir Edwin Arnold, and much later, I came across the free verse translation of Kabir's one hundred poems (songs) by Rabindranath Tagore.
Some three years ago when I made my initial attempt at rendering a Kabir couplet into an English iambic pentameter couplet I could the task unmanageable. Then I realized that a few couplets could be transversed into an English iambic pentameter couplet but others seemed totally unmanageable. I made my next attempt with an octosyllabic line. I felt the task was manageable. Thus, the stanza-form adopted is of four lines-second line rhyming with the fourth line and each line having four iambic feet. There are some exceptions when the line is not iambic but becomes trochaic. In this respect, my doctoral studies on Robert Frost helped me a lot. Frost in theory advocated and in his practice demonstrated that loose iambic lines have colloquial rhythm. Strict iambic becomes a sing-song which may be metrically correct but its touch with speech is lost. Kabir's couplets in the Sakhi have a colloquial rhythm. In regard to the stanza-form, I verified from the practice of other poets. I found that keats in his "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" has similar form except that the last line is only of four syllables. Robert Frost in "A Record Stride" is of the same pattern:
In William Butler Yeast's poem "The Fiddler of Dooney" the same kind of stanza is used with extra unstressed syllable at the end of the first and third lines:
In regard to rhyme as well the practice of English and American poets was kept in mind. In many stanzas the rhyme words are not phonetically exact. This kind of variation is justified by such critical as 'eye rhyme' 'slant rhyme' and so on.
It has to be frankly acknowledged that all the qualities of the original cannot be transversed. Alliteration, assonance, and pun in the original become the first casualties in translation. Meaning has been the main consideration so the best possible attempt is made to keep the meaning faithfully conveyed. A limited free play becomes unavoidable. In this connection, it is pertinent to quote Prakash Chander, the translator of Flute and Bugle. "The difficulty of rendering Urdu into English is sought usually to be neutralized by limited free play with words and meanings even while staying anchored to the sense of original" (Underlines mine) (Quoted from Hindustan Times, July 23,1998).
The book opens a new vista in the sphere of verses translation in India. In the introductory part there is a departure from a mass of Hindi criticism. The bases of selection of Dohas from the Sakhi are: (1) Kabir's proverbial and worldly wisdom, (2) Analogy-findings gift, (3) richness and variety of imagery, (4) Recurrent theme of death, (5) Gift for satire, and (6) Rhetorical powers. This introductory part primarily focuses on Kabir as poet, which is his 'real estimate'. Thus, the introductory part is a piece of scholarly criticism judging and appreciating Kabir's Sakhi on the canons of English literary criticism.
The versification (four-line stanza form in loose iambic tetrameter lines) has an easy flow and almost parallels the flow of Kabir's Dohas. With the Hindi version and notes, the book will be a valuable reading especially for the English-speaking readers.
The Author-translator, M.S. Karki, (born in 1940) taught English language and literature at different colleges. His published doctoral dissertation Robert Frost: Theory and Practice of the Colloquial and Sound of Sense enjoyed the reputation of being an outstanding work. Besides this, the author edited with copious scholarly notes. The Golden Treasure (an anthology of English poems) and The Facets of English Prose (an anthology comprising parable, fable, allegory, irony, diary letter, biography and autobiography). His latest publication is A Miscellany of Poems.
The Bijak is the sacred book of the Kabir Panth and the main representative of the Eastern traditions of Kabir's verses. Shukhdev Singh and Linda Hess have accomplished a translation of real grace and remarkable accuracy. The introduction and notes explore Kabir's work, place if in its initial context, and explore its meaning for time.
Kabir's couplets which are considered as rich gems for their spiritual message and worldly wisdom are rhymed English verse translation of three hundred of them from a wide cross-section of the multifaceted genius utterances. Under each verse has been given a few lines in prose to help the reader grasp the underlying import of the message of the Saint-poet.
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