I have always loved poetry. I came of age in Appalachia in the 60s, but I didn’t read much poetry in school and rarely read works for kids. When everyone else was out of the house, I stood in front of the living room fireplace, as if on stage, and “sang” words written by Lord Byron and Shelley and Wordsworth — poems in an old book my dad kept on the bookshelf. The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics with notes by Francis T. Palgrave, who was then noted as being the “late professor of poetry” at Oxford, was first published in 1908. As an elementary school kid, I often didn’t have a clue as to the meaning of what I was reading/singing, but I loved the words and images and rhythms of poetry. (This classic anthology was brought back in print in February 2016 after many decades of being out of print. Available HERE.)
A few words, an image, or analogy can send me packing – traveling vicariously back to childhood, home, or another special place or time. Though it has happened many times over the years, I continue to be startled when memories of home surface in a faraway place – or a poem. This has happened to me in town plazas in Latin America, watching families enjoying “the park” at night, or witnessing a downpour in a rain forest and being overpowered by the memory of that wet-earth scent that comes after a shower in the Kentucky hills. And so it is with poems…
In the US during the 60s there was a lot of talk – and tomes written – about “finding” oneself. As if every young person was lost. I wasn’t. Thanks to my Appalachian heritage, I knew who I was. My goal was to explore every new avenue I could imagine through reading, travel, and making friends. What fun this still is!
The following Hindi poets writing in the 60s came from a very different “home” than the place where I grew up. But maybe…not so different after all.
~from “Fruits of the Earth” by Sumitra Nandan Pant
“Childhood. I planted pennies in the yard and dreamed
Penny trees would grow. I heard the air sweet
With the silvery ringing of my clustered crop
And strutted round like a big fat millionaire.
Ah fantasy! Not a single sprout came up;
Not one tree appeared on that barren ground:
Swallowed in dusk, blighted my dreams.
On hands and knees I scratched for a sign of growth;
Stared into darkness. What a fool I was!
I gathered the fruit I had sown. I had watered coins.”
(I never planted pennies, but who hasn’t done something similarly foolish as a child?)
~from “Sudden Laughter” by Shamsher Bahadur Singh
“By a cut-off path and somber waterfall
The sky defined by a fuzzy draggle of clouds,
…here, that dark young girl
Has suddenly relieved the air with laughter.”
(On the playground or in the classroom or sitting with friends in a tree…a tense or sad or frightening moment could be totally quelled by someone’s sudden belly laugh.)
~from “A Star Quivered” by Kirti Chaudhari
“A star quivered in a corner of the sky.
I thought, yes
Everything sometime or other will shine out like this.”
(Don’t all kids want to shine – sometime?)
~from “Cloud in the Canyon” by Dharmavir Bharati
“Though sun is still hidden,
Its haze-blurred light between peaks
Flashes like a supernatural gleam;
Rivers now vein the land below with their shine;
And, through the milky glass of air,
Spruces glitter like arched steel;
And slowly mist, layer by layer, crumbles
Here, then there;
Sun like heated gold
Bringing to blossom whole villages.”
(I am reminded of mornings in Kentucky, living in a valley surrounded by hills that were draped in mist, and how the mist slowly vanished as the sun melted it away, revealing the meadows and houses, like the blossoming of a village.)
~from “Spring Wind” by Kedar Nath Agrawal
“Allow me; I’m the wind.
Spring wind; that’s my name.
I am the very one
Who has toyed with the sky
For centuries, and did it
I am the one, yes I,
Who whistled harmony
To the sweet air
Of earth’s first day.
I am the very one
Who drops the biting wine
(Spelled “Love”) on every tongue
To keep all creatures young.”
(Spring. Youth. Renewal. Love. That’s what it’s all about!)
~from “Time” by Naresh Kumar Mehta
“Let us make this lake endure
Not by touching it
Not by sitting at its shore,
But by looking together into its mirror,
Dedicating ourselves to it,
Which is time.”
(I like reflections in water – what you can see and what is hidden, and how these change over time. But they are never as revealing as a mirror, which loves to show wrinkles and bulges and other evidence of Time’s handiwork.)
~from “A Single Shooting Star” by Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh
“A distant star
Shoots through the blue of space.
Here, someone measures its speed,
Records the rise and set…
With equal speed,
Another lone star seems
To move across the space
Of every man’s heart. So,
In moving out of shades
Of evil, reining self,
Riding the void, each star
Becomes the image seeing
Its own fearless offspring—
Because of this I shall
Put faith in every man,
In every man’s son.”
(Wasn’t it easier in childhood to believe in the goodness of all people?)
~from “Stump” by Nirala (Suryakant Tripathi)
“A mere stump,
All foliage gone,
Done with making.
Spring approaches and it does not quiver with anticipation.
Spring arrives and it does not bend to a bow under the
Nor does the love god, concealed in its branches, shoot
From that bow
Keen arrows carved of its pungent blossoms.
No traveler rests in its shade,
No lover weeps in the spot of shade
Cast by an old blind bird who sits there
Dumbly recalling the music it once could make.”
(Ah…at some point, don’t we all become “old blind birds dumbly recalling the music we once made”? Maybe that’s just me.)
~from “A Moment on Green Grass” by Agyeya (Sachchidananda Vatsyayan)
“We may for a moment
A boat plying on the river,
The first showers of July
Spattering on a dusty path,
Swimming together in the lake,
Unprovoked laughter beneath the banyan tree,
Your sunburned face, lines of your hair
Fixed on the face by beads of sweat,
Pine forest, two horses running together,
The wind soaked with the river…
Honey from the comb…
The dusty smell of the half-known acacia tree…
The sun dropping behind the dome of the mosque,
Glossy rocks by the spring…
A hand’s width of shade on the sand beneath the shrub…
We recall without effort.
We do not think.
We are running for the shelter of the past.”
(Nature. Love. Memories. All pretty much the same everywhere. All searching for shelter.)
~from “Fragments of Doubt” by Prabhakar Machwe
“The solitude questions the waterfall’s continual babbling;
The asking of trees is put by the birds’ wild mocking;
Hint of more asking is in the rainbow’s arching;
I’ve brought two fragments of doubt in the bag of my
(Why is it easier to appear to be an authority and keep doubts hidden in a bag than to admit a lack of knowledge or understanding?)
~from “Impressions of Water” by Raghuvir Sahay
Rains pour down in a dense forest far off.
Noon; dark lake; a branch of mango drooping over it.
Breeze: I stand by the window…and the spray
Of the breeze has touched me.
Suddenly night: sand suddenly upon the other side,
Suddenly a calm, deep river
Comes into sight.
…So water leaves its many marks
Upon the mind.”
(Water – spring floods in Appalachia; the pink water of the salt flats in Mexico; Caribbean blue, the prettiest water in the world. A mind over a lifetime can collect thousands of images of water that can stir every kind of emotion. This must mean something…)
~from “Search for Directions” by Shambhunath Singh
“Those directions may be mine
Where unheard sound
Leaves traces on the wind,
Sparkle with truth;
Each solitary lane,
Each unsniffed breeze,
Each empty path—
Those directions may be mine,
(I don’t mind getting lost. I’ve made many wonderful discoveries by switching direction and making the new one mine!)
All of the poems can be found in Modern Hindi Poetry: an anthology, edited by Vidya Niwas Misra and published in 1968.