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PART ONE THE POETS OF NEPAL
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PART ONE
THE POETS OF NEPAL


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Nepali Poetry

Poetry is the richest genre of twentieth-century Nepali literature. Although the short story has developed strongly, the drama holds its ground in the face of fierce competition from the cinema, and the novel is increasingly popular, almost every Nepali writer composes poetry. Since the appearance of Sharada , Nepali poetry has become diverse and sophisticated. The poets I have selected for inclusion represent different stages and strands of this development, and I have attempted to present them in an order that reflects the chronology of literary change. The direction that this process of evolution has taken should be clear from the introduction to individual poets and the translations of their poems. Here, a few general comments are offered by way of introduction.

Lekhnath Paudyal, Balkrishna Sama, and Lakshmiprasad Devkota were undoubtedly the founders of twentieth-century Nepali poetry, and each was a distinctly different poet. Lekhnath was the supreme exponent of meter, alliteration, and melody and the first to perfect the art of formal composition in Nepali. His impact on poets contemporary with him was powerful, eventually producing a kind of "school." Although his influence has waned, this school retains some notable members.[1] Sama was primarily a dramatist, but his poems were also important. He began as a disciple of Lekhnath but later rebelled against the restraints of conventional forms with the same vigor that he brought to his opposition to Rana autocracy. Sama's compositions are colored by sensitivity, intellectualism, and clarity, and because of his role as a social reformer and the accessibility of his work, he is still highly respected. Both Lekhnath


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and Sama were deliberate, methodical craftsmen and masters of particular modes of poetic composition, but the erratic genius of Lakshmiprasad Devkota brought an entirely new tone and spirit to Nepali poetry. Early in his career, he took the revolutionary step of using folk meters in the long narrative poems that are now among the most popular works of Nepali literature. Later, he produced the greatest epics of his language and finally, adopting free-verse forms, he composed some of its most eloquent poems. It would be difficult to overstate Devkota's importance in the modern literature of Nepal: his appearance on the scene has been compared to that of a meteor in the sky or as Nepali poetry reaching full maturity "with a kind of explosion" (Rubin 1980, 4).

The Sharada era produced poets who were influenced by their three great contemporaries, but also made their own distinctive contributions to the development of the genre. In his early years, Siddhicharan was obviously a disciple of Devkota, but his poems are calmer, clearer, and less rhapsodic. Vyathit also had much in common with Lekhnath, but he differed in his obvious social concern and his gift for composing short epigrammatic poems. Rimal was motivated principally by his political views, but he also did much to establish free verse and the prose poem in Nepali. His influence is more apparent in the work of young poets today than is that of most of his contemporaries. The Sharada poets were men who were in their prime during the 1940s and 1950s, although both Siddhicharan and Vyathit remain active today. The revolution of 1950-1951 certainly brought an atmosphere of greater freedom to Nepal, and a large number of works were published that had been withheld for fear of censorship. Few immediate changes took place in the Nepali literary scene, however, and the prerevolutionary poets continued to occupy a preeminent position until the following decade.

During the 1960s, Nepali poetry departed quite radically from the norms of the preceding twenty-five years, which was a result of the unprecedented changes that occurred in Nepali society in general and in intellectual circles in particular. After 1960, a new literary journal, Ruprekha (Outline) quickly became Nepal's major organ for aspiring new writers. Among these was Mohan Koirala, arguably the most significant poet to have emerged in Nepal since Devkota. The philosophical outlook of the generation of poets who emerged after 1960 differed from that of its predecessors in many respects. The immense expansion of education spread literacy throughout Nepal and produced a generation of graduates who were familiar with philosophies and literatures other than their own. The initial effects of this intellectual opening out in Nepal could be seen clearly in the poetry of the Third Dimension movement and particularly in the work of Bairagi Kainla and ÌIshwar Ballabh. The new poetry of the 1960s was full of obscure mythological references and


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apparently meaningless imagery; this "cult of obscurantism" also influenced later poets, such as Banira Giri. It was coupled with a sense of pessimism and social alienation engendered by lack of opportunity in Nepal, which is expressed poignantly by the novelist and poet Parijat and angrily by Haribhakta Katuval.

The emergence of Bhupi Sherchan brought about further changes in the language and tone of Nepali poetry as well as in its purpose. His satire, humor, and anger were expressed in rhythmic free-verse forms, and the simplicity of his diction signified an urge to speak to a mass readership, not just to the members of the intellectual elite. During the 1960s, Nepali poetry seemed divorced from the realities of the society that produced it, but in the decade that followed it again addressed social and political issues in a language stripped of earlier pretensions. Poetry reassumed the role it had played during the Sharada era, once again becoming a medium for the expression of social criticism and political dissent. This trend reached a kind of climax in the "street poetry revolution" of 1979-1980, and Nepali writers played an important role in the political upheavals of February-April 1990 (Hutt 1990). This would surely have been a source of satisfaction to the mahakavi (great poet) Lakshmiprasad Devkota, who once wrote:

Our social and political contexts demand a revision in spirit and in style. We must speak to our times. The politicians and demagogues do it the wrong way, through mechanical loudspeakers. Ours should be the still, small voice of the quick, knowing heart. We are too poor to educate the nation to high standards all at one jump. Nor is it possible to kill the time factor. But there is a greater thing we can do and must do for the present day and the living generation. We can make the masses read us if we read their innermost visions first. (1981, 3)

Almost every educated Nepali turns his or her hand to the composition of poetry at some stage of life. In previous centuries, poetic composition was considered a scholarly and quasi-religious exercise that was closely linked to scriptural learning. It therefore remained the almost exclusive preserve of the Brahman male. Today, however, Nepali poets come from a variety of ethnic groups. Among those whose poems are translated here, there are not only Brahmans but also Newars, a Limbu, a Thakali, and a Tamang, and although it is still rather more usual for a poet to be male, the number of highly regarded women poets is growing steadily. Even members of Nepal's royal family have published poetry: the late king Mahendra (M. B. B. Shah) wrote some very popular romantic poems, and the present queen, writing as Chandani Shah, has recently published a collection of songs.

The Nepali literary world is centered in two Himalayan towns: Kath-


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mandu, the capital of Nepal, and Darjeeling, in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian state of West Bengal. Other cities, notably Banaras, served as publishing centers during the period of Rana rule in Nepal, but their importance has diminished in recent years. Until the fall of the Ranas, some of the most innovative Nepali writers were active in Darjeeling (the novelist Lainsingh Bangdel and the poet Agam Singh Giri are especially worthy of note), and fundamental work was also done by people such as Paras Mani Pradhan to reform and standardize the literary language. In more recent years, Darjeeling Nepalis have been concerned with establishing their identity as a distinct ethnic and linguistic group within India and with distancing themselves from Nepal. Thus, the links between the two towns have weakened to the extent that writers are sometimes described as a "Darjeeling poet" or a "Kathmandu poet" as if the two categories were in some way exclusive. This difference is also underscored by minor differences in dialect between the two centers.

It has always been well-nigh impossible for a Nepali writer to earn a livelihood from literary work alone. All poets therefore support themselves with income from other sources. Lekhnath was a family priest and teacher of Sanskrit; Devkota supported his family with private tutorial work and occasionally held posts in government institutions. Nowadays, poets may be college lecturers (Banira Giri), or they may be employed in biscuit factories (Bishwabimohan Shreshtha). Many are also involved in the production of literary journals or in the activities of governmental and voluntary literary organizations. Devkota, for instance, edited the influential journal Indreni (Rainbow) and was also employed by the Nepali Bhashanuvad Parishad (Nepali Translation Council) from 1943 to 1946. Sama became vice-chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy, as did Vyathit. Both Rimal and Siddhicharan were for some time editors of Sharada , and nowadays many younger poets are active in associations such as the Sahityik Patrakar Sangha (Literary Writers' Association) or the Sirjanshil Sahityik Samaj (Creative Literature Society), which organize readings, publish journals, and attempt to claim a wider audience for Nepali literature.

There are various ways in which Nepal rewards its most accomplished poets. Rajakiya Pragya Pratishthan (the Royal Nepal Academy), Nepal's foremost institution for the promotion of the kingdom's arts and culture, was founded in 1957 and now grants salaried memberships to leading writers and scholars for periods of five years. Academy members are thereby enabled to devote themselves to creative and scholarly work without the need for a subsidiary income. The period during which Kedar Man Vyathit was in charge of the academy is remembered as a golden age for Nepali poetry, but in general the scale of the academy's activities


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is limited by budgetary constraints. Nevertheless, the academy is a major poetry publisher and has produced many of the anthologies and collections upon which I have drawn for the purpose of this book. The academy also produces a monthly poetry journal, Kavita (Poetry), edited until his recent demise by Bhupi Sherchan, and awards annual prizes to prominent writers; these include the Tribhuvan Puraskar, a sum of money equivalent to two or three years of a professional salary.

Another important institution is the Madan Puraskar Guthi (Madan Prize Guild), founded in 1955 and based in the city of Patan (Lalitpur). The Guthi maintains the single largest library of Nepali books, produces the scholarly literary journal Nepali , and awards two annual prizes (Madan Puraskar) to the year's best literary book and nonliterary book in Nepali.

Sajha Prakashan (Sajha Publishers) is the largest commercial publisher of Nepali books, with a list of nearly six hundred titles. It assumed the publishing role of the Nepali Bhasha Prakashini Samiti (Nepali Language Publications Committee) in 1964 and established an annual literary prize, the Sajha Puraskar, in 1967. Since 1982 Sajha Prakashan has also produced another important literary journal, Garima (Dignity). The Gorkhapatra Sansthan (Gorkhapatra Corporation) produces the daily newspaper Gorkhapatra and the literary monthly Madhupark (Libation). The latter publication has become the kingdom's most sophisticated periodical under the editorship of Krishnabhakta Shreshtha, who is himself a poet of some renown. With Garima, Bagar (The Shore, an independently produced poetry journal), and the academy's Kavita (Poetry), Madhupark is now among the leading journals for the promotion of modern Nepali poetry. The monthly appearance of each of these journals is eagerly awaited by the literary community of Kathmandu, many of whose members congregate each evening around the old pipal tree on New Road. Madhupark in particular has a wide circulation outside the capital. In India, too, institutions such as Darjeeling's Nepali Sahitya Sammelan (Nepali Literature Association) and the West Bengal government's Nepali Academy produce noted journals and award annual literary prizes.

Despite the limited nature of official support for publishing and literary ventures in Nepal, the literary scene is vibrant. The days when Nepali poets had to undertake long periods of exile to escape censorship, fines, and imprisonment have passed, but until April 1990 the strictures of various laws regarding public security, national unity, party political activity, and defamation of the royal family still made writers cautious. With increasing frequency during the 1980s, writers were detained, newspapers and journals were banned, and editors were fined.


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But poetry remained the most vital and innovative genre and the medium through which sentiments and opinions on contemporary social and political issues were most frequently expressed. In Nepal, poets gather regularly for kavi-sammelan (reading sessions), and the status of "published poet" is eagerly sought. Most collections and anthologies produced by the major publishers have first editions of 1,000 copies—a fairly substantial quantity by most standards. Literary communities exist in both Kathmandu and Darjeeling, with the inevitable loyalties, factions, and critics. Books and articles on Nepali poetry abound, and critics such as Taranath Sharma (formerly known as Tanasarma), Ishwar Baral, and Abhi Subedi are highly respected.

Features of Nepali Poetry

The last eighty years have seen a gradual drift away from traditional forms in Nepali verse, although a few poets do still employ classical meters. Until the late nineteenth century, however, almost all Nepali poetry fulfilled the requirements of Sanskrit prosody and was usually composed to capture and convey one of the nine rasa. Rasa literally means "juice," but in the context of the arts it has the sense of "aesthetic quality" or "mood." The concept of rasa tended to dictate and limit the number of themes and topics deemed appropriate for poetry.

Classical Sanskrit meters, many of which are derived from ancient Vedic forms, are based on quantity and are extremely strict. A syllable with a long vowel is considered long, or "heavy," whereas a syllable is short, or "light," when it contains only a short vowel. Whether a syllable is followed by a single consonant or a conjunct consonant also affects its metrical length. The simplest classical meter, and consequently one of the most commonly used, is the anushtubh (or anushtup ), often referred to simply as shloka , "stanza." This allows nine of the sixteen syllables of each line to be either long or short and therefore provides an unusual degree of flexibility. In most other meters, however, the quantity of each syllable is rigidly determined. The shardula-vikridita that Bhanubhakta adopted in his Ramayana epic is a typical example. Each line of verse in this meter must contain nineteen syllables with a caesura after the twelfth, and the value of each and every syllable is dictated with no scope for adaptation or compromise.

Evidently, the ability to compose metrical verse that retains a sense of freshness and spontaneity is a skill that can be acquired only through diligent study and has therefore remained the preserve of the more erudite, high-caste sections of society. Most Nepali poets now regard these rules and conventions as restrictive, outdated, and elitist, especially


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because they also extend to considerations of theme and structure. Yet it is significant that the skill to compose poetry in a classical mode was considered an important part of a poet's repertoire until quite recently. Balkrishna Sama used Vedic meters even in some of his later poems, and Devkota gave a dazzling display of his virtuosity in the Shakuntala Mahakavya (The Epic of Shakuntala) by employing no less than twenty different meters.

The first attempts to break the stranglehold of classical conventions were made during the 1920s and 1930s when poets such as Devkota began to use meters and rhythms taken from Nepali folk songs. The musical jhyaure became especially popular and retains some currency today. Such developments were part of a more general trend toward the definition of a specifically Nepali identity distinct from pan-Indian cultural and literary traditions. These changes could also be regarded as a literary manifestation of the Nepali nationalism that eventually toppled the Rana autocracy.

In the years that followed, many poets abandoned meter altogether. Nonmetrical Nepali verse is termed gadya-kavita , literally "prose poetry." Most nonmetrical poems can be described as free verse, but a few works do exist, such as Sama's "Sight of the Incarnation" (Avatar-Darshan ), that seem to be conscious efforts to compose genuine prose poems. As Nepali poetry departed from the conventions of its Sanskrit antecedents, its language also changed. The arcane Sanskrit vocabulary required by classical formulas was no longer relevant. When poets began to address contemporary issues and to dispense with traditional forms, they also strove to make their works more readily comprehensible. The vocabulary of the "old" poetry was therefore rapidly discarded.

Nepali poetry is composed in several distinct generic forms. The most common is, of course, the simple "poem" (kavita ) written in metrical or free-verse form. A khanda-kavya , "episodic poem," is longer and is usually published as a book in its own right. It consists of either a description or a narrative divided into chapters of equal length. Devkota's narrative poem Muna-Nadan (Muna and Madan) and Lekhnath's description of the seasons, Ritu-Vichara (Reflections on the Seasons), are two famous examples. Because the khanda-kavya is a form with classical antecedents, it is invariably composed in metrical verse. The lamo kavita , or "long poem," however, is a modern free-verse form that is not divided into chapters and that can address any topic or theme. The longest poetic genre is the mahakavya , the "epic poem," another classical form that must be composed in metrical verse. The importance and popularity of the khanda-kavya and the mahakavya have diminished significantly in the years since 1950.


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Some Problems of Translation

All translation involves a loss, whether it be of music and rhythm or subtle nuances of meaning. To translate from one European language into another is no easy task, but when the cultural milieus of the two languages concerned are as different from each other as those of Nepali and English are, the problems can sometimes seem insurmountable. The first priority in translating these poems has been to convey their meaning, tone, and emotional impact. On numerous occasions, I have begun to translate poems that seemed especially important or interesting only to realize that justice simply could not be done to the original and that the task had best be abandoned. Lekhnath's poems in particular, with their dependence on alliteration and meter, are inhospitable territory for the translator: to render them into rhyming couplets would be to trivialize and detract from their seriousness, but a free-verse translation that lacked a distinctive rhythm would be dishonest. For these reasons, Lekhnath is represented here by only a few of his shorter poems: to appreciate fully the elegance of a work such as Reflections on the Seasons , a knowledge of Nepali is essential. In contrast, some of Bhupi Sherchan's compositions lend themselves particularly well to translation, especially to an admirer of Philip Larkin's poems. (See, for example, "A Cruel Blow at Dawn" [Prata: Ek Aghat ].) In every case, I have attempted to produce an English translation that can pass as poetry, without taking too many liberties with the sense of the original poem. I cannot claim perfection for these translations, and it would of course be possible to continue tinkering with them and redrafting them for years to come. Eventually, however, one must decide that few major improvements can be made and that the time has come to publish, although, one hopes, not to await damnation.

The intrinsic difficulty of translating Nepali poetry into English stems partly from some important differences between the two languages. The nature of the Nepali language provides poets with great scope for omitting grammatically dispensable pronouns and suffixes and for devising convoluted syntactic patterns. In some poems, it is impossible for any single line to be translated in isolation: the meaning of each stanza must be rendered prosaically and then reconstituted in a versified form that comes as close as possible to that of the original Nepali. This is partly because Nepali follows the pattern of subject-object-verb and possesses participles and adjectival verb forms for which English has no real equivalents. But the untranslatable character of some Nepali poetry can also be explained in terms of poetic license. Nepali is also capable of extreme brevity: to convey accurately the meaning of a line of only three or four words, a much longer English translation may be necessary.


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The translator is often torn between considerations of semantic exactitude and literary elegance. For example, how should one translate the title of Parijat's "Sohorera Jau"? Jau is a simple imperative meaning "go" or "go away," but sohorera is a conjunctive participle that could be translated as "sweeping," "while sweeping," "having swept," or even "sweepingly," none of which lends itself particularly well to a poetic rendering. "Sweep Away" is the closest I have come to a compromise between the exact meaning and the requirements of poetic language. Problems can also arise when poets refer to specific species of animals or plants. This causes no difficulty when such references are to owls or to pine trees, but in many instances one can find no commonly known English name. A botanically correct translation of a verse from Mohan Koirala's "It's a Mineral, the Mind" (Khanij Ho Man ) would read as follows:

I am a Himalayan pencil cedar with countless boughs,
the sayapatri flower which hides a thousand petals,
a pointed branch of the scented Ficus hirta ...

Clearly, such a pedantic rendering would do little justice to the original Nepali poem.

A further problem is caused by the abundance of adjectival synonyms in Nepali, which English cannot reflect. The translator must therefore despair of conveying the textural richness that this abundance of choice imparts to the poetry in its original language. As John Brough points out, Sanskrit has some fifty words for "lotus," but "the English translator has only 'lotus,' and he must make the best of it" (1968, 31). Nepali poets also make innumerable references to characters and events from Hindu, and occasionally Buddhist, mythology and from their own historical past. Nepali folklore and the great Mahabharata epic are inexhaustible sources of stories and parables with which most Nepalis are familiar. A non-Nepali reader will require some explanation of these references if the meaning of the poem is to be comprehended, and brief notes are therefore supplied wherever necessary.


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Lekhnath Paudyal (1885-1966)

Lekhnath Paudyal was the founding father of twentieth-century Nepali poetry, but his most important contribution was to the enrichment and refinement of its language rather than to its philosophical breadth. His poems possessed a formal dignity that had been lacking in most earlier works in Nepali; many of them conformed in their outlook with the philosophy of orthodox Vedanta, although others were essentially original in their tone and inspiration. The best of Lekhnath's poems adhered to the old-fashioned conventions of Sanskrit poetics (kavya ) but also hinted at a more spontaneous and emotional spirit. Although often regarded as the first modern Nepali poet, Lekhnath is probably more accurately described as a traditionalist who perfected a classical style of Nepali verse. Note, however, that his poems occasionally made reference to contemporary social and political issues; these were the first glimmerings of the poetic spirit that was to come after him.

Lekhnath was born into a Brahman family in western Nepal in 1885 and received his first lessons from his father. Around the turn of the century, he was sent to the capital to attend a Sanskrit school and thence to the holy city of Banaras, as was customary, to continue his higher education. During his stay in India, his young wife died, and he met with little academic success. Penniless, he embarked on a search for his father's old estate in the Nepalese lowlands, which was ultimately fruitless, and he therefore spent the next few years of his life seeking work in India. In 1909 he returned to Kathmandu, where he entered the employ of Bhim Shamsher, an important member of the ruling Rana family, as priest and tutor. He retained this post for twenty-five years.

As an educated Brahman, Lekhnath was well acquainted with the


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classics of Sanskrit literature, from which he drew great inspiration. From an early age, he composed pedantic "riddle-solving" (samasya-purti ) verses, a popular genre adapted from an earlier Sanskrit tradition, and his first published poems appeared in 1904. Two poems published in an Indian Nepali journal, Sundari , in 1906 greatly impressed Ram Mani Acharya Dikshit, the editor of the journal Madhavi , who became the first chair of the Gorkha Bhasha Prakashini Samiti (Gorkha Language Publication Committee) in 1913 and did much to help Lekhnath to establish his reputation as a poet. His first major composition was "Reflections on the Rains" (Varsha Vichara ) and it was first published in Madhavi in 1909. This poem was later expanded and incorporated into Reflections on the Seasons (Ritu Vichara ), completed in 1916 but not published until 1934. More of his early poems also appeared in a collection published in Bombay in 1912.

One of Lekhnath's most popular poems, "A Parrot in a Cage" (Pinjarako Suga ) is usually interpreted as an allegory with a dual meaning: on one level of interpretation, it describes the condition of the soul trapped in the body, a common theme in Hindu devotional verse, but it also bewails the poet's lot as an employee of Bhim Shamsher. Here the parrot, which has to make profound utterances according to its master's whim, is actually the poet himself. This particular poem is extremely famous in Nepal because it is one of the earliest examples of a writer criticizing the Rana families who ruled the country at the time. In terms of literary merit, however, it does not rank especially highly in comparison with Lekhnath's other verse because it suffers from excessive length and frequent repetition. Indeed, some critics regard it as a poem originally written for children.

Lekhnath produced one of his most important contributions to Nepali poetry at quite an early stage of his career: his first khanda-kavya (episodic poem), Reflections on the Seasons , demonstrated a maturity that was without precedent in Nepali poetry. Indeed, it is largely to Lekhnath Paudyal that this genre owes its prestige in Nepali literature. The primary inspiration for this work was probably The Chain of the Seasons (Ritu-Samhara ) by the great fifth-century Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. Each of the six "episodes" of Lekhnath's poem comprises one hundred couplets in the classical anushtup meter and describes one of the six seasons of the Indian year. Most of the metaphors and similes employed in the poem were borrowed directly from Sanskrit conventions for the description of nature (prakriti-varnana ), but a few were unusual for their apparent reference to contemporary political issues:

In the forest depths stands a bare poinsettia
Like India bereft of her strength and wisdom . . .


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Soon the flowers seem tired and wan,
     sucked dry of all their nectar,
As pale as a backward land

The poem is also often praised for the subtlety of its alliterations and for the dexterity with which Lekhnath constructed internal rhymes:

divya anandako ranga divya-kanti-taranga cha
divya unnatiko dhanga divya sara prasanga cha

Divine the colors of bliss,
     divine the ripples of light,
Divine the manner of their progress,
     divine the whole occasion

Lekhnath did not develop the great promise of these early episodic poems further until much later in his life, but a large number of his shorter poems continued to appear in a variety of literary journals in both India and Nepal. Many poems were probably never published and may now be lost. A two-volume collection, Delicacy (Lalitya ) was published in 1967-1968 and contained one hundred poems. Lekhnath's shorter works covered a wide variety of topics and conveyed all of the nine rasa . Although many are plainly moralistic, some have a whimsical charm and are often couched in uncharacteristically simple language. One such is "The Chirruping of a Swallow" (Gaunthaliko Chiribiri ), first published in 1935, in which a swallow explains the transient nature of existence to the poet:

You say this house is yours,
I say that it is mine,
To whom in fact does it belong?
Turn your mind to that!

His devotional poems are more formal and are admired for their beauty and for the sincerity of the emotions they express. "Remembering Saraswati" (Saraswati-Smriti ) is the prime illustration of this feature of Lekhnath's poetry. Other compositions, such as "Dawn" (Arunodaya , 1935), represent obscure philosophical abstractions:

Inside the ear, a mellifluous sound
is drawn out in the fifth note,
the more I submerge to look within,
the more I feel a holy mood

Poems such as "Himalaya" (Himal ) are probably intended to arouse patriotic feeling. Lekhnath approached all his work in the deliberate man-


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ner of a craftsman, paying meticulous attention to meter, vocabulary, and alliteration. His primary concern was to create "sweetness" in the language of his poems, and many were rewritten several times before the poet was content with them.

In 1951, Lekhnath was invested by King Tribhuvan with the title of kavi shiromani , which literally means "crest-jewel poet" but is generally translated as "poet laureate." Since his death in 1966, no other poet has been similarly honored, so the title would seem to be his in perpetuity. His first composition after 1950 was a long poem entitled "Remembering the Truth of Undying Light" (Amar Jyotiko Satya-Smriti ), which expressed grief over the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Under the censorious rule of the Rana regime, this would probably have been interpreted as an expression of support for the Nepali Congress Party.

The work that is now regarded as Lekhnath's magnum opus is "The Young Ascetic" (Taruna Tapasi ), published in 1953. "The Young Ascetic" is a lengthy narrative poem concerning a poet stricken by grief at the death of his wife, who sits beneath a tree by the wayside. As he mourns alone, a renunciant sadhu appears before him; this man later turns out to be the spirit of the tree beneath which the poet sits. The sadhu delivers a long homily to the mourning poet: as a tree, rooted to one spot, the sadhu has experienced many hardships and has learned much from his observation of the people who have rested in his shade. Thus, after long years of watchfulness and contemplation, he has achieved spiritual enlightenment. The poem contains much that can readily be construed as symbolism, allegory, and even autobiography. The poet probably represents Lekhnath himself, and the descriptions of the changing seasons are said to represent the advent and departure of the various ruling families of Nepal.

Lekhnath was honored by the Nepali literary world on his seventieth birthday in 1955 when he became the focal point of a procession around the streets of Kathmandu. The procession was probably modeled on the old-age initiation ceremony practiced by the Newars of Kathmandu Valley. The old poet was seated in a ceremonial carriage and paraded through the city, pulled by most of the better known poets of the time and even by the prime minister. In 1957, he was awarded membership in the newly founded Royal Nepal Academy, and in 1969 he was honored posthumously with the prestigious Tribhuvan Puraskar prize. These honors are a mark of the peculiar reverence felt by members of the cultural establishment of Nepal for the man whose poems represent the "classical" aspect of their modern literature. He can no longer escape the scorn of the young, however, and he is rarely imitated by aspiring poets. In an essay published in 1945, Devkota defended the "laureate" from his critics:


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Whether poetry should be composed in colloquial language or not is still a matter for dispute: we praise the attempts that are made to utilize the melodiousness of rural or mountain dialects, but this, after all, is not our only resort. Even if one agrees that meter can fragment the flow of poetry, it remains true that less criticism can be made of the poet whose feelings emerge in rounded, smooth, illuminated forms than of the poet who expresses himself in an undeveloped torrent of primitivism. (1945, 223)

Surprisingly little is known about the personal life of the man whose poems are now read and learned by every Nepali schoolchild. In the few portraits that exist, Lekhnath, an old man with a long white beard, peers inquisitively at the camera from behind a pair of cheap wire-framed spectacles. Born into a tradition of conservative and priestly scholasticism, he was innovative enough to compose poems in his mother tongue that dared to make occasional references to contemporary social realities, and he also brought the discipline and refinement of ancient Sanskrit conventions to the development of Nepali poetry.

The essential quality of much of Lekhnath's poetry derives mainly from his choice of vocabulary and his use of meter and alliteration; it is therefore rather less amenable to effective translation than the works of most later poets, a fact reflected by the small number of poems translated here. Of these, "A Parrot in a Cage" has been slightly abridged: the Nepali poem contains 25 verses. A translation of Reflections on the Spring , completed some years ago, has with some regrets been deleted from this selection. Many of the one hundred couplets that make up this famous poem are merely exercises in alliteration and rhyme, and as a whole Reflections on the Spring tends to defy translation.

Most of Lekhnath Paudyal's shorter poems are collected in Lalitya (Delicacy), published in two volumes in 1967 and 1968. His longer works —khanda-kavya and mahakavya —are (with dates of first publication) Ritu Vichara (Contemplation of the Seasons, 1916), Buddhi Vinoda (Enjoyments of Wisdom, 1916), Satya-Kali-Samvada (A Dialogue Between the Degenerate Age and the Age of Truth, 1919), Amar Jyotiko Satya-Smriti (Remembering the Truth of Undying Light, 1951), Taruna Tapasi (The Young Ascetic, 1953), and Mero Rama (My God, 1954). Another epic poem, entitled Ganga-Gauri (Goddess of the Ganges), remains unfinished.

A Parrot in a Cage (Pinjarako Suga)

A pitiful, twice-born[1] child called parrot,
I have been trapped in a cage,


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Even in my dreams, Lord Shiva,
I find not a grain of peace or rest.

My brothers, my mother and father,
Dwell in a far forest corner,
To whom can I pour out my anguish,
Lamenting from this cage?

Sometimes I weep and shed my tears,
Sometimes I am like a corpse,
Sometimes I leap about, insane,
Remembering forest joys.

This poor thing which wandered the glades
And ate wild fruits of daily delight
Has been thrust by Fate into a cage;
Destiny, Lord, is strange!

All about me I see only foes,
Nowhere can I find a friend,
What can I do, how shall I escape,
To whom can I unburden my heart?

Sometimes it's cold, sometimes the sun shines,
Sometimes I prattle, sometimes I am still,
I am ruled by the fancies of children,
My fortune is constant change.

For my food I have only third-class rice,
And that does not fill me by half,
I cast a glance at my water pot:
Such comforts! That, too, is dry!

Hoarse my voice, tiresome these bonds,
To have to speak is further torment,
But if I refuse to utter a word,
A stick is brandished, ready to beat me.

One says, "It is a stupid ass!"
Another cries, "See, it refuses to speak!"
A third wants me to utter God's name:
"Atma Ram, speak, speak, say the name!"

Fate, you gave my life to this constraint,
You gave me a voice I am forced to use,
But you gave me only half my needs;
Fate, you are all compassion!

And you gave me faculties both
Of melodious speech and discerning taste,
But what do these obtain for me, save
Confinement, abuse, constant threats?


28

Jailing me, distressing me,
Are the curious sports Man plays,
What heinous crimes these are,
Deliver me, thou God of pity.

Humanity is all virtue's foe,
Exploiting the good till their hearts are dry,
Why should Man ever be content
Till winged breath itself is snatched away?

While a single man on this earth remains,
Until all men have vanished,
Do not let poor parrots be born,
Oh Lord, please hear my prayer!
(1914/17; from Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

Himalaya (Himal)

A scarf of pure white snow
Hangs down from its head to its feet,
Cascades like strings of pearls
Glisten on its breast,
A net of drizzling cloud
Encircles its waist like a gray woolen shawl:
An astounding sight, still and bright,
Our blessed Himalaya.

Yaks graze fine grass on its steepest slopes,
And muskdeer spread their scent divine,
Each day it receives the sun's first embrace:
A pillar of fortune, deep and still,
Our blessed Himalaya.

It endures the blows of tempest and storm,
And bears the tumult of the rains;
Onto its head it takes the burning sun's harsh fire,
For ages past it has watched over Creation,
And now it stands smiling, an enlightened ascetic,
Our blessed Himalaya.

Land of the Ganga's birth,
Holy Shiva's place of rest,
Gauri's jeweled palace of play,[2] Cruel black Death cannot enter
This still, celestial column,
Our blessed Himalaya.

It nurtures mines of precious gems,
And gives pure water, sweet as nectar,


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And they say it still contains
Alaka, the Yaksha's capital;[3] Climbing to its peak, one's heart
Is full of thoughts of heaven,
Thus bright with light and wealth,
Our blessed Himalaya.
(from Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971; also included in Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)

Remembering Saraswati (Saraswati-Smriti

She plays the lute of the tender soul,
Plucking thousands of sweet sounds
With the gentle nails of the mind,
As she sits upon the heart's opened lotus:
May I never forget, for the whole of my life,
The goddess Saraswati.[4]

She wears a crystal necklace
Of clear and lovely shapes,
It refines the practical arts of this world,
And my heart ever fills with her waves of light:
May I never forget, through the whole of my life,
The goddess Saraswati.

She keeps the great book of remembrance,
Recording all things seen, heard, and felt,
All are entered in their fullness,
And nothing is omitted:
May I never forget, through the whole of my life,
The goddess Saraswati.

She rides the quick and magical swan[5] Which dives and plays in our hearts' deep lake,
And she brings to life the world's games and their glory:
May I never forget, through the whole of my life,
The goddess Saraswati.

"When you come to comprehend
The world-pervading sweetness
Of this my art of living,
Your fear and ignorance must surely end."
With this she gestures reassurance:


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May I never forget, through the whole of my life,
The goddess Saraswati.
(from Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

An Ode to Death (Kal Mahima)

It knows naught of mercy, forgiveness, love,
It makes neither promises nor mistakes,
And never is it content,
Indra himself may bow down at its feet,[6] But it heeds not Indra's plea,
It does not pick through the pile,
Dividing sweet from sour,
But checks through all our records;
It never strikes in error.

Kings and paupers are all alike,
It picks them up and bears them away,
Never put off till its stomach is filled;
Medicine's cures present no threat,
Like an undying hunter, it moves unseen.

It bathes in pools of tears,
It dislikes all cool waters,
Without a dry old skeleton
It cannot make its bed,
It wears no more than ashes,
Sings naught but lamentation.

Everything is gulped straight down,
To pause and chew would mean starvation,
All that is swallowed is spewed straight out,
Nothing is digested, through long ages,
Death's hunger never sated.
(from Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

Last Poem (Akhiri Kavita)

God Himself endures this pain,
This body is where He dwells,
By its fall He is surely saddened,
He quietly picks up His things, and goes.
(1965?; from Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


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Balkrishna Sama (1903-1981)

Lekhnath Paudyal, Balkrishna Sama, and Lakshmiprasad Devkota were the three most important Nepali writers of the first half of this century, and their influence is still felt today. Lekhnath strove for classical precision in traditional poetic genres; Devkota's effusive and emotional works provoked a redefinition of the art of poetic composition in Nepali. In contrast to both of these, Balkrishna Sama was essentially an intellectual whose personal values and knowledge of world culture brought austerity and eclecticism to his work. He was also regarded highly for his efforts to simplify and colloquialize the language of Nepali verse.

Sama was born Balkrishna Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana in 1903. As a member of the ruling family, he naturally enjoyed many privileges: his formative years were spent in sumptuous surroundings, and he received the best education available in Nepal at that time. In 1923 he became a high-ranking army officer, as was customary for the sons of Rana families, but from 1933 onward he was able to dedicate himself wholly to literature because he was made chair of the kingdom's main publishing body, the Nepali Language Publication Committee. He changed his name to Sama , "equal," in 1948 after spending several months in prison for his association with political forces inimical to his family's regime. It is by this pseudonym that he is now usually known. Sama is universally regarded as the greatest Nepali playwright, and it was primarily to drama that he devoted his efforts during the first half of his life. In recognition of his enormous contribution to the enrichment of Nepali literature, he was made a member of the Royal Nepal Academy in 1957, its vice-chancellor in 1968, and a life member after his retirement in 1971.

The young Balkrishna seems to have been unusually gifted because


32

he began to compose metrical verses before he was eight years old, imitating those of his father and his tutor, the father of Lakshmiprasad Devkota. Balkrishna conceived an affection for music and art and developed a sense of reverence for sacred literature, particularly the Ramayana of Bhanubhakta: "Up until then, it had never occurred to me that the Ramayana was the work of a human being. When I watched my sister bowing down before the book, I thought it had been created by one of the gods!" (Sama 1966, 14).

At school, he read William Wordsworth and other English poets and even translated the poem "Lucy Gray" into Nepali in 1914. He was also impressed by Lekhnath Paudyal's "Ritu Vichara, " and Lekhnath's influence is clearly discernible in Balkrishna's earliest compositions. His first play, Tansenko Jhari (Rain at Tansen), which he wrote in 1921, used the classical anushtup meter, and he wrote most subsequent dramas in verse forms. These included the classic works of Nepali theater: Mutuko Vyatha (Heart's Anguish, 1929), Mukunda-Indira (Mukunda and Indira, 1937), and Prahlad (1938). Sama was undoubtedly influenced by Shakespeare's use of verse in drama and experimented with unorthodox metrical combinations, showing scant regard for the rules of Sanskrit prosody.

Sama was also an accomplished painter and story writer, as well as the author of a speculative philosophical treatise, Regulated Randomness (Niyamit Akasamikta ). His poetry represented the second facet of his literary personality, although it was certainly no less important to him than his plays. All of his poems were published as a single collection in 1981, with the exception of two long works that appeared separately. It is clear from this volume that Sama produced far more poetry in his later years than in his youth: less than forty poems were published before 1950, but more than one hundred and fifty appeared between 1950 and 1979. T. Sharma (1982, 92) believes that Sama's poems fall into four categories. The earliest were fairly conventional compositions in Sanskrit meters and were followed by the many songlike poems that are sprinkled throughout Sama's first verse dramas. After 1950, he produced poems that dealt with philosophical themes in ancient Vedic meters, as well as thematically similar poems written in free verse. The earlier compositions were more formulaic than later works, although Sama's interest in experimentation was clearly evident at an early stage. In "Broken Vase" (Phuteko Phuldan , 1935), for instance, the opening verse is symbolically shattered and fragmented:

oh the vase . . . from my hand...
slipped . . . fell to the floor . . . broke with a crack
. . . water spilled . . . flowers, too,
. . . smashed . . . to smithereens!


33

His most famous nonmetrical poems are praised for the sweetness and simplicity of their language and often have a strong didactic tone. If they have a fault, it is their tendency to become long-winded and humorless. Sama was a rationalist and an agnostic, which made him highly suspect in the eyes of the rulers. His personal beliefs were set forth in poems such as "Man Is God Himself" (Manis Svayam Devata Huncha ), translated here, and a longer poem, "I, Too, Believe in God" (Ma Pani Dyauta Manchu ):

I, too, believe, holy man,
I, too, believe in God,
but between your God and mine
there is the difference of earth and sky.
Him you see when you close your eyes
in meditation's abstract clouds,
Him I see with my eyes wide open
in the dear sight of every man.

The subject of many poems was poetry itself: one of his longest works, "Sight of the Incarnation" (Avatar-Darshan, 1973) is a seventeen-page prose poem that describes a dream in which Sama encountered the goddess of poetry, presumably Saraswati. Extracts from this poem are presented here. Sama's incomplete autobiography is entitled My Worship of Poetry (Mero Kavitako Aradhana ), and the composition of poetry evidently meant far more to Sama than a mere literary pursuit. This attitude to poetry, common to all South Asian poets of earlier generations, is derived from ancient classical traditions, as expounded by the tenth-century poet Rajashekhara in his Kavya-Mimamsa (Treatise on Poetry). This attitude continued to influence Nepali poets well into the present century. Sama's literary perspective was far broader than that of thoroughly traditional poets such as Lekhnath, however, and his exposure to Western literatures and knowledge of world affairs led him to conduct a number of unusual experiments.

Among the most ambitious of these was a long poem in free verse entitled Fire and Water (Ago ra Pani ), which was published in book form in 1954. In Fire and Water , Sama attempted to describe the whole history of humankind as a struggle between the forces of good (water) and evil (fire):

Golden fire, silver water,
ruby spark and diamond snow,
their confrontation is not new,
their lack of concord, constant conflict,
struggle, tangle, war and scrabble,
slaughter, murder: these all began in long ages past.


34

Certain passages of Fire and Water are remarkable, but the work as a whole is somewhat overcontrived, and its concluding chapters, which describe a utopia governed by "regulated randomness," are unconvincing. Despite these shortcomings, Fire and Water is considered, with some justification, to have been a bold and significant new venture in Nepali literature.

Sama's second major poetic work was a full-blown epic (mahakavya ) entitled Cold Hearth (Chiso Chuhlo ), published in 1958. Its theme was a tragic love affair between two young people divided by a difference in caste. Part of the epic's novelty lay in the fact that its various characters spoke in a diction that imitated that of other Nepali poets. Cold Hearth also demonstrated Sama's erudition and represented his humanistic rejection of the Sanskrit convention that holds that the hero of an epic must be a character of high birth and nobility: the central character of the story was Sante Damai, a low-caste tailor. Critics generally agree that Cold Hearth is diffuse and overextended and that it ranks somewhat lower than Fire and Water and "Sight of the Incarnation" among Sama's major poetic works.

All of Sama's shorter poems (including "Sight of the Incarnation") are collected in Balkrishna Samaka Kavita (The Poems of Balkrishna Sama, 1981), and some appeared in English translation in Expression after Death (1972). The two long works Ago ra Pani (Fire and Water) and Chiso Chuhlo (Cold Hearth) were published in 1954 and 1958 respectively.

Man Is God Himself (Manis Svayam Devata Huncha)

He who loves flowers has a tender heart,
he who cannot pluck their blooms
has a heart that's noble.

He who likes birds has a gentle soul,
he who cannot eat their flesh
has feelings that are sacred.

He who loves his family
has the loftiest desires,
he who loves all of Mankind
has the greatest mind.

He who lives austerely has the purest thoughts,
he who makes life serve him well
has the greatest soul.

He who sees that Man is Man
is the best of men,
he who sees that Man is God,
he is God himself
(1968; from Sama 1981)


35

I Hate (Ma Ghrina Garchu)

I hate the loveliest star-studded silks,
I hate the scent of the prettiest flower,
I hate the moonlight's thin, lacy veil,
I hate your sweetest love song,
because, because,
they come between your lips and mine.
(1968; from Sama, 1981)

Aall-Pervading Poetry (Kavitako Vyapti)

Picking up a huge basket, a holy man
ventured out to the forest to gather poetry.
Through hills and streams, pastures and fields,
he searched every waterfall, fruit and bush,
but nowhere could he find it,
so he decided such things were out of season,
at a loss he had set off home
when he came upon an aesthete.

To his enquiry this man replied,
"Is poetry not everywhere?
If you look at those falls through prosaic eyes,
even they will be dry, just declaring the void
left by the hair which falls out as youth passes;
but what could dry up these waters,
or make this hillside bald?

"Holy man, look with redoubled love
at the heart's smooth surface
where foaming blood gathers;
gather up all this sad world's blows,
attack with a powerful breath;
lift waves of experience to your head,
scatter pure drops till your eyes are wet,
make your vision subtle with sympathy,

look closely: you will see the blood
which runs through the veins of these rocks,
you will touch the hearts of stones,
the cliffs will shower nectar,
you will have poetry to drink!"

With this the aesthete faded away,
melting like beeswax in the sun,
and the holy man's eyes softened too.
The trees melted like resin, the fruits like honey,
the green fields dissolved into lakes,
the whole world thawed like snow,


36

the sky dissolved to become the Ganga,
the stars were all droplets of water.

And then the holy man knew
he meant no more than a teardrop;
throughout the world, in each atom's womb,
pervading destruction's terrible sound,
he found poetry surging forth.
(1972; from Sama 1981; also included in Pachhis Varshaka Nepali Kavita 1982)

From Sight of the Incarnation (Avatar-Darshan)

She came before me incarnate,
the mother of the universe, beautiful verse,
snatching sun-flowers, scattering star-leaves,
streaks of dark cloud her agile pen,
their rain her ink,
the poems she wrote were lines
of heavenly lightning-letters,
making the moon sing softly,
making the thunder echo a song
that only the moonbird could hear.

She came dancing, her slim body of spotless crystal,
and as she spread her veil of delusion I doubted
that I had truly seen.
She came like my mind's reflection,
she surely came,
but what of this watcher's reform?

On trembling elbows, my head bowed low,
I try to crawl on four limbs of rhyme
toward poetry's tempting light,
but into a trap I tumble
to struggle there like a four-legged beast,
with no prospect of further progress:
my weight makes me sink ever deeper.
Or maybe I am a black insect,
tumbling onto the wrong path,
prostrate in despair on a slippery rock,
waving four legs at the empty sky.

I saw Poetry's tangible image,
the speech of the cosmos incarnate,
beauty and joy I witnessed,
but what could I do? I could not touch her feet,
I could not bow low with a change in my heart,


37

no words of strong love could I find,
I could not fly, could not dissolve in the Goddess.

Poetry, Poetry, was it an illusion,
that sight of your lovely incarnation? If so,
whence came such joy? I could not guess
at such joy in the world,
except the bliss which springs from your touch.

I write, remembering things from my past,
but most I forget—all that remain are the dregs
which cling in an emptied jug.
Yesterday is met by today,
today obscured by tomorrow,
tomorrow wiped out by the following day,
each second erases our footprints,
wandering around, awaiting death,
one sleep shatters scores of resolutions.
Death closes our eyes and makes us forget
the things we aimed for in life. I write what I remember,
but Great Death tells me, if my heart should stop
as the morning sun climbs high tomorrow,
I would go to embrace the fire,
forgetting my resolves,
forgetting that fire can burn. But still
I begin to relate the events I recall,
I cannot account for all the blows inflicted,
but write all I can of important times.
I remember him who caused me pain,
but forget the one who wiped my tears,
I remember him who wounded me,
he who healed me I forget,
I remember the man who brought me fear
but forget the one who always consoled,
I remember the ones I have loved,
forgetting those who loved me.
Though I am a sinner, ungainly and unvirtuous,
I will never forget that sacred vision,
I feel you came just now: still I see you,
all before me fades away
as your feet approach with the sound
of ringing anklet bells...

Where have they gone, those lovely childhood hours,
when I lived through each day and night
as if they were my body?
All that once was has passed away,
all that was not has come to pass,
the future holds all that the present lacks.


38

Still the days are fine, sun and moon undiminished,
Dasain and Tihar come adorned as before,[1] Dasain comes anointing foreheads with red,
making the rupees ring, then comes Tihar,
applying strokes of sandalwood paste,
adding dashes of color in lines,
filling mouths with fruits, piling garlands high,
cracking chestnuts with the teeth.
But now such lovely feasts bring dreams,
dreams from the past which tell only of death,
and that high peak of festivals melts,
springs of tears burst from the eyes,
pools of water collect and soon
the dam is breached and they fall.
Garlands, anointments, are all washed away,
the heart is uneasy, the mouth is dry,
unswallowed fruits stick in the throat.

Where has that burning childhood fled?
What of the golden sun, the silvery moonlight?
What of the gilded finial set by the sun
on silver mountains made by the moon?
They are no longer seen,
now only cold snow is heaped on the mountains,
their peaks always bear fresh wounds,
inflicted by dark ignorance, by insane selfishness,
whose hunger gnaws ever deeper:
that time is gone like the sky itself.

I remember that day of my vision,
I was nine years old, new things fell to new eyes
all around, the sky was as clear
as an ideal, I thought it would reflect the earth,
all upside-down. There was sweet new sunshine,
transparent and soft, a display of colors
surrounded me with grandeur. Tall trees danced
with classical gestures, bending from the waist,
whispering their songs, lifting their hands
to stir the white clouds with brushes,
weaving poetry, poetry! In this movement I felt
I might clearly see you take shape;
the air was ringing with bird song
as if your voice would burst out—then it flared!


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You appeared, I saw you! In your face
I found such joy that now I know
no other happiness in this life.
This is no fulfillment,
it is a lifelong thirst,
a hope which will last until the pyre
raises its last flag of flame.
(1973; from Sama 1981)


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Lakshmiprasad Devkota (1909-1959)

When a truly great poet appears during an important phase in the development of a particular literature, the fortunes of that literature are changed forever. All poets who follow are bound to the traditions that their great predecessor has established, even if it is only in the sense that these become the conventions against which they rebel, the norms from which they make their departures. The contributions made to the development of Nepali poetry by Bhanubhakta, Bhatta, Lekhnath, and Sama have been fundamental, yet Devkota stands head and shoulders above all of these. An American scholar of comparative literature has written, "In Devkota we see the entire Romantic era of Nepali literature" (Rubin 1980, 5), but this is an oversimplification or even an understatement. In Nepali, Devkota's works have formed a colossal touchstone and are the undisputed classics of his language.

In the short space of twenty-five years Devkota produced more than forty books, and his works included plays, stories, essays, translations from world literature, a novel, and poems that ranged in length from a 4-line rhyme to an epic of 1,754 verses. His writings were certainly extraordinarily profuse, but they were also remarkable for their intellectual and creative intensity. Devkota rarely returned to a poem to revise or edit, being in too great a hurry to commence his next composition, nor was he averse to using little-known dialect words to enrich his vocabulary. As a result, some poems suffer from obscurities that puzzle even the most scholarly Nepali reader. Nevertheless, little that Devkota wrote would now be considered dispensable.

Born into a Brahman family in Kathmandu in 1909, Devkota was educated at the Durbar High School and Trichandra College in the capital and received a B.A. in 1930. Married at sixteen years of age, he


41

became a father at nineteen, and most of the rest of his life was a struggle to support his family, usually by teaching, although he briefly held governmental posts in later years. He often complained bitterly that it was impossible for him to earn a living from writing alone. A prey to deep depressions, Devkota was confined to an Indian mental home in 1939 and was almost suicidal after the death of his son in 1952. His life was a series of financial problems and personal sorrows, but through them all shone a personality of humor, warmth, and deep humanity. These personal ups and downs never retarded the growth of his genius; in fact, some of his best humorous poetry was written in the most tragic circumstances. Certain events in Devkota's life, such as his pilgrimages to the mountain lakes north of Kathmandu in the 1930s, the time he spent in a mental hospital, his employment as a writer and translator from 1943 to 1946, and his subsequent political exile in Banaras can be identified as definite influences on his work. To some extent, however, Devkota's poetry often seems to have been a kind of "inner life" in which he found solace and optimism despite the trials of everyday life.

The life and works of Lakshmiprasad Devkota have been described and analyzed at length in scholarly works in Nepali (see, for instance, Pande 1960; K. Joshi 1974; and Bandhu 1979) and in a recent study published in English to which readers are referred for more detailed biographical information (Rubin 1980). Because Devkota's oeuvre is so immense, and because his greatest achievements are to be found in epics such as Shakuntala Mahakavya, Sulochana , and Prometheus , the introduction and translations presented here offer only a glimpse of a talent that was unprecedented in Nepali poetry.

Devkota's earliest poems reveal the powerful influence of English Romantic verse. Many of the poems collected in The Beggar (Bhikhari ) celebrate the fundamental goodness of humble people, as typified by "Sleeping Porter" (Nidrit Bhariya ), or look back with longing to the innocence of childhood:

We opened our eyes to a glimmering world,
in wonder we wandered freely,
playing games celestial,
running in bliss and ignorance

Soon, however, Devkota began to spice his poetry with a flavor that was essentially Nepali, and Muna and Madan (Muna-Madan ) marked an important stage in this development. Muna and Madan is based on an old Newar folktale (D. Shreshtha 1976) and derives much of its considerable charm from its simple language and musical meter. Devkota broke new ground by becoming the first Nepali poet to employ the jhyaure meter of the folk song, despised by earlier poets as vulgar and unfitting


42

for serious poetry. He defended this novel move with an appeal to patriotic sentiment:

Nepali seed, Nepali grain, the sweetest song,
watered with the flavor of Nepal;
which Nepali would close his eyes to it?
If the fountain springs from the spirit,
will it not touch the heart?

The plot of Muna and Madan can be summarized as follows: Madan, a trader, resolves to go to Tibet to seek his fortune. He intends to spend only a few weeks in Lhasa and then to return to Kathmandu to grant his aging mother her final wishes. Muna, his wife, is sure that he will never return and begs him not to go. Madan ignores her pleas, and once he has arrived in Lhasa, he becomes entranced by the city's beauty. Suddenly he realizes that he has stayed too long in Tibet, and he sets off home but falls sick with cholera on the way. In Kathmandu, a suitor tells Muna that her husband has perished. But in fact, he has been rescued by a Tibetan, who nurses him back to health. By the time Madan returns home, both his mother and his wife have died, one of old age and the other of a broken heart. Madan decides that he will follow them, and he also passes away at the end of the poem.

Although it is primarily a romantic tragedy designed to tug at the heartstrings, Muna and Madan contains a number of moral statements and comments on the Nepali society of its time. The melodramatic climax of the tale makes its principal message clear: loved ones are far more precious than material wealth. Certain passages from Muna and Madan have the quality of proverbs and are often quoted by ordinary Nepalis in the course of their everyday lives:

hataka maila sunaka thaila ke garnu dhanale?
saga ra sisnu khaeko bes anandi manale!

Purses of gold
are like the dirt on your hands,
what can be done with wealth?
Better to eat only nettles and greens
with happiness in your heart.

The most progressive element of the poem is its implicit rejection of the importance of caste: Madan is saved by a Tibetan, a meat-eating Buddhist, described by Rubin (1980, 31) as a "Himalayan Samaritan," whom an orthodox Hindu would regard as untouchable. Here, the poem proclaims a belief in the goodness of humble people:

This son of a Chetri touches your feet,
but he touches them not with contempt,


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a man must be judged by the size of his heart,
not by his name or his caste.

Muna and Madan was Devkota's most beloved composition: on his deathbed he made the famous remark that even though all of his works might perish after his demise, Muna and Madan should be saved. It is also the most popular work in the whole of Nepali literature: in 1936, only 200 copies were printed, but by 1986 it had entered an eighteenth edition, for which 25,000 copies were produced. In 1983 alone, more than 7,000 copies were sold.[1]

Muna and Madan represented something of a watershed in the development of Nepali literature, but it was a minor work in comparison with the great flood of poetry that Devkota unleashed in subsequent years. Between 1936 and his death in 1959, Devkota produced many works on a far more grandiose scale, as well as a wealth of shorter poems that now fill nearly thirty volumes. The five poems presented here in translation shed light upon separate facets of Devkota's poetic personality: "Sleeping Porter" is typical of his early period, during which, as I have noted, his tone and philosophical stance were strongly reminiscent of English poets such as Wordsworth. Muna and Madan was his first great success, a romance written in a melodic meter and simple language that struck a chord in the minds of ordinary Nepali readers. "Prayer on a Clearing Morning in the Month of Magh" (Maghko Khuleko Bihanko Jap ) is an entirely different composition because it weaves together references to Hindu mythology and descriptions of natural beauty to offer an insight which is deeply personal but also resounds with a profundity which is universal. "Mad" (Pagal ), on the other hand, is a poetic expression of the personal philosophy that Devkota developed in his essays (1945) and was clearly inspired by his experiences of the asylum at Ranchi:

When I saw the first frosts of Time
on the hair of a beautiful woman,
I wept for three days:
the Buddha was touching my soul,
but they said that I was raving!

"Mad" also communicates a political message that can be described as revolutionary:

Look at the whorish dance
of shameless leadership's tasteless tongues,
watch them break the back of the people's rights.


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For Lekhnath and Sama, poetry was ultimately a discipline that had to be painstakingly acquired and cultivated. For Devkota, however, and particularly in his later years, poetry was "a hill stream in flood" or "a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Devkota died while he was still developing his craft and entering new fields of endeavor. Indeed, as the deathbed poem "Like Nothing into Nothing" (Shunyama Shunyasari ) demonstrates, he continued to compose until hours before his demise. His death was Nepal's eternal loss: despite the poems' flaws-and inconsistencies, it seems extremely unlikely that his poems will ever come to be considered wholly "outdated" or that his genius will ever be deemed unworthy of emulation.

Much of Devkota's poetry was not published until after his death in 1959. In the following titles, arranged in approximate order of composition, dates given are of first publication.

Devkota's shorter poems are collected in Bhikhari (The Beggar, 1953), Putali (The Butterfly, 1952), Gaine Git (Minstrel Songs, 1967), Bhavanagangeya (The Ganges of Emotion, 1967), Akash Bolcha (The Sky Speaks, 1968), Sunko Bihana (Golden Morning, 1953), Manoranjana (Enjoyments, 1967), Janmotsava Mutuko Thopa (Tears of a Birthday Heart, 1958), Chahara (Cascade, 1959), Chilla Pataharu (Smooth Leaves, 1964), Katak (The War, 1969), Changasanga Kura (Conversations with a Waterfall, 1966), Lakshmi-Kavita-Sangraha (Collection of "Lakshmi's" Poems, 1976), and Mrityushayyabata (From the Deathbed , 1959).

The shorter narrative poems, khanda-kavya , and verse-dramas are Muna-Madan (Muna and Madan, 1936), Savitri-Satyavan (Savitri and Satyavan, 1940), Rajakumar Prabhakar (Prince Prabhakar, 1940), Mhendu (The Flower, 1958), Krishibala (The Peasant Girl, 1964), Sitaharana (The Abduction of Sita, 1968), Dushyanta-Shakuntalabheta (The Meeting of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, 1968), Luni (Luni [a woman's name], 1966), Kunjini (Girl of the Groves, 1945); Ravana-Jatayu-Yuddha (The Battle of Ravana and Jatayu, 1958), Pahadi Pukar (Mountain Cry, 1948), Navarasa (The Nine Sentiments, 1968), Mayavini Sarsi (Circe the Enchantress, 1967), Vasanti (Girl of the Spring, 1952), Maina (Maina [a woman's name], 1952), and Sundari Projarpina (The Fair Prosperina, 1952).

Devkota's epic poems (mahakavya ) are Van-Kusum (Forest Flower, 1968); Shakuntala Mahakavya (The Epic of Shakuntala, 1945), Sulochana (Sulochana [a woman's name], 1946), Maharana Pratap (King Pratap, 1967), and Pramithas (Prometheus, 1971).

Sleeping Porter (Nidrit Bhariya)

On his back a fifty-pound load,
his spine bent double,


45

six miles sheer in the winter snows;
naked bones;
with two rupees of life in his body
to challenge the mountain.

He wears a cloth cap, black and sweaty,
a ragged garment;
lousy, flea-ridden clothes are on his body,
his mind is dulled.
It's like sulphur, but how great
this human frame!

The bird of his heart twitters and pants;
sweat and breath;
in his hut on the cliffside, children shiver:
hungry woes.
His wife like a flower
searches the forest for nettles and vines.

Beneath this great hero's snow peak,
the conqueror of Nature is wealthy
with pearls of sweat on his brow.
Above, there is only the lid of night,
studded with stars,
and in this night he is rich with sleep.
(1958; from Devkota 1976)

From Muna and Madan (Muna-Madan)

Muna Pleads with Madan

Madan:

I have only my mother, my one lamp of good auspice,
do not desert her, do not make her an orphan,
she has endured nigh sixty winters,
let her take comfort from your moonlight face.

Muna:

Shame! For your love of your mother
could not hold you here,
not even your love for your mother!
Her hair is white and hoary with age,
her body is weak and fragile.
You go now as a merchant
to a strange and savage land,
what's to be gained, leaving us for Lhasa?


46

Purses of gold
are like the dirt on your hands,
what can be done with wealth?
Better to eat only nettles and greens
with happiness in your heart.

Madan Goes to Tibet

Hills and mountains, steep and sheer,
rivers to ford by the thousand:
the road to Tibet, deserted and bare,
rocks and earth and poison drizzle,
full of mists and laden with rain,
the wandering wind as cold as ice.

Monks with heads round and shaven,
temples and cremation pillars,
hands and feet grow numb on the road
and are later revived by the fire,
wet leafy boughs make the finest quilts
when the teeth are ringing with cold,
even when boiled, it's inedible:
the rawest, roughest rice.

At last, roofs of gold
grace the evening view:
at the Potala's foot, on the valley's edge,
Lhasa herself was smiling,
like a mountain the Potala[2] touched the sky,
a filigreed mountain of copper and gold.

The travelers saw the golden roof
of the Dalai Lama's vast palace,
where golden Buddhas hid behind yak-hair awnings,
graven rocks of every color, embroidered like fairy dresses,
snowcapped peaks, waters cool,
the leaves so green, mimosa flowers
blooming white on budding trees.

Muna in Her Solitude

Muna alone, as beautiful as the flowering lotus,
like moonlight touching the clouds' silver shore,
her gentle lips smile, a shower of pearls,
but she wilts like a flower as winter draws near,
and soon her tears rain down.


47

Wiping wide eyes, she tends Madan's mother,
but when she sleeps in her lonely room
her pillow is soaked by a thousand cares.

She hides her sorrow in her heart,
concealing it in silence,
like a bird which hides with its wing
the arrow which pierces its heart.
She is only bright by the flickering lamp
when the day draws to its close.

A wilting flower's beauty grows
while Autumn is approaching,
when the clouds' dark edges are silver
vand the moon shines ever brighter.
Sadness glares in her heart,
recalling his face at their parting,
wintry tears fall on the flower,
starlight, the night's tears
drip down onto the earth.

A rose grows from the sweetest roots,
but roots are consumed by worms;
the bud which blooms in the city
is the prey of evil men;
pure water is sullied
by dirt from a human hand;
men sow thorns in the paths of men.

Most lovely our Muna at her window,
a city rascal saw her, a fallen fairy,
making a lamp for goddess Bhavani,
oblivious to all.
He saw the tender lobes of her ears,
saw her hair in disarray,
and with this heavenly vision
he rose like a madman and staggered away.

You see the rose is beautiful,
but brother do not touch it!
You look with desire, entranced,
but be not like a savage!
The things of Creation are precious gems,
a flower contains the laughter of God,
do not kill it with your touch!

Madan Tarries in Lhasa

Six months had passed, then seven,
suddenly Madan was startled,


48

remembering his Muna, his mother:
a wave of water rushed through his heart.

A dove flew over the city,
it crossed the river near the ford,
Madan's mind took wing, flew home,
as he sat he imagined returning,
and Muna's eyes were wide with sorrow,
her wide almond eyes.

"Dong" rang the monastery bell,
the clouds all gathered together,
mountain shadows grew long with evening.
Chilled by the wind in sad meditation,
Madan rose up, saw the moon wrapped in wool,
his mother, his Muna, danced in his eyes,
it became clear to him that night,
his pillow was wet with tears.

His heart oppressed by the reddening sky,
he packed his purses of gold away,
he gathered up his bags of musk,
then took his leave of Lhasa,
calling out to the Lord.

Madan Falls Sick on His Journey Home

Here in the pitiless hills and forests,
the stars, the whole world seemed cruel,
he turned over slowly to moan in the grass...
some stranger approached, a torch in his hand,
a robber, a ghost, a bad forest spirit?
Should he hope or should he fear?
His breath hung suspended, but in an instant
the torch was beside him before he knew.

A Tibetan looks to see who is weeping,
he seeks the sick man there,
"Your friends were worthless, but my house is near,
you will not die, I shall carry you home."

Poor Madan falls at his feet,
"At home, I've my white-haired mother
and my wife who shines like a lamp,
save me now and the Lord will see,
he who helps his fellow man
cannot help but go to heaven.
This son of a Chetri touches your feet,[3]


49

but he touches them not with contempt,
a man must be judged by the size of his heart,
not by his name or his caste."

Madan Departs for Nepal

Far away lies shining Nepal,
where cocks are crowing to summon the light,
as morning opens to smile down from the mountains.
The city of Nepal wears a garland of blue hills,
with trees like earrings on the valley peaks,
the eastern ridges bear rosy clouds,
the fields are bright and dappled with shadows,
water falls like milk from distant hills.

Madan recalls the carved windows and doors,
the pipal tree loud in the rising wind,
the little house where Muna sits,
his Muna, his mother, the world of his heart.

"Your kindness has been unbounded,
for you restored my life to me,
a deed I cannot repay.
Two purses of gold I have buried,
now one is mine, the other is yours,
take it and bid me farewell,
I must depart for my home,
as I go forth I remember your charity."

The Tibetan protests,
"What can I do with this yellow gold?
Does gold grow up if you plant it?
You are kind, but we have no use for it,
here are my children, left by their mother,
what use is gold, is wealth,
when Fate has plucked her away?
These children cannot eat gold,
these children do not wear trinkets,
and my wife is above the sky,
the clouds are her only jewels."

The Passing of Madan's Mother

No tears in her eyes now, pervaded by peace,
day's final radiance in pale evening waters,
mainstay of her life, her bar against death: her son far away,
she thinks she sees him, wishfully thinking,
hot with fever, her thin hand is burning
as it lovingly clasps her daughter-in-law's hand.


50

"My time is near, I must cross to the other world,
no point in weeping, wife of my son.
This is everyone's road, little one,
the road of rich and poor,
this clay turns to clay
and is lost on the shores of sorrow,
and this you must bear:
be not trapped by the snares of grief,
practice devotion which illumines the final path.
I have seen the world's flower garden blooming and wilting,
and in my sorrow, daughter, I have recognized the Lord;
the seeds sown on earth bear their fruit in heaven,
my deeds I take with me, but what goes with me, in truth?
The wealth you acquire in this dream
is in your hands when you wake."

Madan Learns of Muna's Death

"My poor brother," says Madan's sister,
"wipe your tears with the edge of my shawl,
be patient, my brother, do not act in this way,
know that we all must go at last,
just a few short days for this sinful body, this dirty pride,
in the end the wind scatters them, a handful of ash,
the flower of the flesh withers away
and mixes once more with the soil,
but a second flower blooms beyond this earth
to sway forever in a heavenly breeze.
We were born to bear sorrow,
to be made pure by suffering;
on our way to the heavenly mansions
we bathe in rivers of tears."

"Do not look down," cries Madan,
"Muna, I come to join you now,
you left a diamond of love here below,
and I shall return it to you...
I am veiled, obstructed by the curtain of Death,
I shall not weep, I shall set out tomorrow,
lift the curtain, oh Fate,
quickly now, and you will be blessed."

The clouds parted, a lovely moon smiled down,
it peered with the stars through the clear glass pane,
the clouds drew together, Madan slept forever,
next day, the sun rose in the clearest of skies.


51

Closing Verse

Have you washed the dust from your eyes, brother and sister?
We must understand this world, we must not be cowards,
look the world in the face and muster our courage,
stretch our wings to the sky while we still live on earth.
If life were just eating and drinking, Lord,
what would living mean?
If Man did not hope for an afterlife, Lord,
then what would Man be?
Here on earth, we shall turn our eyes to Heaven,
don't look down at the ground, lamenting!
The mind is our lamp, the body our offering,
and Heaven the grace which rewards them.
Our deeds are our worship of God,
so says Lakshmiprasad.[4] (from Devkota [1936] 1986)

Prayer On A Clear Morning In The Month Of Magh[5] (Maghko Khuleko Bihanko Jap)

How clear this morning is!
The blueness has cast off her lacy veil.

The sky is as pure as Valmiki's heart,
how lovely this is, Ram's dawning.
The crane's blood briefly speckled the sky,[6] and kindness was born in the heavens;
compassionate verse came in a wave of golden light.
Celestial gods appear to those
who long with shrinking hearts to see them:
the sun climbs up.

A bird flies in the ashen day: it turns to gold
and sings new songs of the human future,
unmoving, a tree raises one finger:
it points to immortal sunbeams
which have attained their own enlightenment,
and are flung out now for the world.


52

With these rays I weave a net
of emotion in my heart.

The morning star which disappears
is Brahma, who envisaged all Creation,
a flock of pure cranes swims in the brightness,
moving living wings of joy to life's rhythm,
the quest begins, the world is moving,
its feet climb onto the street.

A bird of lustrous beauty came first to the treetop,
it sang a secret rainbow of music, and slipped away.
Within me, a bird cried out, moving its wings.

Heaven descends and Earth flies up
to meet on a mountain peak:
they embrace and kiss with red lips of pleasure;
now see them more composed,
sitting smiling together,
telling the tale of morning,
casting forth warm colors.

Creation dons a lovely garment,
she deludes with her gentle intoxication
and moves with a fickle temper.
The flow of dawn's music comes in through five doors[7] and the bird thinks its cage is freedom,
so it sings all those songs once again.

The poet lies exhausted on a mat,
the net of straw is ragged,
he's a lame dog with a one-horned cow.[8] We say this life is joy when we feel
the sun's warmth on our bodies.

Death is cold, so they say,
but the sun's ageless dish is hot.
The grasses chant their morning prayer;
rooted in soil, they rise up for the sunbeams.
Oh precious glory, oh Sun!

In your presence I mumble a prayer,
great plate of radiance, I bow my head.

Teach me, God,
to win through the net of Death.
(1956; from Devkota 1976)


53

Mad (Pagal)

Surely, my friend, I am mad,
that's exactly what I am!

I see sounds,
hear sights,
taste smells,
I touch things thinner than air,
things whose existence the world denies,
things whose shapes the world does not know.
Stones I see as flowers,
pebbles have soft shapes,
water-smoothed at the water's edge
in the moonlight;
as heaven's sorceress smiles at me,
they put out leaves, they soften, they glimmer
and pulse, rising up like mute maniacs,
like flowers—a kind of moonbird flower.
I speak to them just as they speak to me,
in a language, my friend,
unwritten, unprinted, unspoken,
uncomprehended, unheard.
Their speech comes in ripples, my friend,
to the moonlit Ganga's shore.
Surely, my friend, I am mad,
that's exactly what I am!

You are clever, and wordy,
your calculations exact and correct forever,
but take one from one in my arithmetic,
and you are still left with one.
You use five senses, but I have six,
you have a brain, my friend,
but I have a heart.
To you a rose is a rose, and nothing more,
but I see Helen and Padmini,
you are forceful prose,
I am liquid poetry;
you freeze as I am melting,
you clear as I cloud over,
and then it's the other way around;
your world is solid, mine vapor,
your world is gross, mine subtle,
you consider a stone an object,
material hardness is your reality,
but I try to grasp hold of dreams,


54

just as you try to catch the rounded truths
of cold, sweet, graven coins.
My passion is that of a thorn, my friend,
yours is for gold and diamonds,
you say that the hills are deaf and dumb,
I say that they are eloquent.
Surely, my friend,
mine is a loose inebriation,
that's exactly how I am.

In the cold of the month of Magh I sat,
enjoying the first white warmth of the star:
the world called me a drifter.
When they saw me staring blankly for seven days
after my return from the cremation ghats ,[9] they said I was possessed.
When I saw the first frosts of Time
on the hair of a beautiful woman,
I wept for three days:
the Buddha was touching my soul,
but they said that I was raving!
When they saw me dance
on hearing the first cuckoo of Spring,
they called me a madman.
A silent, moonless night once made me breathless,
the agony of destruction made me jump,
and on that day the fools put me in the stocks!
One day I began to sing with the storm,
the wise old men sent me off to Ranchi.[10] One day I thought I was dead,
I lay down fiat, a friend pinched me hard,
and said, "Hey, madman, you're not dead yet!"
These things went on, year upon year,
I am mad, my friend,
that's exactly what I am!

I have called the ruler's wine blood,
the local whore a corpse,
and the king a pauper.
I have abused Alexander the Great,
poured scorn on so-called great souls,
but the lowly I have raised
to the seventh heaven on a bridge of praise.
Your great scholar is my great fool,


55

your heaven my hell,
your gold my iron, my friend,
your righteousness my crime.
Where you see yourself as clever,
I see you to be an absolute dolt,
your progress, my friend, is my decline,
that's how our values contradict.
Your universe is as a single hair to me,
certainly, my friend, I'm moonstruck,
completely moonstruck, that's what I am!

I think the blind man is the leader of the world,
the ascetic in his cave is a back-sliding deserter;
those who walk the stage of falsehood
I see as dark buffoons,
those who fail I consider successful,
progress for me is stagnation:
I must be either cockeyed or mad—
I am mad, my friend, I am mad.

Look at the whorish dance
of shameless leadership's tasteless tongues,
watch them break the back of the people's rights.
When the black lies of sparrow-headed newsprint
challenge Reason, the hero within me,
with their webs of falsehood,
then my cheeks grow red, my friend,
as red as glowing charcoal.
When voiceless people drink black poison,
right before my eyes,
and drink it through their ears,
thinking that it's nectar,
then every hair on my body stands up,
like the Gorgon's serpent hair.
When I see the tiger resolve to eat the deer,
or the big fish the little one,
then into even my rotten bones there comes
the fearsome strength of Dadhichi's soul,[11] and it tries to speak out, my friend,
like a stormy day which falls with a crash from Heaven.
When Man does not regard his fellow as human,
all my teeth grind together like Bhimsen's,[12] red with fury, my eyeballs roll round


56

like a half-penny coin, and I stare
at this inhuman world of Man
with a look of lashing flame.
My organs leap from their frame,
there is tumult, tumult!
My breath is a storm, my face is distorted,
my brain burns, my friend, like a submarine fire,
a submarine fire! I'm insane like a forest ablaze,
a lunatic, my friend,
I would swallow the whole universe raw.
I am a moonbird for the beautiful,
a destroyer of the ugly,
tender and cruel,
the bird that steals the fire of Heaven,
a son of the storm thrown up
by an insane volcano, terror incarnate,
surely, my friend, my brain is whirling, whirling,
that's exactly how I am!
(1953; from Devkota 1976; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971 and Sajha Kavita 1967)

Like Nothing Into Nothing (Shunyama Shunyasari)

In this heaven I knew earthly joy,
taking the picture within,
but it all became a cremation ground.
As night falls, at last I know.
This world is like the night,
I did not know this while I lived,
in the end, there is only Lord Krishna:
no devotion, no knowledge, no mind.

Like a grain of desert sand, I am hot,
burning, dying, a fool without hope,
as empty as a dried-out tree.
I warm myself on the funeral pyre,
forfeiting all my sacraments
while trying to put it out,
and now I go like nothing into nothing.

I was born, I grew strong
in this heaven, in the end I am ash and I vanish.
(1959; from Devkota 1976; also included in Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)


57

Siddhicharan Shreshtha (b. 1912)

Siddhicharan Shreshtha, who was born in Okhaldhunga in eastern Nepal in 1912, comes from a prosperous landowning Newar family. He has lived most of his life in Kathmandu but has responsibilities for an estate in the Tarai. Siddhicharan is a member of the influential first generation of modern Nepali poets who grew up under the autocratic Rana government, and his poetry reflects the turbulent period through which he has lived. At various times, he has worked as editor of the important literary journal Sharada and of Nepal's daily newspaper, the Gorkhapatra . He was granted membership of the Royal Nepal Academy in 1957 and is now a life member.

Although he has much in common with Devkota, Siddhicharan is less versatile as a writer and has been described as "the most subjective of all Nepali poets" (Khanal 1977, 264). It is true that most of his better known poems are focused inwardly, but this does not mean that he has not addressed himself with vigor on many occasions to the social and political issues of his day.

Siddhicharan's first published poem, "Earthquake" (Bhuinchalo ), was written after the great Kathmandu earthquake of 1934 and appeared in the Gorkhapatra . Most of his early compositions were rhapsodic or contemplative poems concerned primarily with the beauties of nature. He admits to having imitated Lekhnath Paudyal and to having been influenced in his early years by the great Indian poet Sumitranandan Pant (Kunwar 1966, 25). Siddhicharan became known in the literary circles of Kathmandu during the 1930s, when a respected scholar, Suryavikram Gyavali, published a laudatory essay about Devkota and Siddhicharan entitled "Two Stars in Nepal's Literary Sky" (Nepali Sahityakashka Dui Tara ). One of his most famous early poems was "My Beloved Okhaldhunga"


58

(Mero Pyaro Okhaldhunga ), a somewhat formulaic and over-praised poem that looks back with longing to childhood:[1]

In the beauty of your verdant green,
in the coolness of your heart,
this poet spent his childhood,
laughing, playing, wandering the glades,
my beloved Okhaldhunga

Because this poem was widely interpreted as the expression of a desire to be free of the Rana regime, its author became the subject of much discussion.

Siddhicharan Shreshtha was clearly not from the same mould as firebrands such as Gopalprasad Rima1, but Siddhicharan's view of human affairs and the social order in Nepal did undergo a fairly radical change during the 1930s and 1940s. Some critics regard his "revolutionary" poems to be his most important works and argue that the romantic mysticism and pathos he often expresses are secondary aspects of his poetry (A. Bhatta [1968] 1977, 179). In 1940, he was imprisoned for publishing a poem that began, "There can be no peace without revolution," and he was not released until 1944. In jail, he wrote an episodic poem, Urvashi , that was based on a theme from the Mahabharata. A later foray into Hindu mythology produced The Sacrifice of Bali (Balibadha ). Yet it is upon his shorter poems that his reputation now rests. Most of these first appeared in Sharada and are now available in three collections entitled The Bud (Kopila ), My Reflection (Mero Pralibimba ), and Mist and Sunlight (Kuhiro ra Gham ).

The poems presented here in translation reflect themes that are typical of Siddhicharan's poetry. The acclaimed poem "A Suffering World" (Vishva-Vyatha ), which was published in the year of his imprisonment, is basically an expression of personal sorrow expanded to encompass the suffering of the whole world. The poem, which clearly has sociopolitical undertones, voices the speaker's wish to be conscious of the sorrow of the world:

May my heart always churn with longing,
may my tears never cease,
may I stay here above,
bringing the world storms of sorrow.

The speaker hints at the action he might take to remedy the situation— the Bhairava is a fearsome aspect of the god Shiva.


59

Run far from me all people,
or come together and kill me now,
lest 1 become the Bhairava
and dance with a garland of skulls.

"My Reflection" (Mero Pratibimba ), a poem in a similar vein, caused something of a stir when first published. In this poem Siddhicharan focuses attention on what he feels to be a general decline in human values. The language of this particular poem is extremely simple, which increases its effectiveness. "Untouchable" (Achut ) attacks a specific social evil: the speaker in the poem is evidently intended to be the deity of a temple.

Siddhicharan's revolutionary poems are exemplified here by "No Smoke from the Chimneys" (Dhuvam Niskandaina ) and "Father Has Not Come Home " (Ba Aunu Bhaeko Chaina ). The first of these expresses the poet's solidarity with and enthusiasm for the political struggle of the 1940s that eventually removed the Ranas from government. The latter poem sums up the general disillusionment of the Nepali elite with the factional and vacillatory administrations of the 1950s. "My Son" (Mero Choro ), a purely personal poem, demonstrates the beauty and profundity of the finest of Siddhicharan's mystical verse. Finally, "To the Poet Devkota" (Kavi Devkotalai ) shows signs of a revolutionary spirit, as Siddhicharan consoles his illustrious contemporary after the death of his son and exhorts him to

Go, make proclamations
to put a stop to tears and sighs...
you have sons throughout this land.

Siddhicharan Shreshtha's shorter poems are collected in Kopila (The Bud, 1964), Mero Pratibimba (My Reflection, 1964), and Kuhiro ra Gham (Mist and Sunlight, 1988). There are also two khanda-kavya: Urvashi (Urvashi [a woman's name], 1960), and Balibadha (The Sacrifice of Bali, no date).

A Suffering World (Vishva-Vyatha)

Life is a length of printed cloth,
wet with resolutions.
Birth and death stand at each end,
drying it in the sunshine of Truth,
hanging it from the tree of this world,
sheltering it from the showers of Hope.

While one man's cloth is drying,
another's is soaked even more.


60

My cold life was drenched by hopes,
but a parched soul and the heart's fire
dried up all my support.
The storms of a suffering world are raging
high above us today,
birth and death stand and stare, open-mouthed,
and the sentimental declare, oh poet,
lament is the essence of life.

I shed a stream of hot tears each day,
while oblivion's ghost is woken
on the topmost layer of Time;
may it never find my consciousness,
burning in this world's pain,
may my heart always churn with longing,
may my tears never cease,
may I stay here above,
bringing the world storms of sorrow.

The sun is spat out by an agonized day,
I watch it run to and fro like a dark cloud,
black warring tusks, sharp fangs of envy,
are trying to swallow me: I mock them.

It is useless to call this a world of action,
this dark burning ground of deeds,[2] it is a blessing for those who live
to be offered up to fire.

Anxiety ripens, wells up as hot tears,
the world has wept a river
at the parting of ways, through long ages past.
Demonic valleys, wretched hills,
sad and lonely river shores,
all of them spew forth venom,
dawn and dusk fall as swords on my head.

Can I survive on this earth,
living and dying as other men do?
Run far from me all people,
or come together and kill me now,
lest I become the Bhairava[3] and dance with a garland of skulls.
(1940; from Sajha Kavita 1967; also included in Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 2, and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


61

No Smoke From The Chimneys (Dhuvam Niskandaina)

I don't have time,
Death, do not call me,
I don't have time to mop up
the blood from a broken head.

Lady, do not detain my advancing feet,
I have no time for your blandishments.
The people of my country
have canceled their meals,
and are struggling: look!

No smoke comes from their chimneys.
(c. 1948; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978)

My Reflection (Mero Pratibimba)

Who is this coming down the path,
somewhat defeated, somewhat forgetful,
walking meekly like a dog,
redeeming pain with weakness,
who is this coming down the path?

Like a boulder on two sticks,
with a pumpkin placed on top,
pulled along by children
who say that it is Man;
who is this coming down the path?

Oblivious to Truth,
embracing only Falsehood,
he falls ever deeper, but thinks he ascends,
looking around him, unable to see,
polluting the very air,
who is this coming down the path?

This is a form devoid of beauty,
this is a language empty of feeling,
this is a man who has no soul,
where thought is shut out on all sides,
this, my reflection walking!
(1948; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

Untouchable (Achut)

What is this you have brought me,
untouched by your brothers and sisters?


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Take it back, I do not want such things,
you cannot worship while hating yourselves,
you may not enter my temple
if you shut its door to others.

Go away, oh sinners,
go away, fools and savages,
your offerings I reject.
Do not bow down at my feet,
my body is burning, burning.
The waters you bring are defiled,
far worse than pus or mucus.
If you truly wish to worship,
bring before me the man
whose rights you've usurped through all ages,
touch first his feet against whom you have sinned,
him you have called untouchable.

Only then may you come to my temple,
only then are you blessed as men,
only then will you cease being thorns
preventing our nation's progress,
only then will you be straight.
(1955; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978)

Father has Not Come Home (Ba Aunu Bhaeko Chaina)

The rain is falling, the wind is blowing,
Time has donned her garb of lateness,
the lamps are lit, a meal is cooked.
A woman is crying out,
"Father has not come home."

Times have changed,
the Ranas have sunk,
they say our chains are broken,
but freedom, progress, democracy,
none of these has come.
A woman is crying out,
"Father has not come home."

The slings of our thought,
the thunderbolts of our dream,
have smashed the skull of darkness,
but a new dawn, a new age, a new day,
none of these has dawned.
A woman is crying out,
"Father has not come home."
(1952; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978)


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My Son (Mero Choro)

This is my son:
Infinity disappears
into the mouth of Great Time,
and only its tail protrudes;
one end of a long series,
its first part unfathomed,
which moves in great heavens;
the uppermost layer of generations uncounted:
the final edition of the Mystery emerges.

Destruction, whirlwind, thunder and threat,
the vast overturning,
baked in the kiln of Death;
these have created a soft and lovely image:
this is my son.

All over our hearts' lake
we sowed the seeds of dreams,
my wife and 1 together,
and a young plant was born
to grow from the void:
this is my son.

Into his pocket he puts
a piece of golden bangle,
and he's rich!
He bends a feather for his royal plume,
he mounts a horse of reeds,
he wins a glorious battle,
he awards us medals of flowers;
in his laughter and lightness
he flows on unhindered.

Though life's trees are often felled,
pushed out into a sea of sorrow,
though dark, despairing storms may blow,
he is shielded by a wisdom
called innocence, and he goes laughing on:
this is my son.

Young master, the world is not like that!
It is full of distrust, and grief, and strife,
full of hypocrisy, worry and loss!
He mocks my dullness, and I angrily say,
"Can you not see the world, you fool?"
But he weeps at my blindness until,
restored by the nectar of mother's arms,
he laughs in the sunshine of joy
like a rose just after the rain has ceased:
this is my son.


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As he laughs he sheds flowers,
as he cries he sheds pearls,
creating beauty as he goes.
He walks on, leading true bliss,
the supreme soul, behind him:
this is my son.
(1948; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971 )

To The Poet Devkota (Kavi Devkotalai)

You are a wounded bird,
what can I say as your injuries grow?
Perhaps this world still needs to snatch your very soul.
Your songs you have sung,
squeezing your heart, shedding your blood,
does this world heed only ambition?

Tell me what your singing gained you
as it sapped your life away?
Did you see this dry earth melting
to life as it still lived?
If you spread your hands and weep and wail,
this world is not your friend,
it does you no good to gather
deceit disguised as sympathy.

Turn it round, turn back that horror
which bore off your son at a tender age,[4] which inspired that gross violation
and caused yon your fire sacrifice.
Sing songs of fire,
before a thousand more sons are lost,
sing a song to dispel the faint of aeons,
to raise the corpses of our countless sons.

Life's ship sails a vast sea of sorrow.
Your beloved son has died—shed no tears.
Consider this world's anguish:
so many pass their lives
with nothing to eat, and nothing to wear:
weep into their sea of sorrow,
sail your ship on their sea.


65

Dance, and tread down the ashes
of burned-out dreams and rotten hopes,
bring thousands to life, create thousands more,
survive even sorrow.
Create a new world without such outrage,
endure and save others, defeat even Death,
spread freedom from sickness here.
May this world's children not all die young.

Go, make proclamations
to put a stop to tears and sighs,
nation-maker, poet,
you have sons throughout this land.
Go now, arise, for others may die,
alas, how can they live?
(1953; from S. Shreshtha [1964] 1978; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967)


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Kedar Man "Vyathit" (b. 1914)

Kedar Man "Vyathit"[1] is one of Nepali literature's grand old men. A close contemporary of Devkota, Sama, Rimal, and many other influential Nepali poets, Vyathit has made the greatest contribution of all his peers to the development of Nepal's literary institutions during a long career of more than a half century.

Vyathit was born in 1914 to a Newar family of Bansbari in the Sindhupalchok district to the east of the Kathmandu Valley. He found his first gainful employment as an accounts clerk in the household of the Rana prime minister Juddha Shamsher in 1930. By 1940, however, Vyathit had become fiercely opposed to the regime, and from 1948 onward he was active in the banned Nepali Gongress Party. For this reason, he suffered years of imprisonment in Nepal (from 1940 to 1945) and in India and a long period in exile. After the revolution of 1950-1951, he was rehabilitated and his political career reached its climax in 1962 when he was made minister for transport and communications. Vyathit's literary activities had commenced much earlier, however: inspired by Siddhicharan Shreshta and Chittadhar Hridaya, both fellow Newars, Vyathit began writing poems in jail. In 1945 he convened Nepal's first ever literary conference, and in 1962 he founded the kingdom's first literary institution, the Nepali Sahitya Sansthan (Nepali Literature Institute). Seven years later he became chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy, the country's most prestigious cultural institution. Vyathit now lives in retirement in central Kathmandu, in a house he calls kavi kutir , "poet's cottage."

Vyathit is a prolific writer. Twenty-three volumes of his poems have


67

been published in all: sixteen in Nepali, four in Newari, and three in Hindi. No two Nepali critics seem able to agree on a categorization of his poetry: he has been called a romantic, a didacticist, a mystic, a socialist, and even an anarchist. A number of specific themes do recur frequently in his poetry, however, and it is fair to say that his style is generally consistent and readily identifiable. As a poet, Vyathit has attracted both praise and criticism, but as Khanal has written, "The significance of his poetry is unmistakeable" (1977, 243).

Almost all of Vyathit's poems are written in metrical verse (Abhi Subedi [1978, 61] describes rhythm as their main characteristic), and most are very brief, rarely exceeding one page in length. The earliest were written in jail during the 1940s and are melancholy, pessimistic, or revolutionary by turns. The revolutionary poems are exemplified here by "Fragment from the Year '09" (09 Salko Kavita 1 ) and "The Storm" (Andhi ). In the latter poem, Vyathit looks back with relish to the political upheavals of 1950. A recurrent theme in his work is the description of human love and natural beauty. "A Glimpse" (Ek Jhalko ) presents a charming cameo from rural life, and other poems invest the beauty of the natural world with a mystical significance. Vyathit does not shrink from eroticism in his frequent descriptions of women, as in the long poem, published in book form, Woman: Flavor, Sweetness, Brightness (Nari: Rasa, Madhurya, Aloka ) :

You, wholly revealed,
how lovely,
moonlight is poured out
to fill your naked body

Vyathit's concern for the modern human condition is expressed in many poems, such as "War" (Rana ), translated here, and he can often be extremely pessimistic. Two of his most famous poems, "Ants" (Kamila ) and "The Practice of Sculpture" (Shilpa-Sadhana ), describe the futility of human activity and the basic hypocrisy of the world using original allegorical devices. In "The Practice of Sculpture" the artist is aware of the events taking place outside but ignores them, engrossed in work. The human world may speak of peace, but it continues its conflicts unabated; it is only in the arts that words and deeds coincide.

One of the most common criticisms leveled at Vyathit's poetry is that it is influenced excessively by the mystical chayavadi (shadowist or reflectionist) poets of Hindi literature with whom Vyathit became acquainted during the 1940s and 1950s.[2] Indeed, his revolutionary poems


68

have been compared to those of the Hindi poet Dinkar (Rakesh 1987, 53), and many critics complain that Vyathit's style is imitative of this tradition and that his language is too full of Sanskrit vocabulary. It is true that Vyathit has made little effort to distance the language and symbolism of his poetry from the clichés of mid-twentieth century Hindi verse because it is from this literature that he has drawn much of his inspiration. Although this fact dismays many Nepali critics, who heap their highest praise upon literature from which all traces of "foreign" influence are absent, it need not detract from an objective assessment of Vyathit's work. The careful tapping of the sculptor's chisel described in "The Practice of Sculpture" resembles Vyathit's art: he has produced a constant stream of small, polished poems for more than forty years, and although these have not been greeted by universal acclaim, their value and merit are considerable.

Vyathit's Nepali poems are collected in Sangam (Confluence, 1952), Pranava (Obeisance, 1957), Ek Din (One Day, 1958), Sanchayita (The Hoarder, 1958), Triveni (Three Rivers, 1958), Juneli (Moonlight, 1962), Nari: Rasa, Madhurya, Aloka (Woman: Flavor, Sweetness, Brightness, 1968), Sapta Parna (Seven Feathers, 1967), Avaj (The Voice, 1974), Badalirahne Badalka Akriti (The Ever-changing Shapes of Clouds, 1976), Mero Sapnama Hamro Desh ra Hami (Us and Our Country in My Dreams, 1977), Ras Triphala (Three Fruits of Flavor , 1981), and Agni-Shringar (Fire-Decoration, 1982).

Fragment From The Year 09[3] (09 Salko Kavita 1)

The waywardness of snow,
havoc's cruelest dance,
the naked helplessness of trees,
and darkness circling over them.
But my heart still tells me:
have faith, the day will come.

And then the people's roads grow wide,
from whistling rivers, singing spreads,
sudden music in the desert:
a fruitful dream springs up.

And suddenly they draw nearer:
joyous Spring and sunshine warm.
(1952; from Vyathit [1952] 1962)


69

Ants (Kamila)

Coming from a dark hole,
a comet in the night sky,
singing, anxious for drops of water,
in a straw-filled yard of thirst:
a line of ants, confused, confused,
running through the garden.

Like men, they think they travel
the path which leads to virtue,
weak, they descend to a pit of sin,
bearing their sick, and a traveler's needs:
a line of ants, confused, confused,
running through the garden.

Time and again they hide beneath straw,
fearing the threats of Death,
who stages a show of lightning
on the path which leads back home:
a line of ants, confused, confused,
running through the garden.

Bodies tiny, thirst enormous,
eyes filled with darkness on an endless road,
they run with the restlessness of the clouds,
taking their limited means with them:
a line of ants, confused, confused,
running through the garden.

As they ascend a bent old tree,
it's as if the world's defined
in the scribbled language of their line,
the poetry of termites:
a line of ants, confused, confused,
running through the garden.
(1954; from Vyathit [1958] 1968; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

A Glimpse (Ek Jhalko)

Fickle as a mountain stream,
affectionate as the earth,
lovely like ripened crops,
shy like bending straw,
a girl with a basket
climbs up the hill.


70

A young man snakes down the mountain trail,
regarding her with the handsome eyes
of a young bull,
watching her and smiling,
as cheerful as a bouquet.

Suddenly two pairs of eyes
meet by chance on the path,
they look clown at the ground
as if perplexed or ashamed,
and after a moment they part,
like the ways of a crossroad.

The stream which tumbles merrily down
says to the youth, "I shall join with the river,
and wander the deserts, singing
the song of your sweet encounter."
But the youth ploughs his love
into the fields of his heart,
and his eyes are a channel
to water love's harvest.

He heaves a long sigh and counts
the furrows made by the plough.
(1954; from Sajha Kavita 1967)

The Storm (Andhi)

The black cloud sang,
spreading the voice of thunder
to the horizon's end,
and the crazy storm danced
like a destructive god.

Earth and sky were dust,
blow, counterblow, struggle and thunder,
cracking and crackling, terrible rain,
all around fearsome lightning flashed.

But next morning I heard,
great trees had fallen,
the streets were washed clean,
the crops were flourishing!

And I was eager to see
a revolution in this land.
(1956; from Vyathit [ 1958] 1971; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


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The End (Anta)

The new-moon sky was rich
with the glory of the pyre;
the night was nonplussed
by its exaltation of darkness,
a nightmare mocked me, a dream
of days burned up by care,
weary eyes blinked,
and slept for an instant.

As soon as I woke I saw
golden sunlight from my window,
kissing, enriching my head:
I remembered the meaning
of dawn; beloved, they say
that our end will not be dark.
(1957; from Vyathit [1958] 1971)

War (Rana)

I saw a bomber attacking,
like an eagle swooping down on a chick,
I saw Creation tremble with fear,
wounded, bloodied, disrupted.
Flames of cosmic dissolution
blazed all over the earth,
the culture preserved for aeons past
reduced to ash in a second.

Love lies down and weeps,
a load set down by the wayside,
containing humanity's smouldering corpse.
And yet they say
this war is fought for justice,
it is waged for peace and progress.
(1958; from Vyathit [1958] 1971)

The Practice of Sculpture (Shilpa-Sadhana)

Slowly striking the chisel,
tap, tap, tap,
the sculptor steps back from time to time
to regard the image he carves,
pleased, grave, discontented by turn.


72

On this the fifteenth of Chaitra
a great procession passes by,[4] at Pashupati the Gita sings
the glory of action's way,
in every quarter the Pandava roars,[5] clamoring for his rights.

At half-past one the radio gives out
the program for Buddha Jayanti,
at Anandakuti the sermons run on,[6] but still it does not cease:
the sculptor's tap, tap, tap.

Though the Pope may send from Rome
a message of Christmas greeting,
some Asian lands still bathe in blood:
it is only on paper pages
that the Bible goes abroad.

But Buddha, Jesus, Krishna give
their blessings to the tapping sound,
and a statue of Gandhi, smiling down,
pronounces his "Amen."
(no date; from Vyathit [1958] 1968; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


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Gopalprasad Rimal (1918-1973)

Gopalprasad Rimal was born in Kathmandu in 1918. He is remembered as the first "revolutionary" Nepali poet and the first to reject the use of meter. He was one of the group of influential writers, including Bijay Malla, Siddhicharan Shreshta, and Govind Bahadur Gothale, who produced and contributed to Sharada , the journal that played a most crucial role in the development of Nepali literature during the late Rana period. Rimal was the most overtly political of all Nepali poets at a time when most writers were addressing social and political issues in their work. Indeed, he was too controversial for his political masters, who removed him from his post as editor of Sharada after only two months and later imprisoned him on several occasions. In an innovative form of blank verse, he railed against the injustices and inadequacies of the Rana government and longed for a social awakening, which was symbolized in his poems as a new birth.

Nor did Rimal shrink from taking political action; in 1941, for instance, after the execution of a number of political agitators, he gathered his peers around him to protest. Each morning the group of young poets visited the temple of Pashupatinath, and each evening they gathered at the shrine of Shobha Bhagavati to sing hymns such as the following:

I serve the country, give me strength,
may I bring happiness and welfare to all,
to you we cry in supplication,
we are free, all slavery is abolished,
oh Shiva, give me strength,
I serve the country, give me strength.[1]


74

Rimal's first published composition was a metrical piece, the first of two poems simply entitled "To—" (—Prati ), and it appeared in the Gorkhapatra in 1935. He also employed the jhyaure folk meter, which Devkota had popularized with his Muna-Madan , in poems such as "To the Madman" (Bolahasita , 1937) and "Cloud" (Badal , 1938). His "Poet's Song" (Kaviko Gan ), which appeared in the Gorkhapatra in 1935, was acclaimed as the first Nepali poem in free verse, and by the late 1930s he had become the first Nepali poet to abandon meter altogether.[2]

The Nepali poetry of the 1940s and early 1950s was filled with expressions of hope for the future, although writers who wished to express controversial views had to do so obliquely if they wished to avoid imprisonment or censorship. Many of Rimal's poems were therefore phrased as pleas to a mother from her suffering children. He refrained from identifying this mother with Nepal or from naming her children's oppressors, and most of these poems could be interpreted as expressions of the angst that grips the world during the kali yuga , the age of universal degeneration, or as general depictions of the human condition. In the context of Nepal at the time, however, Rimal's message was abundantly clear: the mother was Nepal; her oppressors were the Ranas.

The poem that made Rimal's radicalism most plainly apparent was the second of his poems entitled "To—," published in 1960. At first glance, it appears to be merely a short poem addressed to an anonymous lover, albeit in unorthodox terms, but its startling political message soon becomes clear:

Here we should give birth to Buddha,
here we should give birth to Lenin,
here we need self-knowledge:
is there a better mirror than the face of a child
for us to see ourselves?

Rimal's most famous poem is "A Mother's Dream" (Amako Sapna ), an allegory that expressed his firm conviction that change would come soon to Nepal. As in many subsequent poems, Nepal was symbolized by a mother who dreamed of bearing the son who would combat evil and inaugurate a future full of hope. The poem consists of a dialogue between a mother and her son: she assures him that "he" will surely come to fight against injustice:

At first you will think him a dream,
you will grope with your hands to touch him,
but he will surely come,
more tangible than fire or snow.


75

The mother (Nepal) concludes by telling her son (the people of Nepal) that she had dreamed in her youth that he would be her liberator. A critic, Madhusudan Thakur, penned a tribute to Rimal shortly after his death, and described "A Mother's Dream" as "a great dream, rising out of great depths, and nothing could suppress the cry with which this memorable poem closes . . . simply because it is an eternal cry that Rimal voices, not merely a political one . . . The betrayal has passed; the faith endures" (1975, 64).

Several of Rimal's other poems, such as "Consolation" (Santvana ) and "A Mother's Pain" (Amako Vedana ), return to this theme. Naturally, Rimal was exhilarated by the fulfillment of his dream when the Rana regime was overthrown in the revolution of 1950-1951, and his delight was expressed in the poem "A Change" (Parivartan ). The new political order, however, failed to live up to his expectations, and he felt betrayed by the factional strife that bedevilled the several administrations set up between 1950 and 1960, as is clear from his poem "Who Are You?" (Timi Ko? ). This disillusionment may well have contributed in part to Rimal's clinical depression and subsequent mental derangement. Like Devkota, Rimal spend a long period in the asylum at Ranchi and later took to roaming the streets of Kathmandu at night (Upadhyaya [1968] 1977, 119). Thus, one of Nepali poetry's most distinctive voices fell silent after 1960, and Rimal died in 1973.

Rimal was a major formative influence on the development of Nepali poetry, despite the fact that he produced only one collection of poems, Amako Sapna (a number of poems remain uncollected). Although this received the Madan Puraskar in 1962, the quality of his work was rather inconsistent. Yet his best compositions were "symbolic yet simple, simple yet lyrical, lyrical yet progressive" (Tanasarma 1970, 115) and are deservedly recognized as an important aspect of Nepal's poetic heritage. His dramas, too, particularly Cremation Ground (Masan , 1946), have achieved a certain renown. The figure of Gopalprasad Rimal inspires affection and respect. He did not hesitate to use poetry as a medium for the expression of political dissent, although he rarely descended to the level of sloganeering, and his experiments with new forms of verse marked the beginning of a new era. For these two facets of his poetry he is justly remembered.

A Mother's Dream (Amako Sapna)

Mother, will he come?

Yes son, he will come,
come spreading light like the morning sun;
at his waist you will see a weapon,


76

for his fight against injustice,
shining like the dew.
At first you will think him a dream,
you will grope with your hands to touch him,
but he will surely come,
more tangible than fire or snow.

Are you sure, mother?

When you were born,
I hoped to find his shadow in your soft face,
his beauty in your lovesome smile,
his soft voice in your baby talk,
but that sweet song has not made you its flute,
though in my youth I had dreamt
that you yourself would be him.
But he will come, whatever befalls us,
a mother speaks for all Creation,
I know this is no idle dream.

When he comes, you will lift your face from my lap,
cease listening to truth like some fantastic tale;
you will be able to see it,
to bear it and grasp it yourself.
Instead of drawing courage from me,
you will go to war alone,
consoling a mother's inconsolable heart,
and I shall no longer stroke your hair
as if you were a sickly child.

You will see him come as a storm,
follow him like a leaf in the wind,
see, he comes falling down from life's sphere,
pouring forth like moonlight,
our lifeless inertia squirms like a snake;
my son, rise up when he comes.

Will he come like dawn's softness to the throats of birds?
My heart trembles with hope.

Yes, son, he will surely come,
come spreading light like the morning sun,
but that you yourself would be him:
this was the dream of my youth.
(1943; from Rimal [1962] 1983; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971 and Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)

Consolation (Santvana)

Do not weep, just wait a while,
your warrior drives the world forward,


77

he will come to your small room at dusk.
He will come to fill your arms,
his bright, shining face will appear
in the soft light of your lamp.
Do not weep, just wait a while.

Yes, he has become quite strange to you,
he has toughened his loving heart,
his light, musical voice is harsh and heavy,
his dreamy gaze sharp and abrasive,
his soft hair is matted
with the dust of a yogi's ashes,
he has found that the world needs overturning,
so now he is a warrior;
he girds up his loins to fight.

But no, he has not become cruel,
he has not killed off his love for you,
just wait a while, and he will come
to your loving lap for rest,
he will come to fill your arms;
your warrior drives the world forward,
he will come to your small room at dusk.

Be not distressed, be happy, be bright,
you may not fear for yourself,
but he cares only for you.
On he fights, oblivious
to news of all but you,
so you must shine bright,
the source of his power.
Do not fear, he is not out of reach,
the warrior who battles far away
will return to play in your lap at dusk.

He has made up his mind, so be resolved,
his life he offers for life, do not fail him,
if he returned as evening fell,
saying, "I melt in your love,
beloved, I return,"
to hide his dark face in your skirts,
would you not die?

Say firmly, "I look upon no defeated face,
the door of my home is shut
to one who flees from battle,
the wreath of my arms
is not for the vanquished,
my garland is for victors alone."
Speak out without fear
against the tyranny which bows our heads,


78

against the poverty which keeps us silent,
against the poverty which keeps us from living,
against the ignorance which stops us knowing.

He girds up his loins, resolving to fight,
victory will be his.
Speak out, for you are his power,
victory will be his.

And he will return soon,
you will see his bright shining face
in the soft light of your lamp.
Your warrior is fighting far away,
your warrior drives the world onward,
he will come to your small room at dusk.
(1946-1950; from Rimal [1962] 1983; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971 and Nepali Kavita Sangraha [ 1973] 1988, vol. 2)

A Mother's Pain (Amako Vedana)

The night was as dark as unknowing,
the storm winds as cold as selfishness,
like arrogance the storm clouds roared.
It crouched in my heart, and suddenly flashed:
a fire! Like lightning,
was it the dawning of the light
which makes this darkness bright?

And in the paleness of dawn,
before the sun had even shot
its first golden barb at the dark,
I made a sweet discovery.
A fire was born within me,
and was slowly taking form.
From this knowledge a Springtime
of dreams fell into my mind,
it poured out a Summer flood of hopes,
my feet would not stay on the ground,
and since I was fuel for that flame
I was seen one instant, and vanished the next,
like lightning in the world.

He began to take shape;
sun and moon,
earth and water,.
wind and sky,
all helped to foster him,


79

and often I knew my heart was beating
in time with Creation's pulse.

He was born.
I discovered why flowers bloom in this world.
My love for him grew tenfold,
the stars taught me the cradle songs
with which they wake the sleeping earth.
He grew up.

A mother's blessing is as vast as the sky,
that flash of fire I imagined,
playing in the ripples of my mind
on life's new-moon day,
now grows like the waxing moon,
and the pain I suffered, bearing and rearing him,
lies down now to sleep in my heart.
but he, will he be as we hoped?
(1947-1950: from Rimal [1962] 1983)

A Change (Parivartan)

They had always lived in misery,
today they would gladly pledge their lives.
Their voices were empty, till yesterday,
not even the echoes of their minds,
unlike human speech, till yesterday,
just words without meaning, till yesterday;
but now there is life in their voices,
anguish, appeal, madness, attraction,
today their very silence speaks out.
They had always lived in misery,
today they would gladly pledge their lives.

He who held out his hands to beg
now clasps them together in prayer,
inspired to offer his life to a dream;
charity's impulse had never dawned
in the man who ends his helpless days,
days of immobile cowardice:
today all are braced to take life in their hands.
They had always lived in misery,
today they would gladly pledge their lives.

He had no friend to love him,
he had no foe to hate him,
such was the depth of his poverty,
his meanness and baseness were his all,
he walked with a shield of cowardice.


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But now he has friends who would lay down their lives,
foes who would take his life, too:
such are his greatness and wealth.
Today he is shielded by his chest,
puffed out with glorious pride.

They had always lived in misery,
today they would gladly pledge their lives.
(1949; from Rimal [1962] 1983)

Who are You? (Timi Ko?)

Here we are fond of our needs,
the vanity which hides them
is dear to us:
who are you to expose them?

Here we cling to our complexes,
fond of this weak lassitude,
we do not want to give it a name.
Who are you to name it?

And who are you to try to bring order?
We love this necklace of defeat,
soon to be our victory garland:
who are you to tell us
that we have not won,
that others will triumph?

We love our lethargy,
we love this predicament,
if we prefer to lie down,
who are you to raise us?

We do not need to reform ourselves,
we need no revolution,
that someone will lend us virtue,
the semblance of change:
this is our prayer.
Who are you to tell us
to do it now, ourselves?

We merely need some vessel
to fill with our need, our lazy malice,
although we have killed our kindness,
we claim that we have not.

So who are you to stand in our way
if we wish to prove our valor?
(1950; from Rimal [1962] 1983; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967)


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To— (—Prati)

Oh young woman, lovely young woman,
my meeting you was just rain falling in sunlight.
You probably remember: we were wrapped up together
like a cloud, with rainbows, showers and storms,
and like the sky we cleared.

By your depth and your gravity
my hasty eminence confounded,
we wept and we laughed, but today
our return to consciousness
makes that all seem insipid,
for in our passion there should be awareness
that will help me to say not "I love you,"
but "I shall make you conceive."

Oh young woman, lovely young woman,
there is even love in the jungle,
but for this whole village, this whole town,
love alone is not nearly enough.

We need healthy, blatant pregnancy.

Here we should give birth to Buddha,
here we should give birth to Lenin,
here we need self-knowledge:
is there a better mirror than the face of a child
for us to see ourselves?

Oh young woman, lovely young woman,
if we meet again, I will simply say,
"I shall make you conceive."
If we never meet, I shall find
another young woman,
a lovely young woman who attracts my heart,
as rash and as jaded as you.
And I will have the strength to say,
"I shall make you conceive."
(1960; from Rimal [1962] 1983; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


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Mohan Koirala (b. 19:26)

As one of Nepali literature's most respected and enduring poets, Koirala has been writing for more than forty years, but his poetry continues to evolve and change, adopting new styles and addressing new themes. He has wielded considerable influence over poets contemporary with him and is revered by younger writers. Yet it is extremely difficult to identify him with any particular school of modern Nepali literature, be it romanticism, dimensionalism, or the "contemporary" movement. Although Koirala has made his own important contribution to each of these and has been influenced by them in turn, Subedi's comment remains true: "Koirala is of his own kind" (Subedi 1970, 68).

Mohan Koirala was born in 1926 into a comparatively prosperous Kathmandu family. His father fell on hard times, however, and because college fees could no longer be afforded, Koirala was obliged to break off his college education before it was complete. As a young man, he took up a variety of jobs in various areas of Nepal, working for some time as a schoolmaster in the town of Hetauda and latterly for the Transport Corporation in Kathmandu. In 1974, in recognition of his contribution to Nepali literature, he was made a member of the Royal Nepal Academy, a post that reached the end of its five-year term in 1979 and was not subsequently renewed. Since then, Koirala has lived with his family (he has five children) in their simple home in a quarter of Kathmandu known as Dilli Bazaar.

The first poem Mohan Koirala admits to having written[1] is "Remembering as I Go" (Janda-Jandai Samjhera ), composed in 1946 when he was


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twenty years old and published in 1953. According to ÌIshwar Baral, the editor of Koirala's first volume of collected verse, Koirala was first persuaded to try his hand at writing by his younger brother, Shankar, now a well-known novelist. Mohan, however, preferred to compose poetry, considering himself a poor storyteller (M. Koirala 1973, i). It is generally accepted, and acknowledged by the poet himself, that his early compositions were inspired by the example set by Devkota and by contemporaries such as Siddhicharan Shreshtha, and Balkrishna Sama. Indeed, Koirala grew up at a time when these poets were household names, at least among the educated class of the capital. Inspired by men who are still regarded as monumental figures in the history of Nepali literature, Mohan Koirala began to write, and his poems appeared alongside theirs in journals such as Sharada, Indreni (Rainbow), and Pragati (Progress).

From the beginning, it was clear that his poetry possessed its own unique qualities. Although "Remembering as I Go" is quite obviously a nostalgic evocation of youth, an echo of Wordsworthian sentiments similar to Devkota's "Childhood," its theme is actually less personal than it seems. The poem's nostalgic sentiments seem to articulate the consciousness that many Kathmandu residents retain of their families' origins in the rural hill regions. Other early poems address similar themes in a tone that is essentially romantic, but many convey an additional message. "I Remember" (Ma Samjhanchu ) contains references to a desire for political change (which was an increasingly powerful force during Koirala's youth). Similarly, "An Introduction to the Land" (Deshko Parichaya ) describes Nepal on the eve of the Ranas' downfall. Baral (in M. Koirala 1973, i) also discerns the influence of Rimal's "A Mother's Dream" in "I Love Your Daughter" (Ma Timro Chorilai Prem Garchu ) because both poems share the theme of awaiting the arrival of a person who will in some way improve the quality of life.

All of Koirala's published works are written in free verse. He explained his preference for this genre, which has predominated in Nepali verse since the 1950s, to Uttam Kunwar:

Although it appears to be small, a cup of water can contain the whole of the sky. This is the capacity of prose poetry.... It can reflect the most subtle human feelings, People do not converse in meter, or in verse, so why should we make our literature artificial and contrived by introducing meter into it? (Kunwar, 1966, 110)

Comment on social or political issues, an important element of Koirala's poetry, is overt in his early poems but less so in his later works. "The Martyrs" (Shahid ) looks back in anger at the execution of three political agitators ordered by Prime Minister Juddha Shamsher in 1941. The poem also seems to urge the nation to look to its future and to the


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problems of the present, however, and not to dwell for too long on the sad events of the past:

But they have died already.
I make the picture clear,
I wash the dusty ground with water ...
and 1 turn the page to another history.

"The Fiddle" (Sarangi ) is probably Koirala's most famous poem, quoted in most analyses of his work. The minstrel (gaine ) is a well-known figure in rural Nepal, where he travels from village to village singing songs that often satirize contemporary political events (Macdonald 1975, 169-174). The sorry fate of Koirala's young minstrel reflects the lot of the poor and lowly majority of Nepal for whose sake, in the poet's view, the political revolution of 1950-1951 had taken place. The poem ends with a protest at the fact that none of the promised changes hart come to be. The minstrel quotes the mantras of social reformers ironically in Sanskrit:

Where are those rotten wise men who said,
"May all beings be happy"?
Where are the men who said,
"Truth, not Falsehood, shall triumph"?

Despite such statements, Koirala is extremely wary of political ideologies (vad). To Uttam Kunwar, he explained:

Is it not Man who writes? Poetry must benefit Man; it must exert an influence in language that is artistically pure. Although there are many "isms" or ideologies, I do not adhere to any of them. Once poetry has been infiltrated by an ideology, it is no longer literature, but simply sloganeering to support some partisan view or another. (Kunwar 1966, 109)

Koirala is even dubious of the relevance or validity of such concepts as modernity; when we first met in 1987, he told me, "Our modernity is the dust on our streets."

The Poems of Mohan Koirala (Mohan Koiralaka Kavita ) contains all of the poems published in various journals between 1953 and 1971 and thus represents the first half of Koirala's literary career. Two lengthy poems appended to the collection contain signs of the way in which his poetry was to develop in subsequent years. These are "Mountain" (Lek ) and "Gift of the Sun" (Surya Dan ). The first fills nearly sixty pages, the second thirty-four. Both poems make great use of abstract symbols, many of them personal and therefore difficult to comprehend. This tendency toward obscurity becomes more marked in Koirala's later poems, as should be evident from a reading of two of the poems translated here, "The Snow Peak's Blood-Red" (Himchuli Raktim Cha ) and "It's a Mineral,


85

the Mind" (Khanij Ho Man ). Nepali critics often claim that Koirala has been influenced by T. S. Eliot or even by Gertrude Stein.[2] In view of the poet's limited knowledge of English, however, this seems unlikely in any immediate sense and is perhaps more true of the dimensionalist poets. Such influences are no doubt discernible in the works of Hindi poets such as Agyey, with whom Koirala is familiar, and so if any similarity truly exists between poems such as Koirala's "Toward the Last Day of Bhimsen Thapa" ('Bhimsenthapako Antim Dintira ') and Eliot's "Gerontion," as Baral has argued (M. Koirala 1973, xv), it may be something less than a total coincidence. Nevertheless, a trend toward modernist innovation in Nepali poetry that in some way resembles an earlier trend in English poetry does not automatically imply that one tradition is consciously emulating the other.

Koirala is a prolific writer. His six volumes of collected verse contain 121 poems, of which many are extremely long; quite a number of other poems remain uncollected. The first collection is considered by critics to be his most important, but Koirala continues to experiment. His Fishermen on the Riverbank (Nadikinaraka Majhi ) received the Madan Puraskar literary prize in 1981, and together with his most recent volumes, Invitation of the Seasons (Ritu-Nimantrana ) and Blue Honey (Nilo Maha ), it marks a return to a syntax and general style that are simpler than those in The Snow Peak's Blood-Red . But the poet still ranges widely over his immense vocabulary. Koirala himself admits quite frankly that his poetry is often difficult and that it is criticized for this, but he makes no apology: "I might claim to have served Nepali literature in some small way. I would venture to say that I have tried to elevate the style of modern poetry and to introduce a new flavor to the flow of old poetry. Only time will tell whether or not I have been successful" (Kunwar 1966, 114).

Since the publication of the 1978 collection, Koirala has made strenuous efforts to develop the genre of the long poem (lamo kavita ) in Nepali. Invitation of the Seasons and Blue Honey are both poems of considerable length, and Fishermen on the Riverbank contains six poems of between twenty-seven and ninety pages in length. For obvious reasons, it has not been possible to include translations of these later works in this book, which concentrates on Koirala's poetry prior to 1978. The long poems, which perhaps represent the third phase of Koirala's development, are equally worthy of translation.

Koirala is clearly unique in the field of Nepali poetry, and his personal charm and simplicity ensure that he is greatly respected by other writers. In early 1987 he fell ill with what appeared to be a kidney complaint,


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and poets, publishers, and students pooled their resources to defray his medical expenses, just as they had done for Devkota when he was dying in 1959. Many feel that Koirala has not received the credit from the authorities that he deserves and question the nonrenewal of his academy membership. Between 1960 and 1990, Koirala was perhaps less than wholehearted in his support for the prevailing political order in his land, and there are suspicions that this may have been a factor in the decision. He is, however, an essentially apolitical man, and his tremendous contribution to the literature of Nepal deserves greater recognition both in his homeland and in the world outside.

Earlier drafts of the translations of "An Introduction to the Land," "I Love Your Daughter," "The Martyrs," and "I Remember" appeared in the Himalayan Research Bulletin (Hutt 1988b).

Koirala's poems are collected in Mohan Koiralaka Kavita (The Poems of Mohan Koirala, 1973), Sarangi Bokeko Samudra (An Ocean Bearing a Violin, 1977), Himchuli Raktim Cha (The Snow Peak's Blood-Red, 1978), Nadikinaraka Majhi (The Fishermen on the Riverbank, 1981), Ritu-Nimantrana (Invitation of the Seasons, 1983), and Nilo Maha (Blue Honey, 1984).

Postscript . After the political changes of spring 1990, almost all of the members of the Royal Nepal Academy offered their resignations. The academy was subsequently reconstituted under a new vice-chancellor, Ishwar Baral. As this book went to press, I learned that Mohan Koirala had been reinstated in the academy, along with Bairagi Kainla and several other poets translated here.

Remembering As I Go (Janda-Jandai Samjhera)

To the meadows which spread their laps
by our villages in the high hills,
where our children were given their place
in love and affection: my kiss of love.

The great old rock where we laugh and mock
is wrinkled with moss, white with flowering grass;
it digested our forefathers,
stood firm through flood and storm,
and responds with a roar to even an echo;
to those grinning white jaws: my kiss of love.

And to the unchecked song of the free-falling stream
which flows nearby, mocking our love,
(beloved, you are mine!)
to your modest smile which laughs and brings cheer


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at every moment of pain or sorrow:
my kiss of love.

To the budlike eyes of cheap little girls,
dragged down by tears,
by seasons which fled before their time:
my kiss of love.

The sweet wind whispers,
unobstructed, trouble-free,
in the place where I drew warm breath,
and a child was filled with laughter.
In this corner of the world
is the courtyard where I once crawled,
here are the cold stones, the warm graves
of my loved ones who have died.

So, numbed by the chill gusts and white frosts,
by the cold, the sorrow, the shame, death and famine,
to this hearth that warms me
I offer my kiss of love.
(1946; from M. Koirala 1973; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971 )

An Introduction to the Land (Deshko Parichaya)

This is the first bell, and this the first voice,
to our duties we are called
as the orchids flower on the precipice;
once the kumari has shared out the garlands,
every day will be the auspicious time:[3] very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

When the sun has rubbed vermilion[4] into the blessed mountains' hair,
Springtime hills delight in their scent;
eyes drink in the scene to the music of bird song,
every day there is a wedding:


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very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

Oh night-extinguishing light!
In night's dark obscurity
birds have pecked up their food
from the pavements of Asan market,[5] and now dawn's sun is rising
from a new day's wings,
washing the dirty streets clean:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

Rising from the northern sea,
the moon swells over a crooked hill,
dressed in her widow's attire;[6] bushes and trees sway in the wind,
light anti shade are playing, dancing,
river shores glisten, the whole night is still:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.

An owl is weeping with open wings
from its roost behind the cremation ground,
another adds its song in fragments:
"In what soil grows the lotus now?
From which bough sings the nightingale?
In which forest do the peacocks dance?
On what. green plain will those eyes open,
which sleep now in deep emotion?"

Twisting its body, night attacks me,
black fangs glistening, it readies itself,
its arms are outstretched: I beat a drum,
to declare that the world still meditates
and has yet to wake from its trance.
I picked up a firefly, held it up to the stars:
"It fears no one, it glows and dims,
it dims and glows, of its own accord,
Light, oh Light!" I cried,
and the eastern sky reddens:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.


89

The moonbird calls out to make me restless,[7] I stride out—the sound of voices is far away,
and the river sleeps between us;
it has rushed and roared,
washing vermilion from the Himalaya's hair.
Without the human hustle and bustle
which drag me along with this country's dreams
or knock me up with its awakened martyrs,
my country grows cold
in a shroud of clouds.

The sun hides under my pillow
and appears around midday,
when sunshine melts into the snow,
warming the hillsides, reopening every door:
very soon the light will come
on a golden morning.
(19517; from M. Koirala 1973)

I Love Your Daughter (Ma Timro Chorilai Prem Garchu)

Oh blue reflection on an unstained rock,
you do not know how I love your daughter,
who darts behind green shrubs when she sees you,
who is startled when you find her alone.

When I love your daughter,
it is a sweat stain, a smile, that I love,
and cheeks that are colored by toil,
I love the girl weary from breaking clods,
tired from working on the soil,
who stands now in the neem tree's shade,
coming into the first shadows of youth;
I love your budding flower,
I love that girl.

I am setting out with ax and sickle,
seeking wood for a boat,
with hammer and chisel to look for a millstone,
with a bough and some pegs to divert a stream,
you will see me nearby, scraping a plough,
carving an image,


90

digging a channel;
I am proud, I stroke my mustache.

Oh Man, the first to plough the deserts,
the first to adorn its furrows with green;
if shoots should wither, we revive them with sweat,
if stones block soft roots, we remove them with hoes,
if wounds strike our crops, we heal them with kisses,
if pests eat soft buds, we crush them with tongs;
with one ear of corn we will build the whole field,
then we will embrace this world!

We have a boon for our untiring souls,
before us the seasons bow their heads,
and we are fortunate:
the clods of our soil are safer
than a soul wrapped in cotton-wool.
Oh Man, I am he
who makes Fate himself with his ax,
then cleans and carves and paints it,
who creates his own fortune himself:
how we long for sturdy arms,
a pure, sweet manner,
and sweet, fat bread,
how fervently we desire
dominion over free soil.

Is it a sin to love?
We love each other,
we sow love in the soil,
and make it grow in our hearts,
we raise up our children from the ground,
we dust them down and kiss them;
I love your daughter.
(1954; from M. Koirala 1973)

The Martyrs (Shahid)

A January night—
footprints deserted on an empty street,
a vulture is perched on top of a tree,
tightly folding its wings,
and a demoness opens the gates of the jail.
The Bishnumati[8] waits, its bosom swells,
a fainting engine disturbs the air,


91

jackals dig into the earth,
and at Pachali Bhairava[9] a corpse is burning.

I saw them there,
pointing a gun at the martyrs,
pulling them round with a rope
on the orders of demoness Darkness
who has shaken the hearts of this land and its mothers;
I watch from eyes like two imminent bullets.

We cried out: "Stop, you butchers!
They have not stolen your shame and servitude,
they have not taken your malice and envy,
they have not robbed you of hunger and hate,
they have tried to fill your eyes with joy;
such great men of the future
must not set like the sun tonight,
stop, you butchers, stop!"

The martyrs were speaking
to beloved friends, who had forgotten
their pleasant words and noble ways.

The martyrs were speaking.
But they have died already.
I make the picture clear,
I wash the dusty ground with water,
with pain in my heart I show you a picture
drawn with the blood of the sun's red light:
a picture of leaves kissing the sun's rays,
and eyes kissing the moon,
and I turn the page to another history.

Bloodied martyrs are still in that cell:
the picture has an ancient frame,
made from the soft bones of Jang Bahadur's massacres;[10] the horse received a lovely statue,
the warrior a well-trained horse;
when he spurred it on and tightened its reins,
he crushed the heart of many a woman,
trampled the playground of many a child,
he washed the vermilion from their hair.[11]


92

He who turned hack to look down
made the whips fly through the air;
he crossed both rivers and flames
and now fills the land with corpses
and the stench of dead memories.
There we find the rising walls of a funeral ground,
a pyre burning down to its ashes,
someone killing,
someone dying.
(1955; from M. Koirala 1973)

I Remember (Ma Samjhanchu)

Spring wakes up in secret
to kiss the malodorous soil
on the sturdy hills of this land
and on its strong, white islands;
winter had just undone their belts,
winter had just laid bare their bodices;
and on the ochre cliffs
and the rush of blue rivers
it seems a snail is trying to climb
up into another hemisphere;
as a caterpillar lopes down a bough,
I remember, I was born just now.

The sky was always vast and fearsome,
the horizon always grand and broad;
I peered out from my mother's breast,
travelers whistled from the near river shore,
travelers whistled from the far river shore;
fishermen came out with their oars,
fisherwomen came out with their oars;
travelers whistled from this side and that
and in the middle a boulder
was toppling in the waves:
I feel I was born just now.

As gifts on the day of my birth,
my loving mother gave out (and all to me)
teeth to the toothless, claws to the weak,
bones to the maimed, limbs to the crippled,
fingers to duty and roads to my legs.
There I clenched my fists and made my choice,
there I clenched my fists and made my resolution,
I feel I was born just now.


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My mother's eyes lustrous and brightened by love,
her puckered lips, her kisses and smiles,
cheeks wrinkled by health and the rush of her love;
I gamboled in rags like a small unwise lord
on the soil of the serpent's coils.[12] My delicate bud of desire was drenched
by the sweet sherbet of an ocean of milk,
my breast by the sweat of unfathomed love.
When I cried out, striking and rocking
the earth which was my cradle,
my mother came rushing with wings,
like the sky swooping down with eagles,
and I feel I was born just now.
(1956; from M. Koirala 1973; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

A Flower Amid the Mountain Rocks (Paharako Phul)

Untroubled by dust and its location,
unborne, unsapped by tenderness, harshness,
a bud bursts open unseen,
unseen in a lonely place.

The smile on its soft, silken skin
is stolen away by the emptiness,
its beauty is lost before it arrives,
unknown hands rip out
the season's joy:
a bud bursts open unseen,
unseen in a lonely place.
(1956; from M. Koirala 1973; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

The Fiddle (Sarangi)

Now brother minstrel is utterly cold:
he's had no chance to play his fiddle[13] and so his hands are numb.

Without men all around to abuse him
he is desolate now, for their taunts had warmed him,


94

made his ears as hot as if wrapped in a scarf,
now his bow has withered like his veins.

His fiddle's as hollow as his smooth, greasy skull,
and all his body pains him,
because no one is throwing stones,
so he carries on, singing from time to time,
why would anyone not think him mad?

He does not beg,
in case it is said that he cries out in hunger;
if he goes about with an earthen pot,
people he knows call him minstrel,
but still if he goes out with his fiddle,
people will call him a beggar.
Songs fill his heart to its brim
like layers of dark, fertile soil;
they have spilled out, burning,
and layers of age-old convention
have been rubbed by the bow in his hand.

His lips twitch, uneasy on the asphalt road,
like fragments of gramophone records,
spurned by our ears, cast out by our hands.
In this breeze, neither warm nor chill,
brother minstrel is utterly cold.

His songs are famous,
thundering like the laughter of Chandra Shamsher,[14] his songs are young and winsome
like the girls at the Hotel Royal,
his songs are boozy and jealous,
like a kirata woman deprived of her beer,[15] his songs are hunched up and bent,
like a harem matron who has retired;
songs unwritten by pencil on paper,
songs stored away in an unlocked heart,
but he'll be the prey of these songs undigested,
he'll die here like this, a helpless criminal,
a broken-down gramophone
in a mechanic's workshop.

If he survives he will be just a leaky canister,
badly repaired by an unskilled blacksmith.
So now brother minstrel is utterly cold,


95

perhaps his life will pass in coldness
until the day he dies.

Arriving home, he lies awake until midnight,
then in his dream his dead wife appears,
bringing the child he once had.
The child comes wailing to its father's lap,
like a hopeless glimpse of money
changing hands in Indrachowk square.[16] Briefly, a lovely lamp brightens his hovel,
and it becomes a palace.

When he awakes, for brother minstrel it's hard
to distinguish dreams from reality;
he plucks the fiddle of his heart alone,
as if to decide if he's mad or he's sane;
those who hear him think it's a song,
but brother minstrel has never called it that;
he broods, merely recalling a heart
cooked in the oil of his tears;
he never unleashes that song for money,
it is deep inside the folds of his soul.

There it stays, crammed inside,
if you seek his purpose,
you will find he is mad,
if you look for his knowledge,
he is a renunciant,
if it's power that you search for,
his songs are Creation,
but if you seek wisdom,
brother minstrel is merely a wooden butterpot
compared to the common man.
Surrounded by landslides on every side,
men can live lives without purpose:
he has become their metaphor.

I wake with a start: he is moving on,
planting his feet on the street,
those feet of his are naked and cold,
unfettered by shoes since they left the womb,
thus he walks heavily down a road without end,
from bright sunlight to dusk.

I say, "Why does the blind man sing
when he sees the world as nothing


96

but the ashes of burned meadows?"
And he asks me, "Where are the trees?
Where are the bushes, green shade for the traveler?
Where is the high land, the low land,
rent-free for the hoe?
The rivers and streams for my thirst,
the glass of water for my labors?
Where are those rotten wise men who said,
'May all beings be happy'?
Where are the men who said,
'Truth, not Falsehood, shall triumph'"?[17] (1961; from M. Koirala 1973; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967, Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971, and Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 2)

The Snow Peak's Blood-Red (Himchuli Raktim Cha)

The earth is sturdy, I am young,
my face is eager, the snow peak's blood-red,
my strong arms are holy juniper,
replete with strength and wealth,
I hope my midday smile
will not grow stale or doze
in rhododendron boughs.
I hope the river gorge
will not fail or be slow
to quote my summons.

Thus my desires are joy and sorrow;
from the mocking laughter of a national peak
comes the people's misty song, just begun,
perplexed and startled
in the eaves of an atrophied barn.
Thus there is one word
which turns me back in despair each moment
and pours forth distress:
it is Truth.

Another word which often tempts and beguiles
is Untruth,
and this perplexity, from the throat of hill and valley,
is now me:
I ponder the future's writing board,[18]


97

I remember and write,
forget and erase.

An epic play was staged in that theater
where Kalidasa wrote without success;[19] the great music of that stage
where Shakespeare sang despairing,
joyous stories amid a sea of sorrow,
the stage where Vedavyasa aimlessly[20] laid a foundation stone,
and where a novice now sings
with busy, fresh desire,
playing the violin of Gandak and Koshi.[21]

Now I am beneath some arena of that future,
writing, erasing, pondering my board.
Oh Himalaya, King of Mountains,
hiding in a fringe of clouds,
oh frost-singing lands, abode of snow,
where our emotions and pleas are numbed
by cold love in the musk deer chase,
where we have consumed the useless with relish,
and found the tasteless delicious.

For hours the debate can be heard:
casting meaning on meaning,
dividing reason from reason,
they have pondered the cause.
(1966; from M. Koirala 1978a)

It's A Mineral, the Mind (Khanij Ho Man)

Velvet the Himalayan poinsettia in bloom,
silver the scabbard of thrusting power,
the mind is a clear scent,
the pen a new ridge of hills.

I am a tree with countless boughs,
a flower which hides a thousand petals,
a juniper, a pointed branch of the scented fig,
its rough, misshapen fruit.


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In my belief I am Nepali,
my faith the highest Himalaya,
my favorite season is the one
when leather jackets are donned,
my clothes are only freedom.

The Himalayan lights my touching place,[22] equality spread on the ground where I stand.
(1974; from M. Koirala 1978a)

You Who Remember (Samjhaneharu)

Oh you who remember, remember,
remember me in a thousand years,
I shall he fossils by then,
I shall not even be in the air,
you will not see me in melted water,
nor seek me out in the moss.

For those who try to know me then,
wandering away from Man,
I shall be some tea leaves,
a few sugar grains,
flakes of calcium in a laboratory,
some dust in a coffee shop,
some ice cream licked from plates by children.

Believers, aesthetes of poetry,
if you seek me in poetic styles,
you will find me in coffee and juniper roots,
not in any face,
ploughed-up, dust-blown soil,
all joy and sorrow in the form
of earth dug up in past and future,
those who address one, those who do not.

Who knows, after a thousand years,
these poems may be pastures of grass,
and I a clod of earth,
sprouting roots of gourd, and pumpkins.
(1975; from M. Koirala 1978a)


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Bairagi Kainla (b. 1939)

In May 1963, an unusual literary journal appeared on the Darjeeling bookstalls. The publication of a new Nepali periodical was not a remarkable event in itself because short-lived magazines and papers had proliferated since the 1950s. This slim periodical, entitled Tesro Ayam (Third Dimension), was of greater significance than most, however, because it represented the first effort by a group of Nepali writers to formulate a coherent theory regarding the nature and function of the literature they produced. Indeed, one might even go so far as to describe this new movement, of which Tesro Ayam was the principal organ, as the first articulation of self-conscious modernism in Nepali literature. Although most Nepali writers aimed to produce literature that conformed with their own conceptions of modernity, none had yet begun to propound a philosophy that would define the attitudes and values of modern Nepali literature.

Tesro Ayam was published and edited by three young writers with common ideals: Bairagi Kainla, Ìshwar Ballabh, and Indra Bahadur Rai. Their contention, set forth in Kainla's editorials and Rai's essays, was that conventional Nepali literature was "two-dimensional," or "flat," and that it had to acquire a "third dimension" if it was to approach life as an indivisible whole to be apprehended objectively. In the editorial statement of the second edition of Tesro Ayam , Kainla criticized the old style of Nepali literature:

The bland sentimentalism (of earlier writers) is not simply drivel; it is also an escape from a sense of responsibility and therefore an escape from the realities of life. In dimensional terms, this kind of writing is "flat" because it lacks a third dimension (depth, and thought or vision) and has no faith in life. Such literature cannot satisfy the needs of the modern intellect. (Quoted in Tanasarma [1977] 1979, 201)


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The distinctive features of dimensionalist (ayameli ) literature are most clearly apparent in its poetry. Most of the clichéd allegories, metaphors, and vocabulary of the "old school" were discarded, as was the use of meter. Poets began to borrow heavily from psychological theory and world mythology. Kainla and Rai urged writers to adopt a moral dimension of their own and to embark upon a fresh exploration of their language. This led to genuine originality and innovation, but also on occasions to "literary obscurantism at its worst" (Subedi 1970, 67). Opinions vary with regard to the value of the movement and to the validity of its arguments. Yadu Nath Khanal, for instance, writes that the dimensionalist school "has not gone much further than to suggest that modern sensibility must find a more complex form than traditionally available to express itself fully" and argues that Mohan Koirala has been more successful in this endeavor (Khanal 1977, 245). The overtly intellectual tone of much dimensionalist poetry, exemplified by the eclecticism of its references to obscure myths and its use of abstruse symbolism, means that some works cannot be comprehended fully without extensive recourse to the few commentaries that have been produced (see, for instance, Subedi 1981, 178-188). Several poems have come to be regarded as minor classics, however, and the finest of these were the work of the poet Bairagi Kainla.

Kainla, whose real name is Tilvikram Nembang, is a Limbu who was born in the Panchthar district of eastern Nepal in 1940 and educated across the Indian border in Darjeeling. Very little information is available regarding Kainla's life prior to 1960, and he has published nothing since returning to his home in 1966 after a period of residence in Kathmandu. His appearance on the Nepali literary scene was therefore brief, but his contribution has had a lasting effect. The following comments are restricted to an examination of the three poems presented here in translation.

"The Corpse of a Dream" (Sapnako Las ) appears to have been written some time before the philosophy of third dimensionalism was first formulated, when Kainla's first poems appeared in a collection entitled Flower, Leaf, and Autumn (Phul-Pat-Patjhar ), edited by Ìshwar Ballabh and published around 1960. This is a poem about unrequited love; references to "that love I gave up for mother and father" and to the "ritual of living" that "requires the sacrifice of a life" suggest that the love affair that the poem describes was aborted because of a difference in caste between the lovers. Thus, the poem concludes,

Man must walk on feet of convention
over the corpse of a dream,
trampling life's every morning.


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The resentment of social and moral conventions implicit in this early poem is expressed more overtly in "A Drunk Man's Speech to the Street After Midnight" (Mateko Mancheko Bhashan: Madhyaratpachiko Sadaksita ) and "People Shopping at a Weekly Market" (Hat Bharne Manis ), the two most famous poems of the dimensionalist movement. The first of these is an obvious summons to rebel against accepted values and practices. Tanasarma explains that "the drunk man ... is a symbol of the modern progressive intellectual: the freedom he craves is the freedom to build a new life and to establish a new set of values" ([1977] 1979, 201). The narrowing streets clearly represent the constraints and strictures of social (and perhaps political) convention, but although the drunkard cries out against the "cramped and crumbling houses," the "self-defeated men, / tangled together like worms," and even against the history of Nepal and life itself, he does not evince a lack of faith in the future. Thus, the poem ends on a note of optimism:

... look with me for the first time:
as far as we can see, all around,
there is a battleground for victory
and a radiant light for life.

"People Shopping at a Weekly Market" is altogether more abstruse. Kainla often took months to complete a poem, and the unspontaneous and painstaking manner in which he composed, piling up layer upon layer of symbols and meanings, often made his works inaccessible. The central theme of "People Shopping at a Weekly Market" is reasonably clear, however: it concerns the imbecility and materialism of modern humanity, whose members sell "blood at the bloodbank nearby / to pay for rotting potatoes" but remain oblivious to the presence and proximity of death. The response of the poem's speaker is an angry one, a desire to smash through the emptiness of those around him, but he also admits his own collusion in the situation against which he rages. At various points, however, the poem seems to wander off on strange tangents, and its message becomes unclear. The poem's penultimate verse, in which the line "Oh death went empty-handed from the market today" is repeated three times, is surely imitative of Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper).

There is indeed clear evidence in Kainla's poems of the influence of the earlier phenomenon of English modernism, a movement that was also regarded as revolutionary in its time. The main fault of both dimensionalist and modernist poetry is its introversion and density: unlike Bhupi Sherchan, the greatest single influence upon young poets in recent years, Kainla made little effort to speak with simplicity or clarity to his times. The significance of Kainla, and of contemporaries such as


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Ìshwar Ballabh, who continues to write today, is that they orchestrated the most overt rejection of previous tradition that Nepali literature has ever experienced.

Most of Bairagi Kainla's poems are collected in Bairagi Kainlaka Kavitaharu (The Poems of Bairagi Kainla, 1974).

The Corpse of a Dream (Sapnako Las)

My love,
a dream should last the whole night long.[1] My breast is where I sleep at nights,
covered by vest and blouse,
like an old man's cave inside a village
where only the jackal and the fox
call out their evil omens.
Ruthlessly it is beaten
by bundles of office files
which must be revealed to others,
by crises of convention,
the absence of choice.

When he looks at his face,
primordial, unwashed,
in a mirror on a table,
a man has to say to himself—

a dream should last the whole night long,
as long as sleep goes undisturbed.
As soon as you wake from dark oblivion,
at dawn in the temple of the sun,
with flowers offered up by maidens:
these you must pluck yourself.
(Just like today, when I buried
the love I said I had for you
over there in the bank of the field;
that love I gave up for mother and father
I hear has sprung up, a jasmine tree;
so often these days 1 dream
of yellow flowers.)

This life must be lived
less for yourself, more for others.
In history, this great ritual of living
requires the sacrifice of a life.


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Our unfulfilled souls
will frighten us all our lives,
all through each night in our beds,
in the mornings they will weep
tears of blood onto arum leaves:
young doves sacrificed
by soft, soft dreams.

But life is a ritual,
we must be honest with life,
we must live with fists unclenched.
Emptying ash from pillows and quilts,
we find the remains of scattered dreams,
some burned right up, some broken:
the wings of moths
which flocked all night round the lamp.

Watching in silence, compelled,
from a half-veiled window,
as the sun lifts its head,
belching and dipping its hands in blood,
over there, beyond the mountain.

Man must walk on feet of convention
over the corpse of a dream,
trampling life's every morning,
each man a solitary mourner,
each must mourn the corpse of his dream.

When the dream tumbles down,
like a bee's lifeless body into a lake,
cruel darkness of love and compulsion,
as soon as life rises, rubbing its eyes,
Man must bear sorrow on earth.

Man must walk on feet of convention
over the corpse of a dream,
trampling life's every morning.

My love,
a dream should last the whole night long.
(c. 1960; from Kainla 1974)

A Drunk Man's Speech to the Street After Midnight (Mateko Mancheko Bhashan: Madhyaratpachiko Sadaksita)

When I emerge from the wine shop,
long after midnight has passed,
cockerels crow their welcome
from every coop and perch,


104

flapping their wings in rebellion.
My very breath, drenched in alcohol fumes,
is a great storm in this atmosphere,
this lifelessness, this system.
Grand mansions line the street,
weakness hides in their foundations:
now now now—they will soon collapse!

All my steps are earthquakes today,
volcanoes erupt in each sensation;
how have I lived to such an age
in these cramped and crumbling houses,
too small for a single stride?
I am saddened:
even now they sleep, self-defeated men,
tangled together like worms
in the pestilent houses of the earth,
and do they sleep so late?

Today I am more immense than the world,
my breath is shut in by the ground of this street,
I stamp all over the road.
People say I am drunk—"Keep left"—
people say we should keep to the verge,
but people should walk all over this street,
as many as it can contain,
the police pick up all who keep to the verge,
saying, "This one's drunk, and that one, too!"[2]

At the head of each bed in the rooms
of sky-kissing mansion and tower,
all through each night they burn:
blue, blue bulbs, the eyes of owls.
Here the owls' eyes watch through the night:
who are they waiting for, who will be ambushed?

Faceless men drag by
on legs of darkness,
all night long they walk this street,
their heads hanging low from their shoulders,
their heads full of letters and papers,
their hearts full of the office clock's hands,
their lives machine parts, soon obsolete.

And so the street is shrunken today:
who steals its corners and verges?


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Who tears life in chunks from its sides?
Why is the street more narrow each night?
"Tear up this road and widen it!..."
The witless policeman stands on the curb,
prepared to arrest me for these words,
for I am drunk!
But when the wine pervades my heart,
I feel I am full of such vastness,
the street is too narrow for me.

May the engineers hear me,
the leaders, the teachers, the poets,
may each second of history attend
to my speech, broadcast from the pavement
beside the main post office:
Streets!
A man walks upon you,
he is too great for you, he commands you:
crack and split and widen yourselves,
rupture and tear down those buildings
which encroach upon your borders,
further, further with each historic moment,
rend and crack the pavements:
they are like history's naked pages,
inscribed with flattering lineages
of the Kotparva's victors and the ruling family;[3] split them from head to heart.
We should be allowed to stand here
on the feet of Columbus,
a revolution should walk here,
its head held high.
So I order you: Streets!
Crack and tear yourselves apart,
if potholes appear, I will fill them
with goodwill soaked in wine,
I will cover them with my immensity.
For otherwise I will not fit in,
otherwise, at nine 'o'clock, when it's time for school,
how will the little boy's mother and I
send him to school from this place
if the road cannot hold the sole of one foot?

Oh life, already flat on your back,
constantly trampled by hundreds of boots,
continually tortured by the wheels of cars,


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oh streets, confined by the mists of inertia,
bounded by signboards and poles,
fragmented and fractured by turnings and bends
—a thousand splinters of the valor
of the universal emperor.

Oh sixty thousand cursed sons of Sagar,[4] advancing to conquer the world,
driving a horse to sacrifice,
I pour the heavenly Ganga's waters
from the firmament of a bottle,
down over you with the faith of Bhagirath,[5] onto your foreheads, eyes and chests.
Drink this wine which I pour on the street,
bottle by bottle, drop after drop,
revive and arise, my fathers,
you sixty thousand cursed sons of Sagar!

And now wipe the mist with a Himalayan fist,
from the horizon's gummy eyes,
and look with me for the first time:
as far as we can see, all around,
there is a battleground for victory
and a radiant light for life.
(c. 1963; from Kainla 1974; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967, Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971, and Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 2)

People Shopping at a Weekly Market (Hat Bharne Manis)

Naked hills are licked clean
by a locust swarm which hides the sky,
Mikjiri flowers borne by the hills
wilt on the century's breast,
crawled upon, half-burned.
Clumsily flowing, overturning,
in laces and buttonholes,
in the market's bounds,
in a crowd of countless shadows,


107

in mist, the gunsmoke of a great war,
in a storm, their eyes are wheeling.

A void, the beginning
to which life has returned in pieces,
each eye has its own void,
a great lake of emptiness
filling their eyes.

I feel impelled
to smash the lake asunder
at Chobhar, with Manjushri's sword's sharp fingers,[6] to make flourishing harvests of each fleeing moment,
drenching life with the Bagmati's waters,
raising humanity, wounded and torn,
from its grave (on the third day),
with the land which revives with the sun
... but it is only an impulse.

History drags along
until shirts are torn in its pages,
a map is etched onto bare, bloodied bodies,
signs declaring the fall of Hiroshima,
this drop of blood,
a moment in my hand,
a rock at this bend of Time
by the riverside.

Upon my brow I bear the blood
of the chicken the shaman killed[7] to ward off the future:
two or three drops from a martyr
(yes, death is an honor indeed).

This is an oasis with one sapling green,
it grew with the sands, and drank
only reflected light,
but it is kicked out without an heir,
free and aimless in Time's dry desert.

Cobwebs strung up to fill window frames,
blown out from their own horizons,
reaching the lintel over the door;
how sadly, sadly they live,


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even deliverance is insipid and sad,
this aimless freedom, this lonely freedom,
imprisoned in the pointlessness
of a struggle for derelict hopes,
ah, even deliverance is insipid and sad.

These eyes are raised up to the sky,
they collide with wall after wall,
in disappointment and ignominy
they fail to find the sky,
exhausted they fall to a dark pit of void,
another century of indecision.
And yes I must tear out my heart
with the hand of Prometheus,
a vulture on my shoulder,
deprived of the natural feeling of pain.
Within me in folds of wrinkled skin
there lies interned
a rebellion already suppressed
a rebellion already suppressed
a rebellion already suppressed.

Although I send myself to war
in inner conflict, mere inner conflict,
I make Vesuvius and Bali erupt;
to leaping floods of flame I offer
the parallel lines of harrowing evil
from the maps of life
which cause the fever and giddiness,
the angering dullness of impotence,
in the eyes of these people filling the market,
the brown sea of their eyes.
With a touch of ice they dry up the Nile
in the palm of the hand,
they accumulate time in a clod of being.

This ocean of countless cursed eyes,
I feel impelled to smash it to ripples,
to set fire to flame with fragments of waves,
fire and conflagration!
To offer up life at life's demand,
then once more, to life, to life.

But the guilty are mired in damp shadows
in this small yard, feet bound by compromise,
their eyes poured out into footprints,
their lives emptied out down both sides of New Road,
empty pots lie still here and there,
the market of people held tight in their eyes,


109

picking a fight, the blows of the Gita,
Arjun's star lit in every eye,
halting the sun for an instant,
on the canvas reversed, at Kurukshetra, in life.[8]

Attack every valley, uproot from all eyes
the border posts of apathy which exile me,
I lack the courage, I erase the blade
with a layer of rust, I kill the senses,
I grow the mosses of death,
oh such an ordinary death!

The serpent cannot find
the bullets in Gandhi's breast,
the khari tree on the Tundikhel,[9] the nails in the lanes of Jerusalem,
again it wanders in suicide,
thin at each end, checkered and damp,
disclosing a plot, the death of the ear.

Dodging the eyes of the guardians of faith,
who move to and fro by the main gate with music,
kindling a smile round the closed sight of Buddha,
on the face of a Japanese shrine,
hastening past necks beyond number,
I walk flat out ...

With the black car that almost touched me,
the car that is already far away,
death passed by close to life today,
this life which cannot be bought
with the small change of accident:
death left the market empty-handed today.

These people filling the marketplace,
selling blood at the blood bank nearby
to pay for rotting potatoes,
gathering up pieces of their will to live,
packing their being into a bag of shrouds,
they are quite unaware that death left today,
knowing the price of life.

Oh death went empty-handed from the market today
oh death went empty-handed from the market today
oh death went empty-handed from the market today.


110

With the black car that almost touched me,
the car that is already far away,
death passed by close to life today.
(c. 1964; from Kainla 1974; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


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Parijat (b. 1937)

Parijat , the Nepali name for a species of jasmine with a special religious significance, is the pen name adopted by Bishnukumari Waiba, a Tamang woman now resident in Kathmandu who has been hailed as one of the most innovative Nepali writers of recent years. The themes and philosophical outlook of her poems, novels, and stories are influenced by her Marxist and feminist views and her own personal circumstances: Parijat has suffered from a partial paralysis since her youth and has ventured from her home only rarely during the past twenty years. She is unmarried and childless, a status that is not usual for a woman in Nepalese society and that is due partly to her illness and partly, it seems, to personal preference. Despite her disability, Parijat is a formidable force in Nepali literature, and her flower-filled room in a house near Balaju has become a kind of shrine for progressive Nepali writers.

Parijat was born in Darjeeling in 1937, and her childhood was deeply unhappy. Her mother died while Parijat was still young, and an elder brother drowned shortly afterward. At the age of about thirteen, it seems that she became passionately involved in a love affair that ended in heartbreak and a period of intense depression. Parijat herself has described this as a "self-inflicted wound." In 1954, the family moved to Kathmandu, where Parijat completed a B.A. in 1958 and later completed an M.A. in English literature. Her father subsequently became mentally ill. Parijat's memoirs, which Subedi describes as "confessional and intimate" (1978, 213), were serialized in Ruprekha (Outline) and a volume of reminiscences have recently appeared (Parijat 1988). In view of this background of tragedy and hardship, it is not surprising that most of Parijat's writings evince an attitude of alienation, pessimism, and atheism.

Parijat's first poem, entitled "Aspirations" (Akanksha ), was published


112

in 1953; a collection of poems with this title appeared some years later. In 1970, she announced that she would no longer write poetry,[1] and a second collection of poems from before 1970 appeared in 1987. During the 1970s, Parijat became better known as a novelist: her first novel, Shirishko Phul (The Mimosa Flower )[2] had already won the Madan Puraskar prize for fiction in 1965 and was wholly without precedent in Nepali literature. It tells the story of a retired soldier in middle age whose life is empty and lacking in purpose. Gradually, he develops a desperate infatuation with the sister of a drinking companion. This woman is the complete antithesis of the traditional Nepali heroine: she is cynical and sometimes cruel, she wears her hair cropped short, and she smokes continually. The psychological background to the story is the soldier's memory of his sexual exploitation of Burmese women during his military service. On only one occasion does he attempt to reveal his feelings to the woman, and shortly afterward she dies. The novel caused great controversy: some thought it decadent and vulgar; others praised it for its modernity. Parijat has published five novels since The Mimosa Flower , and since 1980 she has also written several new poems. These differ from her earlier poetry in that they are less personal and address social issues.

Parijat's second collection of poems, the source of the selection translated here, is very highly regarded, although it does perhaps represent an earlier phase in her development as a writer. All these poems are written in the first person and are deeply subjective. Some of the earliest compositions, exemplified here by "Sweep Away" (Sohorera Jau ), are simple lyrics tinged with a mysticism similar to that of the chhayavad school of Hindi verse. Others, such as "To Gopalprasad Rimal's 'To—'", (Gopalprasad Rimalko "—Prati " Prati ), have political undertones (this particular poem should be read in conjunction with the poem referred to in its title, which also appears in this book). Parijat's political views are overtly leftist: in the early 1970s, she attempted (unsuccessfully, it turned out) to initiate a literary movement dubbed Ralpha (an apparently meaningless term) that would combine ideas drawn from existentialist thought with the values of Marxism.

About her role as a writer, however, she is self-effacing:

I consider literature to be the most important part of civilization. Without literary development there can be no national development because literature is an inalienable part of the nation.... No, I do not believe that


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the development of literature depends in any way upon my own writing. I write; the readers read: that is the only constraint I put upon my compositions. (Kunwar 1966, 234)

The majority of Parijat's poems spring from her physical condition and from a profound atheism and moral despair. "In the Arms of Death" (Mrityuka Angalama ) expresses a hope that the doctrine of reincarnation is not true and that death will be a final release:

How eager this flower is to fall,
how it longs to cut short the winter day,
to pass in a half-conscious night;
Death returns, defeated,
from the hands of Life—
alas, Man does not die.

Parijat's most famous poem, "A Sick Lover's Letter to Her Soldier" (Lahurelai Ek Rogi Premikako Patra ), contains the line "Love does not die, you have to kill it," which sums up very well the antisentimental view she holds of human life.

Parijat's poems from the years before 1970 are collected in Akanksha (Aspirations, 1960) and in Parijatka Kavita (The Poems of Parijat, 1987).

Sweep Away (Sohorera Jau)

Sweep away, red glow of evening,
dawn may not come here again,
my sky may not redden again,
sweep down, oh red glow of evening.

This Ganga, this Jamuna, may not flow again,
Nature may no longer weep
on the leaves of this sungabha 3 flower;
come today and bring me
beauty to soak my eyes;
sweep away, red glow of evening.

Go, and ignore the paths which have passed,
no traveler may ever come there again,
do not disturb those nights of sleep past,
that dream may never recur.

If you cannot leave, come, recalling
the lament which is played on a flute,
remembering the song that I sing,

[3]
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remembering the widow who burns
in the eyes of desire and attraction;
sweep down, oh red glow of evening.
(1959; from Parijat 1987)

To Gopalprasad Rimal's "To—"[4] (Gopalprasad Rimalko "—Prati" Prati)

Truly, love is not nearly enough,
the statement "I love you" is vague;
surely Truth should be plainly seen
in the culmination of love.
It is I who must truly conceive
the tangible fruits of love:
in my sons I must see
the face of my soul.

Yes, it is I who must bear them,
the effigies of reality:
Buddha, Lenin, Gandhi,
but to actual love I cannot give
the ideal of motherhood;
I cannot pour out peace of heart
to the old man born in a cellar
who fights for stale rice with the scurvy dogs.

My aged son, gutter born;
you may spew out hope for his salvation;
my love, you make conception
the manifestation of Truth,
my Lenin, even as you are born,
you anoint the sick and the stained.
I see only the face of self-reproach,
I cannot console anything which is mine;
it is over! I save Truth's fragments,
poor Lenin, Buddha, Gandhi,
I save them from calumny,
these I cannot sacrifice
in gutters of filthy water.

And so I formulate vague ideals
instead of love's clear reality.
(1960; from Parijat 1987)


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A Sick Lover's Letter to Her Soldier (Lahurelai Ek Rogi Premikako Patra)

Life companion, much, much love;
I feel I might send you a heart,
I feel I might send you a love letter,
tied round the necks of these free-flying pigeons,
repeating the sentiment of last century's love,
but what free bird could fly
across today's lines and borders,
with what sighs could this withered existence
lay down to rest in the winds of this world?

My love, I cannot raise you in my mind,
you are far away and hidden from me,
I cannot speak to you, I cannot see you,
I do not even try to cross the seven seas to you,
and so I simply watch for you
as I sit here all alone,
my brain as limited as my body,
Gautami turned to stone.[5]

Love,
love is a mirage,
love is the greed of a goose,
love is a lifeless truth,
the thirst of a kakakul bird[6] which loves the sun and blocks its setting;
an ephemeral body, an endless desire,
but love is the union of bodies,
me in your arms, each night,
a row of desires set out to block death—
I am dreaming and burning my sweet dreams.

Beloved, you wrote to ask me
if I smiled in your billet picture,
you said you did not want to lose me,
you said my letter woke you up like a phoenix.
This is all just history now,
how I have survived I do not know,
I have waited long, you will surely come
to this phoenix in her ashes,
not rising to health once more,


116

but deep in eternal sleep
leaving unspoken the things in her mind.

My love, I have already died,
your love burned with me on my pyre.
I am buried, I sleep the endless sleep,
you must live on, waking tomorrow
to new sunshine: do not cry,
do not make a mockery of conflict.

Do you know the power of my ending?
A part of finality was smashed;
do you know that my death was strong?
It left immortality itself half-dead.

Love does not die, you have to kill it,
you must begin with the strength of my end.
Now here is the rest of my letter,
now here is the rest of your phoenix,
life companion, here for you
is the remnant of all my love.
(1964; from Parijat 1987; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967)

In the Arms of Death (Mrityuka Angalama)

At midnight the moonlight comes in by a window,
it melts all over the quilt on my bed;
I am already wrapped in my shroud,
my bed is already my tomb.

Something within me is trying to vanish,
someone inside me is trying to leave,
but these are not my remains,
night after night I am living and dying;
I set my own corpse before me.

I lie on my back and I weep,
I mourn at my own funeral rite,
I am my own undying ghost,
I have roamed through half the graveyard,
each night I return from the pointless journey,
feet soaked by stygian waters.

But Death does not speak like this
from the pages of the Upanishads,[7] there, Death is a mother's welcome
to a child returning from play.


117

The end is no intermission,
let me leave it once and for all,
I will play for so long before I return,
I will be so tired when I set down my load,
come, let us not regard this world
so darkly, just for a moment,
I have endured this life quietly,
suffering like a dumb beast.

How eager this flower is to fall,
how it longs to cut short the winter day,
to pass in a half-conscious night;
Death returns, defeated,
from the hands of Life—
alas, Man does not die.

This is the twentieth century,
death is not easy or hard,
and so my eyes are eager
to open in pale morning light,
to crawl through life's listless day,
a day where no hope has its home.

The new age is lost on its way,
Time comes but makes all newness a void
before it can reach my door,
so Time passes through me as before,
it saddens all those who are happy,
it cheers all those who are sad,
but my indifference is a full stop
to the desires of life:
it strikes all changes dumb.

It is laughable:
as if governed by regular rules,
lizards continue to run to and fro
with regiments of ants
on the four walls of this room;
each plank of the floor is wondering why
this burden upon it never gets up or goes,
it lives, but it is lifeless,
it hardly moves;
this irritation should be thrown out.

A snail can feed without reaching its goal,
but I cannot; so when I am gone,
do not think that anything great is lost:
the warmth of the small space I filled
will simply cool as I grow cold.


118

A part of my blanket, the edge of my quilt,
will know that a lightweight existence,
a living helplessness, have fled away;
I shall come to my end before dying,
so many have died, but not ended:
but I wish for no preservation:
although the Himal ever melts at Gangotri,[8] and never ceases to be,
I must die, and see myself ended.

What claim can I make to be human?
A fistful of weary flesh,
a little bundle of tired bones:
that is all, and what of it?
(1964; from Parijat 1987)


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Bhupi Sherchan (1936-1989)

Bhupi Sherchan, who died in 1989, was probably the most popular and widely read Nepali poet of the previous twenty years. The reasons for his popularity are easily identified: his poems are written in simple Nepali; they address issues crucial to all Nepalis, not just to the educated elite; and they are distinctive for their humor and anger.

Bhupendraman Sherchand was born in 1936 into a wealthy Thakali family of Tukuche, a settlement on the banks of the Kali Gandaki River in the remote district of Mustang. The Thakali are a distinct ethnic group in Nepal, and their cultural orientation is basically Tibetan. Because their main towns and villages are all situated on an historically important trade route leading to Tibet, they have become one of Nepal's most enterprising and prosperous communities and in recent years have sought to distance themselves from Tibetan culture and to identify more closely with the mainstream of Hindu Nepal.

Initially, Bhupi seems to have rebelled against the commercial traditions of his family and community. It may be that he felt some sense of rejection when his mother died in 1941, a feeling that could only have been heightened when he was sent to Banaras in India to begin his college education before he reached his teens. In 1956, when still a student in Banaras, he published a book of songs in the jhyaure meter of Nepali folk songs. This collection expressed views that reflected Bhupi's conversion to communism, a fact also evinced by his adoption of the pen name Sarvahara , "Proletariate."[1] Some four years later, he came to live in Kathmandu, where he was subsequently jailed for his activities in an obscure political group, the Bhadra Avagya Andolan (Civil Resis-


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tance Movement). In jail, he developed colitis and several other related complaints and was never completely healthy again. At about this time his second book, Nirjhar (Waterfall ), described by Subedi as a "collection of lyrical poems" (1978, 73), was published.

Neither of Bhupi's early collections seems to be at all well regarded; both are unobtainable, and none of the poems they contain has been reprinted elsewhere. Bhupi did not make any real impact on Nepali poetry until he dropped his pseudonym, shortened his name to Bhupi Sherchan, and began to submit his startling poems to literary journals, notably Ruprekha . As he explained to Uttam Kunwar, "I used to give importance to an '-ism' when I wrote, but later I began to write about whatever theme attracted me—although I must say that I still do not believe in 'art for art's sake'" (Kunwar 1966, 93).

A collection of forty-two prose poems entitled A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche ) was first published in 1969 and was awarded the Sajha Puraskar. A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair has since become one of the most influential and acclaimed collections of Nepali poetry and is already in a fourth edition of 2,100 copies. Despite the fact that no subsequent volume of his poems was published, A Blind Man established beyond dispute Sherchan's reputation as one of the most important Nepali poets. The poems translated here are all drawn from this collection.

Sherchan was a man tormented by the great questions of his age and by the contradiction between his family's wealth and his own strongly held socialist beliefs. Comparing the poetry published under the pen name to Bhupi's more recent work, Khanal observes, "Gone is the easy and confident feeling ... of having found answers to the questions that he asked as a teenager. The question returns and continues to plague him" (Khanal 1977, 272). Kunwar (1966, 96) claims that Sherchan often felt suicidal. Whatever the truth of this suggestion, his addiction to tobacco and overindulgence in alcohol became almost legendary during the last years of his life.

Sherchan worked for most of his active years in the family business and as a building contractor. His duties took him to various parts of the country, particularly Pokhara, Kathmandu, and Bhairahava. His intense dislike for Bhairahava was expressed in the poem "Bhairahava," which sums up like no other the hillman's contempt for the plains:

You can hear only transistor radios,
Swimming on the air,
The cough of bronchitic trucks,
The revving of ancient buses ...
Dry, disgusting Bhairahava,
Bellowing like a buffalo emerging from its wallow.


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He also seemed to find Kathmandu decadent and oppressive and so he resided mainly in Pokhara until he was awarded membership of the Royal Nepal Academy in 1979. This perhaps ameliorated to some degree the frustration he expressed in his interview with Uttam Kunwar about the fact that his writing could not support him financially and that he was obliged to rely upon his family's wealth.

Sherchan's poetry, like that of Rimal and Koirala before him, was largely without precedent in Nepali. As Khanal points out, the poet's philosophical vantage point was unusual: he came from a minority ethnic group of a fairly remote region, whereas most of the better known Nepali poets before him had been upper-caste Hindus from central Nepal or Darjeeling. This fact lent him a certain detachment from the Kathmandu elite that he satirized with such success and set him apart from the intrigues that pervaded the atmosphere of the capital city.

The prevailing tone of this poetry is ironic, although Sherchan was often passionately angry. His irony is expressed most clearly here in "A Poem" (Ek Kavita ), in which the speaker contemplates the sleeping body of a beggar boy on a Kathmandu pavement, and in his most famous poem, "A Blind Man in a Revolving Chair" (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche ), a cruelly satirical depiction of a man in a position of authority who is corrupt, narrowminded, and insensitive. Bhupi's anger bursts out almost uncontrollably in "This Is a Land of Uproar and Rumor" (Yo Hallai-Hallako Desh Ho ), a long cry of patriotic rage against the corruption and lack of intellect he considered to be his country's most crippling weaknesses. His anger over the low status of poets and writers in Nepal is expressed in a reference to Devkota, Rimal, and Parijat:

where the great poet must die an early death to pay his debts
and a poet, driven mad by the pain of his land,
must take refuge in a foreign hospice;
where Saraswati's lonely daughter
must live her whole life shriveled
by a sickness untreated in her youth

Sherchan repeated his criticism of Nepal as a country of "gullible fools" in a long poem entitled "We" (Hami ) in which the fable of Dronacharya and his disciples from the Mahabharata epic was reinterpreted to argue that a disciple should not accede to his guru's every demand without question. This reinterpretation was in direct contradiction to the intended moral of the original tale:

We practice our archery constantly,
developing skills far greater than the guru's own disciples,
but Dronacharya comes to each generation,
surprised and alarmed by our expertise,


122

demanding his guru's fee.
Joyfully we cut off our thumbs and present them to him,
erase our existence and surrender to him,
then we rejoice at our devotion and our self-sacrifice.
So we are brave, no doubt, but we are gullible fools.

"We" is considered an important poem by Nepali critics, but it is somewhat repetitive and does not compare especially well with the poems translated here. Many of Sherchan's shorter poems are explicitly personal and express a profound disappointment with life, but in general he believed in poetry as a medium that should be used to convey a social or political message. So that his poems could be readily understood, he developed a style of Nepali almost totally devoid of the Sanskrit-derived vocabulary that filled the poetry of earlier writers, such as Lekhnath and Devkota. Sherchan also rejected the idea of metrical verse out of hand: "meter is an artificial thing, and any attempt to systematize the tears and laughter of mankind is an even more artificial thing" (Kunwar 1966, 92).

Although he was not the first Nepali poet to try dispensing with Sanskrit vocabulary (the trend dates back at least as far as Sama), Sherchan was probably the most successful and influential purifier of the language of Nepali poetry. "In Bhupi's poetry," writes Khanal, "Nepali has been restored to its pristine glory" (Khanal 1977, 268). Despite the admiration and respect accorded to Mohan Koirala, it is Sherchan's language that is emulated by the majority of younger poets today.

Bhupi Sherchan's poems are collected in Nayam Jhyaure (New Songs, 1956), Nirjhar (Waterfall, 1958), and Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche (A Blind Mind on a Revolving Chair, 1969).

Always Always in My Dream (Sadhaim-Sadhaim Mero Sapnama)

Always always in my dream
countless young mothers come before me
and sing this song as if insane:
"Now my milk is worthless,
my motherhood has no meaning,"
then they show me dirty piglets
suckling at breasts tight with milk,
and all at once they beat their breasts
and tear their hair
and beg me for all the sons they have lost.

Always always in my dream,
countless old men come with timeworn bodies,


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countless old women with minds torn asunder,
they all collapse before me,
kicked down by life, unredeemed by Death;
they beg for the thread of the unfathomed future,
beg for their lost and only son.

Always always in my dream,
countless young widows come before me
and strip themselves quite naked,
showing me black blisters
where the world's salacious eyes
have burned their snow-white bodies;
they beg me for some support for their lives,
they beg me for some end to their journey.

Always always in my dream,
consumptive orphans come before me;
they beg me for school fees, money for books,
cricket bats, and a father's kiss;
they ask for protection
and a night of sweet sleep.

So always always in my dream
a great ocean forms:
the tears of the men in Malaya;[2] a corpse rises up and a corpse sinks down
in every ocean wave,
regarding me with hatred.

Ah in my dreams I am loathed
by the history of my awakening.
(1959; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Nepali Kavita Sangraha [1973] 1988, vol. 1)

Midday and the Cold Sleep (Madhyahn Din Ra Chiso Nidra)

In the newspaper's "wanted" column,
I seek the face of my future,
I search for a foothold in every procession,
every assembly, every speech,
I look through the files of each new plan.[3] On the lips of the new budget
I seek some reassurance,


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from radio announcements I beg
two words of consolation;
my family's age I measure
with a new pay scale, made young again
by the news of each vacant post;
each time I hear from my interviews,
life stinks like sweat in an armpit.

Somebody is mixing despair
into even my mother's love,
even in my father's encouraging words
a cold, impatient sigh can be heard.
It is as if vermilion fears
the parting of my daughter's hair,[4] and my wife is always serving up
satire on my plate.

An age has passed:
with a face like an application letter,
I have wandered from door to door,
I have called from house to house.

A cold sleep always tries to engulf me,
I know that if I sleep this time
I shall never wake again.
Oh you who form lines like caterpillars,
chant more slogans, chant them loud;
I do not want to sleep today.
Wake me up! Wake me up!
(1960; from Sherchan [ 1969] 1984)

I Think My Country's History is a Lie (Galat Lagcha Malai Mero Deshko Itihas)

When I pause for a few days
to look at these squares steeped in hunger,
these streets like withered flowers,
I think my country's history is a lie.

These gods, dug in all down the street,
these knowing men who are deaf and dumb,
these temples ravaged by earthquakes,
these leaning pinnacles,
these statues of great men at the crossroads:
when I see all these, ever present,
never changing, all alike,


125

then I think it is a lie,
the history of these men who share my table.

When I constantly see young Sitas[5] in the streets, the alleys, the markets,
in my country and in foreign lands,
stripped bare like eucalyptus trees,
when I see countless Bhimsen Thapas,[6] standing still and silent,
shedding the songs of their souls,
like kalki trees[7] with their hands hanging down,
I really feel like mocking my blood.

I hear that Amarsingh[8] extended the kingdom to Kangra,
I hear that Tenzing climbed Sagarmatha,[9] I hear that the Buddha[10] sowed the seeds of peace,
I hear that Arniko's[11] art astounded the world;
I hear, but I do not believe it.

For when I pause for a few days
to look at these squares steeped in hunger,
these streets like withered flowers,
I know that this is the truth of my past,
and I think our history is a lie.
(1960; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Blind Man on a Revolving Chair (Ghumne Mechmathi Andho Manche)

Dozing and regretting all day long,
like a withered bamboo lamenting its hollowness,
opening wounds all day long,
like a sick dove which pecks at its breast;


126

weeping softly all day long,
over sorrows which are unspoken,
like a pine forest in its solitude,
my feet are set in a tiny space,
sheltered by a mushroom umbrella,
far from the vastness of earth and sky.

In the evening,
when Nepal shrinks down to Kathmandu,
and Kathmandu shrinks to New Road,[12] which breaks up, trampled by countless feet,
to newspapers, tea shops, paan shops,
various rumors come and go,
each in a different guise,
newspapers pass by, clucking like hens,
and here and there the darkness
climbs onto the sidewalk, terrified
by the headlights of the cars.

The hive in my brain collapses,
I stand up, alarmed
by stinging, buzzing bees beyond number;
I rise like a soul on Judgment Day,
but I do not find the Lethe,[13] I river of oblivion,
so I slide down into some wine to forget
the past, my previous lives and deaths.

The sun always rises from the kettle,
and sets in an empty glass,
the earth I inhabit goes on turning,
I am the only one who cannot see
the changes all around me,
the only one who is unaware
of all this world's beauty and pleasure,
like a blind man at an exhibition,
forced to sit on a revolving chair.
(1961; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)


127

This is a Land of Uproar and Rumor (Yo Hallai-Hallako Desh Ho)

This is a land of uproar and rumor,
where deaf men wearing hearing aids[14] are judges at musical contests;
and those whose souls are full of stones
are connoisseurs of poetry;
where wooden legs win races, and bayonets of defense
are held by plastered hands;
where, basket upon basket,
truckload after truckload,
souls are offered for sale
along the roads, in front of doors;
where the leaders are those who can trade in souls,
like shares on a stock exchange;
where the men who presume to lead our youth on
have faces wrinkled like roofing steel;
where the "wash and wear" creases of honor
are never spoiled by any malpractice,
and even the prostitute's terylene skin
cannot crease, whatever her crime;
where seeds which double production
are displayed at farmers' fairs
which fill with news of drought and famine;
where beer and whisky flow instead of sacred rivers[15] and people come to our holiest shrines
less to receive the food of the gods,
more to consume the forbidden fruits
of Adam and Eve in the gardens behind;
where the sugar factory makes booze, not sugar,
and mothers of freedom give birth to soldiers instead of sons;
where the great poet must die an early death to pay his debts
and a poet, driven mad by the pain of his land,
must take refuge in a foreign hospice;
where Saraswati's lonely daughter
must live her whole life shriveled
by a sickness untreated in her youth;[16] where a guide describes to a tourist
Nepal's contributions to other lands,


128

then departs, demanding his camera,
where young men sing the songs
of forts and foreign conquests,
marching in parades ...

In this land I am forced to say,
clipping a khukuri to my tie and lapel,[17] tearing open my heart:
compatriots, nation-poets of this land,
who sing the songs of my country's awakening,
respected leaders of my people:
if you wish, you may call me a slanderer, a traitor,
but this land is mine as well as yours,
my hut will stand on a piece of this land,
my pyre will burn beside one of our rivers;
I am forced to say, made bold by this feeling,
this is a land of uproar and rumor,
dig deep, and you find hearsay
heaped up beneath every home,
so this is a land of tumult and gossip,
a country supported by rumors,
a country standing on uproar:
this is a land of uproar and rumor.
(1967; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

New Year (Nayam Varsha)

Like a postman newly transferred,
who carries a parcel of sun in his sack,
Baisakh[18] is walking on the roof,
moving with slow heavy steps,
making the walls swing like a pendulum.

The sun grows dark
and lies down to rest with a despairing face:
a downpour of bad weather,
a constant rumbling from the clouds,
the sky has diarrhea; it must have drunk
the Bishnumati's choleric waters.
From the shehnai[19] there comes a tuneless sound;
cholera germs are coming, unseen and countless,


129

at midday, fierce sunshine,
all the trees scratching their limbs.

So once more
New Year has come,
so once more
I must hang my life's visa
in a new calendar on the wall,
so once more
I must draw up a list of my friends,
once more, sitting beneath rockets
and airplanes bearing horrific bombs,
I must write my dear ones letters
wishing them success,
peace,
long lives.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967)

A Poem (Ek Kavita)

For the lad who says "I am hungry"
there is neither a meal nor a home,
but even so he lives, he grows up,
this beggarly youth on a New Road pavement,
trampled beneath many feet.

This boy was shot into outer space,
an unknown, uncertain future,
in the speeding rocket of someone's carnal pleasure,
no space suit, no oxygen,
no guide or direction;
but he came down safely from his brief experience
of irresponsibility, unburdened freedom,
onto the New Road pavement,
wrapped in a dirty parachute.

This child was born
like Jesus,
from a virgin mother's womb,
and now he sits by the wayside,
supporting a lamppost: his cross.

On a night so cold the hair stands on end,
he sleeps tucked into a bend on a sad, empty footpath,
wrapped in a dirty sack, an old newspaper;
on his breast in huge letters lies the news of Children's Day:
a minister's official address,


130

the presentation of sweets and prizes,
announcements of progress for boys and girls.

Sleep, little boy,
sleep, wise child,
sleep, little king,
sleep like this, carefree,
the day will come when your clothes,
your dirty sack and newspaper,
will hang in a museum like Kalu Pande's.[20]

And then historians will write,
"At that time in Nepal
there were two kinds of men:
one rested on newspaper headlines,
he was important news,
the other wrapped himself in them to keep warm,
surviving the winter oblivious . . .
. . . then Nepal was like an old paper:
completely out of date."
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Dove of Two Delicate White Hands: Your Greeting (Dui Seta Kalila Hatkelako Pareva: Timro Namaste)

You were standing on a rooftop,
your head bowed demurely,
in blushing haste you tossed
a dove, two delicate white hands,
into the air toward me:
your greeting.

All day it flies
through the skies of my eyes
on the white wings of your purity.
In the evening your youth
spreads across my heart's horizon,
in the night, the seven colors of your bracelets
are set into the rafters of my sleep.

And from now on your laughter,
your solitude's silent entreaty,
will always fill my heart, my eyes.

You were standing on a rooftop,
your head bowed demurely,


131

in blushing haste you tossed
a dove, two delicate white hands,
into the air toward me:
your greeting . . .
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984; also included in Sajha Kavita 1967 and Adhunik Nepali Kavita 1971)

Cold Ashtray (Chiso Aishtre)

Those who come
come with hearts full of fire,
with flames on their lips,
but those who live here
live with hands full of ash
and eyes full of smoke.
Those who leave take with them
a bundle of extinguished beliefs,
the stub-ends of their dreams.
Such is this Valley of Four Passes,[21] it's a cold ashtray,
this Valley of Four Passes.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)

A Cruel Blow at Dawn (Prata: Ek Aghat)

Every day,
dawn comes secretly like a thief,
and it squeezes me a little.
I am woken by the touch of sunbeams,
I see the bright, white teeth of the east,
scrubbed regularly clean;
there falls upon some corner of my heart
a light but penetrating blow:
ah, my life is going toward its end;
a certain amount passes each day,
squeezed out like toothpaste.
(no date; from Sherchan [1969] 1984)


132

Banira Giri (b. 1946)

Born in the town of Kurseong, near Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills of West Bengal, Banira Giri is one of the very few Nepali women writers to have established any reputation outside the kingdom. She moved to Kathmandu with her parents when still a young girl, and most of her writing therefore refers to the environment and society of her adopted home, rather than to her birthplace. The poem "Kathmandu" (Kathmandu ), for instance, expresses a mixture of affection and contempt for the city:

Kathmandu makes my poor, dear son
cry out in his dreams every night ...
I have come to live in Kathmandu,
but Kathmandu does not live in me.

Banira was educated at Tribhuvan University during the 1960s, and her philosophical and intellectual stance is typical of the generation that grew up in Nepal while its age-old cultural isolation was rapidly coming to an end. The same generation has produced several other notable women poets, such as Prema Shah, Toya Gurung, and Kundana Sharma.[1] Having completed an M.A. and an M.Ed., Banira became the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. by Tribhuvan University, for her thesis on the poetry of Gopalprasad Rimal. She is an ambitious and energetic writer with several literary awards to her credit and a teaching post at Padma Kanya Campus, a women's college in Kathmandu. She participates regularly in literary conferences at home and abroad, having traveled to Tashkent for the Young Afro-Asian Writers' Conference and to New


133

Delhi for the International Writers' Seminar in 1976 and to Bhopal for the Kavita Asia Festival in 1988.

Banira's voice emanates from the new urban professional classes of Kathmandu. Her poems first appeared in Ruprekha and are now published regularly in various journals and newspapers. Their tone is generally cerebral, and many adopt a feminist viewpoint, employing metaphors drawn from the experiences of Nepali women. Banira's best poems are her earlier compositions; these are articulate, terse, and beautifully constructed. Some of her more recent poems have been criticized as contrived or pretentious, and Banira has begun to diversify by writing novels and publishing acutely observed essays on contemporary social issues in Madhupark .

In "Time, You Are Always the Winner" (Samay Timi Sadhaimko Vijeta ), one of Banira's finest poems, references to Pauranic mythology mingle with symbols that are unmistakably modern in their description of the transience of human life. The nature of time and history are common themes in Banira's poems, and her symbolic representations of time are often extremely well conceived. Like the dimensionalist poets, she makes frequent reference to mythological figures but restricts herself to the Hindu myths of her own tradition. Although these require explanatory footnotes when presented to a Western audience, most would be readily comprehensible to Banira's own readership. Her femininism is expressed more overtly in a simple poem such as "Woman" (Aimai ), based on the story of the blind men and the elephant. This was published to mark International Women's Day in 1986 and caused both controversy and delight.

Banira Giri has published three volumes of poems and two novels, The Prison (Karagar , 1985) and Unbound (Nirbandh , 1986). Her works are now included in the postgraduate curriculum of Tribhuvan University. Her latest poetic work, My Discovery (Mero Avishkar , 1985) is a series of fragments based on subjective experience. Many poems have been translated into Hindi for publication in India, and a slim volume of poems "adapted" by the Indian poet Yuyutsu R. D. into English with a most laudatory introduction was published in Jaipur, India, in 1987.

Most of Bainira Giri's earlier poems are collected in Euta Euta Jiundo Jang Bahadur (Each One a Living Jang Bahadur, 1974), Jivan Thayamaru (Life: No Place, 1978), and Mero Avishkar (My Discovery, 1984).

Time, You Are Always The Winner (Samay Timi Sadhaimko Vijeta)

Snatch me up like an eagle
swooping down on a chicken,


134

wash me away like a flood destroying the fields,
fling me from the door
like my daughter carelessly sweeping out dirt.

In infinite wilds I lead
a solitary life,
just a naming ceremony,
set aside, forgotten;
even in the Ramayana, Lakshman's line
had first to be drawn
before Sita could cross it.[2]

Time, you are always the winner,
I bent my knee before you
like Barbarik faced by compulsion,[3] like King Yayati faced by old age,[4] I fell prostrate like grandfather Bhishma
before the arrows from your arms.[5]

Touch my defeated existence just once
with your hands of ironwood;
how numb I am,
how hard to grasp, how lifeless
in the presence of your strength and power.

You spread out forever like the seas,
I rippled like the foaming waves,
you blazed up fiercely like a volcano,
I smouldered, slow as a forest fire.
You are power, wholly embodied,
ready to drink even poison,
we follow—my fellows and I a party,
we descend on a wheel of birth and death,
bearing bags full of gifts,
gifts of alcohol and oxygen,


135

blood and cancer,
tumors and polio.

My grandson will be born
with sleeping pills in his eyes,
his potency already dead,
needing no vasectomy.

Perhaps he will be born as a war,
embracing every cripple,
perhaps he will be born as a void,
to replace the meaningless babble
of revolt, lack of faith, and being.

Perhaps he will even refuse to be born
from a natural mother's womb;
Time, you are always the winner:
revealed like a crazy Bhairava,[6] keep burning like the sun,
keep flowing like a river,
keep rustling like the bamboo leaves.

Upon your victory,
I will let loose the calves from the tethering post,
fling open the doors of grain stores and barns,
hand over my jewels to my daughter-in-law,
and lay out green dung, neatly,
around the tulsi shrine.[7]

So snatch me up like an eagle
swooping down on a chicken,
wash me away like a flood destroying the fields,
and, like my daughter carelessly sweeping out dirt,
sweep me from the threshold with a single stroke,
sweep me from the threshold with a single stroke.
(no date; from Giri 1974)

I am a Torn Poster (Ma Euta, Chyatieko Poshtar)

Man, do not vary the meanings you give
to pieces of splintered sentences,
I have forgotten my story.

Beside the fireplace in the dead of winter,
an old man tells the children a tale:


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Parohang and Lempuhang descend,[8] and from the old man's eyes it seems
he is the Shiva of some era, who has lost
the goddess Sati in Daksha's sacrifice.[9]

He tells the story of Lal and Hira;[10] he chases Lal away on the white horse
of centuries ago, whose hooves still issue
their orders to the ears of Time.
How helpless, those men, we men,
that old man telling stories.

Has he contrived to cut loose
from the pulling of Time, the commands of Time?
Has he managed to break
Time's heedlessness and deceits?
How did Moses cut through the ocean?
How could he part the seas?
Yes, here I discuss matters of faith,
of belief and the lack of belief.

My truths, my faith, they are sold off,
auctioned at the Harishchandra Ghat,[11] even my beliefs walk fearfully now,
like a scavenging dog in the midden.

I am cursed
by this womb, these flowers,
like a broken pot, thrown away, useless,
like a grape with no juice,
dried up, inedible.

After centuries I stand, a folktale,
upon a bank of Time,
my Time is ragged and thin,
it feels its scars and its wounds.
Our feet leave only prints,
soon erased from the desert's breast,
the cold mountain breeze, like drunkenness,
adds more pain as it leaves next day,


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lightening by a miscarriage
of belief and dreams, security, rights.

We walk boldly upon corpses,
the earth itself stands over a grave,
we build our homes, we eat our feasts,
we live our lives upon a grave,
we summon our corpses from the grave.

Now betrothals are all decided
by Shiva's bow at King Janak's court,[12] nowadays even Lord Rama's sons
flow past in the muddy Tukucha;[13] Man's faith needs somewhere firm to stand,
a resting place to lay down its load,
some attachment if it is to love—
if it is to love its death.

A life of more than one hundred years!
Life is an invalid, the very thought is madness;
this is no commentary on an epic,
nor the start of an autobiography,
nor an edition of my own works,
I puff out this life from a chimney,
and boil a pot of rice,
onto a mirror I breathe out one life,
and see my own face dimly.

I am a torn poster on the wall of Time,
Man, do not vary the meanings you give
to pieces of splintered sentences:
I have forgotten my story.
(no date; from Sajha Kavita 1967)

Kathmandu (Kathmandu)

Kathmandu is a heater inflamed
by one hundred thousand volts;
this capital's orphan girls sit waiting,
like Sita[14] on her pyre of fire,


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ready to brand their bodies of gold,
snared by the noose of its love.

Snow-white doves fly the endless blue sky,
there's a prison in each citizen's eye,
as Rani Pokhari[15] floods with color,
there come dark smugglers and sneaks,
fat hypocrites and backbiters,
and all are made pure.
Pipal trees, comb trees, mimosa,
kalki and juniper in rows wave their fans
at inhabitants pure and foul,
but Kathmandu is not just cool calm,
Kathmandu is hocus-pocus, too.

And isn't it also that white-wheeled Toyota
which gulps down its petrol,
never satisfied?
And isn't it also Nanicha's wine store
where young men come in swarms each day:
Gunjamans, Ram Bahadurs,[16] heads held high,
who go home to beat their wives?
A Toyota's tire marks deep on the street,
green bruises covering women:
samples perhaps of each Kathmandu day.

Kathmandu makes my poor, dear son
cry out in his dreams every night;
half I understand, half I do not,
but still I wish to hear,
hemmed in and oppressed
by past attractions, repulsions,
I find that many will curse me,
I find there are few who like me:
I have come to live in Kathmandu,
but Kathmandu does not live in me.

The countless processions of these city streets
pour forth each night in my dreams,
my nights are weighed down by uproar,
they belong to Kathmandu,
covered entirely by mist.
How silent my cold mornings,
as if the city's dead have waited all night,
and are rotted completely away.

It is an interesting epic, beloved Kathmandu,
full of stories, sweet and bitter:


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the opening verses of tremendous speeches,
the communal song of wants and needs;
wages—the happy chance of increase,
prices—the miserable rise,
an unremitting struggle of loss and gain:
oil for the lamp, and sugar,
everything is here.

Wretched Kathmandu,
dear to everyone, abused by all,
its people narrators of Satyanarayan ,[17] forever repeating the ancient tales,
of Lilavati and Kalavati,[18] always singing the same forest creeper,
always walking the same back streets,
always keeping the same feasts,
always observing the same holidays,
always celebrating the same occasions;
ceaselessly they chant, like kakakul birds,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu,
Kathmandu, Kathmandu.
(1979; from Pachhis Varshaka Nepali Kavita 1982)

Woman (Aimai)

Unclothed, unrestricted,
undoubting, unhesitant,
a woman stands at the crossroad
in her pure primordial form.

A crowd of blind men are eager
to discover the nature of woman;
the first strokes her smooth, flowing hair
and mutters, "Woman is a waterfall, she is the Ganga,
flowing down from Shiva's head."[19]

A second feels her arm, her fingers,
and happily declares,
"Woman is the lotus of Saraswati's hand."[20] A third grasps her shapely thigh and jabbers,
"Woman is the soft bamboo of the marriage pavilion."
A fourth feels her lips,


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which hum the sweet song of Creation:
"Woman is a ripened raspberry."
A fifth strokes her breasts,
motherhood's undying boon:
"Woman is a pot filled with Lakshmi's gifts."[21] The sixth discovers the half-secret
of the inaccessible place of Creation:
he leaps up and cries out,
"Woman is just a contemptible hole!"

Her eyes grow wet
at the blind man's revelation;
a seventh feels her tear-filled eyes:
"You evil fools! Woman is not just a hole!
She is also Gosainkunda,
She is also Manasarovar!"[22] (from Samiksha weekly, March 7, 1986)


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New Trends in Nepali Poetry

This chapter presents some Nepali poetry that reflects the predominant trends of the past twenty years or so. I have resisted attaching the label contemporary to this poetry, partly because it is difficult to decide a specific date from which contemporary literature should be deemed to have commenced and partly because all literature is by its very nature contemporary when it is written. Qualities such as "modernity," "contempor-aneity," and so on can be assessed only subjectively, and assessments change with the passage of time. Of course, this fact has not prevented most Nepali critics from debating ceaselessly about what is, and what is not, modern.

The majority of these poems are drawn from an anthology entitled Samsamayik Sajha Kavita (Contemporary Sajha Poetry) published in 1983 as a supplement to the important Sajha Kavita anthology of 1967. Because the youngest poet to appear in this latter volume was Banira Girl (born in 1946), it was originally supposed by the publishers that the new anthology would be restricted to works by poets born after this date. The editor of Samsamayik Sajha Kavita , Taranath Sharma, argued that this was not an appropriate criterion for selection. Many poets born before 1946 began to write rather later in life. He also pointed out that poets who were included in the earlier volume, such as Mohan Koirala and Ìshwar Ballabh, could not be regarded as uncontemporary because their poetry had continued to evolve. In an interesting postscript to the anthology, Sharma described the features of the Nepali poetry he considered to be truly contemporary.

After about 1965, Nepali poetry entered a period during which its accessibility and popularity seriously declined. The new class of intellectuals wrote in language that was pedantic and abstruse and made


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references to mythologies and concepts that were alien to ordinary Nepalis. The old school continued to publish verse in time-honored metrical forms that imparted traditional values. Thus, the new poetry became innovatory and experimental to the extent that it was incomprehensible to all but a small intellectual elite, whereas the old style of poetry re-worked well-worn themes and formulas, offering little that was new.

Both of these styles retain some currency today, and the poems by Ìshwar Ballabh and Avinash Shreshtha demonstrate that abstraction is alive and well. This style of poetry has been eclipsed in more recent years by a new and most welcome development. The distinctive features of the most recent poetry are linguistic simplicity, the complete absence of metrical forms, the use of symbols drawn from everyday life, and frequent references to present-day social and political issues. It therefore exhibits more than anything else the influence of Nepali poets such as Rimal and Sherchan and is deserving of the title contemporary poetry in the sense that it is clearly intended to speak to its times.

During the early 1970s, and to some extent during the previous decade, too, most modern poetry was pessimistic and gloomy and gave evidence of a growing sense of social alienation among the educated urban young. Such tendencies are clearly apparent in the poems of Bhairava Aryal and Haribhakta Katuval. In 1979, however, changing political circumstances brought about some significant new developments in Nepali poetry.

Since 1960, Nepal had been governed by a pyramidal system of Panchayat councils at local and national levels, headed by the monarch. Although all political parties were banned, dissatisfaction with the political status quo became increasingly apparent and eventually led to the national referendum of 1980. During the twelve months leading to this referendum, strenuous efforts to influence public opinion were made by both supporters and opponents of the Panchayat system. In the capital, a new atmosphere of political freedom produced the sadak kavita kranti (street poetry revolution). Young poets recited their poems on street corners, and people gathered on New Road each evening to purchase collections of political verse all supporting the alternative "multiparty" option. These collections were printed and sold in large numbers and were typified by the short-lived journal Swatantrata (Freedom). The August 1979 issue of Swatantrata , a "Street Poetry Revolution Special," included political poems by young writers such as Ashesh Malls., Bimal Nibha, and Min Bahadur Bishta, who are now among the leading exponents of the "new" poetry. Nepali poetry had once again descended from its ivory tower to become a medium for the expression of popular sentiment. As a consequence, its language regained its former simplicity,


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and its references and allegories were readily comprehensible. Although these poets' aspirations were not fulfilled by the outcome of the referendum, the legacy of this brief but important period is still clearly apparent in more recent poetry.

As this book goes to press in July 1990, conditions in Nepal are changing once more. The Panchayat system has been dismantled, Nepal's constitution is being redrafted, and political parties are operating freely. One hopes that all of these changes will produce an atmosphere that is more conducive to free expression than has been the case hitherto and that Nepali literature will thrive as a result.

The selection of poems that follows is arranged as far as possible in an order that reflects the process of change. Dates of first publication are given, when known. Ìshwar Ballabh and Avinash Shreshtha are both important present-day poets, but the ways in which their poems contrast with the rest of this selection should perhaps serve as a warning to those of us who seek to identify simple and consistent patterns in the process of literary and cultural change.

Bhairava Aryal (1936-1976)

Bhairava Aryal was well known for his humorous and satirical essays, which have been published in four volumes. He was also a poet of some importance. "A Leaf in a Storm" (Huriko Patkar ) expresses a sense of alienation and pessimism that was common in the Nepali poetry of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and this poem may shed some light on the aspect of Aryal's character that contributed to his suicide in 1976.

A Leaf in a Storm (Huriko Patkar)

He frightens himself, defeats himself,
this consumptive man, this man of today,
this man who is called Man.
Every night when he goes to sleep,
he puts his death warrant under his bed,
every day as he rises at dawn
he winds on a heavy turban of rags.

Yes, through each day I walk,
selling my moments, selling my days,
as if to bargain for a night with my wife,
for some nights with life and the world.
These are this century's terms:
from Creation I must rent each day,


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to buy myself I must sell myself here.
My days transport the paralyzed sun
in a cranky ambulance,
1 stand at the junction of listless eyes,
amazed and astonished:
my day comes empty-handed without gifts,
my day goes back gloomy without news.
(c. 1966; from Sajha Kavita 1967)

Haribhakta Katuval (1935-1980)

Katuval was born in the northeast Indian state of Assam in 1935 and was also known by the pseudonym Pravasi , "exile." He was one of the most popular Indian Nepali poets, and unusually for an India-based Nepali writer, he was also well known in Kathmandu. His poems describe the meaninglessness and futility of modern life, a common theme in the Nepali poetry of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Katuval died in 1980.

Haribhakta Katuval's poems and songs are collected in Samjhana (Remembrance, 1959), Bhitri Manche Bolna Khojcha (The Inner Man Tries to Speak, 1961), Sudha (Nectar, 1964), Yo Jindagi Khai Ke Jindagi ! (This Life, What Life Is This? 1972), and Badnam Mera Yi Ankhaharu (Infamous These Eyes of Mine, 1987).

A Wish (Rahar)

Father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.

Math's formulas are old,
the rusted components of a machine,
I refuse to live in history's pages,
I must live in days still to come,
I must overtake history, become something more.

So father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.

I prefer ideals I can feel
to ideals which are locked in a frame,
I prefer building my road as I travel
to walking a ready-made road,
my muscular arms need a hoe, not a tome,
and plans are not for me.

My feet must traverse each lofty peak
to pay off the debt of this earth.


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Father, I will not go to school,
there they teach the history of days long dead.
(no date; from Katuval 1972)

This Life, What Life is This? (Yo Jindagi Khai Ke Jindagi?)

This life, what life is this?

Hollow within, alive from without,
sucked by the atomic dread,
harassed by the spirits of problems,
this life, what life is this?

Here you must sleep with your head on a gun,
here you must live on the edge of a knife,
afraid to open or close your eyes:
this life, what life is this?

Like a bangle made of glass
adorning a trader's showcase,
it can break at once on a maiden's wrist.
Like cheap sandals made of rubber,
it can suddenly break as you walk.

This life might suddenly break:
this life, what life is this?
(no date; from Katuval 1972)

Ìshwar Ballabh (B. 1937)

Ìshwar Ballabh was one of the trio of writers who initiated the Tesro Ayam movement from Darjeeling in the early 1960s. Unlike Bairagi Kainla, however, Ìshwar Ballabh continues to publish poems today. Many of these are apparently intended to do little more than to convey a series of abstracted images, and in a poem such as "The Shadows of Superfluous Songs" (Anavashyak Gitka Chayaharu ) language often seems to be an end in itself. Thus, the legacy of the dimensionalists is clearly apparent in many of Ìshwar Ballabh's works. In others, however, there is evidence of a concern with the realities of human society. "Where Is the Voice?" (Avaj Kaham Cha? ) is the expression of an overtly humanistic poet who is contemptuous of the hold religious tradition still has on the ordinary people of Nepal.

Ìshwar Ballabh's poems are collected in Agoka Phulharu Hun, Agoka Phulharu Hoinan (These Are Flowers of Fire, These Are Not Flowers of Fire, 1972), Samantara (Parallels, 1981), and Kasmai Devaya (Oath of the Gods, 1985).


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The Shadows of Superfluous Songs (Anavashyak Gitka Chayaharu)

All of a sudden I sit down to write
the lines of songs which no one needs;
I always attempt such pointless sorcery,
feeling perhaps they will vanish within me,
running away like water,
their forms turning dark and vague.

Once I would say, "Do not make me write songs,
my songs are all lost, they make my flesh ache,"
but I was afraid when I heard someone say,
"No song is lost"—so I write.

This is a thousand-year process, my love,
my songs are formed and they vanish,
disappearing into dark backgrounds,
like my skylines, my countless dreams.

"Be not a mirage," said I, and I heard,
"This is a path which must go on."
"Remembering the endless," I say, then I hear,
"Continue it must, like these strange voices"
—and then a song is made.

Sometimes I suddenly try to be
like the juniper trees which no one needs,
like these tall mountain peaks:
I have found them standing like evening,
ruminating in solitude,
I have touched them deepening like the sky.
I am surprised—why is the evening not faith?
Why is it not the flowers
offered up in temples?

So I refuse to write more songs
for which there is no need,
the far shores are not illusions, my love,
"They are illusions which nobody needs."

Climbing stairs which must be climbed,
I am up on Olympus, the pagan god's peak,
far below I see waters and shores;
my desires a river seen from a mountain,
my strange urges a city seen from a mountain,
the communal life of strangers:
a bond of chance seen from a mountain;
the lines of my song are those images,
for as long as they may last,
these forms always busy with shadows,


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these distances, too, are my kin,
desolate places always busy with light.

I am asked, "What is this shadow?"
It is the superfluous songs I write.
(no date; from Ballabh 1981)

Where is the Voice? (Avaj Kaham Cha?)

We had watched the festival of flowers,
we had seen them in their rows,
even as we spoke another folktale formed;
tales of Sunkeshari and Dikpal disappear,
Dikpal is lost, of the demons there's no sign[1] in the festival of flowers.

Unfamiliar faces are walking by
with paper flowers for the Gai Jatra,[2] their lines are dark smoke, dark words,
they walk with dark conduct.
I asked—where is this procession going?
but received no reply:
we always want an answer,
but no procession ever gave one.
We asked, what are these eyes and masks?
Just their festival, they replied.

Just a procession that has not set out,
just lines all ready which have not moved.
Those shapes and horizons,
those skies and patterns!

How distant it is, unreachable,
however far the procession goes,
tramping mountain paths,
up hill and down dale, however long we walked,
that unreachable world was nowhere,
nowhere to be found.
Why can't we arrive there today?

With our feast of flowers
we have made flowers grow in the gardens.

Here one must not mention it;
it could be a song,


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it could be a god,
it could even be this Kal Bhairava.
To the dumb Kal Bhairava by the Hanuman Gate[3] we said, get up and walk,
why do you squat on a rock?
But he did not walk; he is afraid,
he would melt if he walked the roads of Man.
We are quite different:
he is the Bhairava, we are men:
such valorous men, defeated by a stone Bhairava.
Multilingual men defeated by a Tantric rock:
the history of this day.
Come, you rocks,
soften and melt and run:
this is the world of Man.

Whoever tells a story here
just watches a flower blooming;
a few pretty blossoms, and Man melts away.
Come, oh dreams, tell the tale of Dikpal,
sing the song Sunkeshari sang.
The sky and the earth have died without songs,
the rocks are dead,
they have hardened, hardened,
even God has died and turned to stone;
flow now, rocks, come and save
the thing we once called life.

But far away there was nothing,
no breeze, no sky, not even those houses.
Apprehensive, we watch the god of faith,
we watch Ganesh and Bhairava,
we watch even the stairs.

At such a time,
why does no voice reassure us?
Where is the voice?
Where is the voice?
(1981; from Ballabh 1985)

Hem Hamal (B. 1941)

Hem Hamal is a popular modern poet who writes gently satirical poems in simple, musical language. His work is typical of a recent trend of "softness" in Nepali poetry, which is also evident in the poems of Mohan Himanshu Thapa (b. 1936) and Shailendra Sakar (b. 1946).


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Village and Town (Sahar Ra Gaum)

If the town prospers
the country progresses,
so say the men of the town.
If it rains this year
the village will prosper,
so say the village men.

A man from the town
stops his car on the road
and asks, "How are the crops
in the village this year?"
A farmer comes forward to answer:
"The farming is not so bad,
but can the sweat of our labors
fill your motor cat's stomach?"
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Children Going to School (Pathshala Jana Lageka Naniharu)

Do not ask these little children,
coming toward you all in a line,
do not ask them where they are going.
They have their own roads to travel,
their own tools for creating themselves.

They have feet you cannot see,
do not ask about when and where,
these children are their own open sky,
their wings they make themselves.

Their language is different, meanings diverge,
if they are noisy, it does not matter.
Do not try to understand what they say:
these are the books of tomorrow's Nepal.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Berore the Dawn (Bihana Hunubhanda Pahile)

The sweepers have not risen
to come and sweep our floors,
no tinkling is heard from bangles
on arms unlocking doors,
no one has begun to daub


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the yard below the stairs,[4] drops of dew have still to fall
from the petals of the flowers,
the birds have not yet stretched their wings,
they have not begun to sing.
Still there is no one about,
in the east no hint of light,
no cock has yet been heard to crow:
sleep, Nepali, sleep,
it is not yet time to rise.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983

Krishnabhushan Bal (B. 1947)

Krishnabhushan Bal is one of the most powerful poets of recent times. All of his poems comment forcefully on contemporary social and political issues. "April Wind" (Chaitko Hava ) is an unambiguous call for radical change in Nepali society and something of a prophecy, too, because the political upheaval of 1990 reached its climax in April of that year; "Historical Matters" (Itihaska Kura ) bewails the "backwardness" of the kingdom.

April Wind (Chaitko Hava)

April has come to these lowlands,[5] the wind strips bare the trees
like a mad, demented elephant.
This is no breeze to merely grasp
the gentle scent of flowers:
it sweeps away the dust of ages,
fells ancient trees with ease.

This wind made most of the history we read,
this wind makes most of the history we write,
I may fear for my house of confidence,
but it blows down not only weak buildings,
it uproots not only frail voices;
it can blow away the ocean's waters,
and drive the rain from the sky.


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And can I omit to say,
it dispels the clouds which cover this land,
it rips up the leaves of our incongruous history,
sounding the bugles of revolution.

Today it is filling the skies
with the whirlwind of a tree's old leaves:
contractors' houses, founded on profit,
cannot stand for long,
the clouds can no longer keep the sun
from warming people's backs.

A prayer flag flutters before my house,
furious in the wind,
the pipal tree sounds loud and free.
The wind has bypassed truth and peace,
rashly deciding to bring in the Spring.

If hindered, if blocked by a mountain,
who knows what might not happen?
May it not destroy the prayer flag,
may it not bring down the pipal tree
which gives us all cool shade.

April has come to the lowlands
with a wind like a crazy elephant.
Oh cooks with ladles and spoons in your hands,
beware of the fire!
Oh you who try to act as a father,
grabbing your whole family by its hair,
beware of the fire!
Beware of the wind!
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Historical Matters (Itihaska Kura)

A moon of creation set foot here among us
and has only just gone on its way,
to the riverside steps, taking an air of excitement,
there to make it cold.
The city carries a great crush of dead bodies,
frightened like a kitten,
the streets are dumb amid dull footsteps.

There history stayed, and there we stayed, too.

To find out whether the rivers were sleeping,
we immersed the wood for our fires,
to discover whether the hills still slumbered,
we wandered from town to town.


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When we found out these things for certain,
we were already washed away,
when we discovered these things for sure,
we had subsided with the land.

There history stayed, and we moved far behind,
branded by the Sagauli Treaty,
cursed by Sati,
we who saw Bhimsen uncremated.[6]

How long can the lamp go on burning,
wrapped in a sky of coldness?
How will the fallen trees stride out
from the banks of the Arun River?
The cock which just summoned the morning
is already plucked bare by a jackal,
a cloud has already hidden the sun
which glimmered just now on the hill.

Geography has cheated us both,
but we have defrauded history.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Bimal Nibha (B. 1952)

Like Hem Hamal, Bimal Nibha is a poet of gentle satire, and this poem mocks the escapism of the romantic nature-poetry that is still popular in Nepal.

Are You Quite Well, Oh Poet? (Ke Tapaimlai Sanchai Cha Kaviji?)

. . . flowers of many colors bloom,
bees are buzzing, birds are singing,
the sky is clear and spotless,
the river flows by swiftly ...
... but pardon me please, oh poet,
I break the flow of your poem,
to ask you—are you quite well?


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. . . the mountains stand with heads held high,
the cascades tumble, melodious sound,
the kites are wheeling in the sky,
a flute sounds sweetly from afar,
the breeze is whispering soft ...
but pardon me please, oh poet,
I must ask you this in your poem—
have you had enough to eat?

... the moon is spreading its coolness,
the night is fragrant, the body light,
the heart is overjoyed ...
... but pardon me please, oh poet,
again I interrupt—
Is rice very cheap in the marketplace?
Is rice very cheap in the marketplace?
Have you had enough to eat today?
Are you quite well, oh poet?
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Ashesh Malla (B. 1954)

Malla was born in Dhankuta, in eastern Nepal, and is also known as a successful playwright. He continues a style of verse that was first made popular by Gopalprasad Rimal. In both of the poems translated here, concern is expressed for the exodus of hill Nepalis to the cities and lowlands in search of land and employment.

To the Children (Tiniharulai)

Little children should gambol and play,
cheerfully, clutching books,
carefree in the streets and fields,
beneath the piece of the sky they choose,
playing any game they please,
their lips all filled with Autumn.

Why do these strange children
bear the silence of pain in their eyes?
Why do their minds' dumb voices cry
that the wounds on their feet have not healed,
that their mothers and fathers who left seeking faith
have not returned from other towns?

These children's lips should bear smiles,
new buds should bloom in their cheeks,


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why do they try to hide their hands,
wearing on one side a shower of rain,
on the other a slap of wind?

Books should be tucked under their arms,
but now they can go nowhere, they cannot rise
above the town which fills their eyes.
All they need is a mind,
to be able to see,
a warm human embrace,
a father's sweet kiss,
and a breast of mother's milk.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

None Returned From the Capital (Rajdhanibata Pharke Pharkenan Uniharu)

Munching chiura[7] the old faiths came
to attend the capital's festive day;
they never returned from Pashupati's bare slopes,
from the softness of dawn sleeping wrapped in frost,
perhaps even now they are sipping the dew,
chanting God's name on some temple steps,
or moving dumb lips in the crowds and the noise,
their walking sticks lost on the streets,
feeling the void with trembling hands,
wrongly attired at pedestrian crossings.

They came to the capital seeking their country,
they entered the city they knew as Nepal,[8] freed, they will run to the streets
already auctioned in their name:
these are not the bare mountain valleys,
these are not. the lowlands' tax-free dusts[9] (in short, I call the capital
the headline of a newspaper).

Old fathers, come to the festival,
know nothing of its glorious tales;
perhaps they have listened to Scripture
and imagine entering Swasthani's palace.[10]


155

I fear they did not return,
waking cold perhaps beneath some statue;
so many gathered,
sucking chiura in toothless mouths.

Somewhere, small children await old fathers,
watching from walls in hill villages,
expecting blessed food and sweet stories.
They do not know of the few scraps of chiura
which now remain in the bag,
no one knows if they have returned;
where can they be?
There is no hint of them anywhere.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Minbahadur Bishta (B. 1954)

Bishta is a resourceful poet who criticizes political and economic conditions in Nepal with great verve. "What's in the Bastard Hills?" (Sala Pahadmem Kya Hai? ) mourns the environmental decay that is gathering pace in the hills of western Nepal and forcing farmers to abandon their ancestral lands. "Thus a Nation Pretends to Live" (Yasari Euta Rashtra Banchne Bahana Garcha ) is a satire on Nepal's dependence upon foreign aid donors.

What's in the Bastard Hills? (Sala Pahadmem Kya Hai?)

Springing quickly from its source,
it hurries here, and loiters there,
but never glances back;
instead, the river is kicking hard
against the sickly mountains
which stand like statues on its banks,
as it runs away, and leaves this land.

Young sons are walking out,
leaving the places they were born,
taking loved ones with them,
carrying bags, neatly tied
with red kerchiefs on their shoulders.
Khukuri knives hang from their waists,
dull and unpolished for years;
they tell their sick old parents
to look after homes, homes which are lifeless.


156

Soft petals of gentle flowers, tender leaves of green,
flying in every direction,
plucked up by unseasonal winds
blowing from unknown lands.
Trees stand bare and disfigured,
like soldiers on parade along mountain ranges.

Flocks of doves like destitutes
are driven from their homes
by incessant storms, the deluge
which ends the longest drought;
their bodies are soaked by rain:
no hope of food to eat,
no place for them to rest.

Thus there is nothing in the hills
on which to pen a poem,
you could even say there is nothing there
for anyone to write;
it's like the soldiers always say,
home for a few months' leave,
"What's in the bastard hills?"[11]

Surely there is something here:
dying mothers, newborn babies,
springs shedding sorrowful tears,
pools frozen like heaps of stone,
absolutely still,
where the rivers have left some dirty water
and a few frog shops
as they give up hope and leave,
a few old people tending their homes,
awaiting their time,
some mountains with finished faces,
some trees felled in their youth.

And there are the cooing destitutes,
piercing the heart, shedding tears of blood:
flocks of doves.
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)


157

Thus a Nation Pretends to Live (Yasari Euta Rashtra Banchne Bahana Garcha)

Honored friend,
this is Machapuchare, that is Annapurna,
over there stands the Dhaulagiri range.[12] You can see them with the naked eye,
you do not need binoculars.
Here I shall open a three-star hotel:
would you kindly make me a loan?

Dear guest,
this is the Koshi and that is the Gandak,
the blue over there is the Karnali.[13] You may have read in some papers
about the selling of Nepal's rivers.
That was a lie, sir.
Those rivers have given our regions their names,
we plan to generate power from them:
could you give us some help?

Respected visitor,
this is Kathmandu Valley.
Here there are three cities:
Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur.
Please cover your nose with a handkerchief,
no sewage system is possible,
the building of toilets has not been feasible.
Our next five-year plan has a clean city campaign:
could you make a donation?
(no date; from Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)

Avinash Shreshtha (B. 1955)

Avinash Shreshtha was born in Gauhati, the state capital of Assam in northeastern India. His voice is unique among the younger generation of Nepali poets, and his work has caused a stir in Kathmandu literary circles. Avinash's poems are heavy with mystical symbolism; their beauty is indisputable, but their interpretation is the subject of vigorous debate.

Avinash Shreshtha's poems are collected in Samvedana o Samvedana (Feelings, Oh Feelings, 1981) and Pareva: Seta-Kala (Doves: Black and White, 1984).


158

A Spell (Moha)

I do not know from which Manasarovar there sprang
the Brahmaputra of my consciousness,[14] I do not know how far it will be
to the final sea of its ending.

The fisherman fears poverty,
the fish is afraid of the fisherman,
sleep is startled by a dream,
eyes are made dizzy by sleep;
greetings from the restless sea,
palms of ebb and flow together,[15] to the moon, to the sky.

Where does it hide, where?
pouring out boundless blue silence,
filling the eyes of the sky.
Has it collided somewhere
with the illusion of insoluble space,
or simply disappeared?

On a rain-soaked Indra-lotus night
in the month of Bhadau,[16] I do not know who it was that walked,
joined to rumor, body fragrant,
across the mind's unpeopled forests,
unseen.
(1986; from Kavita 1986)

Headland (Antarip)

A negro-black night
dozes in each eye
where cigarettes of disbelief are lit.

Where the solitude makes you forget your name,
the river your shape and the sea your limits,
there is a headland.
Oh Iravati,[17] through what lonely place do you flow?


159

In what desolation have you hidden hate?
Where is the innocent headland
of your fleshless love?

One blue star still twinkles
on the sky's frightened breast
on nights sunken in chants of pain.
(1986; from Kavita 1986)

Bishwabimohan Shreshtha (B. 1956)

Born in the Terhathum district of eastern Nepal, Bishwabimohan Shreshtha is recognized as one of the leading poets of the new generation and was awarded the Moti prize for poetry in 1987. The poem translated here describes the difficulty of pursuing a literary career in Nepal, where the struggle for basic needs is a more pressing concern.

Bishwabimohan Shreshtha's poems are collected in Bishwabimohanka Kehi Kavitaharu (Some Poems by Bishwabimohan Shreshtha, 1987).

Should I Earn My Daily Bread, or Should I Write a Poem? (Ma Bhat Jorum Ki Kavita Lekhum?)

At home my aged mother
watches for her son
on every festive day,
wondering if he will come
to help her make ends meet;

Each night in her lodgings,
my wife watches the door,
hoping that her husband will bring
something sweet and fine;

My daughter wears torn pajamas
and runs round telling tales
to neighbors, strangers, friends:
this winter father will bring her
a fine new suit of clothes;

My son, sent home from school,
plays all day in the dust
with crowds of local children;
he hopes father will send him
back to school this term;

The little one's asleep now,
teasing milkless breasts,


160

his nakedness forevermore
mocks my very manhood;

Speak not of brothers and sisters:
for them no work could be found,
for them no spouse was chosen;

How much longer can 1 go on
in my tattered coat and patched-up jacket,
holding together heaven and hell?
Tell me, oh respected friend,
with such an evening in my arms,
should I earn my daily bread,
or should I write a poem?

Forget the radio, papers, speeches,
speak not of slogans, marches, placards,
and if some time remains
do not push me into darkness
with affectionate intent.
It is hunger I endure,
a greater Everest by far
than any ideal or doctrine.

The drying softness of life,
learning's gentle kindness:
only these can defeat hunger.
It is done: do not make me hesitate
by relating the Buddha's story,
if your dreams delay me,
if your temptations beguile me,
if I do not work these fingers to the bone,
if I neglect to sell my sweat,
my parents, my wife, my children,
will all grow hungry and die;
I am tired, a beaten warrior,
at war with the stomach's demands.

How much longer can I go on
in my tattered coat and patched-up
jacket, holding together heaven and hell?
Tell me, oh respected friend,
with such an evening in my arms,
should I earn my daily bread
or should I write a poem?

I always bear upon my head
an Annapurna of need,
I always carry on my back
a Kanchenjunga of crisis,
how long can I fight this battle,


161

lifting a Machapuchare of costs
up onto my shoulders?

I believe that life should mean
flowing onward, a boon from God,
so do not mock my prayer.
Please try not to let me hear
of the horrors of the Falklands,
of massacres in Vietnam,
Afghanistan,
they are salt in my wounds.
Life is iron, I know you must
bite down hard upon it.
Life's a desolate shore, I know
you must water it with sweat,
but with what simile, what metaphor,
can I adorn and embellish this life?

How much longer can I go on
in my tattered coat and patched-up jacket,
holding together heaven and hell?
Tell me, oh respected friend,
with such an evening in my arms,
should I earn my daily bread
or should I write a poem?
(from B. Shreshtha 1987; also included in Samsamayik Sajha Kavita 1983)


163

1.
Bust of Bhanubhakta Acharya, the adi kavi (founder poet), at Darjeeling.


164

2.
Bust of Lakshmiprasad Devkota near his home in Dilli Bazar, Kathmandu.

3.
A verse from Devkota's "Like Nothing into Nothing," inscribed beneath
the bust in Kathmandu.


165

4.
Cover of the nineteenth edition of Lakshmiprasad
Devkota's classic Muna-Madan, published in 1988
in Kathmandu. Twenty-five thousand copies of this
43-page booklet were printed for this edition. A total 
of 140,000 copies have been produced since the
fourteenth edition was published in 1976.

5.
Siddhicharan Shreshtha at his home in Om Bahal, Kathmandu.


166

6.
Kedar Man "Vyathit" at his home in Jyatha Tol, Kathmandu.


167

7.
Mohan Koirala and his wife at their home in Dilli Bazar, Kathmandu.


168

8.
Parijat at her home at Mehpin, Kathmandu.


169

9.
Banira Giri at her home in New Baneshwar, Kathmandu.


170

10.
Cover of Bairagi Kainla's collected
poems, published in Kathmandu
in 1974.

11.
The eleventh edition of Katha
Kusum, published in 1981 in Darjeeling.
Katha Kusum, the first anthology
of short stories in Nepali,
was initially published in 1938.


171

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