On My Birthday


Today I imagine the words of countless
Languages to be suddenly fetterless–
After long incarceration
In the fortress of grammar, suddenly up in rebellion.
Maddened by the stamp-stamping
Of unmitigated regimented drilling.
They have jumped the constraints of sentence
To seek free expression in a world rid of intelligence,
Snapping the chains of sense in sarcasm
And ridicule of literary decorum.
Liberated thus, their queer
Postures and cries appeal only to the ear.
They say, "We who were born of the gusty tuning
Of the earth's first outbreathing
Came into our own as soon as the blood's beat
Impelled man's mindless vitality to break into dance in his throat.
We swelled his infant voice with the babble
Of the world's first poem, the original prattle
Of existence. We are kin to the wild torrents
That pour from the mountains to announce
The month of Sraban: we bring to human habitations
Nature's incantations–"
The festive sound of leaves rustling in forests,
The sound that measures the rhythm of approaching tempests,
The great night-ending sound of daybreak–
From these sound-fields man has captured words, curbed them like a breakneck
Stallion in complex webs of order
To enable him to pass on his messages to the distant lands of the future.
By riding words that are bridled and reined
Man has quickened
The pace of time's slow clocks:
The speed of his reason has cut through material blocks,
Explored recalcitrant mysteries;
With word-armies
Drawn into battle-lines he resists the perpetual assault of imbecility.
But sometimes they slip like robbers into realms of fantasy,
Float on ebbing waters
Of sleep, free of barriers,
Lashing any sort of flotsam and jetsam into metre.
From them, the free-roving mind fashions
Artistic creations
Of a kind that do not conform to an orderly
Universe–whose threads are tenuous, loose, arbitrary,
Like a dozen puppies brawling,
Scrambling at each other's necks to no purpose or meaning:
Each bites another–
They squeal and yelp blue murder,
But their bites and yelps carry no true import of enmity,
Their violence is bombast, empty fury.
In my mind I imagine words thus shot of their meaning,
Hordes of them running amuck all day,
As if the sky were nonsense nursery syllables booming–
Horselum, bridelum, ridelum, into the fray.


                                                    Bengali; trans. William Radice


Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali, trans. William Radice, Selected Poems: Rabindranath Tagore, ed. William Radice, Penguin Books, 2004.