Indian Poetry:A pale winter evening by Hari Barkakti

A pale winter evening
By Hari Barkakati
(A poem in Assamese translated by Pradip Acharya)

On a certain pale winter evening
should the mind, alerted as it was
by the snake cold touch of the spiraling mist
muse on things you’d rather forget
but which strive in subconscious shades
if the lines of fancy meander
and well out with the thrill of the past
the lost youth of wilting life
don’t you deny it.

Strain your ear instead
to catch the age-old annals
of the emptied being.
you would find me there
though I be lost.

It will tell you as I did
… that we had dreamt,
and will stay on, survive
like grey and white stones by the road.

Someone someday will wake and rouse me
sprinkling from the spring of life.
daub your eyes if you can
with that familiar kohl
of stray ash from bushfires
and kindle memories of old …

put the broken bits together
some meaning to discover
and that is surely mine
what all I had said
inadvertently may be
they are the impress of my two feet
on the soft bosom of the earth
as I wandered to and fro
sowing the seeds of creation
I know you’ve not wiped them off
and keep on looking for them

this then is my last plea
on a pale winter evening …

The poem would certainly infinitely more beautiful in the original Assamese in which it is written. The translation is not all that great. Some images however stand out. Some are worn out images and do not have the freshness of the uniquely Assamese landscape which forms the backdrop of the poem. The snake cold touch of the mist is beautiful but does not jell with the spiraling mist, which is an overlapping image. “Things which strive in subconscious shades” is awkward image because things cannot strive nor does an abstract collective entity have “subconscious shades” “The lines of fancy meander” is another awkward image. “Survive like grey and white stones by the road” is an interesting image.

I liked the following lines the most:

Daub your eyes if you can
with that familiar kohl
of stray ash from bushfires

The poem, as I said, would be infinitely better in the original Assamese. The translation has been slip-shod and does not do adequate justice to the original poem.

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