Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher: Little bird that dares

Birds are amazingly fickle the moment they see you they flit away (that is a view of a human being the bird's view would be much interesting!). So one has to take some precautions and follow certain basic rules like for instance wearing dress that are dull and gels with the surrounding, walking very slow, avoid stepping dry leaves and so on. Tickell’s blue flycatcher doesn’t fall into the category of birds that seems intimidated by human presence indeed it comes forward as if to challenge, I found that quite intriguing, and then it vanished. I couldn’t take the pictures since it was against the sunlight. Found a stone to sit and in ten minutes or so our bird was back and posing for the camera. It is a beautiful looking little bird of the size of sparrow. The male has dark blue upper part and the throat breast and flanks are rufous fading into the white belly (the pics). Female is duller blue. They are found in light forests where there is thick undergrowth.

It is strictly insectivorous and so sits on the bough few meters above bushy undergrowth scanning, swooping down on spotting an insect. They keep themselves busy like this for an hour or so then quite surprisingly our bird broke into song to my much amazement. Once the belly is full it is time to sing I guess.

Mihai Eminescu is regarded as the national poet of Romania. He died at the age of 38 years in Bucharest, suffering from paralysis the last five years of his life. In his short life he could not realize many of his literary ambitions. Only a small part of his work was published during his lifetime. As he had studied the German philosophers and poets, his work was influenced by them (Schopenhauer being prominent). Eminescu is very popular in Romania and is very much appreciated by the common people, children learn it at school.

Eminescu wrote poems on nature, love and so on but there is an overwhelming melancholy in his lines. Like these …

May all tempting eyes vanish from my pathway
Come back to my breast, you indifferent sorrow!
So that I may quietly die, restore me
To my own being!

The poem ‘To the star’ is intricate mixture of science, love and sadness of time…

To the star

Look, that star that's shining
up there, so far away;
Her light has traveled eons
to meet our eye today.

Perhaps she even perished
a long, long time ago;
only her light but now
did cross the way we go.

The icon of this now dead star
slow in the sky it rises.
She was, while we could not her see.
Now that we see, she's vanished.

So, just alike, when feelings faded,
prey to the grinding wheels of time,
the spectre of our weathered love
is doomed to haunt us for a while.

But my favorite is this poemA Dacian's Prayer’, doesn’t early part remind of rigveda (I guess it is Schopenhauer’s influence, who was into Hindu philosophy) and latter tantalizing mix of Christ’s compassion?…read this poem (it is a translation, original written in 1879), one of the best

A Dacian's Prayer

When death did not exist, nor yet eternity,
Before the seed of life had first set living free,
When yesterday was nothing, and time had not begun,
And one included all things, and all was less than one,
When sun and moon and sky, the stars, the spinning earth
Were still part of the things that had not come to birth,
And You quite lonely stood... I ask myself with awe,
Who is this mighty God we bow ourselves before.

Ere yet the Gods existed already He was God
And out of endless water with fire the lightning shed;
He gave the Gods their reson, and joy to earth did bring,
He brought to man forgiveness, and set salvation's spring
Lift up your hearts in worship, a song of praise enfreeing,
He is the death of dying, the primal birth of being.

To him I owe my eyes that I can see the dawn,
To him I owe my heart wherein is pity born;
Whene'er I hear the tempest, I hear him pass along
Midst multitude of voices raised in a holy song;
And yet of his great mercy I beg still one behest:
That I at last be taken to his eternal rest.

Be curses on the fellow who would my praise acclaim,
But blessings upon him who does my soul defame;
Believe no matter whom who slanders my renown,
Give power to the arm that lifts to strike me down;
Let him upon the earth above all others loom
Who steals away the stone that lies upon my tomb.

Hunted by humanity, let me my whole life fly
Until I feel from weeping my very eyes are dry;
Let everyone detest me no matter where I go,
Until from persecution myself I do not know;
Let misery and horror my heart transform to stone,
That I may hate my mother, in whose love I have grown;
Till hating and deceiving for me with love will vie,
And I forget my suffering, and learn at last to die.

Dishonoured let me perish, an outcast among men;
My body less than worthy to block the gutter then,
And may, o God of mercy, a crown of diamonds wear
The one who gives my heart the hungry dogs to tear,
While for the one who in my face does callous fling a clod
In your eternal kingdom reserve a place, o God.

Thus only, gracious Father, can I requitance give
That you from your great bounty vouched me the joy to live;
To gain eternal blessings my head I do not bow,
But rather ask that you in hating compassion show.
Till comes at last the evening, your breath will mine efface,
And into endless nothing I go, and leave no trace.

This I wrote few days back…

It is not the dead who die
souls leaving the body don’t carry any thoughts
they are brutally discarded into the minds of living
to negotiate renegotiate.
It is the living who are condemned every day every moment
by the memories that clog their actions
and leave traces of death even in their wishes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Watch the shrike

Shrikes are charming birds of open country, also found in grooves of trees. They decidedly avoid thick forests and can be seen perched on low boughs of trees or bushes few feet above the ground. Keenly searching insects they pounce and devour it on the ground then returns back to its perch. It has fixed territory and is resident specie. The Bay Backed Shrikes are asiatic species found throughout the subcontinent, they have black band across the eyes crossing the beak, a broad grey and white head. A small bird with longish graduated tail they have black wings with white patch, shoulders chestnut maroon. They are also known to mime other birds.

On Arabic poetry: Ahmad Shawqi (1868-1932) is perhaps one of the most prominent figures in recent Arabic history. He is known as a great poet, he was also a leader of the people. Upon the publication of Shawqi's collection "Al-Shawkiyat", a celebration was held in his honor on 1927, where Shawqi was named as Poet- Laureate. Arab nations praised Shawqi's poetic achievements on the rejuvenation of the Arabic language, which constitutes a strong common linking bond for all Arab countries. Sadly this blogger couldn’t get English translation of his poems on the net, I am quite disappointed. So I am writing about one of the greatest Arabic poet Al Mutanabbi (915-965) who was born in what is now modern Iraq. Al-Mutanabbi means 'he who claims to be a prophet', that did define him (the statue is that of Mutannabi in Baghdad on the bank of Tigris). Though a great poet he was a fiery individual bordering egomania, didn’t care much about whom he crossed which eventually led to his murder. Proud of his supremacy as a poet, Al Mutanabbi often sang his own praise with sentences such as:

The desert knows me well, the night and the mounted men.
The battle and the sword, the paper and the pen.

This from the poem “To Sayf al-Dawla”, as was the custom during medieval period of this region most poems were dedicated to the rulers.

Resolutions are measured against those who make them; generosity in accordance with the giver.

Littleness is magnified by small men, while grandeur is deprecated by the great.

Sayf al-Dawla imposes upon the army his will, yet seasoned armies cannot achieve it.

He asks from men all that he has in himself, though even lions would not claim to match that.

Dose al-Hadath know of its red color? Or which of the two pourers was a cloud?

White-streaked clouds had watered al-Hadath before his arrival; when he approached, it was inundated with skulls.

The enemy came at you, hauling their weapons as if they traveled on legless horses

When their ranks caught the light, their swords remained unseen, since their shirts and turbans were also made from steel.

You stayed where you were, when doing so meant certain death: as if perdition itself slept while you stood in its eyelid

Wounded and fleeting, heroes passed you by, while your face remained bright and your lips, smiling.

You surpassed the bounds of courage and understanding, until people claimed that you knew the unseen.

Most medieval period Arabic poems were built on rich oral traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia. Poets glorified the legends and achievements of their tribe, and this very public role later transferred itself to the patronage sought from rulers. The intent of poetry was oral-speaking and singing, and therefore was frequently quoted in streets. Structure and sound was given much importance in constructing the eulogy, use of rhetoric and imagery was common.

Al Mutannabi therefore expertised in exuberant panegyric (the above being an example), unfortunately he also used his skills to lampoon. This created lots of enemy, Al Mutanabbi though remained widely popular and an inspiration for generations of poets for his splendid poetry. Need to add here reading the translation was not much exciting and yes there aren’t many. This blogger believes that cultural groups or governments should create websites to promote these heritages. Internet has become an important tool and virtual world has its own life and increasing influence, and yes English has become a mediatory language, apart from English these translations should be made available in atleast five international languages. Who is responsible for not much literature on Shawqi in the net?. Being a major Arabic poet we would like to know his contribution, we want a website dedicated to all his poems. I strongly think creating these websites is much more important than building malls, ironically it takes one millionth the cost. It is a criminal neglect.

The intention of this blog is no different but in an informal personal way, frankly it is just an attempt. Though I give much importance to literature but the premise is nature, you got to know the birds first!.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Indian Robin

Quite a common bird of the subcontinent, males are glossy black steely blue with a small white patch on the shoulder while females are brown with upper darker both have conspicuous chestnut under tail. They are partial to stony barren ravine kind of region and spent most of the time hopping on the ground or nearby wall or post. A sprightly bird with head kept straight and high, tail cocked up, it is a delicately proportionate lovely little bird. Quite bold and could be seen around human habitat heedless to human presence but flit away at slightest hint of danger.

Last few weeks I was doing bit of search on the Net and ended up reading Yasunai Kawabata, his Nobel Prize speech (1968) is probably one of the best. While reading these I came across two poets-zen masters- Saigyo Hoshi and Dogen Zenji (I have read Dogen few years back).

Saigyo Hoshi (1118-1190) was one of the great poets whose influence include none other than Basho. His poems expressed the tension between the renunciatory Buddhist ideals and his love for nature.

Even to the heartless this sad beauty is felt: snipe-birds rising from a stream in the autumn sunset”.

The following is from disciple Kikai about Saigyo: Saigyo frequently came and talked of poetry. His own attitude towards poetry, he said, was far from the ordinary. Cherry blossoms, the cuckoo, the moon, snow: confronted with all the manifold forms of nature, his eyes and his ears were filled with emptiness. And were not all the words that came forth true words? When he sang of the blossoms the blossoms were not on his mind, when he sang of the moon he did not think of the moon. As the occasion presented itself, as the urge arose, he wrote poetry. The red rainbow across the sky was as the sky taking on color. The white sunlight was as the sky growing bright. Yet the empty sky, by its nature, was not something to become bright. It was not something to take on color. With a spirit like the empty sky he gives color to all the manifold scenes but not a trace remained. In such poetry was the Buddha, the manifestation of the ultimate truth."

Dogen was a great Zen master who wrote extensively on Buddhism and even traveling to China to seek (if all human beings are born with Buddha Nature, why is it so difficult to realize it?). The primary concept underlying Dogen's Zen practice is "oneness of practice-enlightenment" (practice and enlightenment are one and the same- the absolute reality, the soto school).

Apart from these he wrote many poems. Just before he died he wrote his ‘death poem’:
Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.
Entire body looks for nothing.
Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs

few more

The true person is
Not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue color
Of the limitless sky,
It is everyone, everywhere in the world.

The migrating bird
leaves no trace behind
and does not need a guide.

Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo's song beckons me to return home;
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

Before I end this I would like to quote from part of the speech made by Yasunari Kawabata, quite interesting. I found the expression "Eyes in their Last Extremity” very much touching, deeply meaningful.

I have an essay with the title "Eyes in their Last Extremity". The title comes from the suicide note of the short-story writer Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927). It is the phrase that pulls at me with the greatest strength. Akutagawa said that he seemed to be gradually losing the animal something known as the strength to live, and continued:

"I am living in a world of morbid nerves, clear and cold as ice... I do not know when I will summon up the resolve to kill myself. But nature is for me more beautiful than it has ever been before. I have no doubt that you will laugh at the contradiction, for here I love nature even when I am contemplating suicide. But nature is beautiful because it comes to my eyes in their last extremity."

Akutagawa committed suicide in 1927, at the age of thirty-five.

In my essay, "Eyes in their Last Extremity", I had to say: "How ever alienated one may be from the world, suicide is not a form of enlightenment. However admirable he may be, the man who commits suicide is far from the realm of the saint." I neither admire nor am in sympathy with suicide. I had another friend who died young, an avant-garde painter. He too thought of suicide over the years, and of him I wrote in this same essay: "He seems to have said over and over that there is no art superior to death, that to die is to live," I could see, however, that for him, born in a Buddhist temple and educated in a Buddhist school, the concept of death was very different from that in the West. "Among those who give thoughts to things, is there one who does not think of suicide?"

White cheeked barbet

A common arboreal bird seen in well wooded localities, it feeds fruits on fig trees such as banyan and peepul. Bright green above pale below they have broad lines across ear coverts and distinguishing white patch on the cheek. They blend well in the foliage and so when face with danger will go still. A loud kotur-kotur call is quite known to most people although they may not have seen the bird. Barbet have thick swollen bill that is stronger than woodpecker and used to chisel nest on tree, they have bristles on the root of bill that is typical features of these birds (this snap was taken at Cubbon park Bangalore, must say these lush gardens are great places to be in but unfortunately frequented by scums of society from drug peddlers to god knows who all...it is quite unsafe if you go further into dense part, bad experience).

Tanaga the short Filipino poems

Tanagas are four line poems with 7 syllables having same rhyme at the end of each line. They are handed down from oral history and are used to share proverbs and moral/ethics. Tanaga was originally done in Tagalog language; it is now a dying art. Unfortunately not much could be found on the net (the library nearby was no help at all), except these…

"Katitibay ka Tulos
Sakaling datnang agos!
Ako'y mumunting lumot
sa iyo'y pupulupot."

"Oh be resilient you Stake
Should the waters be coming!
I shall cower as the moss
To you I shall be clinging."

I read that Philippines government has taken initiatives to preserve and encourage this art form. I hope they also upload some info on the net about this form of poem, history and contemporary poets if any.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Large cuckoo shrike

It is an unobtrusive bird found throughout Indian peninsula (except the western region and south East Asia), having a loud call that is infrequently used. Seen perched motionless on high branches of large trees for long period. Interestingly cuckoo shrikes are neither related to cuckoos or shrikes but are closely related to orioles. They have greyish to white plumage with grey barring on lower part, broad bill that is slightly notched at the edge, tail moderately long, rounded and graduated.

Dear daughter of Iraq dies in exile

Probably as a painful metaphor on the contemporary world we live in one of the finest Arabic Iraqi poetess died in exile at Cairo few years back. Nazek Al Malaika (1923-2007) was one of the earliest to write Arabic poems in freestyle rather than classical rhyme. Unlike what we see now Iraq in mid 20th century was culturally vibrant, it was in this milieu that she was influenced by Shelley, Byron and so on (her autobiography also talks of influence from poets like Mahmoud Hassan Ismail, Badawi Al-Jabal, Amjad Al-Tarabolsi, Omar Abu Risha and Bishara Khouri) and moved away from the rigid metric and rhyme schemes of classical poetry and start to explore modern topics. Her first collection of poems was published in 1947 under the title ‘Night’s Lover’ and her second collection, entitled ‘Sparks and Ashes,’ came out two years later. These poignant lines from “To wash disgrace” brings out the horror of honor killing.
Oh mother, a rattle, tears and darkness
Blood gushed out, and the stabbed body trembled.
“Oh mother!” Heard only by the executioner
Tomorrow the dawn will come and roses will wake up
Youth and enchanted hopes will ask for her
The meadows and the flowers will answer:
She left to wash the disgrace.
The brutal executioner returns
And meets people
“Disgrace!” He wipes his knife
“We’ve torn it apart.”
And returned virtuous with a white reputation.

Once she got up in the morning to hear on the radio a report on the number of Cholera deaths made her write her well-known poem "The Cholera". Few lines from the poem "The night is silent, listen to the effect of groans, in the depth of darkness, below the silence, on the dead." "Night came to a standstill listen to the echoes of wails in the dark of night, under silence and on corpses death, death, death humanity laments." (these are the only few lines I could manage from the Net, frankly despite visiting hundreds of website I really couldn’t get much). This poem was path breaking and when she wrote these she was criticized for lack musicality and rhyme but said she “Say whatever you wish to say. I am confident that my poem will change the map of Arab poetry.” And sure it did!!. Ironically many decades later much to the dismay of her admirers she initiated counter revolution against free verses as she thought the beauty of poetry was getting degraded.

These brilliant lines from the poem “Song for the Moon”

Stay as you are, a secret world
Not such thing as a soul discerns
Spinner of poems, the last muse
In a world whose mirrors are dimmed
What song did not flow with honey
If you were to smile your praise upon it?

This my favorite, lines from “Love Songs for Words”
Why do we fear words?
Some words are secret bells, the echoes
of their tone announce the start of a magic
And abundant time
Steeped in feeling and life,
So why should we fear words?

“The Sea Changes its Color” has become my all time favorite, it is such a refreshingly ecstatic little poem despite translation (it sure is a great work of translation).
My love.
My rapture was a sea.
Which changed its colours,
the sockets of its eyes turning black and green.
It threw its waves ahead, forged pearls
Flowed into springs,
landed on shores.
Created tides,
made islands.
across the blue of the gulf,
a blond archipelago.

As Ezra Pound once said great poems should be written regardless of who writes them, we live in fortunate times to be able to read these poems.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coucal: the Crow Pheasant

If Coucal could speak then it would say “what this bird shird life I should have been a cat or something!”. Coucal (they are also referred to as crow pheasant since they have head and bill of crow and long tail of pheasant) is a member of cuckoo family (but non parasitic) is an ungraceful bulky kind of bird that doesn’t seem to like flying and could be seen creeping or clambering through the tangled undergrowth. They have black overall with chestnut color wing and blood red eyes. A very common bird found throughout the subcontinent and East Asia they can be sighted in bushy region with water source nearby, they spend most of their time walking sedately on the ground and when disturbed take a short flight or scuttle to the nearby bush, they are strong runner possessing straight hind claw. They live on insects, reptiles (snakes are high on menu) and are known to be quite destructive to other species of birds.

Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) was one of the prominent Spanish poets- born in Andalusia. An interesting aspect about him was that he translated Tagore into Spanish. It is difficult not to like Jimenez as a poet but more as a person. Quite an amazing man.

In an essay To Burn Completely (1956) written near the end of his life, after he had stopped writing poetry, he writes When we contemplate things and beings, when we love them and enjoy them, when we have their confidence, having given them ours; when we concern ourselves with them through our complete consciousness and as complete consciousness, they manifest their content to us, we shall possess their most profound secrets and thus they will be able to offer themselves to us as an ideal, for perhaps the ideal may be a secret of which the most loving are worthy.

He writes in the same essay The true man, the authentic man, the inherent cultivated aristocrat, who unites the greatest sensitivity in daily life to the greatest richness of a greater life, is he who most desires the happiness of the world, he who seeks his own happiness in the universal happiness, he who succeeds by means of a clear concept of the whole life of the world, in best occupying, using, and enjoying his space and time.

He defined aristocrat not on family or wealth but as “a state of man in which are united in supreme union, a profound cultivation of the interior being and a conviction of the natural simplicity of living-idealism and economy”

In another essay, Poetry and Literature, he wrote Literature, however perfect it may be, is always artificial, the more artificial, the more perfect. Through literature it is possible to arrive at a relative beauty but poetry is beyond relative beauty and its expression aspires to absolute beauty…Pretentious literature must be content to reach a mirrored beauty

To live out of doors in the sun and fields was, for Jimenez, the ultimate existence. "There is no more exquisite form of aristocracy than living out of doors." He had many ‘disciples’ includes Spanish and Latin American poets (prominent being Lorca). Juan Ramon Jimenez is regarded, within the whole Spanish-speaking world, as the teacher and master. He was poets poet, I thought he was beyond poetry.

These two poems I came across on the net

I am not I
I am not I
I am this onewalking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
the one who remains silent while I talk,
the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,
the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,
the one who will remain standing when I die.


I am like a distracted childwhom they drag by the hand
through the fiesta of the world.
My eyes cling, sadly,
to things...And what misery when they tear me away from them.

I liked the above poem a lot, quite simple but really remarkable. A unique kind of Time-Space construct. Time as death, Space as attachments.

Juan Ramon Jimenez once wrote In reality the poet, when mute or when writing, is an abstract dancer, and if he writes, it is out of everyday weakness, for to be truly consistent he ought not write.

I wrote these (my ‘everyday weakness’ no not about writing, better word would be scribbling)

In the pond
moon sleeps
water lily blooms