Written by Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1926, translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam
POVERTY Poverty, you’ve empowered me, Endowed me with Christ’s dignity And adorned me with a thorny crown, Ascetic one, you’ve inspired me To speak out and eye the world boldly Deliver messages as incisively as a knife; Your curse has made my veena a sword! Arrogant hermit, your scorching flame Has shorn my golden visage of its glitter, Shrinking its sap and drying the soul early, When I try grasping with emaciated hands Beauty’s bounty, O Impoverished One, You step forward and lap it up. A forlorn desert is all you leave For my imagination to play with. My eyes blaze at my own beauty! My desires, tinged with pain-yellow buds, Would rather bloom like the soft, white, Fragrant shefali flower. But Cruel One, Like an unfeeling woodcutter, you break All branches and destroy all blossoms, My heart glistens like an autumnal dawn, Wet with dew shed by sympathetic earth. You are the sun -- your heat dries up Every dewdrop of pity. I shrink Inside the shade that earth affords. Dreams of Beauty and the Good shatter. Pouring liquid poison down the throat You ask, “What good is nectar now? There is no parching sensation, No intoxication, no madness. Weakling that you are, not for you To seek manna from heaven In this sorrow-laden world! You are a serpent, in birth singed By pain! In a thorny garden you weave Garlands. On your forehead I leave this mark of woe!” I sing songs, weave garlands, and feel my throat burn, Snakebites have left their marks all over my body! Like unforgiving Durbasha*, you wander From door to door with a beggar’s bowl. Even as newlywed couples embark On their night of Happiness, you cry out: “Dumb ones, Listen: this world Is no bower of bliss but full of sorrow, Of want and the pangs of parting, Of thorns that underlie bridal beds And are embedded even in the Beloved’s arms, Take your fill of them now!” Instantly, cries of anguish overwhelm, In that bower of bliss light fades, And dreadful night overwhelms! Exhausted, worn out by hunger, you peer, Surveying earth with knotted eyebrows When, suddenly, something strikes you, And your eyes dart out fiercely. Whole kingdoms are devastated then By Plagues, Famines, and Cyclones, Pleasure Gardens burn, palaces topple— The only verdict you know is death! You never stoop to modest displays, But revel in revealing yourself naked. You know no hesitation or shame But raise the heads of those bent low. At your wish, people condemned to die Tie nooses around their neck gladly. Despite burning in the fire of penury daily They embrace death with devilish glee. From goddess Lakshmi’s head you snatch Her crown and throw it to the dust. O Champion, what tune do you strum So deftly on your veena? All I hear is lamentation! Yesterday morning I heard the shehnai wail A melancholy note, as if a dear one Hadn’t returned home yet. The shehnai Seemed to cry out to him to come back. Some bride’s heart wafted away with the tune As if searching for her beloved. Her friends wondered why she should cry, And let her kohl dissolve with her tears.... Even this morning I woke up to hear The shehnai call plaintively: “come, come” Sad-faced, shefalika flowers drop off— Like a widow whose smile keeps fading— Their delicate fragrances overwhelm Butterflies fluttering on restless wings, Intoxicated with the scent of flowers They kissed! Bees yellow their wings With pollen and wet their bodies with honey. My soul overflows in all directions! Unconsciously I sing out welcoming songs Happily! My eyes fill with tears unaccountably Someone seems to tie the knot, Uniting me with earth. With hands full of flowers, Earth appears to step forward with its bounty. It is as if she is my youngest daughter! I wake up suddenly in wonder! Alas, my child Has been up all night and is crying in my home, Famished and hands full of soot. O Cruel One, You’ve brought perpetual tears to my home! I haven’t been able to give my dear child, My loved one, a drop of milk! Familial duty is no delight! Poverty is intolerable, As it cries endlessly as one’s son or wife Clasping one’s door! Who will play the flute? Where will one get radiant smiles of bliss? Where will one taste a rich bouquet of wine? Rather swallow a glass of the poisonous dhutura To make the tears flow.... Till this day I hear the shehnai’s overture wailing Seemingly saying: nothing, nothing has survived! *Durbasha: A legendary rishi who was revered but was rather hot tempered
Born in united Bengal, long before the Partition, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was known as the Bidrohi Kobi, or “rebel poet”. Nazrul is now regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh though he continues a revered name in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs.
Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).
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