Categories
Story Poem

Around the World in Eighty Couplets

By Rhys Hughes

We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.

But before we reached the wide Atlantic
the frantic antics of the clown dismayed us.

Should we therefore throw him overboard?
we asked ourselves in urgent conference.

It would give us a chance to proceed
in peace and harmony, free from jokes.

Ah, to continue our voyage without fuss!
That was the issue we yearned to discuss.

And eventually we came to an agreement
that dunking was no cure for torment.

And murder was too extreme a measure
to improve the leisure of our journey.

The clown was a man, his painted smile
could be easily smudged with a frown.

There was no need to send his soul down
to the circus hell where clown ghosts go.

No! Let us find some alternative method
to restrain the fool and hobble his tricks!

We therefore employed him as a topsail
whenever the breeze turned into a gale.

And as his Pierrot costume billowed out
he would wail and occasionally shout.

Especially if he spied a distant whale
in a white dinner jacket, obviously male.

But that didn’t happen on a daily basis
for most of the whales had female faces.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent,
the sound of hornpipes is quite plangent.

And they call me back to my nautical duty
which is to lace up all the crew’s booties.

Not much else happened for several days
until mountains loomed through the haze.

We had reached Sierra Leone on our own,
just forty-five sailors and a lofty buffoon.

What an excellent marker of our progress!
It cheered us up and reduced our stress.

There was room in the hold for tropic fruits
and so we went ashore for an afternoon.

We bought bananas, mangoes and guavas
without anyone causing a hell of a palaver.

And then we set sail again, or should I say
we set clown again, and went on our way.

Shortly we passed the island of São Tomé
engorged on fruit with rather sore tummies.

It was at this point that symmetry suffered
a relatively modest but disturbing calamity.

For we had reached a latitude
where the second line of any couplet has an unbalanced longitude.

But we soon passed to happier frothy waters
full of strong mermen and their daughters.

A little later it was with squids we played
and afterwards with octopuses we prayed.

We safely rounded the Cape of Good Hope
and raised and lowered the clown on a rope.
 
By now he was fully reconciled to his position
and in fact embraced the ideals of our mission.

And those ideals were to circumnavigate Earth
and at the same time, to increase our girth.

Thus we devoured the fruit stored below deck
until juice ran out of our noses, flipping heck!

In the Indian Ocean we played deck test cricket
using the first mate’s wooden legs for a wicket.

Because there wasn’t much else for us to do
apart from stirring big barrels of strong glue.

Why the captain needed adhesive, I can’t say
but sticky wickets were the order of the day.

And that’s why we continued to bowl and bat
using avocado pears for balls that went splat.

But take care, shipmates! That was my shout
when beneath our hull erupted a waterspout.

It was so powerful that it lifted us up high
and then we were sailing through the sky.

Clouds filled the shrouds with damp fleece
and gulls in flight honked at us like geese.

Our altitude increased and we were chilled
and soon I supposed we would all be killed.

But when the waterspout turned itself off
we didn’t drop back into a terminal trough.

No! The clown on a mast extended his arms
and span on his axis to save us from harm.

Like a helicopter he was, but not a good one,
and for him, it can’t have been too much fun.

Yet his rotary action was certainly well-meant
and provided enough lift for our safe descent.

We landed in waters on the far side of Borneo
but jumbled up was our carefully stored cargo.

The clown was quite dizzy, but what of that?
So are rooms in which you might swing a cat.

Or is it the cat that is giddy thereafter? I can
never remember the exact categorical order.

The fruit in the hold had transformed into juice
and some nails in the planks had worked loose.

But we were still seaworthy and shipshape
and would remain so while on the seascape.

So we sloshed along like a wooden breakfast
with the clown, our saviour, sick on the mast.

But he would recover, he needed no physician,
for dizziness is merely a temporary condition.

And now we concentrated instead on the terrific
news that already our vessel was in the Pacific.

Leagues and leagues of unislanded blue water, see!
But is ‘unislanded’ a word that if used, oughta be?

I don’t know about that, I’m not a lexicographer,
and in fact I’m not even a competent geographer.

No matter! Onwards! We are circling the globe
and it doesn’t matter how quickly we are going.

Slow or fast, start and stop, and if the mate bellows:
“Avast!” we all know such a pause will hardly last.

And now we are sailing steadily east with no fruit
to feast on, but plenty of juice to swim in, undilute.

Solid food is what we require, growled the captain!
Though there’s no cellophane for it to be wrapped in.

Thus we stopped off at an island just beyond Fiji
to buy some cream fudge from a Heebie-Jeebie.

In nautical lingo a Heebie-Jeebie is a shrewd adventurer
marooned long ago who now has a commercial venture.

The fudge was copious and also coconut-flavoured
and he gave us extra portions as some sort of favour.

I think it was because he was originally from Dublin
and we reminded him of the things he was missing.

But there was sadly no room on board to take him along
so we departed while singing him a fudge-mangled song.

“Don’t worry too much and don’t make too big a fuss,
keep making your fudge and all will be fine, trust us!”

The lyrics of that song were probably a cruel deception
but when he heard them he gave them a good reception.

Anyway! Enough of that. Without wishing to fudge
the issue, we have other things to trouble our minds.

I’m a little bit concerned about how the lines of each couplet
seem to be getting longer and longer as this poem progresses.

They are almost twice the length of the opening lines
which, if you remember, formed the following rhyme:

“We set sail south from Dublin town
with forty-five sailors and one clown.”

So let us endeavour to sail closer to a shorter length
for the sake of the reader’s mental and poetic health!

And now we are nearing stormy Cape Horn,
as good a place as any for mariners to mourn.

Tossed on the waves for two and a half days
we were lucky to emerge wholly unscathed.

Back into the Atlantic we plunged in alarm
while the clown vibrated from the yardarm.

But finally in calmer waters we settled down,
the odds reduced that any of us might drown.

As for myself, I looked forward to docking
yet again in the harbour of old Dublin town.

Weary of travel and the fathomless blue deep,
tired of this poem and exhausted with sleep.

Lacing booties to furious hornpipe melodies
no longer fills me with joy but only self-pity.

But only a score of leagues or so left to go
and with this wind there is no need to row.

The night was dark like a pint of stout beer
and then I knew that home really was near.

How glad was I to spy right in our midst
the Emerald Isle looming out of the mist!

Mission accomplished, let’s all dance a jig
and finally discard our stale seaweed wigs!




Explanatory Notes

Why take a clown aboard a ship?
Because we were so very bored.

Yes, whales may go to formal dinners.
If they don’t, they will be much thinner

Hornpipes are musical unicorns,
piercing ears like mythical thorns.

Cricket on deck is such an odd sport,
umpires snort when a ball is caught.

Waterspouts are fountains malign,
always of brine and never of wine.

The South Pacific is a very nice place
unless your booties need to be laced.

Cape Horn is loud and rather sharp,
the diametric opposite of Cape Harp.

Ireland, my Ireland, how I love thee!
Two shots of whisky please in my tea.

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Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.

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Categories
Review

Tagore’s Play Performed 105 Times in WWII Concentration Camps

The Post Office by Tagore was written, translated and performed in multiple languages throughout Europe, eventually made into a Bengali film by Satyajit Ray (Postmaster, 1961). Rakhi Dalal revisits the original translation done by Devabrata Mukherjee in 1912.

Title: The Post Office

Author: Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Devabrata Mukherjee

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Dakghar was written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911. Devabrata Mukherjee, an Oxford University student at the time, translated the play into English in 1912. It was first published in London by Cuala Press in 1914 with an introduction by W.B.Yeats.  He, along with Lady Gregory, had also directed its first staging in English in 1913 by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The production then transferred to the Court Theatre, London, later the same year before the Bengali original was staged at Tagore’s Jorasanko theatre in Calcutta in 1917.

This play was translated into French by André Gide and was read on the radio the night before Paris fell to the Nazis. During World War II, there were 105 performances of The Post Office in concentration camps in Germany. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy was its staging by Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish educator who ran a Jewish orphanage in a ghetto in Warsaw. It was there that the play was organised for children just a few weeks before they, as well as Korczak, were deported to the concentration camps of Treblinka.

The story revolves around a young child Amal, an orphan adopted by his Uncle Madhav, who suffers from an ailment. On the instruction of the physician treating him, he is restricted within the house and is not allowed to go outside. In his quest to explore the world beyond the confines of his home, he sits near a window facing a road and talks to people passing-by. He becomes fascinated by the newly constructed post office near his window and imagines receiving letters from the king. The play presents a vivid picture of Amal, his longings, his ideas of life and the limitations that he faces.

Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, in the introduction to this edition, quotes the bard from the letter he wrote to Andrews in 1921 where he says, “Amal represents the man who has received the call of the open road – he seeks freedom from the comfortable enclosure of habits sanctioned by the prudent and from the walls of rigid opinion built for him by the respectable.”

The narrative traverses through the realms of a mind born free, eager to understand and appreciate the beauty of the natural world and, yet with time, constrained by the ideas fostered as acceptable by societal norms. Amal would rather venture outside and hop like a squirrel than sit at home, toiling at books which his Uncle thinks makes a man learn. He would rather cross mountains and go farther to seek work than be disheartened by their imposing structure. To his Uncle, the hills are barriers whereas to Amal, they are the hands of earth raised into the sky, beckoning people from far off.

The play also explores the nature of human dealings with outsiders, the usual conventions of a society while dealing with persons we may only come across as strangers and seem to emphasise upon the virtue of the sense of fraternity which the otherwise busier life tends to disregard. Amal meets a dairyman, a watchman, a flower gathering girl, a gaffer and a headman while sitting at his window and leaves an impression on each of them. He endears as a persona in harmony with nature as well as in his interactions with other people through his life so that the journey becomes more joyous for everyone. 

This play is written in two acts. In the first act, Amal wishes to discover the world outside his restrictions while sitting at his window. In the second act his condition worsens, and he is confined to his bed where he spends his time waiting for the postman to deliver a letter from King. And finally, he sinks into his last sleep.

In its October issue of 1914, The Times Literary Supplement wrote: “This is the first impression that the play gives, as a play should: an impression of actuality, complete within the limits of human life as seen and heard in a real world.” The second act may be seen as a wait for the messenger of God/death which delivers the final fate for Amal. W.B. Yeats says that the “play conveys to the right audience an emotion of gentleness and peace” which is epitomised by Amal’s character.

This play translated by Mukherjee more than a hundred years ago continues to touch hearts to this date. Given our present context, impaired by the excessive capitalistic tendencies of the age, marred by wars, blurred by frenzies of hatred seeping into the fabric of societies, this comes as a gentle reminder of the necessity to live in peace, to approach nature and humans, even strangers, with compassion and to show more consideration in our dealings with them. It helps us understand that a mind that can live in harmony with nature and with humankind, can eventually embrace the final call in tranquillity.

The Post Office is a splendid play written with a poetic cadence which has elements of tragedy and yet manages to leave the reader with a sense of serenity that seems to be the writer’s message for a life to live in harmony with nature, with humankind and with oneself.

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Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Poetry

I Am Ukraine

Lesya Bakun, a Ukranian Refugee, writes of her country under attack giving courage and hope to the rest of the world.

REFUGEE IN MY OWN COUNTRY/ I AM UKRAINE 

I am Kharkiv.
I am Volnovakha.
I am Kyiv.
I am the blocked Mariupol on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe.

I am the completely destroyed
City of Shchastia --
That is literally translated as "happiness" --
Where people have to sit in the bomb shelters,
Because nothing else is preserved.
The Russian troops are not letting them out.

I am Ukraine.
I am a fighter. 

I am a refugee
In my own country.

What's in the minds of Russians?

Nine years ago, I was in Strasbourg, France.
Seven years ago, I was in Dublin, Ireland.
Two years ago, I was in Istanbul, Turkey.

Today, I am 
In an internally displaced people’s centre --
In a city that I cannot even publicly disclose
For the security of too many families
Who are fleeing to remain safe.

"The Ukrainian IT company N has left the markets of Russia and Belarus forever".
We should have done it eight years ago.
We should have done it thirty-one years ago.

A lot of my friends are switching from Russian to Ukrainian.
We should have done that thirty-one years ago
So that no one comes to "protect us".

I am the gasoline 
that NATO sent us
Instead of closing the sky -- 
Apparently so that we can burn
The Budapest Memorandum.

We have seen the real face of Russians.
Again,
They negotiated green corridors
And started shelling with heavy weaponry.

Evacuation is cancelled.

"I wish you survival, 
Health
And the closed sky above you."

07.03.2022
Ukraine

Lesya (Oleksandra) Bakun is a polyglot poet and non-formal educator who resides in Ukraine. She has been writing since the age of 14, in Ukrainian, Russian, and English; her poems were published in the local young poets’ anthology. Oleksandra has the ‘young’ and ‘adult’ periods of her writing life, and challenges of each are vividly seen in the words she’s sharing – both as texts and in poetry readings. Her poems revolve around complex themes like trauma, gender, societal issues, relationships, and mental health.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.