Monday, August 22, 2016

BLOG OF THE WEEK ~ A CHAT ON POETRY AND FAITH WITH SUMANA ROY

This week, my friends, we are bringing  you a very special chat. Our wonderful staff member and friend, Sumana Roy, who writes at SUMANAR / LEKHA, sadly lost her cherished only daughter in January of 2015. She has written very movingly of her grief and her faith ever since, in poems that leave me breathless with admiration, at her courage and the depth of her faith. I asked Sumana if she might feel ready to talk about writing one's way through such a grievous loss. Though it pained her to write about it, she graciously agreed. For this chat, I think a strong cup of tea is in order, for comfort, and I suggest some Kleenex close by. Let's begin.






Sherry: Sumana, I am moved by your willingness to have this chat, in which we will honor your daughter, mourn her untimely loss, and talk about the faith and courage it takes to walk through such a devastating bereavement and remain standing.

Let’s first pay homage to your beautiful Shruti, in all of her radiance. Would you tell us about her, and, if you can bear it, how you lost her suddenly to illness?


Shruti


Sumana: Dear Sherry, I would love to share my thoughts about my daughter, though to talk about her pains me, but I am thinking of her 24x7 hours. I don’t think I’ll ever get over those gray hospital days. I feel forever grateful to my Poetry Jam (at that time I used to write poetry prompts there) friends, who prayed for her when I wrote to Mary from Delhi that I have lost the strength to pray.

Now I feel it's as it were a life within two brackets. The bracket begins with my mother’s jubilant words: meye hoyechhe (so you have a daughter now), after she was born; the bracket closes with my husband’s broken voice: shob shesh (everything’s ended). And in between there are twenty-six years of blessedness, of being the mother of my only child.






Shruti, (we fondly called her Toya), was very quiet to the extent of being reticent. Never gave me any anxiety of any sorts. Her passion was in reading books, listening to songs, singing mainly Tagore songs, (which she was taught from a very early age by a tutor, an expert in Tagore songs),watching good movies and keeping a diary. Lately she was being interested in photography. In her Facebook Timeline she used Tagore’s words as her banner words:

Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky. 


"Sunset sky" really broke my heart,  Sherry, when I saw it after her passing.

She had few but good friends. She did her Masters in English and wanted to be a teacher. She was on the lookout for a job. When she was doing her teacher’s training course she happened to take classes for a month in the school where I taught.

A very normal, peaceful, quiet life we had before November 2014 when she was diagnosed with acute liver failure. It was a bolt from the blue. At first we took her to Kolkata and then to New Delhi. A liver transplant was necessary but she didn’t give us the time and withered like a faded flower, changing our life forever.

Sherry: Oh, Sumana, our hearts break for you. Out of a clear blue sky, such devastation.  Your recent poem “Loss of a Gift of God” is so moving. I would love to include it here, if I may.


LOSS OF A GIFT OF GOD

I could hear your steps becoming fainter,
your youthful demure, a shadow.
Alas! We always breathed your breezy words.
Our sweet balms, our joys of living were they.
One day they ceased to flow.
We are now breathless,
and doomed forever in the land of
stormy lull and dark hours.
My only born you were.
Little velvet touch rose without a thorn.
A song you were to be sung forever.
When your prattles blossomed into words
you brought heaven down
in our heart.
Like the autumn bees
we thought "....warm days will never cease"*.
Like the silver lining
the fragrant memories fill our heart.
Your diary-words still unread
throb in the pages waiting.
Our anxieties over you have ended.
But not that wait
to be with you my precious;
after these earthly days are spent.

*The quote is taken from Keats' ode "To Autumn".


Sherry: Your poem moves me to tears, Sumana. So hard to have lost the light of your life. After such a profound loss, one can only look forward to Heaven, my friend. We can learn much from you about bearing the unbearable. I remember how impressed I was with your poem “Trust”. It is a statement of faith, if ever I have read one.


I trust my sun who will always rise
I trust my stars who won’t forget to light
I trust my Ganga* who will ever purify
And my Himalayas who will pull me to His height
My soul has taken bath in fire yet not burnt
My soul has withstood fear-storm undaunted
Waves of doubt could never blow out Thy name
The trust in Thou glows in my soul like a flame 
Be my storm, fire, deluge whatever Thou Will
With faith, trust, love let my heart be filled.

*Ganga is the Ganges



The Ganges
telegraph.co.uk


Sherry: So heartfelt, Sumana. “My soul has taken bath in fire yet not burnt.” It continues to astound me, how people manage to continue putting one foot in front of the other, and keep on walking. It is what inspires me most about humankind.

In your poems, it is clear your faith is your bedrock. Would you talk to us about this journey?

Sumana: The aftermath of a storm is a sight of devastation which is exactly what I was. Absolutely wrecked. But I like to believe that even in that state God held my hands, though the touch was coarse; still it was His Touch. He did not let my faith fall apart. I could feel His grace in that. 

You know, Sherry, when a patient is admitted into a hospital, the doctors won’t let him free until he is cured. Here I was absolutely intoxicated and drunk with worldly things, deeply attached, yet trying to believe that God is everything. He was to cure me of this worldly disease, isn’t it? Because I had taken His name and somehow cultivated a little faith. A mother sometimes spanks her obstinate child for its own good maybe.

However I am much patient now. One has to develop forbearance, composure and dependence on God by practice if it’s not there in someone. Constant prayer works. At least I see it that way. 

When life was good, everything was according to my choice. I am not ashamed to confess now that God was only a favorite word to me. I used to pray as a habit. The mind always looks for material comfort and it’s impossible to bring this pleasure-seeking mind under control. The world was a reality to me then, where spiritual thoughts were a part of life but not all in all. 

I used to read books on Vedanta literature even then, and also books on Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and loved the words like, “God alone is real (Eternal) and everything else is unreal (Ephemeral),” said by the great 19th century saint, Sri Ramakrishna. But is it possible for a mind so deeply engrossed in this world to realize the saying? “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

When my father died in 2013, even then I must say I didn’t get to the meaning of those words. Realization dawned when my daughter passed away.

Before my marriage I had taken initiation from the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Order for a spiritual life. Now I am more serious about it and it is helping me on my journey. 


en.wikipedia.org


I am glad God has given me opportunity to find loving souls who have renounced this world and help me a lot to go beyond all attachments. Very recently I have been asked by them to translate a book on Ramakrishna (from English into Bengali), and the work is like making a pilgrimage. I really so treasure their holy company.

I had taken an early retirement from school last September (official parlance – voluntary retirement), simply to cut off from the regular flow of life and engage myself to be in my inner space and look after my husband, who was not keeping well after all these mishaps. By God’s grace he is doing well now.



Me and Hubby


Sherry: We are so glad to hear that your husband is well, Sumana. I love that you are working on the book as a holy pilgrimage.

I know from other chats with you that the poetry of Tagore is a very important aspect of your spiritual journey. Tell us about this connection, won’t you? And perhaps you will share a poem of his with us?

Sumana: Mainly Tagore’s songs are my soul’s refuge. The lyrics and music are beyond this world. They delight in happiness and console in sorrow, literally. If one is willing to enter his world, he will show how to pull the sun out of the night. That man accepted grief as a loving gift of God. 

There are thousands of his songs; every single one (classified to different categories, like worship, love, seasons etc.) simply shines with spiritual glow. I didn’t get  a good translation of the song below. I translated it myself with my lack of knowledge in English that did not do justice to the wealth of meanings inherent in the Bengali words.

Tagore’s poem:

Grief there is, and Death; Partings char.
Yet Peace, Bliss and the Infinite stir.
Flows life ceaselessly, beam the sun, moon and stars
In striking tints and hues Spring shows up in bowers.
Waves ebb waves arise.
Wilt flowers and bloom buds.
Decays not, ends not, never ever depletes
Unto that wholeness the mind begs a retreat





I also identify myself in another song of his. I am just quoting the first stanza, translated by Anandamayee Majumder:

On the raging night of troubled dark
When all my guards fell apart
I did not know, I did not see
In the carnage, you had come to me.

I am including here the video of the first song, sung by one of my favorite singers.




Sherry: This is so beautiful, Sumana. Thank you for this. I understand you have recently been working on further translations of Tagore's poems, and have a blog where you are doing this work, Sonar Tori. Will you tell us about it?




Sumana: Actually, the idea struck when I had to translate achhe dukkho (Grief there is) in this chat. At first I wasn't confident enough, as I couldn't translate the sounds, rhythm, meanings and rhyme of the Bengali words into English properly. I am giving you an example. The common word for Night in Bengali is Ratri and there are also many synonyms for Night. In one of his songs, Tagore uses Nisha for Night. Now Nisha is very close to Nesha in sound, which means alcoholic intoxication in Bengali, and he uses it for a Spring Night  to mean how intoxicating a Spring Night would be to a poet drunk in Beauty. It is "Boshonto Nisha" in Bengali and "Spring Night" in English without the intoxicating effect that Beauty has on Her devoted followers. This is the difference, and I feel handicapped.

Moreover, the poet has used such beautiful melodious music for each song! The tunes are simply refuges for hurt minds like mine. Tagore was also a great singer of his time. 

Reading your comments, and Susan's or Mary's, I felt I was able to convey the inherent meaning of the words. Mary even added this new blog, Sonar Tori, to the Poets United Blogroll. So if anyone is interested in Tagore, they might check this blog. I have also included the Youtube links to the songs, sung by renowned artists, in the blog. 

I might not even have started the translating blog had I not already done the translating of his poem in this chat, Sherry. So grateful to you, dear friend.

Sherry: Well, I am happy to have the teeniest part to play in the birth of these gorgeous translations, Sumana. We will follow your work with the poems of Tagore with great interest. I do believe you have captured his voice, and the emotion in his poems and songs, so well. 

Spirituality grows, as we walk through our lives and our losses, and it comes forth in our poetry.  Your poem “Monsoon” expresses this so well.


Monsoon

I
My dark blossom
last night
I saw you blooming.
Each of your petals
made the moon and the stars dim
till they all blotted out.
You were happy, weren't you?
I heard your timpani laughter.
I know
now all the embers under my feet
will turn into soft grass once more.
I will cease to be a fire-walker.

II
The dark one
I have been waiting for you
for your fragrant moist touch
on this feverish skin
You are never a mere flower
but my kohl eyed beauty
Krishnakoli*
who ends all desert days.
I will cup
every drop of mercy
from you
to drink to my fill.

*Krishnakoli (black-bloom) is a famous song of Tagore. Protagonist is a dark skinned damsel.







Sherry: You have walked hot coals for sure, my friend. I like the hope in the idea that soft grass will return under your feet once more. Your poetry  affects me in the same way Tagore’s does. It is so beautiful, so deep.

Sumana:  Oh SherryTagore is an ethereal song meant for the infinite, and I’m just a discordant note looking at the song in breathtaking disbelief.

It was the beginning of monsoon. As I looked up from my windows I noticed a very dark cloudlet brewing to douse the unbearably hot and humid summer, and the thought of Krishnakoli came to my mind; the words flowed. These days I tend to associate everything with the passage of time. 

Sherry: Me, too. And it passes so quickly. I think of your poem "The Moon", which is so very lovely.



Silver teardrops
Of the waning, weeping moon
I collect in silence
to look at them
on new moon nights.
What sparkles when you are not there?
Starry briolette
of remembrance
in a heart of darkness
where light is a lost dream.
The sun, a myth.

Sherry: The depth of heartbreak. And yet you continue to send forth into the world your beautiful poems of love and light. It honors your daughter, Sumana. She would be so proud of you. I remember this poem from some time back that reveals your faith, looking up towards the light from the tears and darkness.



When my sadness
Trickles down my cheek
I look up
I hear
My trees singing in bird voice
Wiping my sorrow
Death cannot strangle me
With His stony, icy touch
For the sun’s caress
Warms me
Inside out
Pitch black sky of misery
Fails to engulf me
As joys of memory
Twinkle and glow
My Lord
Let Thy light
Shine in my heart
Till my last breath


Sherry: Sumana, your strong faith humbles and inspires. Is there anything you would like to add, as we bring this heart-stirring chat to a close?
  
Sumana: I began to write with a broken heart to find myself once again. I am including here the first poem I wrote when I was back from all those stormy days. It was a 5-7-5 syllable poem resembling a Haiku, written for a prompt @ Poetry Jam:


Silence

  All words are shattered
Broken pieces piercing deep
  My heart oozing void


However, I choose to live by Gautama Buddha’s words, “Be your own light.” He uttered these words on his death bed to his tearful disciples who were broken at the thought of his passing.



"Be Your Own Light"


Sherry: "Be your own light," a message for us all and perhaps the hardest thing we come into this life to learn. Sigh. These words will stay with me for a very long time. It is what we need to do, in times of darkness.

It is a privilege to have had this chat with you, Sumana. You teach humility, faith, surrender and enduring love through your words and your very way of being. Is there anything you would like to say to Poets United? 


Sumana: What to speak of you, Mary, Susan, Rosemary and all the wonderful souls who write here at Poets United! Everything is so positive about you all. Always so full of power, love, gratitude; always uplifting. I consider it God’s grace to be among you.

Sherry: We are blessed to have you among us. Thank you for all you do for Poets United. And thank you, Sumana, for allowing us the privilege of paying tribute to your daughter’s beautiful spirit, and for the deep and loving thoughts and poems on faith that you have shared with us today. We wrap our poetic arms around you as we travel through the weeks and years together, sharing our journey of words. I hope there is some comfort here among us, for you.

A wonderful chat with a valiant poet, my friends, making a difficult journey with such grace. We are fortunate, in this community, to have such amazing pilgrims among us. This will be a hard act to follow, but do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you! (Hint: there will be poems of Love, to heal our aching hearts!)



Sunday, August 21, 2016

Poetry Pantry #316

Photos of France (2)
by Mary

Omaha Beach, Normandy,
a site of the Allied D-Day
landing  in France
on June 6, 1944

American Cemetery, Colleville Sur-Mer, where many who died
in France D-Day and after are buried

Some of the 9000 American graves


A grave of a soldier who died
right ON D-Day...June 6, 1944
(Double click to enlarge photo)


A jacket of General Dwight D. Eisenhower,
Supreme commander of the Allied Forces
at this time

Note the 'parachutist' hanging with
his parachute from the church steeple.
This is a model, but the situation
actually happened.  The parachutist
pretended to be dead, was eventually rescued.

(Sainte-Mere-Eglise)


The Germans also have a cemetery in Normandy.
21,000 German soldiers are buried in this cemetery,
MANY more than in the American cemetry.
Young people from German peace organization
 working to clean gravestones in
the German cemetry

A monument in the German cemetery

Greetings, Poets..

This week I am sharing another set of photos of France.  These were some that I took during my time in Normandy visiting some of the D-Day sites.  Really seeing the area that the D-Day invasion took place was very moving.  So much loss of life though (on both sides), but one doesn't want to think of what might have happened if it had not taken place.

In case you didn't read Rosemary's feature this week, please scroll back and read it.  She shares one of her OWN poems for her "I Wish I'd Written This" series, and if you read her post you will understand why.     Rosemary also mentioned that she will be posting her features only the first and third Fridays of each month (and on the fifth Friday if there is one).  They will vary.  Sometimes "The Living Dead."  Sometimes "I Wish I'd Written This."  Sometimes "Moonlight Musings."

So many of you enjoyed Susan's "Cats" prompt for Midweek Motif this past week.  This next Wednesday Sumana will be prompting us to write about "Blessings."

Monday, don't miss Sherry's chat with Sumana.  I don't think you will be able to read it without being deeply moved.

With no delay now, let's share poetry.  Link your one poem below, leave a comment, and visit others who have linked.  Have a great poetic week!

Friday, August 19, 2016

I Wish I'd Written This

Oh, that's right – I did! :)

The Sword of Archangel Michael
By Rosemary Nissen-Wade

The sword glows
in my right hand.
My arm swings from the shoulder
wielding blue flame:
sharp light, the cut of truth.

Precise moves.
Economy.  Bite.
These are the qualities.
These and blue light —
a laser that heals where it touches.

In the beginning
the word.
The word true,
the word precise,
the word deliberately aimed.

It cuts to the heart,
my sword in flight.
From the heart of God
to the point of now
exactly aimed,
quick light.


© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 1995

First published Divan (e-zine) issue 4, Dec. 2001.
Also in Secret Leopard: New and selected poems 1974-2005, Alyscamps Press (Paris) 2005


This was one of those rare, 'wholly given' pieces that needed no tweaking. Where do they come from? (And why won't they do it more often?) At times like those, I think there's a fine line between inspiration and channelling.

And though I wrote it in 1995, I still like it and feel proud of it. There are so many that don't stand the test of time so well, I'm glad to have one that does. 

What's it about? Take your pick! Maybe it's about poetry. Or truth. Or healing. Or all of the above. I wish now that I had just called it The Sword, but it's had its title a long time and been published with it and all; so be it. I had been paying some attention to Archangel Michael at the time, and I thought it would serve as a sort of explanation for anyone who wanted that (even me). But it doesn't really explain anything, of course. This one must remain a mystery.

Artistic preferences are subjective things. My readers might like others of my poems better, but this is the one I'd most like to be remembered for (if, that is, I'm remembered at all).

So I'm wondering – do you have a particular favourite among your own poems? If so, it would be fun if you'd post a link in the comments, with a note about why. I'd be fascinated to see.

This is a good moment to say thank you to the people who take the trouble to comment on the 'I Wish I'd Written This' posts. I'm usually in contact with the featured poets to let them know when they're 'going live', and give them the link. They are thrilled when they see comments coming in – even though they can't all get access so as to reply. 

~ CHANGES ~

And by the way, were you expecting 'The Living Dead' this week? Quite right, that was the schedule. I'm making some changes, because I need to be a little less often glued to the computer and put more balance back in my life.

From now on I'll be posting on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month, and the 5th when there is one. And there won't be a regular rotation of topics. 'I Wish I'd Written This', 'The Living Dead' and 'Moonlight Musings' will still keep happening, but they'll turn up more unpredictably, according to what I most want to share at any given time. And sometimes the Moonlight Musings will be written by guests.

I hope you like surprises!


P.S. Well here's a surprise already. For some reason I have trouble this morning Googling the links people have kindly posted in their comments. So, being the impatient type, I thought 'Bugger this' and went and got myself a Mister Linky. (I have other ideas for using it in future.) Please post your links here instead. If you have any, that is. Not everyone has a firm favourite of their own. (Often, it's the last one we wrote, lol.)

You may ignore 'leave a comment after linking', if you have already left one anyway. :)