Ranjan’s translations of thirteen of Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s poems,
handsomely presented in The
Pilgrim, will undoubtedly reveal the poetic genius of the
Mahakabi (Great Poet)
to those unable to read him in the original. But they also bring
to light the remarkable poetic ability of Ranjan himself. For,
by refusing to take the usually traveled path of literal translation,
Ranjan provides his readers with much richer fare than just an
introduction to Devkota; Ranjan provides poetry in English that
can, on its own merits, lead to an aesthetic experience.
to experience this, it is necessary to hear the translated poems,
not merely read them with the eyes. Though this necessarily is usually
ignored by hurried readers of poetry, it is a truism among poets.
The poet Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 –1889), when lecturing
to young Jesuit Juniors in training about poetry, stressed that
the form of poetry is spoken sound and so a poem on a printed page
is not a poem at all in actuality but only its representation. Twentieth
century poets like Robert Frost have been at pains to make the same
this in mind and putting it into practice will unlock the beauties
of “The Pilgrim”. The very first selection “Clouds”, which look
too simple (even jejune) in black and white, springs to life when heard aloud. The
delightful rhythm of the first section of the poem matches the mood
magnificently and frequent hearings of the sound lead deeper into
the meaning. The submerged metaphors begin to suggest their presence.
same is true of the second poem which gives its title to the collection.
After “Muna Madan” perhaps the best loved of Devkota’s Nepali works,
“Yatri” becomes reincarnate in Ranjan’s deceptively simple English.
In its new reincarnation the poem’s irony seems even heavier than
in the original but just as effective.
could be argued that the poem actually gains greater power in the
free verse form that Ranjan gives it than is found in the regular
rhythm of the familiar Nepali. With the music muted, the meaning
gains even more prominence.
is skilled in the techniques of great poetry as was Devkota himself.
He preserves the Mahakabi’s
metaphors (as in the extended metaphor of temple in “The Pilgrim”)
but invents his own alliterations and assonances in the idiom of
example, Muna’s lovely line from “Muna Madan”:
my love, darkening the home and the city
later in the poem, the heart-broken Madan cries:
why did you leave?
wisely eschews attempting rhyme. He seems to have realized that
to achieve it not rarely requires the sacrifice or at least the
torturing of an even more important element of poetry, viz., meaning
and vision. His handling of the poem “Cycles” (entitled “Jivan”
in the Nepali original) shows Ranjan at his free-verse best. He
begins with an innocently cheerful air and then leads the listener
relentlessly on through the Ages of Man to the bitterness and even
the horror of the end:
like infirm roots.
filled with tears
the edge of life, a precipice.
the negative side Ranjan sometimes gives the listener a jolt by
lapsing into prose. For example, even in the powerful “Cycles” the
vehicle of beautiful words and rhythm is temporarily derailed by
the dull line:
is increasing realization of loneliness
too the rhythm degenerates into jingle, as in the first line of
the last selection “In the End”:
star, glittering star,
lamp in a faraway home.
those who know the original Nepali form of the poems, questions
and differences of opinion about the translation will be inevitable.
For example, granting that Ranjan sensibly wanted to avoid literalism,
why leave out the key word “Pilgrim” in the first line:
which temple do you go? In whose company?
term of address “Pilgrim” has an important place in the original;
to include it in the translation would have added rhythmic beauty
and deeper meaning to the first line.
example is the last line of “Cycles” quoted above. Devkota’s poem
“Jivan” ended with an emotional apostrophe to life. But Ranjan omits
it entirely from the translation. The total effect is thus completely
different in the Nepali and in the English.
criticisms, however, in no way obscure the achievement of Ranjan.
His real poetic ability is never in doubt. One waits eagerly for
more translations and especially for his own creations.