“and even you forgot those brilliant flashes seen from afar” -Ruth Stone

The Bird of Time

Translation
Original

Play
Pause

O Mother the bird of time flies
It doesn’t listen or say anything

Mother there are many tall pots
But it doesn’t sit on any of them

Every day the sun seeks to find
The direction in which it lives
It must come from somewhere it must go somewhere
There is never a day it rises or sets

They practice rituals, recite prayers and cook holy offerings
It doesn’t bite a bit
O Mother the bird of time flies.
It doesn’t listen or say anything

Mother I saw it with my own eyes
It passes through my heart
In this moment it buys love
In this moment it lives…

O mother the bird of time flies!

Play
Pause

Oh God

Translation
Original

Play
Pause

O God! Your spinning wheel
Spun me today

I put all the balls of thread in a basket
Nobody went and nobody came
O God what happened today
With this person weaving the wheel

Nobody opened or closed the windows
And all of the colored benches were lazy
It’s getting crazy
To look for this weaver

Nobody gave anything and nobody asked
Nobody even heard a voice
The sky looked down and began to laugh
At the one who put up the roof

Oh God your spinning wheel
Spun me today

Play
Pause

My Soul Became A Yogi And My Body Became Ashes

Translation
Original

Play
Pause

My soul became a Yogi and my body became ashes
What have you achieved
O Yogi, when you did your morning prayer
You earned the word and love of God…

Smoke rises and carries my God’s name
I can hear the instruments in my mind
The ember of God flares up inside me
Even the sky is brightened with this light
How did you remember God so that
Nothing is left a stranger to me!
My soul became a Yogi and my body became ashes
This is what you achieved…

Play
Pause

Appears in this issue
Amrita Pritam is widely considered the first eminent female Punjabi writer, novelist and poet of the 20th century.

Read more

Kyle Singh is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where he studied theoretical physics. After doing research and publishing several scientific papers, he left to go to Dartmouth College to study poetry where he currently resides.

Read more

Translator’s note


Amrita Pritam’s poems carry a strong lyric presence which carry a strong Eastern sensibility. In many ways, these poems were beyond her time; written in a country that was still ever present in the romantic tradition of the 18 th century. She is often credited with giving Indian poetry a contemporary voice. Her writing is plainly spoken and written in a devotional style. The language is almost a plea for seeking and understanding the mysteries she is working through. Although she rose to prominence commenting on the pervading political issues of her time as well as issues of women’s rights in the nation, the poems from this collection are far more personal holding a strong sense of discovery. My Soul Became A Yogi And My Body Became Ashes is an example where Pritam directly addresses the ideas of oneness. The body is gone. It is reduced to the essence of a God that is addressed here and can be seen not as a physical entity but as an omnipresent characterization of everything that surrounds us. This is a poem which confronts her spirituality in a way that is forthright and honest. The achievement is to become one with God which in turn would be to become one with everything. O God is a poem that brilliantly characterizes Pritam’s sense of puzzlement. Much of it is rooted in traditional work that was to be expected of an Indian housewife at the time. However, Pritam takes this act of spinning cloth and spins it into a moment of transcendence; one that does not deliver clarity per se but does hint at a greater entity which mystifies her and in turn the reader. The Bird Of Time again is a poem that carries within it a sense of wonder. The question of where an entity comes or goes is one that comes up often in her work and may be hinting again at an acknowledgement of this all pervading entity. The bird of time resists superstition. This is particularly interesting as it seems as if Pritam is making a comment on the ways in which the powerful spiritual ideas often get masked in service of ritual and offerings. In place of God here is now a maternal figure. One can see the two as the same, again rooted in a strong sense of devotion on behalf of the speaker. There are some unique features of Punjabi that readily present themselves in these poems. For example, the language is one without punctuation. This means that there is a greater emphasis on enjambment and how it serves to bring out the cadence of the language. What is also interesting is Pritam’s added punctuation namely in the form of ellipses almost as ornaments to compensate for the lack of punctation inherent to the language. One can interpret these additions as serving the larger rhetoric structure of the work. Namely, the ellipses for example carry within them a sense of continued bewildered thought. It is almost as if, as in many of her poems, the reader is taken through a stream of consciousness on behalf of the speaker where personal revelations are being offered. Indeed, the spirit of these poems lies an Eastern sensibility which carries within it mystery and uncertainty.

-Kyle Singh

Infrequent email notifications