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Friday, January 14, 2011

Number 38: Buddhadeva Bose "Frogs"


The rains have come, and frogs are full of glee.

They sing in chorus, in loud, jubilant voices.

Nothing to fear today: no drought, no dearth of worms, 

Nor serpent's jaw, nor stones of wanton boys.

Cloud-like, the grasses thicken: in the fields the lush waters stand;

Louder leaps their hour of brief immortality.

They have no necks, but their throats are rich and swollen; 

And o, what sleek bodies, what cold gem-like eyes!

Eyes staring upward, fixed in meditation,

Ecstatic, lidless, like rishis gazing on God.

The rain has ceased, the shadows slant;

Hymn-like floats their singing, on the slow, attentive air.

Now dies the day in silence, but a sombre drone 

Perforates the twilight; the thin sky leans to listen.

Darkness and rain: and we are warm in bed: 

Yet one unwearied phrase mingles in our sleep- 

The final sloka of the mystic chanting, 

The croak, croak, croak of the last fanatic frog.

-- Buddhadeva Bose (also translated by Bose into English)

Hap Notes: Buddhadeva Bose (1908-1974) is one of the major Bengali writers of the 20th century. He was a writing machine; he wrote novels, plays, poems, short stories, travelogues, memoirs and essays. He also wrote children's books, criticism and translations (he translated Baudelaire in Bengali). He was an editor and a publisher. You know the term "human dynamo"? It could be illustrated by his picture.

Bengali literature was influenced by the extraordinary work of Noble prize-winning writer Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Bose, while influenced by Tagore, was really the first to break through this and find his own voice. He inspired subsequent poets and writers to do likewise. (I'm very fond of the work of Jibanananda Das (1899-1954), one of the most popular Bengali poets and a colleague of Bose. We'll find some of his work, too.)

Bose did teach in the U.S. several times. He taught at Pennsylvania College for Women, Indiana University, Brooklyn College, Colorado University, Wesleyan College, and the University of Hawaii.

Here's what you probably need to know to understand "Frogs." A Rishi is a composer of Vedic hymns and a seer of sorts. Rishis were inspired to write through a higher state of meditative consciousness. A Sloka is a powerful two line prayer which describes the divine qualities of God.

It's a really charming poem. I love the idea of the frogs as meditative seers in the rain croaking out praises.

Here's an excerpt from Bose's Book, The Land Where I Found It All: "Our room in Ratankuthi had a large window that opened to the east. We had found it closed ever since we arrived, and had left it unopened. We were hardly ever in the rooms, and had paid scant heed to it. One afternoon, I was working at the table, plenty of wind blew in through the door in the south, yet it was very warm. Suddenly Makshirani came in and threw the window open. At once, great gusts of the untamed east winds blew away my papers, and amazed, we discovered a spectacular view lay before us. Alas, all those days we had left the window shut, and, unminding, robbed ourselves of such a feast that was ours for the taking."

You really cannot find much Bose poetry online in English but there is some here:

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