Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Remington's wry report"       [dohas]

A Dozen Dohas Ponder the Doha

Isn't the rhythm charming?
wasn't Kabir a sweetheart?
somehow it's quite disarming
making a very neat art

Neat in the sense of tidy
hardly does it seem plodding
triples and doubles idly
meet at the corner nodding

Idly? perhaps the word is
not the right word to place here
architecture has girders
form has poetic grace here

Tabla could show the pattern
"dha-ka-di-da" (or something)
certain as stately Saturn
is it withal a dumb thing?

Writing in simple rhythms
always observing orders
learning the language-givens
paying respect to borders

Only the words will fit here
that can conform and play nice
only elite folk sit here?
palmtrees if tall that sway nice?

Bushes may yet be planted
fruittrees are likewise fine here
coffee can be decanted
gingersome chai's divine here

Blush of the rose is captured
in a vignette-ish picture
thorn I suppose (enraptured)
pierces amid the stricture

Rambling in the meadow
wandering through the city
studying which words paddle
noticing which words ditty

Paddling in the gesture
moving within the dance-form
ditty with yogic posture
poem with pumice glance-form

Structuring words   like sculpture
limning of lines   like painting
circling high: a vulture
poetry thus acquainting

Poetry of a sort that
clickety-clacks precisely
Remington's wry report that
everything turned out nicely


Remington: as in, the Remington typewriter

This sequence follows from my initial dabble (portentiously titled 'Mini Moksha Chalisa') in the doha form, pulled into English for the first time (so far as I'm aware).

The form is borrowed from olden Hindi (or we should perhaps say Hindustani) poetics. The doha form is especially associated with the great 14th century mystic poet Kabir, whose Dohas continue to be sung in rural northern India. A couple years ago, the folk-singer Pralhad Singh Tipanya toured US universitieis with a party of musicians, performing Kabir's dohas in song. (I enjoyed their presentation at Georgetown University.)

Speaking of Kabir (depicted as weaver at right), it's nice to note that the classic Tagore translation of Songs of Kabir is now online. These of course were not dohas. (Kabir employed the terse doha form as well as more expansive forms.)


But I was made more thoughtful about the form per se (and the notion of trying it out in English) thanks to remarks made by Srijan Deshpande:
I've always wanted to attempt poetry in the indian seven-syllable meter found in the poetry of surdas, kabir, meera etc.
The sort where the first, fourth and sixth syllables are accented in each 7-syllable line. The attempt will need courage though - something I haven't really got yet.
Has anybody tried this?
So, it seemed worth trying. But beyond merely mimicing the form, seeking to emulate (or invite into the poem) the deep thoughts of the likes of Kabir, Mira, Surdas and their ilk, is a horse of a different color (as the phrase goes). At least I'm demonstrating the formal prosody in these idle pleasantries. If other, wiser poets may kindly follow suit with deeper things, all the better that would be.

As noted in the brief Wikipedia entry on dohas, the great poet-philosopher, Goswami Tulsidas, likewise employed this poetical form (among others). One hundred of Tulsidas's dohas are seen here. I cannot (alas) read the Hindustani. But the first of his dohas (as given in a prose translation) invites an attempt to recast it as a doha in English. The given translation reads:
Lord Rama's name is a unit. Our means is a zero. If there is unit before zero then it is ten otherwise it is zero.
The name of Lord Ram's a Unit
our power to say is Zero
put One before Zero: Ten it!
else Zero will stay mere Zero!


prosody note:

The fastidious reader might notice (and reasonably object) that while the doha form calls for a line of 7 syllables, my rendering of the Tulsidas doha in fact shows 8 syllables per line. True. An English line can begin on a stressed syllable (as my English dohas above demonstrate); however, an English line starting with an unstressed (and -- doha-wise -- additional) syllable comes naturally to our language as an alternative form. So much so, I propose to permit this as a modified form of doha for English. That is, I propose that English dohas can either employ 7-syllable (if starting on stressed syllable) or 8-syllable (if starting on unstressed syllable) lines. But I think I should perhaps practice it consistently: that is, a stanza will employ either the one or the other (but not mix them up). Particularly if I feel disposed to attempt more doha translations, allowing this degree of latitude will (I think) help facilitate smooth (rather than tortured) results.

In the case of dohas written directly in English (rather employed than for doha translation), perhaps I'll stick more rigorously (as I've done so far) to the classical 7-syllable form.


ps: but-but-but -- when I attempt to articulate the sounds of the transliterated version of some of Kabir's dohas, I get the (tentative) impression he adhered to the 7-syllable rule more in the 1st and 3rd line than in the 2nd and 4th line. For some of the verses, if the 2nd and 4th lines indeed also follow a 7-syllable pattern, I guess I don't quite know how the correct pronounciation should proceed. Inshallah, I may study the language properly in future (possibly even next year), and then I could clear up such questions directly. Meanwhile, if anyone cares to clarify what's up about this [i.e., whether or not Kabir indeed uses 7 syllables (in the same cadence) per line], I'd be obliged.


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