Kabir - The Divine Bird

The Divine Bird
In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.
Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.
Suddenly present, as if from nowhere,
she may as quickly disappear.
I was not told about this tree,
far less the bird – nor have I seen
either its colour or its form,
nor e’en what dance it may perform;
yet its etheric call I hear –
its ballet, tho unseen, is clear.
Beside an abandoned path, this place
is missed by those who’re ruled by haste.
Few there are who know the way,
and fewer still who choose to stay.
Brother sadhu, Kabir says,
don’t invite the race of fools,
who’ll drown the songs and cut the branches:
rather, merely leave them clues.
One or two within your days
may note your path and share your gaze –
them you’ll know without a word:
for in their silence sings that bird.
Bk2:95. #33 in Tagore’s translation MMS 10/11/2010

Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic poet of Islamic origin, who reached enlightenment under Ramananda. the saint of the S Indian bhakti (heart worship) movement. He went to live in the holy city of Benares where he worked as a weaver, arousing hostility from the orthodox Hindu priesthood by teaching his followers to ignore the rituals of temple worship in favour of openness of heart. Kabir was a considerable influence on the emergent Sikh movement.
I became interested in the meanings behind the translations made by Rabindranath Tagore and Kshiti Mohan Sen first published by Evelyn Underhill in 1915. These are, if I may so, distinctly prosaic; and as clarity of rhyme and metre are almost invariably the hallmark of mystical or epic poetry I wanted to rediscover what these poems might originally have felt like.

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