#ReadIntl2020 Poetry Poetry Friday Reading Themes

[Poetry Friday] Kabir’s Irreverent Divinity

“Songs of Kabir” translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Myra here.

Thank you to Michelle Barnes of Today’s Little Ditty for hosting this week.

Our current theme on in international literature has made me dig out obscure titles from my bookshelves, and here is one of them.

Songs Of Kabir (Amazon | Book Depository)

Translated by: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra Preface by Wendy Doniger
Published by NYRB (2011)
ISBN: 1590173791 (ISBN13: 9781590173794). Book was gifted to me. Book photos taken by me and edited using an iPhone app.

A month ago I shared Mirabai’s mystical poetry here and here. Kabir was mentioned in that book as one of the Bhakti poets who wrote his songs in a similar manner. Versions of Kabir’s poetry have likewise been translated by the likes of Ezra Pound and Rabindranath Tagore. Hence, to say that his influence is far-reaching would be an understatement.

The extensive Introduction written by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra provides some background as to what it means to be a Bhakti poet:

Bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit root bhaj, and one of its meanings is “to serve, honor, revere, love, adore.” The bhakta, the “devotee” or “lover of God,” looks upon God with a certain intimacy. It was a relationship based not on ritual but romance, and it had its sensual, erotic side.

Some bibliophile friends also liken Kabir to Rumi, especially with the latter’s mystical and spiritual aspect and his devotion to Shams of Tabriz.

Kabir’s poetry has been described by Wendy Doniger in her Preface to be both divine yet at the same time irreverent; his low status, being born to a family of Muslim weavers (legends say he was adopted and of a divine parentage), made him regard the caste system in an irreverent and disparaging manner as evidenced in his poems.

While I have yet to finish reading the entire book, I am sharing here two poems that jumped out to me – especially as both speak about greed – and fools – and there are aplenty of those at the moment, especially with what is happening right now in the world, making his poetry more relevant than ever.

Which of these two poems spoke to you more? Are you familiar with Kabir’s poetry?

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Kabir’s Irreverent Divinity

  1. “You don’t need water to drown” is a pretty great line. Thank you, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The opening couplet in the first poem reminds me of something I might read in the Tao te Ching. I love the ending of that poem too. I’m familiar with Kabir, but cannot place my finger on the source. I used to be an avid collector of quotes, so it might have been in that context. They are timeless, though, aren’t they? Thanks for posting them, Myra.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s hard to choose. I’ve been thinking about greed lately a lot but also the sounds from a half empty pot. I have never heard of Kabi so I’m glad you posted these wonderful pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

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