Kedarnath Singh Poems

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Words don't die of cold
they die from a lack of courage
Words often perish
because of humid weather

I once met
a word
that was like a bright red bird
in the swamp along the riverbank in my village
I brought it home
but as soon as we reached the wooden door-frame
it gave me
a strangely terrified look
and breathed its last

After that I started fearing words
If I ran into them I beat a hasty retreat
if I saw a hairy word dressed in brilliant colours
advancing towards me
I often simply shut my eyes

Slowly after a while
I started to enjoy this game
One day for no reason at all
I hit a beautiful word with a stone
while it hid
like a snake in a pile of chaff

I remember its lovely glittering eyes
down to this day

With the passage of time
my fear has decreased
When I encounter words today
we always end up asking after each other

Now I've come to know
many of their hiding-places
I've become familiar with
many of their varied colours
Now I know for instance
that the simplest words
are brown and beige
and the most destructive
are pale yellow and pink

Most often the words we save
for our saddest and heaviest moments
are the ones
that on the occasions meant for them
seem merely obscene

And what shall I do now
with the fact that I've found
perfectly useless words
that wear ugly colours
and lie discarded in the garbage
to be the most trustworthy
in my moments of danger

It happened just yesterday -
half a dozen healthy and attractive words
suddenly surrounded me
in a dark street
I lost my nerve -

For a while I stood before them
and drenched in sweat
Then I ran
I'd just lifted my foot in the air
when a tiny little word
bathed in blood
ran up to me out of nowhere panting
and said -
‘Come, I'll take you home'


When the king died
his body was laid
in large coffin of gold.

A handsome body
no one who saw it
doubted that it was
the body of a king.

First the minister came
and stood with his head bowed
before the body
then the priest came
and mumbled something
under his breath for a long time
then the elephant came
and raised its trunk
in honour of the body
then the black and white horses came
but confused
by the grimness of the scene
they couldn't decide
whether they should neigh.

Slowly - very slowly
the carpenter
the washer-man
the barber
the potter . . .
they stood around the magnificent coffin.

A strange sadness surrounded
the coffin.

Everyone was sad
the minister was sad
because the elephant was sad
the elephant was sad
because the horses were sad
the horses were sad
because the grass was sad
the grass was sad
because the carpenter was sad . . .


Brothers and sisters
this day is dying
a two-minute silence
for this dying day

for the bird flying away
for the still water
for the night-fall
a two-minute silence

for that which is
for that which is not
for that which could have been
a two-minute silence

for the discarded peel
for the crushed grass
for every plan
for every project
a two-minute silence

for this great century
for every great idea
of this great century
for its great words
and great intentions
a two-minute silence

brothers and sisters
for these great achievements
a two-minute silence.


when you find the time.

even if you can't find the time.

like the strength
in hands
like blood
flowing through arteries.

like the slow silent
in stoves.


like the fresh thorns
in babul trees
after the rains.

Shredding days
smashing promises

as Wednesday
after Tuesday.



How strange it is
that at ten in the morning
the world is still going about its business
even without God.

The buses are crowded
and as usual
people are in a hurry.

His bag slung on his shoulder
the postman
is making his rounds as usual
even without God.

Banks somehow open on time
grass continues to grow
all calculations - however complicated -
somehow add up in the end
the one who must live
the one who must die
even without God.

How strange it is
that trains
late or on time
depart from and arrive at
some station or the other
that elections are held
planes continue to fly in the sky
even without God.

Even without God
horses continue to neigh
salt is still made in the sea
a sparrow
flies here and there
in a frenzy all day
and somehow finds her way
back to her nest
even without God.

Even without God
my sorrow is as profound as ever
and the hair of the woman
I had loved ten years ago
is as black as ever
and it is still as fascinating
to go out of this house
and then return home.

How strange it is
that water still flows
and the bridge still stands
in the middle of the stream
with its arms outstretched
even without God.


like stars in the sky
fish in the water
oxygen in the air

in the same way on this earth
mustard flowers

like the head of a matchstick
door of a house
boils on a back
flavour of fruit

in the same way . . .
in the same way . . .


Do you remember Noor Mian, Kedarnath Singh?
Wheat-coloured, Noor Mian?
Dwarf-like, Noor Mian?
Noor Mian, who was always
the last to return
from Rambagh market
after selling collyrium?

Do you remember anything at all
Kedarnath Singh?

You remember
the madarsa
the tamarind tree
the Immambara.

You remember from beginning to end
the nineteen-times table.

But can you
on your old and forgotten slate
add and subtract
and figure out
why Noor Mian
suddenly left
your basti one day?

But do you know
where he is now?
In Dhaka
or in Multan?

Can you tell
how many leaves
fall each year in Pakistan?

Why are you silent, Kedarnath Singh?
Is your arithmetic weak?


Suddenly one day
the meaning of

diamonds pearls
turmeric onions
Kabir Nirala
Heaven Hell
crickets mist

will become

just as
passing over
thatched roof
suddenly sparkles.


When I got there
I was afraid.

People of my city
it is terrifying to discover
that all the steps
of the city
lead up to
this place
where no one lives.

The Bullock

I don't know if he is still needed
Or not
But he is coming back,
Indifferent to the Tandoori Roti of the sinking sun,
With only moisture from the air and a bundle of grass
Upon his back. He comes
Like a colossal boulder rolling downhill.
He is walking
And he remembers only the track
Whisking him like his own tail, onward.

There is a smell
And he does not know its source
But it is there,
And somewhere a drum is sounding,
And trees are being felled within the forest,
And the lambs are treading upon his hooves.

A sudden snort
And his earns are erect.
This is the smell of new-mown hay, he tells himself,
And with fresh hope.
Surrenders his body
To the warmth and slumber of the entire community.

Between the crackling flames
And the tales nodding with sleep,
He alone is an animal that thinks
Of hay all day long
And of God all through the long night
The next day dawns, new
And cool and fresh
Suddenly he remembers the pasturelands.

He lifts his tail and having gone twenty-one times round
the dwelling place
Finds himself face to face with the plough
He is extremely pleased.
For the first time he feels
Glorious horns crowning his forehead,
And with redoubled vigour
He places his neck under the yoke.
And now, among the marshes,
Only his horns glimmer,
Until the day

Translated from the Hindi by Mrinal Pande.

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