WORDS DON'T DIE OF COLD Poem by Kedarnath Singh


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'

Kedarnath Singh

Kedarnath Singh

Chakia, Ballia, Uttar Pradesh / India
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