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3 Poems by Kabir

April 29, 2013 by Reader's Connection

Songs of Kabir

These poems are from Songs of Kabir (2011, New York Review Books), and are used here with the publisher’s generous permission.

Kabir was born in Benares, India, to a family recently converted from Hinduism to Islam, and wrote his poems sometime in the 15th century.

The poems have been translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, who has written an introduction; and Wendy Doniger has written a preface (“Thus, though Kabir calls his god Rama (significantly, not Allah), his god is not the sa-guna Hindu Rama who marries Sita and kills Ravana or has any of the features or adventures that the Hindu Rama has; he is simply god.”)

If you haven’t experienced Kabir, before, and his ecstatic impatience with creeds and divisions and shows of piety, you’ve missed something. Please look at the publisher’s page about the book. 

***

Were the Creator
Concerned about caste,
We’d arrive in the world
With a caste mark on the forehead.

If you say you’re a Brahmin
Born of a mother who’s a Brahmin,
Was there a special canal
Through which you were born?

And if you say you’re a Turk
And your mother’s a Turk,
Why weren’t you circumcised
Before birth?

Nobody’s lower-caste;
The lower castes are everywhere.
They’re the ones
Who don’t have Rama on their lips,

Kabir says.

***

Easy, friend.
What’s the big fuss about?

Once dead,
The body that was stuffed with
Kilos of sweets
Is carried out to be burnt,
And the head on which
A bright turban was tied
Is rolled by crows in the dust.
A man with a stick
Will poke the cold ashes
For your bones.

But I’m wasting my time,
Says Kabir.
Even death’s bludgeon
About to crush your head
Won’t wake you up.

***

The mind’s a shortchanging
Huckster with a crafty
Wife and five
Scoundrel children.
It won’t change its ways.

The mind’s a knot, says Kabir,
Not easy to untie.

***

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