& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Scarlet Muse


Thanks to the efforts of my nephew Tapan Ramchandran, I have received a copy of The Scarlet Muse, an anthology of Polish poems translated into English by Umadevi (Wanda Dynowska) and Harischandra Bhatt (my grandfather).

The anthology was published in 1944 by Nalanda Publishers (NM Tripathi Limited), Princess Street, Bombay.

About a couple of years back, I had tried to get a copy of the anthology for Aleksandra Skiba is a librarian at Pomeranian Library (The Central Library of the West Pomeranian Province) in the Polish city of Szczecin.

Skiba, the researcher and librarian, had done good work unearthing information about Harischandra and Umadevi available in Polish library archives. If you’re interested, you may read the earlier posts here: Rediscovering a poet.

Poland is engulfed in a fresh bout of constitutional crisis. I’m reproducing two poems from the anthology from the World War II era, but have resonance even today.

The Song of Warsaw

(Broadcast by the Warsaw radio station Blyskawica)

With our feet on the grave, still our spirits
are high,
Fighting Warsaw fights on, none here weeps
in despair!
We straddle the Hun and with bare hands we try
To strangle the beast as he creeps to his lair.
While you still complain of the bloodshed
and flame
Devouring Warsaw as day succeeds day,
We here with our bare breasts the enemy stay
And laugh at your praise and suggestions of
fame.

But why must your song of lamenting still
sound
When everyone, men, women, children are
found
Fighting and bleeding for Poland, for home!
Let the mournful dirges no longer be heard.

Here beats the great heart of Poland – intact!
Warsaw speaks! Warsaw thunders! And
this is her word:
“Spare us your praise. Give us arms. We
must act!”

(Translated by Elizabeth Clark Reiss)

The other poem is The Muse Scarlet (perhaps the poem which gave the anthology its name).

The poem is by Marian Hemar (1901-1972). When the anthology was published, Hemar, a Polish Jew, was alive and in exile in London, having escaped the clutches of the dreaded Gestapo. He could never return to Poland, because the Communist regime that ruled Poland after the end of the war. He died in England in 1972.

The Muse Scarlet

O Poetry full of grace
Do pray for us.
Thy honour is now coming
In thunder’s crash,
Thy hour is now pouring
In torrents of flame.
Lift up on us thy golden face
Thy wonderous countenance.

The glare of God’s wrath
Falls upon us,
Cast thyself in despair like a lion
On the path of His blaze,
Seize His hand which lifts up
His heavy sword over our heads,
O Poetry! Thou art the last
Rampart of Polish defences!

O walls of Zbarazh!*
Of Kamyenyets** invincibly proud
O tower of Mountain of Light!
Westerplatte falls,
Hell – villains will steal,
But thou wilt endure
Holy fortress of our Poets great.

Over our heads that lie in dust
Burst the bowl of thy dew.
Grant the grace of a sob
To our dumb, silent lips.
Wash our wounds and defeats
With thy holy tears.
O Poetry! Kneel and weep
And pray thou for us.

When by the flame
All words are twisted and curled
Like metal’s shabby plates,
Thou knowest alone the secret
Of words which defy all fires,
Born themselves out of flames,
Words – tears, words which are
Bread and salt of all life,
Which grow from the soil
And from heaven come down.

Sweep thou above us!
In a current og blazing white
And another of crimson-blood!
O poet, your hand to the standard!
No wreath for your brow,
No place for laurels now,
What matters it’s the flag
Not the hand
That holds the shaft

* a city at present in Ukraine
** a city at present in Belarus

No comments:

Post a comment