Grass - Pash, Carl Sandburg
Yesterday was the last of the series of poems by Telugu poets. If you would like to explore more poetry from the last century by telugu poets in English translation, I would direct you to Velcheru Narayan Rao’s anthology on Tentieth Century Telugu poetry, as well as his essays on the various poets and literary movements. It has been a great find for me, and it has given me immense joy in sharing it with you.
I’m using Srirangam Narayan Babu’s “A blade of grass” as a segway into two poems I have wanted to share since I started this initiative. If Narayan-babu used grass as a metaphor to comment on the oppressive practices of Brahmins, and turned “a blade of grass” into an anthem of resistance, (Avtar Singh Sandu urf) Pash focuses his energies on a direct political comment, a contemplation on the relentlessness and the banality of revolution. It is a very powerful poem, focus on a single idea, and it talks about the “work” of the revolution, while invoking the state’s unjustified and absurd violence on its own people.
Pash’s poem is inspired by Carl Sandburg’s “grass” - a recontextualisation with a few other elements that allow Pash to make it his own, and sing the same song in a different register, surrounded by different audiences.
Sandburg, like Pash, wrote poetry that was political, but with none of the trappings of post-modern formal abstraction.
“... Sandburg had entered into the language of the people; he was not looking at it as a scientific phenomenon or a curiosity.... He was at home with it.” - Richard Crowder, “Carl Sandburg”
Pash wrote his first poem at the age of 15, went to jail when he turned 19, and was killed at 38 by Khalistani extremists. I haven’t been to a single political rally or discussion about political art, where Pash’s work hasn’t been referenced.
He doesn’t mince his words. Every time I read him I feel implicated - sometime energised by his ideals, sometimes disappointed that I cannot do more. But it is always, always, a reaffirmation of what I hold as truth. Pash’s poetry makes the reader feel deeply connected with the world. The piercing gaze of his language drives straight through smokescreens constructed by those in power. Maybe that is why the grand illusionist Modi decided to take his poetry off NCERT textbooks. Fascist leaders lack the imagination to perceive that banning something only immortalises it.
I’ve shared below a hindi translation, English transliteration of the Hindi, the original Pash poem in Gurmukhi and Carl Sandburg’s English poem