A poem on Freedom

Frances Berenson’s “Understanding Art and Understanding Person” starts with the question that “whether it is possible to understand the art of other


culture.” The following is a translation of a poem by Bengali poet Shamsur Rahman. As suggested by the title, it is on freedom. Let’s see if we can dissect, understand and appreciate it. Consider these question: 1. Why did the poet choose to describe his idea of freedom in this way? 2. What is your definition of freedom and how is it similar to the poet’s? (If you need anymore info on the poet, follow this wikipedia(That’s the best I was able to find on the net) link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamsur_Rahman. The poem also refers to some other important and famous bengali poets. Look them up in the net if you need to.

This is the poem:

Freedom, you’re
Rabi Thakur’s timeless poetry and everlasting lyrics.

Freedom, you’re
Kazi Nazrul, his willowy mane swaying,
rapturous with the joy of creation, a great man.
Freedom, you’re
the radiant gathering at Shahid Minar on the
immortalized February 21.
Freedom, you’re
the flag-draped, slogan-serenaded boisterous
Freedom, you’re
the farmer’s beam amidst his fields.
Freedom, you’re
the lightsome swim of a village lass in a pond in
mid-day sun.
Freedom, you’re
the sinewy muscle on a young laborer’s sun-bronzed,
skilled arms.
Freedom, you’re
the gleam in a freedom-fighter’s eyes, scanning the
horizon draped in darkness.
Freedom, you’re
the crisply-worded, spirited speech of a bright, young
learner in the shade of a banyan tree.
Freedom, you’re
the tumult of chats in tea-shops, parks and fields.
Freedom, you’re
the roaring swoop of kal-boishakhi across the horizon.
Freedom, you’re
the heart of river Meghna, shoreless in Sraban.
Freedom, you’re
the soft stretch of father’s chivalrous prayer-mat.
Freedom, you’re
the ripples on mother’s bright sari spread out on the
Freedom, you’re
the hue of henna on sister’s gentle hands.
Freedom, you’re
the colorful poster, tremulous as starlight in the
hands of a friend.

Freedom, you’re
the homemaker’s raven hair, luxurious and undone,
untamed and wild in the wind.
Freedom, you’re:
the colorful jacket on a lad.
the playful sunlight bouncing off a young girl’s supple
Freedom, you’re:
The home amidst a flower garden; the warble of
The twittering leaves of antediluvian banyan trees.
My notebook of poetry, to pen poems as I please.

Translated by Syed M. Islam. Copyrighted, 2004.



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2 Responses to A poem on Freedom

  1. Adrianna Mathew says:

    Before I comment on anything else, I wanted to talk about the notion of “non-translatability” that Berenson mentioned in his work. He talked about language having the this interpersonal method of learning and understanding. He says, “Concepts and thus understanding and meaning are logically dependent for their sense on social interaction.” So taking this into consideration, we can use the first line of the translated version of poem “Freedom, you’re” in Bengali “shadhinota tumi.” the translation, quite literal in its verse takes away from the aura of the line itself in its Bengali version. Even reading it out, I feel as if though there is this hidden sentiment and virtue in the Bengali version of the poem that has not transcended into the english translation of the poem.
    This is why, I tend to disagree with Berenson when he say to understand a work of art of another culture, knowledge of the culture is only needed “on a certain level.” In order to understand the “freedom” that Shamsur Saab’s words are emphasizing, or even the reason why I regard to him as “Saab”, the reader must have a deep understanding of the Bengali traditions and the socio-cultural emphasis placed behind it. Certain lines mentioning aspects of Bengali culture like Rabi Thakur, Shahid Minar, “flag-draped, slogan-serenaded boisterous processions,” tea shops, kal-boishakhi, etc., etc. is so foreign to someone who’s culture does not have the same social and cultural impositions on any of these. To think of American culture specifically, where do we see conversations occuring in tea shops? First of all there are no tea shops in America; there are Starbuck’s and Dunkin Donuts and other commercialized beverage selling stores but the tea shops that Shamsur Saab is talking about in these poems are tiny little stalls that are run by families who sell a hot cup of chai along side a happening plate of gossip about their neighbor’s daughter’s marriage. There are just no cultural equities in the American culture! So how is it that a reader will be able to understand what Shamsur Saab is referring to without having an in-depth understanding of the Bengali culture?

    • Ahmed Ashraf says:

      This is exactly what I was going for when I posted it. The poet compares freedom to people, things, monuments, events and experiences that are specific to the poet’s culture. To understand and appreciate this poem, one not only have to understand what these specific reference are, but also have to understand what these references means specifically to the Bengali culture. One have to understand what these references symbolize and how much and what ways the references are valued in the culture. You are right when you say that the translation lacks the aura. The original sounds so beautiful, at least to me, that it can overwhelm you with different emotions, ranging from love and peace to anger and rage. This also add another requirements to the list: being able to understand the emotions behind these references. This is similar to the “Strong Relativism” theory Berenson mentions. I feel that he couldn’t really tackle that theory.

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