Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stray Birds and Autumn Leaves

stray bird

Stray Birds

Stray birds of summer come to my
   window to sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autumn, which
   have no songs, flutter and fall
   there with a sigh.

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

Paris: Absence


Ruth said...

Look at the tiny detailed feathers, wow. And the bird is the colors of autumn too.

I hear a little melancholy in this post.

rauf said...

Did he really say stray birds ? i have to know. i don't know what he wrote in Bengali. have no Bengali friends. oh yes i have one Mahua, she lives in California now. But she wouldn't know, she spent most of her life in Pune, other end of India.

Our friend Tagore was greatly influenced by 19th century Urdu poets.

'Aawara Parindy' (its a beauty) in Urdu, loosley translated Vagabond birds, aimless not stray. i don't like the word stray here Claudia.

Urdu speaking guys are nit picking idiots. i was thankful at the dining table for what i received. Perhaps that is way i was pampered. But the other male members ( idiots came later when sisters got married) would criticise the food for slightest mistakes. Mom and sisters were excellent cooks. Shut up and eat i would say to them. i don't remember my father ever criticising the food.

i am not always happy with translations Claudia, you lose the essence of the whole thing.

Peepli(live) is a new Hindi film (Hindi is not as delicate as Urdu)
Film is about a village called Peepli characters speak an Urdu dialect. This film is being sent for Oscar nominations from India. I watched the film with English subtitles. The wry humour which is the essence of the movie was completely missing in the subtitles.

oh i love this Montand guy. Here again I have to bring Urdu Claudia, He expressed pain with so much ease without using words.

Trulyfool said...


As I read, the song "Les Feuilles Mortes" did flash and disappear until I saw you had linked the Yves Montand. (At some point I downloaded a version by Juliet Greco.)

It's interesting to me to read rauf's comments. I suspect whoever translated Tagore's words wanted 'stray' to hold onto 'summer'.

But the word stray seems to carry a suggestion of 'set-asideness', whereas 'vagabond' (if that's the better meaning) is more willed, if still unrooted. A choice to avoid 'place'.

'Nomad' would be a choice I'd try, though it loses the assonance, and has two syllables. Not sure if this English is trying to keep close to the original in form.

If not, lots of possibilities?


rauf said...

oh 'more willed' as TF says.
i like that. My own aimlessness is more willed i can say.
Thank you TF, my English is punctured.

See i missed the essence of this post by nit picking. Ruth got it.

Claudia please have an ice cream and a bar of chocolate. chocolate first and ice cream later ? or chocolate ice cream if you don't have time.

Trulyfool said...


How about:

Nomad birds tent at my summer window/Then, in a blink, take away their song/Leaving the voiceless leaves/To flutter down -- to Fall -- with a sigh.


I don't think I would recognize Bengali's sound vis-a-vis Urdu's sound. I know neither language, so my insensitivity to the translation is a given.

I do know a bit of translation, of translation of poetry, to know how English can be jockeyed around. Some translators go for as literal a transcription as possible. Some try for the 'sense of it'.

I've only worked from the English of your posting -- no doubt an established poet of consequence. Not meaning to dishonor that translation, let's say he or she 'lateraled the ball' my way and I took it a few more yards.

(Still unhappy about my capitalization and non- of the seasons)

rauf said...

That's more delicate perhaps near translation Trulyfool.

Stray from the herd
stray from the path
stray from the pack
it can used for birds also perhaps.

i apologise for capitalisation of your name as i am quite reluctant to call you Trulyfool.

Claudia said...

Ruth, isn't the transition from Summer to Autumn a bit melancholic? The time when the songs of summer birds are replaced by songless falling leaves... Not that I don't love Autumn, in fact it's my favorite season.

Claudia said...

Dear rauf,

I like this poem with the word stray, even if it's a mistranslation. I don't know if its essence is the same as originally intended in Bengali but I like it. A lot.
Stray means separated from a group, left behind, not following the course all others follow. Like the goldcrest bird in the photo: it only rested on my window for a minute and then flew away, no other summer birds around anymore, it's too cold, they've flown away to warmer places. I think the poem reflects the transition from summer to autumn beautifully well. It is a bit melancholic, as Ruth said, but when the vibrant beauty of summer song is replaced by the mellower, more introspective beauty of songless falling leaves some melancholy ensues.

Claudia said...


Your take on the poem with vagabond or nomad gives it perhaps a bit more of a sad or disenchanted feel. The stray version is melancholic but not sad, mellow without a trace of bitterness. From the moment a "willed" circumstance is introduced, so is bitterness, even if slight.

Claudia said...

Just confirmed that the translation from Bengali to English is by Rabindranath Tagore himself.

Trulyfool said...


Who will take on the Master in his own home?! Not I!

The melancholy you (and we all) feel is almost a given for the seasonal change. The imagery built in there, and in words like 'stray', 'away', 'fall', and 'sigh' take us emotionally in an undeniable direction.

And the phrases 'yellow leaves' and 'no songs'. He translates to a direct, simple diction which goes straight to us.

My spin does, as you do read it, complicate things slightly (and in so doing may not do what he would want). The 'nomad' image is less accidental than the quick bird. It's got a human association and deliberateness (and that may go against Tagore's point).

And the suggestion that the departing nomad birds 'leave' the leaves, there is a touch of negligence as though they had a choice of staying.

If birds (like humans?) leave without a second thought as to what they leave behind, then, it's true, there very well might be a bitter irony to it.

It could be that Tagore's directness reflects either his (or Bengali?) 'take' on accident or seasonal process or change. It could be, then, that my 'translation' (if it qualifies as such) might reflect 2010 rather than 1910 (date?).

It could be that my own spin tends to be ironic, so I read things that way and would convey my readings that way.

All this is way too much commentary for a lovely little poem by a poet of substance.

I apologize, Claudia, and to rauf, also -- note my nom-de-blog is indeed Trulyfool, a blatantly ironic choice for a guy who in his everyday is buoyant, cheerful, upbeat -- always wishing to find the explosion of 'spiritual rightness' even in the purchase of a coffee.