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6. Pyrthei Mariang–The Natural World

Translation and Notes © Janet Hujon, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0137.06

The natural descriptions here are just as beautiful as in the preceding section but the poignancy is sharpened because they are set down in a mood of sad recollection. This is why the poet begins this section with a plea for inspiration as he seeks to fulfill his task of restoring the wonder and virtues of the past. This long look into the past from a present that is found to be wanting, creates a seam of tender pain which runs right though the composition springing from the tension that exists between what was, what is and what still might be. This in fact is a feature of a composition illustrating how the past, the present and the future coexist in a relationship of troubling unease. The poet goes in search of U Sohpet Beneng who represents the now severed umbilical cord that once linked Heaven and Earth and is “the He whom I love” now lost to humankind. U Sohpet Beneng is thus shown to be the mediator between God and Man.

The Natural World

Stars of truth once shone upon

The darkness of our midnight world

Oh Da-ia-mon, Oh Pen of Gold1

Put down all that there is to know

Awaken and illuminate

Before the dying of the light

O lift the gloom and lead me on

Away from shadows cast by trees,

Along the paths of silver streams

Draughts of wind-fresh I will drink

On cascade summit, abyss verge,

Oh where is He, He whom I love!2

Gradual was the dawn of light

In that age of innocence

Truth seeped slowly through our ears

Those echo-chambers built of stone

Scenic splendour in the sky

We took our time to see the sun

Roused by gentle springtime winds

The sun begins her journey down

Footprints green she leaves behind

In open fields and hidden shade

Life was pure, we were held safe

As children in our parents’ laps

Just before the Autumn calls

Insects, birds break into song

Steeped in joy the land, the living

And tranquil rests the mind of man

Then surged that flow of gold-glint tears

Its headspring though… he could not find

Perhaps the Spirit Queen of Earth

Sees with vision bright and true

How stars from teardrops congregate

In waters of an endless ocean.

Into the Garden, God steps down

Beguiling time away with man3

On distant peaks they linger

Those children of the gods

Their eyes rest soft on earth’s great rivers

As they listen to the Riyar’s song4

Peace contentment reigned supreme

Before the Heavenly Cord was cleaved5

Our streams and rivers flowed along

Well-traced paths on boulder rock

So too the Golden Ladder scaled

Movement safe from dawn to dusk

Night a time of sound repose

Day was mother to a virtuous race

Under a roof soot-sodden thick

Night plucks the strings—kynting-ting-ting

A blush burns deep on a girlish cheek

Intense the gaze of the perfect moon6

Dried fish and rice my mother served

What joy replete in humble fare

Slander shunned, deceit abhorred

Truth in its prime stood resolute

The skies a clear cerulean blue,

Gently passed that time of gold

When those who trod the skin of earth

Were all held fast in God’s embrace

Then the land was free of taint

In sun-brief moments ripening swift,

And there amidst the blossom, fruit

The faces of young maidens, men;

If there be other wondrous lands

To them O then do let me fly!

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0137.18


1 Khasi pronunciation of the word “diamond” which I have retained to sustain the rhythm.

2 From the point of view of those who retain the indigenous faith, this is a reference to a Saviour who will restore the Golden Ladder between Heaven and Earth. From the point of the Christian Khasi this is a reference to Christ. Soso Tham was a devout Christian.

3 An approximate translation of the Khasi expression “ïaid kai”. The adverb “kai” suggests a mood that has no single English word as an equivalent and yet is very much a part of Khasi identity, and it concerns me that in a world fixated on status and material success, we might be losing this trait. We have banished ourselves from Eden to enter the rat race whatever the cost. “Kai” possesses a sense of pleasurable purposelessness. “Ïaid kai (rambling, strolling in the manner of a flaneur); “shongkai (sit around), “peitkai (just looking), “leitkai (a leisurely outing) and so on. Perhaps “hanging out” or “chill” best approaches the feeling contained in the word although both these words indicate an attitude that involves premeditation or conscious choice and therefore do not possess the relaxed spontaneity of the easy going “kai” which has a connotation of freedom to roam, to look, to relax—“for free”—in a world that is not bound by the demands of time. Even the act of voicing the gliding diphthong “ai” is a long drawn out process expanding time and gently seductive. So the fact that God came down to “ïaid kai” in this plausible Eden in the Khasi hills underlines a sympathy for natural harmony that permeates our being and I hope will not be totally erased from our troubled state gripped by the tightening coils of corruption vividly described in Ki Sngi Barim for yes, as in the Biblical Eden, Tham’s Ka Persyntiew (The Flower Garden) also shelters a dangerous embodiment of evil—the serpent.

4 A songbird in the Sohra region.

5 See Chapter 3, pp. 1920, when the Golden Ladder between heaven and earth was cut.

6 No matter that the Moon is male in Khasi, the beauty of this heavenly body is celebrated as in other cultures. A handsome young man is compared to a perfect moon who has bloomed for fourteen midnights.