In The Target is Behind the Sky (Fifty Poems of Kabir) Sunil Uniyal brings to life the poems or “utterances” of the Hindi mystic Kabir.The translations beautifully evoke Kabir’s imaginative yet down-to-earth writings and give welcome glimmers of the awakenings the medieval poet hoped to encourage.
The title poem is one of Kabir’s bhajans or devotional songs. Here is Sunil’s rendering:
“The Target’s Behind the Sky”
The target is behind the sky
the sun’s on the right the moon on the left-
in between it remains hidden
this body is a bow
the mind its string
and the Word its arrow – aimed straight
the messenger of the True Guru – that it is –
this arrow has pierced through the body impure
but this arrow doesn’t any injury inflict –
they know who have, indeed, felt it
says Kabir, listen, O wise one,
those who have known,
they only acknowledge it
Sunil Uniyal is a poet in his own right, having written many poems and haiku.
And like Kabir, he has lived both a poetic/spiritual and worldly life. I think it is these experiences that help make these poems so accessible. In addition to being a poet, Kabir made his living as a weaver; Sunil has served as both an Under Secretary with the Government of India and previously Customs Inspector (bringing to mind notable American writers Melville and Hawthorne).
I enjoyed reading this new book. I have long been fond of Kabir’s poems, and Sunil’s translations brought them alive in a new way. In today’s busy and often confusing world, Kabir’s questionings are good to keep in mind. Consider the admonition that begins “Having Crossed the River”:
having crossed the river,
where will you go, O friend?
there’s no road to tread,
no traveller ahead,
neither a beginning, nor an end.
You can read Sunil’s own writings in literary e-journals like Museindia, Kritya, Haiku Dreaming Australia, and elsewhere. And you can purchase The Target is Behind the Sky at poetrywriting.org.