Transcending divisions of creed, challenging social distinctions of all sorts, and celebrating individual unity with the divine, the poetry of Kabir is one of passion and paradox, of mind-bending riddles and exultant riffs. These new translations by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, one of India’s finest contemporary poets, bring out the richness, wit, and power of a literary and spiritual master.
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s new translation of Kabir brings the poetry of the great 15th-century Indian poet and holy man to life in English for the first time. Not that others haven’t tried: Pound, Robert Bly and, most notably, Rabindranath Tagore in 1915, with a version consisting of thees, thous and thines, delivered in a sandalwood-scented prayer-book-ese that would not have been out of place atop a teak sidetable at one of Mme. Blavatsky’s legendary seances. But it is Mehrotra who has succeeded in capturing the ferocity and improvisational energy of Kabir’s poetry…..One of the more beautiful moments in this beautifully translated and conceived book comes, fittingly, on the last page of the volume in the commentary, of all places, following the final poem in the collection, one that begins: “I won’t come / I won’t go / I won’t live / I won’t die” and ends: “I’m nothing / says Kabir / I’m not among the living / Or the dead.”
— August Kleinzahler, The New York Times Book Review
Kabir’s famed iconoclasm, speed of thought, slashing paradoxical style, metaphorical zest and rhetorical brilliance have rarely been rendered into English better than in Mr. Mehrotra’s versions.
— Chandrahas Choudhury, The Wall Street Journal
This is a lovely book of translations of the poetry of Kabir, a truly visionary egalitarian thinker of the fifteenth century whose songs remain very alive in the folk tradition of north India. In bringing Kabir to an English-speaking audience, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra has made a major contribution to the global reach of that inspiring vision.
As Rumi is to the Sufis, so Kabir is to five centuries of Indians, less an individual author than a bullet exploding through their collective poetic gene pool. Pound tried his hand at Kabir, as did Bly and Milosz, but only Arvind Krishna Mehrotra captures the true voice of his anonymity—at once ecstatic and wry.
In Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s welcome new translation, Kabir’s songs emerge as totally fresh, full of wild energy and intensity, and both mocking and reverent.
—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company
Kabir was a poet for whom the sacred was inseparable from the satiric, the erotic, the sardonic, and the absurd, and he comes alive at last in English in Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s translation that is simultaneously a work of long scholarship and a jazz performance of the Kabir tradition.