Monday, August 13, 2007

Wordsmiths: Kekasih

scene of a Malaysian shoreI can't help but feel that my writing has been slipping... :(

I turn to my homeland for today's wordsmith, to pay tribute as Malaysia approaches half a century. Studying sastera or Malay literature at SPM (roughly equivalent to SATs or GCSEs) was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do, but I survived it. I do actually have a little fondness for the Malay language, though at the moment my grasp of it is really rusty!

Today's puisi (poem) comes from the late Usman Awang, who is arguably Malaysia's foremost poet-playwright. Born into a poor family, he dropped out of school at an early age, and worked briefly as a farmer and a police officer. After the war, he became a journalist, leaving the profession after protesting against perceived government interference in the running of Utusan Melayu. He subsequently joined the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, which I guess can be roughly likened to a Malaysian Oxford University Press, in that it wields institutional power over the Malay language (like OUP does with its dictionary) and publishes a couple of intellectual magazines. He died in 2001.

Usman Awang was instrumental in shaping the canon of sastera Melayu as we know it today. His poetry is widely praised as evocative and empathetic, frequently employing striking imagery. His works were blessed with the populist touch, with the kampung (village) often looming large in his ouevre; certainly he would never have been accused of elitism! He has been awarded the SEA Writers Award and was a National Poet Laureate.

Today's poem is Kekasih, or Beloved. I can't tell you very much about it, but it is lovely. Here it is in Bahasa Melayu. I will then attempt an English paraphrase. Instead of messing it up with a clunky word-for-word translation, I'll attempt to retain both the essential meaning and the poetic rhythm of the piece. (And probably still mess it up!) All you Malaysians, be polite and keep your laughter down, and do correct my inevitable mistakes! Isn't the ending so Matthew Arnold-ish?

Akan kupintal buih-buih
menjadi tali mengikatmu

Akan kuanyam gelombang-gelombang
menjadi hamparan ranjang tidurmu

Akan kutenun awan-gemawan
menjadi selendang menudungi rambutmu

Akan kujahit bayu gunung
menjadi baju pakaian malammu

Akan kupetik bintang timur
menjadi kerongsang menyinari dadamu

Akan kujolok bulan gerhana
menjadi lampu menyuluhi rindu

Akan kurebahkan matari
menjadi laut malammu
menghirup sakar madumu

hitunglah mimpi
yang membunuh realiti
dengan syurga ilusi.


I will braid these bubbles
into the tie that binds you

I will weave these billowing waves
into the bedspread that soothes your slumber

I will shape these wooly clouds
into the shawl that caresses your hair

I will sew the soft mountain breeze
into the nightgown which snugly clothes you

I will pluck the eastern star
to be the brooch which illumines your bosom

I will cajole the moon from its eclipse
to be the torch that gives light to our yearning

I will sink into your eyes
into the ocean of the night
sipping the sweetness of your honey.

let us count the dreams
which extinguish reality
with this illusion of paradise.

Usman Awang / paraphrase BK

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