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The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008

Jayanta Mahapatra

Mahapatra, Jayanta;

The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008

Authorpress, 2008, 198 pages

ISBN 8172734743 9788172734749

topics: |  poetry | single-author | indian-english

Selection of hundred and eight of his poems, starting from his very earliest collection, Rain of Rites to a selection of poems for this book.



Not yet.
Under the mango tree
The cold ash of a deserted fire.

Who needs the future?

A ten-year-old girl
combs her mother's hair,
where crows of rivalries
are quietly nesting.

The home will never
be hers.

In a corner of her mind
a living green mango
drops softly to earth.

Dhauli p.22

	   [the version here has been edited from its original publication
	    in the volume Waiting (1979).  Personally, I am not too sure
	    the edits are for the better.   The poem is one of the more
	    philosophical ones, and perhaps JM is trying to work on the
	    craft, but I would have been happy with the earlier craft! ]

Afterwards when the wars of Kalinga were over,
the fallow fields of Dhauli
hid the blood-spilt butchered bodies.   [originally "red-smeared voiceless bodies"]

As the earth
burrowed into their dead hunger
with its mercilesss worms,		  [was "tortured worms"]
guided the foxes to their limp genitals.

Years later, the evening wind,
trembling the glazed waters of the River Daya,
keens in the rock edicts the vain word,
like the voiceless cicadas of night:    [was "shuttered silence, an air:"]

the measure of Ashoka's suffering
does not appear enough.
The place of his pain peers lamentably
from among the pains of the dead.

Dawn at puri p.14

	Endless crow noises
	A skull in the holy sands
	tilts its empty country towards hunger.

	White-clad widowed Women
	past the centers of their lives
	are waiting to enter the Great Temple

	Their austere eyes
	stare like those caught in a net
	hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith.

	The fail early light catches
	ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another,
	a mass of crouched faces without names,

	and suddenly breaks out of my hide
	into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
	that fills my aging mother:

    	her last wish to be cremated here
     	twisting uncertainly like light
	on the shifting sands

Grandfather: Jayanta Mahapatra p.67


     The yellowed diary's notes whisper in vernacular.
     They sound the forgotten posture,
     the cramped cry that forces me to hear that voice.
     Now I stumble back in your black-paged wake.

     No uneasy stir of cloud
     darkened the white skies of your day; the silence
     of dust grazed in the long afterniin sun, ruling
     the cracked fallow earth, ate into the laughter of your flesh.

     For you it was the hardest question of all.
     Dead, empty tress stood by the dragging river,
     past your weakened body, flailing against your sleep.
     You thought of the way the jackals moved, to move.

     Did you hear the young tamarind leaves rustle
     in the cold mean nights of your belly?  Did you see
     your own death?  Watch it tear at your cries,
     break them into fits of unnatural laughter?

     How old were you?  Hunted, you turned coward and ran,
     the real animal in you plunigng through your bone.
     You left your family behind, the buried things,
     the precious clod that praised the quality of a god.

     The impersihable that swung your broken body,
     turned it inside out?  What did faith matter?
     What Hindu world so ancient and true for you to hold?
     Uneasily you dreamed toward the center of your web.

     The separate life let you survive, while perhaps
     the one you left wept in the blur of your heart.
     Now in a night of sleep and taunting rain
     My son and I speak of that famine nameless as snow.

     A conscience of years is between us.  He is young.
     The whirls of glory are breaking down for him before me.
     Does he think of the past  as a loss we have lived, our own?
     Out of silence we look back now at what we do not know.

     There is a dawn waiting beside us, whose signs
     are a hundred odd years away from you, Grandfather.
     You are an invisible piece on a board
     Whose move has made our children grow, to know us,

     carrying us deep where our voices lapse into silence.
     We wish we knew you more.
     We wish we knew what it was to be, against dying,
     to know the dignity

     that had to be earned dangerously,
     your last chance that was blindly terrifying, so unfair.
     We wish we had not to wake up with our smiles
     in the middle of some social order.

The Indian way : Jayanta Mahapatra 158

	The long, dying silence of the rain
	over the hills
	opens one's touch,
	a feeling for the soul's substance,
	as for the opal neck
	spiralling the inside of a shell.

	We keep calm; the voices move.
	I buy you the morning's lotus.

	we would return again and again
	to the movement
	that is neither forward nor backward,
	making us
	stop moving, without regret.

	You know:
	I will not touch you, like _that
	until our wedding night.

Taste for Tomorrow: Jayanta Mahapatra p.21

At Puri, the crows.

The one wide street
lolls out like a giant tongue.

Five faceless lepers move aside
as a priest passes by.

And at the streets end
the crowds thronging the temple door:
a huge holy flower
swaying in the wind of greater reasons.

A Summer Poem: Jayanta Mahapatra

Over the soughing of the sombre wind
priests chant louder than ever;
the mouth of India opens.

Crocodiles move into deeper waters.

Mornings of heated middens
smoke under the sun.

The good wife
lies in my bed
through the long afternoon;
dreaming still, unexhausted
by the deep roar of funeral pyres.

		[Note: midden = dunghill]

Hunger : Jayanta Mahapatra p.24

It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself.
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes.

I followed him across the sprawling sands,
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling.
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound.
The wind was I, and the days and nights before.
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls.
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen...
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile.
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.

Of that love

Of that love, of that mile
walked together in the rain,
only a weariness remains.

I am that stranger now
my mirror holds to me;
the moment's silence
hardly moves across the glass
I pity myself in another's guise.

And no one's back here, no one
I can recognize, and from my side
I see nothing.  Years have passed
since I sat with you, watching
the sky grow lonelier with cloudlessness
waiting for your body to make it lived in.

Sanskrit: Jayanta Mahapatra p.23


Awaken them; they are knobs of sound
that seem to melt and crumple up
like some jellyfish of tropical seas,
torn from sleep with a hand lined by prophecies.
Listen hard; their male, gaunt world sprawls the page
like rows of tree trunks reeking in the smoke
of ages, the branches glazed and dead
as though longing to make up with the sky,
but having lost touch with themselves
were unable to find themselves, hold meaning.

And yet, down the steps into the water at Varanasi,
where the lifeless bodies seem to grow human,
the shaggy heads of word-buds move back and forth
between the harsh castanets of the rain
and the noiseless feathers of summer -
aware that their syllables' overwhelming silence
would not escape the hearers now, and which
must remain that mysterious divine path
guarded by drifts of queer, quivering banyans:
a language of clogs over cobbles, casting
its uncertain spell, trembling sadly into mist.

II. A naked cowardice

The Vase : Jayanta Mahapatra p.55

The strong south wind hits our faces again,
it's October;
sunsets are fiery red
and the waters of wells are clear already--
there we are, under the mango tree,
in the old house, amid the drift of things,
the vase on the bookcase
with shadows of swifts reeling round it,
and we don't know whether we are alone any more.

But each day
we watch the swifts come and go,
watch the still-slender, teasing whore
who shuffles down the crowded road and finds out
that the middle-aged man surreptitiously following her
is only listening to the slowing sounds
of his own heart; and we sit and long
for the child who left in 'seventy-three,
and behave like our bitch that catches a scent
and sniffs about in the air.

We look around today and the day after tomorrow,
remembering those who caught us like irrigation-canals
across the dry nights in the distant countryside,
and remembering, suddenly, someone
who once envied us and our bodies
so impudent, glistening with rain.

Ah, this voice I hear now,
what answer do I owe you?
The tree trembles in the wind,
the house where we once made love
now weakens at the knees.  And all the time
that gathered into those moments
fills the grave of the vast vase with dust.

The Moon Moments: p.36

    The faint starlight rolls restlessly on the mat.
    Those women talking outside have clouds passing across their eyes.
    Always there is a moon that is taking me somewhere.
    Why does one room invariably lead into other room?

    We, opening in time our vague doors,
    convinced that our minds lead to something never allowed before,
    sit down hurt under the trees, feeding it simply because
    it is there, as the wind does, blowing against the tree.

    Yet time is not clairvoyant,
    and if it has the answer to our lives, proud
    in its possession of that potential which can change our natures,
    beating the visions of childhood out of us,

    the socialism and the love,
    until we remain awkwardly swung to the great north of honour.
    What humility is that which will not let me reveal the real?
    What shameful secret lies hidden in the shadows of my moon?

    All these years; our demands no longer hurt our eyes.
    How can I stop the life I lead within myself--
    The startled, pleading question in my hands lying in my lap
    while the gods go by, triumphant, in the sacked city at midnight?

Ash: Jayanta Mahapatra p.417

The substance that stirs in my palm
could well be a dead man; no need
to show surprise at the dizzy acts of wind.
My old father sitting uncertainly three feet away

is the slow cloud against the sky:
so my heart's beating makes of me a survivor
over here where the sun quietly sets.
The ways of freeing myself:

the glittering flowers, the immensity of rain for example,
which were limited to promises once
have had the lie to themselves. And the wind,
that had made simple revelation in the leaves,

plays upon the ascetic-faced vision of waters;
and without thinking
something makes me keep close to the walls
as though I was afraid of that justice in the shadows.

Now the world passes into my eye:
the birds flutter toward rest around the tree,
the clock jerks each memory towards
the present to become a past, floating away
like ash, over the bank.

My own stirrings like the wind's
keep hoping for the solace that would be me
in my father's eyes
to pour the good years back on my;

the dead man who licks my palms
is more likely to encourage my dark intolerance
rather than turn me
toward some strangely solemn charade:

the dumb order of the myth
lined up in the life-field,
the unconcerned wind perhaps truer than the rest,
rustling the empty, bodiless grains.


I. The sad green of bamboo groves

 1. Summer
 2. Dhauli
 3. Pain
 4. The Day After My Friends Became Godly and Great
 5. Dawn at Puri
 6. Village Evening
 7. Grandfather
 8. Again, One Day, Walking by the River
 9. The Abandoned British Cemetery at Balasore
10. Shapes by the Daya
11. The Indian Way
12. The Lost Children of America
13. Taste for Tomorrow
14. The Quality of Ruins
15. The Faith
16. A Summer Poem
17. Events
18. A Monsoon Day Fable
19. If s My Room Once Again
20. Samsara
21. Landscape
22. Hunger
23. This is the Season of the Old Rain
24. Sickles
25. River
26. Life Signs
27. A Country
28. Myth
29. Sanskrit
30. The Absence of Knowledge

II. A naked cowardice

 1. Relationship
 2. Traveller
 3. The Trail of Poetry
 4. Doors
 5. Shadows
 6. The Hour from the Window
 7. Another Hour's Bell
 8. Trying to Keep Still
 9. A Day of Rain
10. The Vase
11. A Missing Person
12. Of that love
13. Dust
14. Ann
15. Shadow
16. The Mountain
17. The Moon Moments
18. A Hint of Grief
19. Of a Questionable Conviction
20. Someone in My Room
21. The Hollow Mouth
22. Rice
23. The Predicament
24. The Hour before Dawn
25. Unreal Country
26. Father
27. Bone of Time
28. The Dawn of a New Year
29. The Looking Glass
30. Ash
31. Dead River
32. Collaboration
33. The Woman Who Wanted to be Loved

III. Arrow to the heart

 1. Possessions
 2. Death's Wild Land
 3. The Fifteenth of August
 4. All the Poetry There is

	All the poetry there is in the world
	Appears to rise out of the ashes.
	The ash sits between us
	And puts its arms across our shoulders.
	It makes the world so empty quiet.
	For there is nothing like the ashes
	To remind us how little there is to say.
	Because poetry
	Doesn't have to raise its voice.
	Like the death of my father
	It lies only a year down the road,
	Supporting the days too heavy for us.
	No matter what games the ashes play,
	Poetry simply wants to know
	What sort of thing was war, or a sunset,
	Perhaps a bizarre crime...

 5. Of Independence Day
 6. Mother Teresa
 7. Freedom
 8. Scream
 9. The Land that is Not
10. In God's Night
11. Violence
12. Waiting for the Summer of 1994
13. The Stones
14. Dawn
15. Deaths in Orissa
16. A Morning Walk in Bhopal
17. The Hill
18. The Wound
19. Heroism
20. About My Favourite Things
21. The Stories in Poetry
22. The Lines of My Poem
23. Postcard from Home

IV. Shores of darkness and light

 1. I Hear My Fingers Sadly Touching an Ivory Key
 2. Farewell
 3. The Door
 4. Things that Happen
 5. The Shore
 6. The Plot
 7. Making No Secret of Death
 8. Talking of Death
 9. From a Requiem
10. From Temple : The Shrine

V. The lie of dawns

 1. The Sprouting Grass
 2. Silence
 3. Four Poems
 4. Pain is Something that Happens in the Room
 5. Illness
	Something moves backward, suddenly,
	more like words without letters or sense
	like the flintstone's fire
	an empty stare of seas feeding back
	into streams, leaving behind a sky
	so white one can't find the way out.

	The deep voice of the scarlet hibiscus
	has just strength enough
	to reach its own shadow...

 6. The Poet's Death
 7. A Full Moon Night
 8. Here and Elsewhere
 9. At Times a Man Growing Old
10. Old Things to Talk Over
11. A Grey Haze Over the Ricefields
12. The Lie of Dawns

Other reviews

Layered with meaning : Himansu Mohapatra

	The Hindu 5 sep 2010


This comprehensive volume... has representative poems from fourteen out of
sixteen volumes of poetry he has published till date, starting, appropriately
enough, with the third volume, Waiting (1979). With this, Mahapatra burst
onto the scene of Indian English Poetry in the nineteen seventies with his,
to quote him, ‘language plus' approach to writing verse. The volume includes,
alas, just one poem ("The Sprouting Grass") translated into English by the
poet from the original Oriya, permitting us a quick glimpse of his

Creating worlds

[his] verse hinges on ambiguity. But ambiguity is not a mere formal
matter in Mahapatra. It cuts to his poetry's very bone. Since Mahapatra
creates his world out of ordinary words and things such as stone, ash, wood,
dust and bone, he cannot make them take on a burden of meaning without
pushing them beyond their linguistic borders. The stretching makes the
cultural coding of these words, their significations, explicit in order for
us to die for or vie against them.

To give just one example, the Oriya deity, Lord Jagannath, who is a pervasive
presence in his poetry, is carved of wood and hence the troubled reflection
on the ‘haunted wood and the hunted myth' and the ‘swaddled sod' ("The Lost
Children of America"). In invoking these words and their subconscious
meanings and associations Mahapatra's poetry operates simultaneously on the
sacred and the secular planes. We see the mythic invocation at the start of
his Sahitya Akademi award-winning iconic poem "Relationship", which is an
extended meditation on the sense of place, identity and belonging.  These
lines, reminiscent of Eliot's gesture of expiation, show why:

	Those who've been my friends ...
	have known only how to keep walking toward themselves
	along the upraised road, unsullied by guilt and belief:
	the rapture of ownership on their voluble faces

As the long poem unfolds, myths of his home land are seen in close interplay
with what Mahapatra calls ‘this earth-sense'. "We are delivered by the myth",
says the poet. But poetry for him clearly has many other uses and ruses, not
the least of which is a simultaneous interrogation of and quest for the
self. The fact of the self being trapped within a ‘social order'
("Grandfather") produces the angst of Mahapatra's poetry which then has for
its goal the self's authentication.

read more of Jayanta Mahapatra's poems on book excerptise: * Selected Poems (1987)
* Door Of Paper: Essays And Memoirs (2007)
* Translation: I can, but why should I go by Sakti Chattopadhyay (1994)

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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Jul 23