Monday, April 25, 2005

Dhondup Gyal: Tibet's First Modern Poet

Dhondup Gyal is considered the first modern Tibetan poet breaking through traditional Tibetan formalist elements. On the page, his verse appears almost projective. He began publishing in the 1980''s. Sad to say, he committed suicide in 1985. The two works published before his death are-"Dawn Pillow Writing" ('bol-rtsom zhogs-pa'i skya-rengs) and "History and Specificity of the Tibetan Tradition of Narrative Song" (mgyur-glu'i lo-rgyus dang kyed-chos). Note: I'm really interested in his scholarly work --if anyone knows how to get a copy in Tibetan or is working on the English, please contact me. Probably more recent publications such as Amnye Machen Institute's are available in Tibetan as well as Chinese editions. His most famous poem is "The Torrents or Youth" or, as in this case, "The Waterfall of Youth" published in English in "New Writing from Tibet; Song of the Snow Lion" edited by Frank Stewart-part of "Manoa's" series from Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. I’ve printed it here as is.

In the mid- 1990’s, poet Allen Ginsberg asked me to contact Pen Club to see if there were any contemporary Tibetan poets. I called around and asked if there were any secular Tibetan poets writing but didn't get very far. Since then I've discovered numerous Tibetan writers inside Tibet and in exile through web searches and obscure footnotes. If anyone would like to work on some translations of these works, please contact me. Many of these new works can be found in the Tibetan journal "Light Rain" or (sbrang char) which can be found at the Latse Library of Contemporary Tibetan Culture in NYC.

(Please note --I could not preserve the formatting which is quite interesting)

Waterfall of Youth
by Dhondup Gyal
Translated by Tsering Shakya

The clear blue sky,
The warmth of the sun,
The fragrant flowers,
The majestic mountains--

Ai ma!

But even more beautiful than these
a cascading waterfall
before a steep cliff,


Brilliant rays, pure white, spread like a
peacock's feathers,
parrot's plumage
patterns on silk brocade,


The sound of the gushing water, clear and pleasing,
The music of the angels,
unblemished melody,
music of the gods.
pure in origin,


This is not an ordinary waterfall---
It possesses a majestic quality,
a fearless heart
incomparable in its pride,
a strong body
adorned in the finest jewels,
most melodious music,


The torrential waterfall,
The glorious young people of the Land of Snows,


In the year 1980,
the heartfelt power and creativity of the youth of Bo
The dignifying struggle
the music of youthfulness.

Kyi! Kyi!

Youthful waterfall
waterfall of youth

Where did you obtain
the fearless heart,
immeasurable confidence unbending pride limiteless strength?


The rainfall during the months of spring,
the new growth during three months of summer
the nourishment of hail and storm during the three months of autumn
the ice and snow during three months of winter,

And more!

Water from the snowy mountains and meadows, valleys, ravines,

In short!

Water of auspiciousness,
water of prosperity,
water of fulfillment,
water of perfection,
possessing the Eight Purities of Water,

The hundreds and thousands different qualities of water,

You are the water of friendship,
daring to leap from the ferocious cliff--
You are the water of the universe,
Courageously leaping into the valley below,
Proud to take on what's new

You have an open mind, strong body, and majestic appearance,
without arrogance or defilement,
your origins are deep,
having cast aside all impurities,
you have an unblemished mind, are slender in your youthfulness,


You are witness to history,
the way of the future--
the breathing and lifting of the snow land are written
on every droplet,
the rise and development of the Land of Snows
shine in each of your rays,

Without you!

Where can we whet the sword of language?
Where can we sharpen the sword of our skills,

Without you!

The tree of medicine cannot bloom,
philosophy and Buddhism will not bear fruit,


Lingering in your crystal mind
may be wounds of history,
scars of old battles fought,
lesions of ignorance,
the clotting of conservatism--
these are not possible,

The reason is!

You possess pride, majesty, and strength of youth,
will never let the winter ice stop you or
numb your mind---
a hundred slashes from a wrathful sword
can not halt your flow,

The reason is!

The waterfall's source lies in the deep snows,
its end is joined with the vast ocean--
your history is long,
it generates pride and dignity,
how melodious your chorus of time,
our inspiration and potency,

Have you heard? Waterfall!

The questions of the youth of the land of the snows,

How can you let a poet's house suffer from thirst?
How can you let composition's elephant suffer from heat?
How can you let metaphor's snow lion be covered in dirt?
How can you not nurture the orphan of dance and music?

Who will preserve the heritage of astrology?
Who will welcome the groom of science?
Who will wed the bride of technology?

Alas! Waterfall!

Your clear, bright and harmonious answers will reach our ears,
they are incised in our minds as a carving on rock,

In truth!

The thousand brilliant accomplishments of the past
Cannot serve today's purpose,
yesterday's salty water cannot quench today's thirsts,
the withered body of history is lifeless
without the soul of today,
the pulse of progress will not beat,
the blood of progress will not flow,
and a forward step cannot be taken,

Kyi! Waterfall!

Your gentle ripples,
droplets from your splashing water,

You symbolize the strength of the new generation of the land of Snows,
your torrent and thunderous sounds,


You show the hope sof a new generation--
our generations must not tread these paths,
conservatism, barbarism, ignorance, and reactionism, these have no foundation in our land,

Waterfall! waterfall!

Our minds will follow your course,
our blood will run like yours,
in the currents of times to come,
however, the difficulty of the way,
Youth of Tibet, relinquish fear,

Our people!
A new path is opening in favor of you,


The new generation in the land of snows
we are marching to gether,


This harmonious song
is the anthem of the youth of the Land of Snows,

The bright road,
pride in understanding g
people in responsibility, joyous life,
song of struggle,

The youthful waterfall will not diminish,
Its waters will never be impure,

This is!

The waterall springs from the voices of the youth of Tibet

This is!

The waterfall flows from the mind of the youth of the Land of Snows.

Dhondup Gyal 1953-1985 "Waterfall of Youth"
Manoa - Volume 12, Number 2, 2000, pp. 9-13
University of Hawai'i Press

The translation is quite uneven but one still gets the powerful energy of the poem. I’m sure in the Tibetan there is a strong melodious element and driving rhythm.

ADDENDA: May  24, 2016

You Tube is a resource for the contemporary Tibetan Literary scene. Here is a marvelous recitation of Dhondup's poem in Lhasa dialect by students from Qinghai University. One can experience here the musicality and sonic qualities of the poem