I Will Not Sing

By Nādim

I will not sing—
I will sing today no rose song, no song of the nightingale,
                No song of the iris, no hyacinth song,
                        No song to ravish nor song intoxicated
                                Not languor’s sweet, slow songs—
        Not the least song—
I will not sing.
Not when the dust cloud of war skins the iris for its hue—
        When the thunder of guns tears out the tongue from the nightingale—
                When I hear the clamor and clatter of chains, here
where there were hyacinths—
        where the diseased eye of lightning is webbed closed,
                and mountains recoil
back onto their haunches; when black death gathers close
        cloud tops to embrace—
I will not sing—Now
warlord and bureaucrat stand
girt about, eyeing my Kashmir.

I will not sing—
        I will sing today no song of Nishat or Shalimar, no annealed song of waters
                engraving terraced gardens, no bower songs of bedded flowers;
                        No soft songs flush or sweetly fresh, not green dew songs
                                nor songs gentle and growing—
Not the least song.
I will not sing.
Not the least song—
Not today—not when here is no place
        where the day’s white-seething pan of light is not set, poised
                to shake, spilling from quavering vessels what life there was yet
                        to blight my garden—
        so the rose holds its breath;
the tulip its brand; quick rivers stall their song and keening koels shake
        in their palpitating hearts,
                where throbbing song is stilled—
                        all fearing,
a wild starling idly sinks into the quiet of its unsettled perch.

I will not sing. Now
warlord and bureaucrat stand
girt about, eyeing my Kashmir.

I will not sing—
        I will sing no song today of incipience, no late songs favoring the spring
                of first friends, the fevers willed, of new love and wildness in longing;
                        I will stage no song to effloresce red and yellow, with tender crests
                                of the blue and green stuff growing—not the least song—
I will not sing.
        No such song. Not today.
        Spring is in flight. Autumn in pursuit, and the winds
                are poison. In every forest one hears the heated rumor
                        of fire—man undertakes to hunt man.
Which is why the long hair of the narcissus is tangled;
                        the jasmine, wind torn, has fallen:
        wretched flower, mangled on the vine.

I will not sing. Now
warlord and bureaucrat stand
girt about, eyeing my Kashmir.

I will not sing—
        No song of fields and seeded beds of rice, no labored song
                Of threshing floors and tillers in the field
                following the ox-led plough, no drenched song
                        of sweating hours. No such song:
Not when the weeds have choked the life out of the fields.
        When the threshed grain lies torn by locusts,
                when sweat on the head freezes in fear:

A vortex forms around every boulder, even the grass
withers, and withered, it is as if blood
flows from roots.

        I will not sing.
Now warlord and bureaucrat stand
girt about, eyeing my Kashmir.
I will not sing.
        I will sing no song
                no song until the rising hills
                and high circuit
                of eminent mountains—
                until seeded field
                and the earth where it lies
                fallow and watered—
                until bud and flower,
                the red rice and white—
                        songbirds and their song;
                        autumn and spring; the forest
                and garden; the flowing streams
                and still water; jasmine, and rose,
                royal gardens and fields of tulips,
                the waterfalls and high places,
                narrow pass and caravan road,
                wide-crested Burzil Pass,
                Naked Mountain, and Mirror Lake,
                and after, Vāvajan Pass,
                no song until I see them, free
                from fear, and from siege, from terror.

To see them again
and in the faint light, at the joining
of the two dusks, evening and nightfall,
        early enough—in good time
to see my purposes prosper again
that my wishes are put back again
into good order, to see my own—this darling child—
our garden, where we dwell;
to see our home again: populous and free,
        gratifying, like spring,
fresh, as days we were young.

I’ll sing then—
        I’ll sing maddened with the savor of spring, but no song
                till then—I’ll send from out of me no sleep-mad songs,
                        no song to languish. I’ll send
        No song. That’s why I must set out—set out today—
        levelling the low fences that partition the field’s
        edges—set out quickened with sharp pen
        and cleaving knife, subduing the enemy
        and highwaymen with orders to cease and desist
        with hammer, and pen, and sickle, resolved
        I shall wander here and there, armed I shall wander
        everywhere with a sickle for every trial, with a hammer,
        and pen, and sickle—with sweat wrung out from every pore
        I will bathe this garden, our love, this fast friend from young days—
        your childhood and mine—I will fill with splendor every ditch
        and gorge pit, every chasm and path. I will not sing today.
        I will set out today with hammer, and pen, and sickle and resolve:
        Fear-free. I will set out. I will not lament.


"I Will Not Sing" by Nādim, translated from the Kashmiri by Sonam Kachru. First published in Asymptote Journal.

About Sonam Kachru:

Like the great fish imagined by the philosopher Yajnavalkya, Sonam Kachru swims between two banks, now touching one, now the other. By day he is a scholar of Indian philosophy at the University of Virginia. Some nights, however, he travels to Kashmir, returning, when he’s lucky, with Kashmiri poetry in translation.