I count it a very great honour to have been invited to introduce this beautiful poem to the English-speaking public. I have often thought that n of the chief reasons for the neglect of the Bengali villager is the belief among sophisticated people that he is not fully human. None of us would put it exactly like that, but how often you will hear it said, `Oh! it doesn’t matter; they don’t pleasure for them’ of ‘They aren’t interested in anything but food and money.’
Tow types of effort will help to dissipate this idea. One is ethnographical research-unhappily still discredited in Pakistan and a connected and reasonable whole. Unfortunately, most ethnography has been on the lines of museum collection: a large number of unusual, shocking orexciting things have been collected, but no attempt has been made to relate them to one another, and so we have only learnt to see strangeness of the villager and not his essential likeness to outselves. New methods and a stricter scholarship will alter this in time.
But anthropology is a matter for experts. The artistic approach is more immediate and has a wide appeal. The translation of folk-songs is specially valuable as opening a door direct into a people’s mind. Books about village life are generally written by outsiders who record what seems important to them; the folks-songs reveal what is important to the villagers themselves. As Jasim uddin says,
What may we know of the secret sorrow
Of the shepherd in the field?
In vain we search in our joy and our pain
This secret of his to yiedl.
Our griefs written in verse and book
That those who read may know.
But dumb are the griefs of the shepherd boy
Which only the flute can show.
I do not know whether The field of the Embroidered Quilt can be classed as folk-poetry, but it is obviously poetry about the folk. After nearly ten years of village life I find every detail of the picture, every turn of the story, waking a response in my mind. It is impossible to read this deeply-moving tale and continue to feel superior or indifferent to the villager who is capable of such passionate love and such deep sorrow. The greatness of man depends on his power to experience deeply-love or hate, joy or sorrow. Jasim Uddin’s villagers rejoice and suffer, desire and are desire are desired, hate and despair from the very depths of their souls; there is nothing trivial about them, nothing superficial: they are real.
And what lovely pictures the poem contains! You can see every detail as Rupa cuts this bamboos; you see him in love, shyly bringing sweets and necklace his mind `restless as a vagrant’s flute.’
. . . a helpless boat on the tide, That is slowly towed along, Drawn downstream to an unknown port.
The marriage scene is admirably drawn in all its details, and so is the exquisite account of wedded happiness that follows. The natural life of the fields is well described :
The ripening rice rubs grain on grain And music makes, The wind its fragrance blows after, And every full ear shakes. There is something quite magical about the harvest music. The whole night long throughout the village The harvest music rings. The farmers sing with a new throat, They sing in their delight. They play the flute and now discover New meaning to the night.
So I have often heard, as I have come up from the dust and turmoli of Nagpur, the whole countryside burst into song.
The latter part of the poem is almost unbearable after this, but that is as it should be. It is a proof of the skill with which the author has entranced us. It is a proof of the skill with which the author has entranced us. This is no Shakespearean tragedy-the working out of tragic character to a tragic end, the awful designs of fate drawing to their desperate conclusion. It is the tragedy with which all who know village life in Bengal are only too familiar; meaningless waste, fruitless despair, hopeless disaster against which man is powerless. So does cholera suddenly invade a valley, so does the capricious weather destroy the crops or wild animals steal the treasured cattle. Yet out of this strange meaningless existence of loss and separation, hunger and frustration, the villagers (as I have seen again and again and as Jasim Uddin portrays most beautifully) achieves the highest ends. his are the values of constancy and courage, love and hope.
If you measure these people by the quality of their love, and if you measure this poem by its power to portray that love, both poem and people must have a high place in our regard.
I do not know how far Mrs Milford’s version reproduces the rhythm of the original nor do I know the source of her technique. But I cannot end without remarking on what seems to me a very notable artistic achievement. Mrs Milford’s verse in entrancing, there is no other word for it. You are not caught at once (and I would urge readers who find the opening stanzas rather heavy-going to persevere) but you are caught in the end. The form and rhythm of the English version exactly suit the matter and could hardly be improved.
I read the poem with growing excitement and have returned to it again and again to be delighted by its simplicity, its charm, its deep humanity.