“The Cranes”- a Poem by Mend-Ooyo Gombojav

cranes

I haven’t posted any Mongolian poetry in quite a while, too long, actually. I remedy that today with a favorite of mine by Mongolia’s preeminent living poet, Mend-Ooyo. I came across “The Cranes” for the first time in his poetic and magical account of growing up on the steppes of Daringanga in southeastern Mongolia “Altan Ovoo” or “Golden Hill”. I have the good fortune to be one of his friends on Facebook. When he posted the poem a few days ago I asked if I could share it with my friends and he was kind enough to give me permission.

The black-faced cranes referred to in the poem are demoiselle cranes, as shown above in a photo I took last year, which can be seen in many parts of Mongolia.

THE CRANES
(The ballad of cranes)
by G.Mend Mend-Ooyo Gombojav

The black-faced cranes excitingly
Flapped their wings and flew in Mongolia every spring.
They landed by fluttering their blue beards
Where they wished to do.
They joined in pairs
In this spacious in steppe
They exhausted in long flight
To come to their habitual place.
Birds habituated to the local people
Year by year.
They laid two spotted eggs near the animal farmers.
And hid their eggs in this place
As they deified the human beings.
Who knows it.
They venerated the virgin steppe
Which was habitable and safe for them.
They did not suspect
When they laid their eggs
There is a maxim.
If you cast your shadow
Over newly laid eggs.
It spoiled eggs.
But someone overlooked
The custom of his own place.
And pocketed these eggs.
And came to his home without a hitch
Two poor cranes trod on the pool of rain-water
And plumed their feathers as if without wings
And summered there alone.
When autumnal wind rumpled their plumes
Two cranes approached a farmer
Who took their eggs.
There was a toddler with bells in his shoes
Who was toying in a long distance from his home.
No adults heeded it.
The toddler crowed to catch these cranes.
The cranes gradually kept their distance
From the farmer’s home.
The toddler chased them,
And did not fathom it.
As his mother’s breast felt a rush of milk
She called her toddler thrice.
There was no sight of the toddler.

Nobody knew it.
All the members of the farmer family and his neighbours
Raked through the vast steppe.
They did not find their toddler
Even a fellow of his small boots.
They did nor fathom that
There was a deal of toddler
With the eggs.
Nobody knew it.
There was a flight of cranes
Were honking over the farmer’s gher*
Was it a shadow or tear?
There was a stain on the boiling milk
In the pot over a fire.

Translation by
Nymjavyn Dorjgotov

*gher –the Mongolian nomad’s tent; or house – yurt

Mongolia Monday- “From the Top of a Camel the Sun Seems so Near” by Zhanchvyn Shagdar

Today’s post is a poem about the Gobi and a “sandalwood brown camel”, but I also want to remind you that the deadline for the Mongolphile Quiz is this Friday at 5pm, Pacific time. Twenty questions here and here.

“From the Top of a Camel the Sun Seems so Near” by Zhanchyvn Shagdar

Bactrian camel, Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

Gobi of exquisite mirage
Has the seven colors of the rainbow.
And my brown camel with graceful legs
Can travel for a month without rest.

Gobi bactrian camels, July 2010

When I ride my sure-footed brown camel
The sun in the sky seems so near,
Oh, I’m on my way, my sweetheart,
And I’ll be with you at sunset.

Saxaul forest with the Flaming Cliffs in the distance, Sept. 2006

Gobi, with its bushes of saksaul,
You are renowned in this wide world,
And my sandalwood brown camel
Can jog faster the longer the road.

Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

When I ride my sandalwood brown camel
The moon in the sky seems so near,
Oh, my love, linked to me by fate,
I’ll be meeting you when the moon rises at night.

Moonrise over the Flaming Cliffs, Sept. 2006

Gobi in the radiance of pure gold
Is beautiful like a new family tent,
And the jogging of my straight humped brown camel
Can reach the distant horizon.

Saxaul forest near Orog Nuur, July 2010

My Gobi with its bushes of saxaul,
You are renowned in this wide world,
And my sandalwood brown camel
Can jog faster the longer the road.

Arburd Sands, Sept. 2008

Mongolia Monday- If You Would Like To Hear Some Spoken Mongolian…..

Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 2008

I’ve posted a number of music videos here on my blog, but it occurred to me this morning that so far I’ve not posted any spoken work. I happen to love listening the Mongols speak their language, even if I mostly don’t know yet what they are saying. I thought that you might enjoying hearing what it sounds like.

Here’s a YouTube video of the recitation of a famous poem “Love One Another, My People” by one of Mongolia’s most beloved poets, O. Dashbalbar. It is followed by an English translation.

It’s accompanied by “White Stupa No. 1”  from one of Mongolia’s favorite composers, N. Jantsannarov. The images are a wonderful look at Mongolia. I recognized quite a few of the places.

Love one another, my people, while you are still alive.
Don’t keep from others whatever you find beautiful.
Don’t wound my heart with heedless barbs, and
Don’t push anyone into a dark hole.

Don’t mock someone who’s gotten drunk,
Think how it could even be your own father.
And, if you manage to become famous,
Open the door for happiness to others!
They should also not forget your kindness.
To someone who is lacking a sngle word of kindness,
You should search for it and speak it out.
Whether outside in the sun or at home when it’s cold,
Don’t spend one moment at rest.

Don’t use harsh words to complain, you women,
About the kind young man you remember.

Speak lovingly to those who loved you!
Let them remember you as a good lover.

Our lives are really similar,
Our words constrict in our throats the same way,
Our tears drop onto our cheeks the same way –
Things are much the same as we go along the road.
Wipe away a halt woman’s tears without a word,
Talk your lover up when she’s tripped and fallen!

Today you’re smiling, tomorrow you’ll be crying.
Another day  you’re sad, and the next you’ll be singing.
We all pass from the cradle to the grave –
If for no other reason, love one another!
People must not lack for love on this wide earth!
I grasp happiness with the fire of my human mind,
The golden shines lovingly upon us all the same, and
So I think that loving others in the path of life,
I understand that to be loved by others is great joy.

You can find out more about Dashbalbar here.


Mongolia Monday- In Honor of Tsagaan Sar (the Mongolian New Year): At The Door Of The Skytent by Ts. Bavuudorj

At the door of the skytent,
holding a golden lantern,
by the light of my golden lantern, I can see
that the old ones are coming,
mounted high upon white clouds.
A gentle creature, smelling still of milk
is coming, wading through the milky ocean.
Through tantric practise and endless recitation,
a monk has shrunk his body, small as an elbow, and
he’s coming, flying cross-legged.
The door of the skytent
swings quietly open…
Twenty-one young girls, their eyes all-seeing and clear,
are coming into the Buddha’s presence.
The pure heart, free of sorrow,
free now from the world,
have thrown the door wide and stand amazed.
A child comes to her mother, and
a mother comes to her child, and
they go seeking the profundity they lack.
The door of the skytent
swings quietly open…
And every time that door swings quietly open,
It steals a count of breaths
from life’s red bulb.
Gold and silver fishes,
impermanent, seem permanent
inside.
They are content in their own way.
at the door of the skytent
holding a golden lantern….

Translated from the Mongolian by Simon Wickham-Smith, with whose kind permission this poem is presented to my readers

The image at the top is from Onglyn Monastery, one of the many that was destroyed in the late 1930s by the communist government. The ruins are extensive since there were two large monasteries that faced each other and could house over 1000 monks, but there is a re-building effort under way, including the small temple building where I took this photo. It seemed appropriate to use an image from a “re-birth” for a poem posted to celebrate Tsagaan Sar, the White Moon, and the beginning of a new year.

Final note: I’m waiting for some new animal stamps to arrive from eBay for Part 3 of my posts on Mongolian stamps.

Mongolia Monday- “Mongolian Horse”- A Poem

This poem is from a book that I found in the Art Shop at the Museum of the Chojin Lama. It is called “Modern Mongolian Poetry (1921-1986)” and was published in 1989, just before the non-violent revolution in which Mongolia made the transition from communism to democracy. It was my first introduction to Mongol poetry.

Poets and other creative people who objected to the communist government had to be very careful in what they said, wrote and painted. There are many poems in the book extolling the wonderfulness of the socialist system, heroic workers and battle victories. But, carefully couched in metaphor, are other points of view. I’ll be posting some of both in the future, but today’s poem is about a subject that I suspect all Mongols of the time could agree on…HORSES!

Mongol horses, Baga Gazriin Chuluu, July 2010

MONGOLIAN HORSE

Crowning our glorious motherland
With victory after victory.
Raising the victorious banner,
We always went on horseback.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless,
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

When the good Mongolian people
With their history of victory
Did their good deeds
Their good horses played their part.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless,
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

In doing work
For our happiness
Our spirited Mongolian horses
Will work with us ceaselessly.

As a Mongolian’s courage
Is measureless
So the Mongolian horse’s strength
Is boundless.

Dalantain Tarvaa

Mongolia Monday- A Poem About A Grandmother

Three generations at Baga Gazriin Chuluu mountain blessing naadam, July 2009

Grandma, Please Go On Telling Your Stories

When grandma finished
Milking her cows
I always asked her
To tell me her stories

Some of the stories
Made me laugh
Some made me weep
And some made me sad or even brave

Thus, my grandma conveyed
The words of sadness
And of happiness
To my little heart

Thus, my grandma
Introduced me to the world
Through her magic stories
In my childhood

Grandma, did you learn
All those stories from your Mummy,
Or did you just make them up yourself?

Granny, go on telling your stories now
I would love to hear them,
To learn them well and then
I’ll tell them to my own children.

Dojoogyn Tsedev

Mongolia Monday: Two Poems

I haven’t posted any poetry for awhile, so here are two that I rather like. They are from “Modern Mongolian Poetry”, which was published by The State Publishing House in 1986. This was before the “changeover” from socialism, which started in 1990. So there will be 20th anniversary celebrations in Mongolia next year. Both photos were taken by me on my July trip to Mongolia.

Steppe

AUTUMN ON THE STEPPE

The boundless and spacious wasteland

Spreads yellow; and full-grown grasses sway

Grasshoppers, the world is completely silent,

Only the cranes soar the sky.

From the brown-yellow surface of the golden world

A scent rises, pleasant but strange,

And on the stone-mans’ forehead

Hoar-frost melts like beads of sweat.

B. Rinchen

Three

IT’S AN HONOUR TO BE HUMAN

“I am a human being.” These simple words

Have a ring of dignity and pride.

That’s why

I think that it is the highest honour

To be a human being

In body and soul.

I do not like it, I hate

To be flame in the heat,

Ice in the cold.

But to warm the one freezing to death,

To cool the one gasping in the heat-wave,

Not to flatter the powerful,

Not to insult the weak,

To lend a helping hand to those who stumble,

To encourage those who suffer-

That is how to be a human being.

If you’ve carried dignity and worth

As a banner of struggle,

If you’ve never compromised with cunning and baseness,

If you haven’t feared death.

In the cause of truth and freedom,

Be proud of yourself and say:

“I’ve been a human being!”

L. Khuushaan

Mongolia Monday- Poetry Special, Part 2

For Part 2 of this special post, here is Simon Wickham-Smith sharing how he became involved in things Mongolian, along with a little information on translating literature from one language into another. His comment about the number of precise words that exist in Mongolian for some parts of their world and culture reminds me of hearing that the Inuit have 37 names for snow, but no generic term as occurs in English.

Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar 2006
Gandan Monastery, Ulaanbaatar 2006

Simon Wickham-Smith: My own involvement with Mongolian literature started when I was a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Scotland during the 1990s.  I became interested – obsessed might be a better word – with the life and writings of the 6th Dalai Lama and, during my research, came across a reference to Danzanravjaa, a nineteenth century nationalist, scholar, poet and Buddhist monk.

I had already studied Mongolian for some time during the early nineties, and now I started to read and translate Danzanravjaa’s collected works.  When I finally finished this work, in 2005, I felt that, really as a matter of courtesy,  I should write to someone in Mongolia and let them know what I had done.

Thus it was that I came into contact with Gombojavin Mend-Ooyo, one of Mongolia’s most famous literary figures, who invited me to Ulaanbaatar the following year and for whose Mongolian Academy of Poetry and Culture (www.poetry-culture.mn) I have now translated ten books, with at least four more in the pipeline.

The act of translation from any language is a subtle and nuanced negotiation, but when dealing with a source culture which is so very different from the target culture, a number of problems appear.  And so it is with Mongolian.

Painting seen at the Mongolian Artists' Union, Ulaanbaatar 2006
Painting seen at the Mongolian Artists' Union gallery, Ulaanbaatar 2006

The number of words used to describe the natural landscape, animals and animal products, and the movement of the heavens are so detailed and precise as to be effectively untranslatable into English, short of adding phrases or entire sentences to the mix.  This, together with the morphology and structure of the language, means that simply recording what is said in the original becomes a restructuring of thought and a reinterpretation of culture.  Once these concerns are settled, then the literary work can begin, and the rhythm, sound and development of the text finessed.

Over the next five years, the Mongolian Academy of Poetry and Culture intends to publish more translations and to encourage scholarship in both Mongolian and English.  As for me, I am soon to embark upon postgraduate work at the University of Washington’s Jackson School, with an emphasis on Mongolian literature.  Moreover, I am also co-director of the Center for Central Asian Literatures in Translation at UW (www.depts.washington.edu/ccalt), which is hoping to increase the profile of literature from across Central Asia.

I’d like to thank Susan for letting me benignly invade her blog.  I hope that the work that she and I, along with many others, are doing, will encourage people to investigate Mongolian culture and, in particular, its literature.

Statue of Chinggis Khan, Government House, Ulaanbaatar 2008
Statue of Chinggis Khan, Government House, Ulaanbaatar 2008

You’re very welcome Simon! It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have you participate here. The following poems are a little on the longer side, but I think that they really show a side of the Mongol people that Westerners, raised on the idea of Chinggis Khan and his Horde cutting a path of destruction across a large chunk of the world, don’t realize exists. If nothing else, it demonstrates our common humanity across time and space. Not a bad thing these days.

Jargalant at sunrise, Khar Us Nur National Park 2006
Jargalant at sunrise, Khar Us Nuur National Park 2006

A DELUDED ASCENT OF MOUNT CHUN SHAN
Khubilai Khann (1215-1294)
(Yes, that Kublai Khan)

One a day blessed by good fortune,
I climbed up a blue bluff.
I stepped carefully on the ground,
So as not to destroy the landscape.
The flowers glowed red,
Like rainbows.
A beryllium light glistened like mist or smoke or blue haze.
The bamboos along the streams grew green from rain fall and spring water.
The wind blew through the mountain pines with a wonderful fluting melody.
I paid my respects
At the sacred temples,
And returned with the aid of Indra.
And controlled the dragons.

Western Mongolia 2006, "expedition" group shot
Western Mongolia 2006,"expedition" group shot; two German graduate students, myself, the American, and the Mongolians who made it happen; Jargalant in the background

LOVE ONE ANOTHER, MY PEOPLE

Love one another, my people, while you are alive.
Don’t keep from others whatever you find beautiful.
Don’t wound my heart with heedless barbs, and
don’t push anyone into a dark hole.
Don’t mock someone who has gotten drunk,
think how it could even be your own father.
And, if you manage to become famous,
open the door to happiness to others!
They should also not forget your kindness.
To someone who is lacking a single word of kindness,
you should search for it and speak it out.
Whether outside the sun or at home when it’s mild,
don’t spend one moment at rest.
Don’t use harsh words to complain, you women,
about the young man you remember.
Speak lovingly of those who loved you!
Let them remember you as a good lover.
Our lives are similar,
our words constrict our throats the same way,
our tears drop onto our cheeks the same way-
things are much the same as we go along the road.
Wipe away a halt woman’s tears without a word,
talk your lover up when she’s tripped and fallen!
Today you’re smiling, tomorrow you’ll be crying.
Another day you’re sad, and the next you’ll be singing.
We all pass from the cradle to the grave-
if for no other reason , love one another!
People must not lack love on this wide earth!
I grasp happiness with the fire of my human mind,
the golden shines lovingly upon us all the same, and
so I think that loving others is the path of life,
I understand that to be loved is a great joy.

O Dashbalbar (1957-1999)

Mongolia Monday- Poetry Special, Part 1

The Steppe, western Mongolia
The Steppe, western Mongolia

As promised on Friday, here is Simon Wickham-Smith’s essay-by-request on Mongolian literature. Following are three examples of Mongolian poetry, accompanied by images that I have photographed in Mongolia. Next Monday in Part 2, Simon will talk about how he came to be involved in things Mongolian and some of the challenges that await the translator. I have sent a email to the Mongolian Academy of Poetry and Culture about importing and making available at least two of the books. When I have news, I’ll post it here. So, without further ado:

MONGOLIAN LITERATURE IN TODAY’S MONGOLIA

As with any literature, Mongolian literature is special simply because it is the expression of a society’s experience, values, tradition and culture.  That Mongolia is, as a society, almost totally unknown in the western world, makes their literature even more valuable to us, in that it opens to us a new way of understanding the world.

Over the past century, Mongolia has gone from an almost completely nomadic and herding society, through a period of Soviet-inspired communism, into a contemporary experience in which free-market capitalism dwells at peace within a traditional nomadic culture shaped by a renewed interest in Buddhism and Shamanism.

So this is a true melting-pot, then, full of diverse influences, full of individuals feeling themselves pulled in a number of very different directions at the same time.  And when we look at the literature, we find a similarly vibrant and confused picture.

During the communist period (1924-1990) , of course, writers were strongly discouraged from addressing religious or spiritual topics.  But Mongolians had at their disposal their shamanic tradition of animism, and so writers created a literature which celebrated the land, and which honored the ancestors in the form of the grasses and the hills and the trees.

As for the Buddha – for Vajrayana Buddhism had spread from Tibet to Mongolia during the latter half of the sixteenth century – writers used the word for the sky (tenger), which had traditionally also meant “god,” which in itself meant once more that religion could be discussed by means of the natural world.

Altar in main temple, Museum of the Chojin Lama, Ulaanbaatar
Altar in main temple, Museum of the Chojin Lama, Ulaanbaatar

It is interesting to see how the ideas of Buddhism are beginning to come back into the literature.  Young poets such as T Erdenetsogt and Ts Bavuudorj are writing explicitly spiritual works, the former even incorporating Tibetan prayers into his poetry.  Older writers, such as G Mend-Ooyo and D Urianhai, coming from a period of samizdat literature and religious secrecy, approach the subject more indirectly.
Religious writing and writing about the natural world notwithstanding, Mongolian literature has a strong tradition of love poems.  Indeed, the most famous poet of the nineteenth century, the monk Danzanravjaa (1803-1856), combined the three themes of religion, sex and vodka, to create a powerful body of work which even today is still highly influential.

The tradition of love poetry is generally a celebration of young women and their somewhat intangible and transcendent beauty.  The erotic is very subtle, however, and is generally approached from a very oblique viewpoint.  Indeed, one of the criticisms of the novelist and poet G-A Ayurzana’s (by western standards fairly tame) novel The Illusion is that it has too much sex, and this book appeared only in 2003.

To read Mongolian literature, then, is to enter into a world which is similar to ours in very many ways, but whose cultural expression is framed by the cycle of the seasons, by landscape and weather, by gods and Buddhas, by theocracy and by seventy years of political despotism.

And now, three poems:

Horses, Arburd Sands
Horses, Arburd Sands

The story of my people soar with horses,
With wings they reach the golden sun.
The wind riffs through their untrimmed manes,
And, down the skyroad of Khormast,
They return to the lakes like migrating birds,
According to the customs of the golden earth.
The poems of the elders soar with horses,
With wings they reach the vibrant stars.
From the herds of letters formed within the mouth,
We have taken these migrating steeds.
And, from the hitching posts of our poets’ horses,
We have taken off for distant roads.
My horse, fly high, oh my horse.
Fly high, into the worlds of my desire.
From our wise elders’ heights of brilliance,
I offer my song to the spacious earth.
My horse, fly high, oh my horse,
Fly high, into the worlds of my desire.

T. Ochirkhuu (1943-2001)

Proud grandmother, Arburd Sands
Proud grandmother, Arburd Sands

ANCIENT SPLENDOR

Indeed,
The ancient splendor
of this land of Mongolia
It has brought us all to birth
In the lineage of Chinggis Khaan

Indeed,
With our destiny like the sky
With our mind in five dimensions
With our peaceful and broadminded decrees
Yes, this is the way of the Sons of Heaven

Yes, it is like moonlight
Among the stars
It is like an ornamented beacon
Among many people

Yes, like high radiation
From the peak of Mount Sumeru
Spreading its glare
May the protective spirit remain firm

Yes, through our savior Chingghis Khaan
We have become the rulers of all Mongolia
Before the banner of the Khaan
May we all bow down in joy

Historians argue that Ancient Splendor, a folk long song sung still widely in today’s Mongolia, was the anthem of the Great Mongol State

Moonrise, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu
Moonrise, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu

THE HORSES NEIGH AT NIGHT UPON THE STEPPE

The brown steppe is like an ancient story,
There is no sound to be heard.
A traveller, wearied by the distant road,
Spends the night upon the steppe.

In the deep darkness, the objects of the sky
Stretch out white, like a mare’s tethering line,
He feels the nature of the peaceful steppe,
He watches the stars, as though the horse was missing.

The brown steppe is like an ancient story,
There is now sound to be heard.
Like what we sense among the stars,
The horses neigh at night upon the steppe.

D. Nyamaa (1939-)