(c. 1398-1518)

Kabir (c. 1398-1518):

"Oh friend, I love you, think this over"
"I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty"
"Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive."
"I said to the wanting-creature inside me"
"I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?"
"Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates"
"Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?"
"The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his clothes"

Versions by Robert Bly
Kabir: Ecstatic Poems (2004)

Preface: I became familiar with Kabir from Rabindranath Tagore's Songs of Kabir (1915) when I bought Tagore's Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912) on July 22, 1963 after graduating from Columbia. I included Tagore in my Poetry Anthology (2007) as one of Robert Pinksy's Workshop assignments. In addition to Tagore's translation of Kabir, I also read Songs of Kabir from the Adi Granth (1991) translated by Nirmal Dass, and The Bijak of Kabir (1983) translated by Linda Hess & Shukdev Singh. When a friend told me about the Iraq war protest, I composed an anthology Peace Be With You (2003) including 52 poets on peace. I selected five Kabir peace poems. In his Sakhi 57: Of Peace, Kabir sings: "Formerly my heart was a crow / Which used to kill the birds, / Now my heart has become a swan / That pecks and eats pearls one by one." I love this image of transformation from black crow to white swan, and Kabir becoming one with the Pearl of Great Price. Legend has it that Kabir (1398-1518) lived to 120 years of age. The Chinese Zen Master Chao Chou (778-897) also lived to 120. When a monk asked "During the 24 hours, how is mind put to use?", Chao Chou replied: "You are used by the 24 hours; I use the 24 hours. Which of these 'times' are you talking about?" Both of these sages understood the timeless, which may explain their longevity. Robert Bly read eight Kabir poems to Stanford students in his Poetry Workshop on April 9, 2008. He also gave us a 15-minute poetry writing exercise starting with a line from Kabir: "Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?" We were all inspired and had a good writing session. Here is the poem I wrote. Afterwards, I returned to the Green Library and composed this web page in honor of Kabir, the enlightened poet-sage. (Peter Y. Chou, 4-9-2008)

Oh friend, I love you, think this over

Oh friend, I love you, think this over
      carefully! If you are in love,
then why are you asleep?

If you have found him,
give yourself to him, take him.

Why do you lose track of him again and again?

If you are about to fall into heavy sleep anyway,
why waste time smoothing the bed
and arranging the pillows?

Kabir will tell you the truth: this is what love is like:
suppose you had to cut your head off
and give it to someone else,
what difference would that make?


I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty

I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty

You don't grasp the fact that what is most alive of all
      is inside your own house.
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with
      a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like,
      to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can't find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real!


I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?

I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?
We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves
      birds and animals and the ants—
perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you
      in your mother's womb.
Is it logical you would be walking around entirely
      orphaned now?
The truth is you turned away yourself,
and decided to go into the dark alone.
Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten
      what you once knew,
and that's why eveything you do has some weird
      failure in it.


Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.

Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think... and think... while you are alive.
What you call "salvation" belongs to the time
      before death.

If you don't break your ropes while you're alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?

The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment
      in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
      you will have the face of satisfied desire.

So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
believe in the Great Sound!

Kabir says this: When the Guest is being search for,
      it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest
      that does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.


I said to the wanting-creature inside me

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
What is this river you want to cross?
There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or resting?
There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time, no bank, no ford!

And there is no body, and no mind!
Do you believe there is some place that will
      make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts
      of imaginary things.
and stand firm in that which you are.


Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates

Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates;
      the new love opens them.

The sound of the gates opening wakes
      the beautiful woman asleep.

Kabir says: Fantastic!
      Don't let a chance like this go by!


Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?

Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?
The night is over— do you want to lose the day
      the same way?
Other women who managed to get up early have
      already found an elephant or a jewel...
so much was lost already while you slept...
and that was so unnecessary!

The one who loves you understood, but you did not.
You forgot to make a place in your bed next to you.
Instead you spent your life playing.
In your twenties you did not grow
because you did not know who your Lord was.
Wake up! Wake up! There's no one in your bed—
He left you during the long night.

Kabir says: The only woman awake is the woman
      who has heard the flute!


The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his clothes

The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his clothes,
and his mind remains gray and loveless.

He sits inside a shrine room all day,
so that the Guest has to go outdoors and praise the rocks.

Or he drills holes in his ears, his hair grows
      enormous and matted,
people mistake him for a goat...
He goes out into wilderness areas, strangles his impulses,
and makes himself neither male nor female...

He shaves his skull, puts his robe in an orange vat,
reads the Bhagavad-Gita, and becomes a terrific talker.

Kabir says: Actually you are going in a hearse
      to the country of death,
bound hand and foot!

— Kabir (c. 1398-1518),
     Kabir: Ecstatic Poems
     Versions by Robert Bly
     Beacon Press, Boston, 2004)


Web Links to Kabir

Wikipedia: Kabir
    (Biography, Origins, Philosophies, Poetry, Religious, References)
Poetry on Peace: Kabir
    (Garden of Flowers, Of Love & Affection, Peace, Contentment, Universal)
Kabir: Mystic Philosopher
    (Biography, Kabir Sayings, Bijak poems, Bly translations, Kabir images)
Kabir: The Mystic Poet
    (Why Kabir?, Dohas, Love Songs, Mystic Songs, Essays)
Poet Seers: Kabir
    (Poetry of Kabir, Fifteen poems by Kabir, Links to Tagore translations)
Kabir: Poems and Biography
    (21 Kabir poems, Kabir books)
26 Sayings of Kabir
    (Brief Introduction to Kabir, Saying of Kabir)

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