Poetry Friday: Wordsworth, Bengali-Style

Dinner party in our Flushing apartment. Six or seven heavy saucepans simmering on the stove; three rice cookers stuffed with biryani made the day before. Ma, bedecked in a banarasi saree and bejeweled in her bridal gold, stuffing tomato halves with egg salad. The apartment, spotless, chairs borrowed from a neighbor waiting in semi-circles for guests to claim. Baba, buzzing people into the lobby, throwing open the door and greeting friends with jokes and compliments.

Loud laughter fills the hallway as people wait to take off shoes and kids head into our bedroom to play Carrom, Scrabble, or 29 with cards. Inevitably, someone pulls out Ma's harmonium, and a Tagore song's sinuous, minor-key melody saddens my nine-year-old soul, even though I don't get the high Bangla lyrics.

Then Baba calls for quiet. It's time to recite the poems he's been helping us memorize over the past several weeks. He picked a Tagore poem for Sonali, Have You Not Heard His Silent Steps?, and she delivers it flawlessly in Bangla and English. Rupali produces I Remember, I Remember by Thomas Hood and the room murmurs with the sentiment of gazing back at a childhood home. When it's my turn, I clasp my hands behind my back, gaze up at the ceiling just as Baba taught us, and launch into William Wordsworth's Daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: --
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Baba is listening with eyes closed, holding the tape recorder's mike in front of my mouth. I have no idea what "pensive" or "jocund" or "sprightly" mean, I've never seen daffodils, and I can't know that this very poem will leap into mind intact every April in New England decades down the road. But when I'm done, my eyes go immediately to Baba's face, and judging by the pleasure I see there, I know we've succeeded once again in giving our guests the incomparable gift of a poem.