Monday, July 02, 2012

The Epic of Bidasari

Easily the most charming poem of Malayan Literature is the Epic of Bidasari. It has all the absorbing fascination of a fairy tale. We are led into the dreamy atmosphere of haunted [a] palace and beauteous plaisance; we glide in the picturesque imaginings of the oriental poet from the charm of all that is languorously seductive in nature into the shadowy realms of the supernatural. (Below is part of Song 1 of 6.)

(Metrical Translation by Chauncey C. Starkweather, A.B., LL.B.)(1901)


Hear now the song I sing about a king
Of Kembajat. A fakir has completed
The story, that a poem he may make.
There was a king, a sultan, and he was
Handsome and wise and perfect in all ways,
Proud scion of a race of mighty kings.
He filled the land with merchants bringing wealth
And travellers. And from that day’s report,
He was a prince most valorous and strong,
Who never vexing obstacles had met.
But ever is the morrow all unknown.
After the Sultan, all accomplished man,
Had married been a year, or little more,
He saw that very soon he’d have an heir.
At this his heart rejoiced, and he was glad
As though a mine of diamonds were his.
Some days the joy continued without clouds.
But soon there came the moment when the prince
Knew sorrow’s blighting force, and had to yield
His country’s capital. A savage bird,
Garouda called, a very frightful bird,
Soared in the air, and ravaged all the land.
It flew with wings and talons wide outstretched,
With cries to terrify the stoutest heart.
All people, great and small, were seized with dread,
And all the country feared and was oppressed,
And people ran now this way and now that.
The folk approached the King. He heard the noise
As of a fray, and, angry, asked the guard,
“Whence comes this noise?” As soon as this he said
One of his body-guard replied with awe,
“Illustrious lord, most merciful of kings,
A fell garouda follows us about.”
The King’s face paled when these dread words he heard.
The officers arose and beat their breasts.
The sorrow of the King was greater still
Because the Queen was ill. He took her hand
And started without food or anything.
He trusted all to God, who watches o’er
The safety of the world. The suff’ring Queen
Spoke not a word and walked along in tears.
They went by far campongs and dreary fields
Beneath a burning sun which overwhelmed
Their strength. And so the lovely Queen’s fair face
From palest yellow grew quite black. The prince
Approached the desert with his body torn
By thorns and brambles. All his care and grief
Were doubled when he saw his lovely wife
Who scarce could drag herself along and whom
He had to lead. Most desolate was he,
Turning his mind on the good Queen’s sad lot.
Upon the way he gave up all to her.
Two months they journeyed and one day they came
Unto a campong of a merchant, where
They looked for rest because the Queen was weak.
The path was rugged and the way was hard.
The prince made halt before the palisades,
For God had made him stop and rest awhile.
The Sultan said: “What is this campong here?
I fain would enter, but I do not dare.”
The good Queen wept and said: “O my beloved,
What shall I say? I am so tired and weak
I cannot journey more.” The King was quite
Beside himself and fainted where he sat.
But on they journeyed to the riverside,
Stopping at every step.

(The Epic of Bidasari will be available in the middle of July 2012 at all major bookshops.)