e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Serendipity in the library

In an obscure corner of our local library, underneath a staircase and next to the kind of tomes no one reads unless they have to, is one of my favourite library shelves – ‘Withdrawn from Circulation and For Sale’. Here, among books on Finnish government statistics for 1980 and the speeches of forgotten Soviet politicians, lies the possibility of finding a jewel.

My most recent discovery here is Selected Poems of Al Mahmud translated by Kabir Chowdhury.

I often read poetry in translation (in this case of a Bangladeshi poet). There are differences of outlook and imagery that I find fascinating. No English poet can write about oil lamps or the cries of monkeys as everyday experiences.

Images such as:

his lips are covered with the fragrance

of powdery flowers. …

from a short poem ‘This World and Beyond’; or this from ‘The Poet and the Black Cat  – 1’:

A rider on a jet black horse comes scaling the wall.

seem to me unlikely ones for a western writer. And I loved the description of the dredger Baleshwar on the Titash river:

When the giant iron tortoise moves forward,

sawing through the bosom of the Titash,

These poems describe small scenes and actions. Some carry a feeling of sadness. The poet states:

Nowadays music does not delight me any more

and in several poems he speaks of being in prison.

A few are more cheerful when he speaks of pleasure in work and the possibilities brought to him by

the favourite devil of my heart

He encounters the ordinary in a pair of sparrows and the village belle among others, and also the mystical like angels and buildings bending low. These poems are complex and beautiful and repay re-reading.

The main effect of the book generally is of a sigh – the world is beautiful, but somehow futile.


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8 thoughts on “Serendipity in the library

  1. his poems must be in bengali, i wish i could get hold. loved the line about iron tortoise on titas. 🙂


    • The copy I have was published in 1981 by the Publications and Sales Division, Bangla Academy, Dacca, Bangladesh. Unfortunately there is no mention of where the original Bengali poems were published. Perhaps an inter-library loan service could help you.


  2. Chris Mills on said:

    I have often found some great titles in remainder sections – and I also find that the library stickers inside from different parts of the country prompt nostalgic thoughts many years later.


    • Thank you for your comment. I looked in the front of my copy, but there’s no sticker, just a rubber stamp with acquisition information – but that’ll remind me of the lucky afternoon I found it.


  3. We have a small, charming library in our village. It has a fireplace for cold rainy days, and comfortable chairs and sofas . Our library also has a little section of discarded books and donated books. It is like finding hidden treasure. One never knows that one will discover. We have an amazing head librarian. In her perfect world there would be no books in the library. They would all be out being read and enjoyed. Virginia


  4. I also read Kabir. I am so glad you found one of the old tomes. His words are wonderful expamples of ecstatic poetry! I will be back and I invite you to visit my blogs.


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