Kabir: The Trap


Brother, why do you strut about,
so full of yourself?
How come you’ve forgotten
those ten months
when you were suspended upside down
inside the womb?

When the body’s cremated,
it turns to ashes;
when it’s buried,
it’s eaten by armies of worms.
The body’s a jar of unbaked clay
containing water—
that’s its greatest claim to fame.

As a honeybee
accumulates its honey,
so a man accumulates his wealth.
But when he’s dead, the others say,
Take him away, take him away!
Why have we let this corpse
lie here so long?

His wife accompanies his bier
from the inner rooms to the threshold;
beyond that, his friends bear him away.
The folks in his family
go as far as the cremation ground.
Beyond that,
the swan’s all alone.

Kabir says, listen, O creatures,
those who fall into
the well of death
ensnare themselves
in make-believe Maya,
like parrots who delude themselves
and fall into a bird-catcher’s trap.

from Kabir The Weaver’s Songs
tr. Vinay Dharwadker

2 Replies to “Kabir: The Trap”

  1. Sakina

    Dear Nawab,
    What does “swan” mean in this poem or to what it refers?
    Maybe it is a small detail, but maybe not.
    Thank you for your answer.
    With warm regards,

    • Nawab Pasnak Post author

      Dear Sakina,

      Thank you for your question! It is not at all a small detail. In a poetic thought like this, with only a few hundred words carrying the meaning, every word is important.
      Each one could interpret them in their own way, but perhaps those words ‘white swan’ suggest that which flies free when the physical body is thrown away – either into the earth or into the flames of the cremation pyre. And the whiteness certainly suggests the purity of the spirit.
      With warmest greetings,


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