Woodly Old Man

Sukumar Ray

The old man sits at his boiling pot,
Eating boiled wood--even scalding hot.
He nods his head and hums a song
With his sage’s air, he could do no wrong.

He mutters words that no one’s understood:
“The sky dangles cobwebs, hence holes in wood.”
His pate turns hot, his sweat falls and splatters;
He yells in rage, “Who can plumb such matters?

Those blasted donkeys, completely blind,
Know nothing at all, keep changing their minds.
They don't know the basics: which wood has the best juice,
And why, on the moon's eleventh night, wood holes grow loose."

He scribbles his calculations on the ground:
Cracked wood, hollow wood--he writes numbers all around--
Which holes are tasty and which unwell,
What sort of fissure has what kind of smell.

One log against the other he’ll hit
And say, “Every kind of wood I can outwit!
I’ve handled wood and lumber and tree,
I know how to deal with their depravity.

Which wood turns tame, which wood has whims,
Which wood is wistful, and which full of vim.
Which wood can’t tell what’s good and what’s best--
And I know why some wood has more holes than the rest.”

© 2003 by Prasenjit Gupta

Translation Published March15, 2003

The original poem appeared under the title Abol Tabol in the children's magazine Sandesh in Phalgun, 1322 BE, and later under the title kaaTh buRo in the the collection of poems now titled Abol Tabol, first published in 1923.

Translated by Prasenjit Gupta [Proshenjit Gupto ]. Prasenjit Gupta is a translator and writer living in Iowa City. (more)

Illustrations by Sukumar Ray.

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* To learn more about the ITRANS script for Bengali, click here.