Book Review: Before Dawn – Sapardi Djoko Damano

Before DawnSapardi Djoko Darmono  Before Dawn – Sapardi Djoko Damano

I read a book of poetry after a long time. The challenge in any poetry translation is if the poetry can survive what can be a brutal translation. It is to the credit of the poet and the translator that some of Damano’s  poetry (written originally in Bahasa Indonesia) still manages to shine through. Two things stand out for me (i) the vivid imagery of capturing  everyday scenes of life and (ii) the profound reflection on old age and death. Two samples to illustrate my point: “I ordered waving grasses and wild flowers – I don’t know what you ordered. I ordered river stones on a bed of swirling rapids…” or “He doesn’t like talking about his glasses, which he sometimes forgets where he’s placed, about his silver hair, about his empty house, no longer occupied by wife or children, about the bad weather that causes him to sneeze…” There are many nuggets of the kind in the book.  If nothing else, the book did whet my appetite for both –  poetry and Indonesian literature. Perhaps poetry is not meant to be read like a  novel – page after page till it’s over. It should be read in small doses, – one or two poems before going to bed.

Recommendation: Read the original if you can. Otherwise, don’t bother.

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