Kabir’s poems are richly and insistently rhymed. Rhyme foregrounds their nature as song lyrics — and sets up a sense of concordance that dovetails with Kabir’s sense of mystical unity. No translator, to my knowledge, has attempted to replicate or approximate this effect, as inextricable from Kabir’s compositional technique and religious feeling as terza rima was from Dante’s.
Both of these poems play with concepts from Vedanta, the theological tradition based in the Upanishads.
Maya is the network of material illusion surrounding, and distracting from, the divine. In “Maya is the Biggest Thug I Know” he plays with the accepted ways of transcending Maya — such as worship and yoga — by showing how those conventional modes of worship and religious self-transfiguration are themselves illusory.
In “Yuga after Yuga, a Yogi I Have Been,” Kabir gives us a sense of the realized self’s paradoxical solitude. His own individual self, or atman, has realized its Oneness with the divine (Brahman) and all other living beings. He is joined or “yoked” (the etymological origin of “yoga”) to the divine and to his fellow creatures. That is Vedanta’s ultimate goal, after all. But it’s precisely that realization that makes him profoundly, blissfully unique, set apart from everyone else. Hence this beautiful ending image of Kabir alone in his hut, swaying — perhaps to this very song.
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