Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Isha Upanishad, Anon — translated by Mario PetrucciThe cover displays a dark green design made of dense tree branches and roots. There is a large white symbol outlined top right: roughly square but with four zigzag corners. Below this the title in small white caps (much less noticeable than the symbol). Bottom right corner in italics the words 'translated by' and then below this in small bold italics the name of the author, all in lower case.

Guillemot Press, 2019    £6.00

The opposite of Instagram

The ‘Upanishads’ are ancient Sanskrit texts communicating some of the main philosophical concepts of Hinduism. On his website, the translator, Mario Petrucci, describes the Isha Upanishad as

a profound meditation on the essential nature of Soul and Self. This key ancient text has inspired and guided untold generations of seekers towards spiritual clarity and depth

A cynical Soul might suggest that in this day and age of positive affirmations and Instagram-able quotations, the inspiration of something like the Isha Upanishad is unnecessary. However, this work comes from an accumulation of wisdom and knowledge dating back to approximately the sixth century. There is nothing instant about it. The statements are evocative and mysterious. For example, in the sixth part of the Upanishad we are told

That human who perceives
each cloud as Weather,
that Weather fills each cloud,
will never grieve rain.

This sounds simple, while yielding more sense impression than clarity. Perhaps we’re being told that we need to look more closely at the world around us, and to celebrate being more than the sum of our parts. Clouds may be made of water, but they aren’t rain. However, it’s the word ‘grieve’ that pulls me up short every time. Would I ever grieve rain? And in what sense is a cloud full of ‘Weather’? And why do only some nouns start with a capital letter? At a superficial level, rain is not to be grieved, and yet perhaps it could be the absence of rain we grieve for?

In part 10 (shades of Robert Frost), we learn that: 

That path in the woods divides us:
One races towards the Illusion; the other
embraces Knowledge. The whispering
Trees are wise in this.

Are the Trees wise because they don’t move from where they are and therefore fall between illusion and knowledge? Between magic and fact?

These metaphysical riddles attract through their mystery and — combined with the beautiful production values of the publication (printed on Mohawk Superfine with debossed yantra cover detail) — have undoubted meditative value, especially for a reader with some background in ancient philosophy.

I admit I find it easier to warm to the sound and shapes of the poetry than try to understand the meaning. The text is printed ‘without footnote or commentary’ and I would have welcomed a little bit of either.

Mat Riches