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- Malayan Literature - 1/38 -
Romantic Tales, Epic Poetry
Translated Into English For The First Time
With A Special Introduction By
CHAUNCEY C. STARKWEATHER, A.B., LL.B.
Easily the most charming poem of Malayan Literature is the Epic of Bidasari. It has all the absorbing fascination of a fairy tale. We are led into the dreamy atmosphere of haunted palace and beauteous plaisance: we glide in the picturesque imaginings of the oriental poet from the charm of all that is languorously seductive in nature into the shadowy realms of the supernatural. At one moment the sturdy bowman or lithe and agile lancer is before us in hurrying column, and at another we are told of mystic sentinels from another world, of Djinns and demons and spirit-princes. All seems shadowy, vague, mysterious, entrancing.
In this tale there is a wealth of imagery, a luxury of picturesqueness, together with that straightforward simplicity so alluring in the story- teller. Not only is our attention so captivated that we seem under a spell, but our sympathy is invoked and retained. We actually wince before the cruel blows of the wicked queen. And the hot tears of Bidasari move us to living pity. In the poetic justice that punishes the queen and rewards the heroine we take a childish delight. In other words, the oriental poet is simple, sensuous, passionate, thus achieving Milton's ideal of poetic excellence. We hope that no philosopher, philologist, or ethnologist will persist in demonstrating the sun-myth or any other allegory from this beautiful poem. It is a story, a charming tale, to while away an idle hour, and nothing more. All lovers of the simple, the beautiful, the picturesque should say to such learned peepers and botanizers, "Hands off!" Let no learned theories rule here. Leave this beautiful tale for artists and lovers of the story pure and simple. Seek no more moral here than you would in a rose or a lily or a graceful palm. Light, love, color, beauty, sympathy, engaging fascination--these may be found alike by philosopher and winsome youth. The story is no more immoral than a drop of dew or a lotus bloom; and, as to interest, in the land of the improviser and the story-teller one is obliged to be interesting. For there the audience is either spellbound, or quickly fades away and leaves the poet to realize that he must attempt better things.
We think that these folk-stories have, indeed, a common origin, but that it is in the human heart. We do not look for a Sigurd or Siegfried on every page. Imagine a nation springing from an ignorant couple on a sea-girt isle, in a few generations they would have evolved their Sleeping Beauty and their Prince Charming, their enchanted castles, and their Djinns and fairies. These are as indigenous to the human heart as the cradle-song or the battle-cry. We do not find ourselves siding with those who would trace everything to a first exemplar. Children have played, and men have loved, and poets have sung from the beginning, and we need not run to Asia for the source of everything. Universal human nature has a certain spontaneity.
The translator has tried to reproduce the faithfulness and, in some measure, to indicate the graceful phrases of the original poem. The author of Bidasari is unknown, and the date of the poem is a matter of the utmost uncertainty. Some have attributed to it a Javanese origin, but upon very slight evidence. The best authorities place its scene in the country of Palembang, and its time after the arrival of the Europeans in the Indian archipelago, but suggest that the legend must be much older than the poem.
The "Makota Radja-Radja" is one of the most remarkable books of oriental literature. According to M. Aristide Marre, who translated it into French, its date is 1603. Its author was Bokhari, and he lived at Djohore. It contains extracts from more than fifty Arab and Persian authors. It treats of the duties of man to God, to himself and to society, and of the obligations of sovereigns, subjects, ministers, and officers. Examples are taken from the lives of kings in Asia. The author has not the worst opinion of his work, saying distinctly that it is a complete guide to happiness in this world and the next. He is particularly copious in his warnings to copyists and translators, cautioning them against the slightest negligence or inaccuracy, and promising them for faithfulness a passport to the glories of heaven. This shows that the author at least took the work seriously. That there is not a trace of humor in the book would doubtless recommend it to the dignified and lethargic orientals for whom it was written. Bokhari seemed to consider himself prophet, priest, and poet-laureate in one. The work has a high position in the Malayan Peninsula, where it is read by young and old. The "Crown of Kings" is written in the court language of Djohore. The author was a Mohammedan mendicant monk. He called the book the Crown of Kings because "every king who read and followed its precepts would be a perfect king, and thus only would his crown sit well on his head, and the book itself will be for him a true crown."
La Fontaine and Lamartine loved stories. The schoolmates of the latter called the latter "story-lover." They would have loved the story of the Princess Djouher Manikam, which is written in a simple and natural style and is celebrated in the East, or, as the Malays say, in the "country between windward and leeward."
From the "Sedjaret Malayou," worthless as it is as history, one may obtain side lights upon oriental life. Manners are portrayed in vivid colors, so that one may come to have a very accurate knowledge of them. Customs are depicted from which one may learn of the formality and regard for precedents which is a perspicuous trait of oriental character. The rigid etiquette of court and home may be remarked. From the view of morals here described, one may appreciate how far we have progressed in ethical culture from that prevailing in former times among the children of these winterless lands.
The readers of this series are to be congratulated in that they are here placed in possession of a unique and invaluable source of information concerning the life and literature of the far-away people of the Indian archipelago. To these pages an added interest accrues from the fact that the Philippines are now protected by our flag.
The name Malay signifies a wanderer. As a people they are passionate, vain, susceptible, and endowed with a reckless bravery and contempt of death. The Malays have considerable originality in versification. The pantoum is particularly theirs--a form arising from their habits of improvisation and competitive versifying. They have also the epic or _sjair_, generally a pure romance, with much naive simplicity and natural feeling. And finally, they have the popular song, enigma, and fable.
And so we leave the reader to his pleasant journey to the lands of Djinns and Mantris and spells and mystic talismans. He will be entertained by the chrestomathy of Bokhari; he will be entranced by the story of the winsome and dainty Bidasari.
CHAUNCEY C. STARKWEATHER
THE PRINCESS DJOUHER-MANIKAM
THE EPIC OF BIDASARI
_Metrical Translation by Chauncey C. Starkweather, A.B., LL.B._
Hear now the song I sing about a king Of Kembajat. A fakir has completed The story, that a poem he may make. There was a king, a sultan, and he was Handsome and wise and perfect in all ways, Proud scion of a race of mighty kings. He filled the land with merchants bringing wealth And travellers. And from that day's report, He was a prince most valorous and strong, Who never vexing obstacles had met. But ever is the morrow all unknown. After the Sultan, all accomplished man, Had married been a year, or little more, He saw that very soon he'd have an heir. At this his heart rejoiced, and he was glad As though a mine of diamonds were his. Some days the joy continued without clouds. But soon there came the moment when the prince Knew sorrow's blighting force, and had to yield
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