On Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali
Agha Shahid Ali
Durga dies in the rains,
her tongue bitter with stolen
fruit. Beyond the field, trains
escape a boy’s dreams, run
into the air. A necklace chains
him to the water’s bones, turns
his reflection sour. Wherever
Apu goes, to the temple or the river,
he carries Durga’s smile to the depths of the air.
Another favorite director, another great film, and another spectacular poet. Shahid gets it exactly right, as always, his short simple phrases reflecting perfectly the black and white starkness of Ray’s film, a lyrical sparseness that gives it an indefinable and austere beauty, like a smile carried “to the depths of the air”.
To see how well this poem works, just watch this clip, and then come back and read the lines “Beyond the field, trains / escape a boy’s dreams, run into the air.”