The Sour Flute

March 15, 2012


Image Source:

(Is fair work rewarded often?

Du Fu was a great Chinese poet who lived from 712 to 770 AD. He was doomed to a sad and deprived life as he failed in his many attempts to qualify the official civil service examination, which had poetry as a compulsory subject. Many lesser men of his time were capped and celebrated but Du Fu remained unacknowledged and consigned to penury.

Do not for even a moment think I am alluding I am someone like Du Fu, or someone even close to the dust of his footprints, in my poem below. It is just that I have this bad taste in my mouth when fair work goes unnoticed while pedestrian catchpennies become the toast of the Internet.)

Feed me a bowl of maggots,

I’ll roll in nameless mire

And wait for the vultures to descend

With pincers soaked in fire.

The fox will sip a thousand lips

And a lonely flute is sour;

Theirs is a vintage vineyard,

Mine a leafless flower.

The fibs that flow on aromal reek

Supped on rancid carrion;

That which rinsed the eyes

Was a tongue hooked to talons.

About umashankar

I am just a watcher then. Sometimes I watch life. Sometimes I watch death. Many times I watch in between...

View all posts by umashankar


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

41 Comments on “The Sour Flute”

  1. suranga date (@ugich) Says:

    In some spaces
    of a cosmic earth
    the Silence is Towering
    and can almost be cut with words.


    on an indefinite fast,
    Circling Vultures denied
    landing rights,
    and the fox
    is fooled
    what else,
    his own wails
    and himself.

    First a rumble inside
    then a crack
    and a shudder,
    and the
    lava of the mind
    flows undeterred,
    clearing doubts,
    washing fears,
    enriching, greening
    a mountain of support
    for one who seeks
    a giant hand
    to hold against a troubled cheek.

    Wait and watch.
    The Sour Flat notes
    of the flute
    were a plaintive alaap.

    Stay tuned
    for the cosmic silence to be broken
    a happy sweet
    old and loved, dhun………


  2. Debajyoti Ghosh Says:

    damn, my comment is gone.

    well somehow managed to understand it with the help of few dictionaries, thesauruses, online translators. absolutely brilliant. and as i m pretty sure that i haven’t understood it completely i wouldn’t say anything beyond this. u need to be a genius to write a piece like that. in case u see two comments from me then delete one 🙂


    • umashankar Says:

      I searched in vain for the lost comment that you talk of. Of late, it seems to be happening all around.

      I am not alluding I am someone like Du Fu, or someone even close to the dust of his footprints. You would like to check out on Du Fu though.

      Du Fu was a great Chinese poet who lived from 712 to 770 AD. He was doomed to a sad and deprived life as he failed in his many attempts to qualify the official civil service examination, which had poetry as a compulsory subject. Many lesser men of his time were capped and celebrated but Du Fu remained unacknowledged and consigned to penury. He had to leave his family far behind in search of livelihood and this compounded his sorrow. Ironically, his genius remained largely unrecognised till as late as the 20th century by which time a significant body of his works was lost forever.

      I have this bad taste in my mouth when fair work goes unnoticed while tweeters tweeting the hues of their latest underclothes become the toast of the Internet.

      I invite you to read it again in this light, my friend. And if you care for a third comment, the honour will be mine.


  3. pchandra Says:

    The preface itself is a poem. But I am disrespecting its beauty perhaps. This is some compelling poet. I have read it so many times, word by word and I have said, O my God! everytime. I will find out DuFu now.


    • umashankar Says:

      Dear pchandra, the note was an afterthought, as I have said above. Do read Du Fu. For starters, try Vikram Seth’s translations. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Gracias!


  4. Giribala Says:

    Thanks for sharing!!!


  5. Zephyr Says:

    Whew! That was better! I mean the intro para. The first time I came here, I had just slunk away quietly before someone could see me around and not commenting 🙂 Superb imagery, especially the ‘tongue’ hooked to talons!

    I can just imagine how anguished you are over forgotten writers and ignored geniuses in the face of ‘pedestrian catchpennies’ if you are ready to consume a bowl of maggots!


    • umashankar Says:

      Zephyr, The Sour Flute has caused some grief to me. First, visitors have had trouble posting comments for reasons best known to Mr WordPress! Then I realised I need to post a note for the readers to view the poem in the intended light. I invoked the sad story of Du Fu, a great Chinese poet, to highlight how at times genuine art remains ignored even as less worthy stuff gets celebrated. I wanted the note to be small in view of the short length of the poem. That caused another problem. Some have believed it to be a poem by Du Fu and thanked me for sharing! It is also true for some who do not comment here but do communicate with mails and messaging. This sent me scampering to edit the note and insert this in bold: in the poem below, penned by me .

      Thanks for acknowledging my anguish.


  6. Jyoti Mishra Says:

    just WOW !!!

    Never heard about him before definitely going to read Du Fu now ….. thanks for sharing information about this great artist.


  7. magiceye Says:

    the underlying rage is imminent



  8. Amit Agarwal Says:

    Very well written Umashankar! The diction reminds me of Victorian poets…


  9. sujathasathya Says:

    thanks for that note. because for someone like me, it really helped me appreciate the significance of the poem that much more


  10. umashankar Says:

    Sujatha, the significance lies in the footfalls of my visitors.


  11. Piyush Verma Says:

    Dear friend, read it more than once.
    This is the way of the world:

    Full many a gem of purest ray serene
    The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear :
    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


  12. Sangeeta Reghu Nair (@Sangrywords) Says:

    UmaShankar – thanks for sharing this .. my first visit your blog and I am super impressed … you will be seeing me a lot more from now on !!


  13. Rajagopalan Ratnaraj (@MindFiction) Says:

    wow.. that was absolutely brilliant. It was very deep and intense and I was amazed at your vocabulary as well as choice of words. Extremely beautiful piece.

    I totally understand and agree that geniuses and their works are ignored at times for lesser individuals. And I share your anguish.


  14. sudhagee Says:

    Fair is rewarded, Umashankar, though not necessarily “on time” if you know what I mean. We are witness to a whole range of artists, writers, poets and musicians who gained fame, acclaim and recognition after they have passed away. But then recognition, like justice, delayed is also one that is denied. So yes, the notes of appreciation that the flute plays are sour indeed.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful, angst-filled verse and the story of Du Fu.


  15. Rahul Says:

    Brilliant work!


  16. Akshay Kumar G Says:

    I do agree with you Sir, fair work do not get appreciated often, especially on the internet. I do understand your sentiments and your poem on a certain level, but I have to say your poem is a class apart. I am visiting you for the first time, will surely visit more often in future. 🙂


  17. Chotu Says:

    I tried to assemble the missile launcher. After much labor was able to do so, but alas!! after travelling the zero-gravity, agni re-entered the atmos and landed somewhere in the Indian ocean, far from my perception.


  18. Saru (@SaruSinghal) Says:

    Thanks for telling us about him. There are many great men in the pages of history.

    Poem is beautiful, it sounds great and as your signature style, it leaves a deep impact on the reader.


  19. manju Says:

    I am definitely going to read up on Du Fu now!

    Very often ‘pedestrian catchpennies’ do become ‘the toast of the Internet’. The internet is such a transient medium. If something can not be understood by merely glancing at it, then it’s not worth reading- that’s how many feel here.

    But it’s their loss really. They don’t have the vision to see the jewels hidden under words that may take a bit of effort to understand.

    Lovely, heartfelt verse. And thanks for the note. Made it easier to understand for a somewhat pedestrian reader like myself. 🙂


  20. umashankar Says:

    Thanks Manju, for deeply feeling the notes of the flute, sour when it is heard, solitary when ignored. I would say the loss is mutual and widespread.

    Please do not call yourself pedestrian. Mine is a solitary shore but my visitors are more gems than pebbles.


  21. EsotericAllusionist Says:

    Your visit and ‘vote’ on my humble piece, had me visiting your page. I randomly went through the recent posts, and decided this one sounded interesting. On reading your poem, I was beyond humbled, for here I am – mostly surrounded by peeps who have a bare to zero interest in anything near literature, and so I often get praise (seldom in writing) from as you call them ‘pedestrian catchpennies’ and in getting so – had forgotten that I am not even a speck in the world of words and their writers. Not only did I have to confirm the meanings of a handful of words before I undertook understanding the poem in full, but I also LOVED the symbolism that is stitched within every intricately expressed line. That was a fantastic expression of thoughts and feelings. Thanks very much for sharing. I’ll come back for a visit for sure, just not sure how often or how soon. I seem to be horrible at keeping up. But I’ll be sure to leave a comment when I do, insha’Allah 🙂

    ~ Best wishes



  1. Some awards, some tags, and a big thank you to you all!!! - August 30, 2012

    […] searching for the link The fool – The girl on the train Uma – Gap-toothed Smile and The Sour Flute Zephyr – Feminism and Gen X […]

Won't you say something, old friend?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: