Water Poems

Water’s malleable metaphor takes the colour of varied emotional states. It can be ocean, river, storm, calm lake, source and dried pond of love; tsunami, flood and blizzard of cruelty, dew and liquid light of transcendence, damned estuary of eco existence etc. Besides, water in its many elemental forms has a magical quality that rivets the senses. Its presence in our lives is as intimate and accepted as those of family. It runs in our blood. Hardly surprising, then, that most poets have a sheaf of poems on water. Here are some from my collection.

This is a recent poem. During the years my mother was unwell, poetry left me.  One rainy day, months after she had passed, this was the first poem that appeared. More followed. The suite is called monsoon nocturn.

–         for my mother



rows of pearled

windows set in wet twilight



a nimbus of ruby

roses crowns the pewter jar



ma’s face  silvers

behind rain

-hung spider webs

Varsha/Rain is from The Gathering of Time: Dialogues with Kalidasa[i]* after the Sanskrit court poet’s Ritusamharam ( The Gathering of the Seasons).  Kalidasa devoted one canto to each of the six seasons of the Indian calendar; Varsha is regarded as the season of love.  Phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard called the seasons ‘the fundamental mark of memory’ and assigned to them ‘soul values’. Ritu in Sanskrit means cycle, season, order, menstruation, fertility and samharam implies gathering together, drawing in. My mother read with me the translation which is italicised. Kalidasa’s cantos speak of the joy of conjugal love with scarcely a note of brooding. My reply follows.



“ This season’s rainy fingers puts leaves and blossoms on the forest…

slow- spreading low clouds sadden the hearts of lonely women. “




there was no horizon.

Sky and earth mingled

in a womb of rain

as you entered me.


Now I lie alone.

My vision clear.

My body rich

with memories

of passing showers.


Virtually a reverse image appears in the poem from Fireflies [ii] a stage production that presented my Anglophone poetry, Bharata Natyam dance performed by my sister and slides of miniature painting.  I worked in ekphrasis meditating on the enchanted world of miniature painting, their exquisite and intense excesses of emotions, colours and the tremulous natural world in which the nayika and the nayaka/ heroine and hero, would meet.



The nayika says:

Dawn breezes I know, and night-opening lotuses.

The stilling scent of jasmines, full moons,

lakes with diamond skins,

swans streaming like dreams heading home —

these metaphors of fullness, I know.

But this, my sakhi!


This sudden rain:

soft clouds, hard kisses

melting the skies.


The next is an oddity I excavated from the laptop’s innards.  Commissioned for a production in the last millennium it remained like a cloud that snags a peak but doesn’t pour. I include River Riddle for its playful chant, its intended kshana /evanescent uttering that goes against the littera scripta manet idea of much literature.

I am the river, turbulent, dark

I am the river soft with light

I am the yearning unfulfilled


Deceptive, destructive, delightful, bright,

a mystery, a quandary, friend and foe

I am many, disguised in one flow


From birth to death I course my course

turbid with thought, relentless, fraught,

wanting sky in my waters, calm in my depths

I flow and flow   to still my flow for I am the river of the mind.


But the multiple languages of water also body forth in poems in their materiality as it were, sans metaphor. The next poem is from the suite Travelling in Early Spring. It was written this year in the medieval palace and fort complex at Orccha when touring with my husband. The nod to the Japanese tanka is, I think, evident.



In powdery rain a monkey takes shelter under

the royal cupola. Scratching, he surveys his fief.


Through sunlit sprinkle two monkeys watch

four Japanese tourists sketch the fort.


Something unknown drizzles the face

of a tourist as he gazes past the palace silhouette.


Close up, grasses that rim the windows

bend under the weight of rolling crystals.


Questions, Statements & Lamentations is a work-in-progress with my troubled tongue in cheek.  Gods, heroes and the inanimate speak in this series. Three with water imagery:

40-large-colaba navy nagar 4 (2010) article

photo credits: Christopher Taylor (photograph previously published in :Mumbai:Immersions, (Niyogi Books, 2013)


Not a ripple. Immersed in an endless ocean of serenity what more is there to seek?

I negate this negation.

I’m in the clouded breath of beings who aspire to the void; unknown to themselves

their hearts mirror my invisible reflection like eddying leaves caught in water-whorls .



I’m river, wisdom, unstoppable crystal magma, language’s intoxication & fact.

I’m the unsaid &the unsayable; the concept, the uttered & the interpreted.

I gifted a drop of myself to all creatures.  I heard them speak, shuddered & dived underground as source of silent hymns. Here I seep.



Much is said about me.

I’m described, metaphorised, philosophised about ad naseum.

But I’m drop of water that appears precariously from nothing but air. No one sees

my becoming. I hang. Show me light & I’ll disappear.


My father was in the merchant navy. He would often quoted, ‘I wish to go down to the sea again/ the lonely sea and the sky…’ from which I made a poem on the dark shimmering waters of memory — like a waterfall plunging into darkness.  Instead of this one I end with Invocation: Spirit of Water. [iii]


Make me dew that touches all

without distinction.


Like snow-flakes let my perfect structures

yield to the melt of being.

As an underground river flowing during drought,

make me draw from secret sources.

Sweet and salt, estuarine,

let differences mingle in my blood.


Tidal courage, I call upon you to return after the ebb:

Spirit of water, give me hope.

Print on me oceans covered with sky;

when fiery fissures open, remind me of life.

Fill my marrow with glacial ice that cuts

rock to nourish springs.

article image

photo credits: Christopher Taylor (photograph previously published in :Mumbai:Immersions, (Niyogi Books, 2013)


Add one more wish to this:

Make me a mountain lake,

calm and deep,

that reflects light.


Photo credits for the featured image:  Christopher Taylor.  


[i]  From Not Springtime Yet , 2009, HarperCollins Publishers

[ii]  From Dialogue and Other Poems, 2005, Sahitya Akademi  Diamond Jubilee Publication,

[iii] From Dialogue and Other Poems, 2005, Sahitya Akademi  Diamond Jubilee Publication,

Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator with five published books. Awarded by the Indian Government for her Outstanding Contribution to Literature her works’ translated into six languages & is published in Adelphiana, Asymptote, The Literary Review (USA), South Asian Review, Caravan , Cha,Post Road, The British Journal of Literary Translation , Drunken Boat, Pratilipi, Language for a New Century, The Literary Review, IQ, Another English: Anglophone Poems from Around the World among others. Forthcoming in 2015 are translations of Tamil mystic poet Aandaal with Ravi Shankar (Zubaan) and a short story collection(Niyogi Book). She edits Poetry at Sangam (www.sangamhouse.org) . More at www.priyawriting.com.

Be first to comment