Muses in Exile – An Anthology of Tibetan Poetry

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Item Code: IHL587
Author: Bhuchung D. Sonam
Publisher: Paljor Publications Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788186230480
Pages: 224 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
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Book Description
Back of the Book

For the first time, the voice of Tibet’s Diaspora find expression in an anthology of poetry composed in English: Muses in Exile. History teachers us that artistic and intellectual creativity reach their zenith under the most adverse conditions. And so it has been with Tibetan verse.

Of the thirty one writers published her, some have already died young. One at home in Tibet; others in Alaska, Toronto, New Delhi and in the mecca of their exile Dharamshala. However, far flung their lives, the longing for a homeland, the émigré’s estrangement, is expressed here in unison to a variety of literary tunes. This collection is testimony to the anguish, rootlessness and unwavering destiny of a displaced people still mentally marching homeward across the Himalayas.

Bhuchung D. Sonam was born in Tibet. In exile he studied in Tibetan Children’s Village School, Dharamshala, India. His permanent address was stolen.


Exile is the shifting sands of hope mingled with the crippling sorrow of estrangement. When hope fades into the distant horizon, and only the pangs of displacement remain, exile becomes a hollow existence hanging upon a thin thread of moral courage. Exile is, in many ways, an opportunity and a severe test of communal fortitude. Inspite of upheavals and separations, deaths and destruction in our homeland, we have withstood this testing period and emerged enriched.

In the past four decades we have established a government in exile and achieved almost full-fledged democracy. The Tibetan Diaspora has become a force to reckon with. Nevertheless, exile reminds us that our political status is ambiguous; that we float in a brzrd “of statelessness.

Like all exiles, Tibetans too were driven to a state of homelessness by harsh circumstances. Yet, though physically deprived of home, Tibetans are not bereft within. Our strong traditional heritage and spiritual ethics guide us through the tangled web of political chaos, physical dislocation and existential uncertainty. Our struggle to re-root ourselves under thorny circumstances is a variegated canvas.

Exile Tibet binds three generations. Those who were born and grew up in independent Tibet and chased into exile after 1959; those who were born amidst the political upheavals of the communist Chinese takeover of the 1950s and sixties and came into exile at a tender age; and those who were born in exile. In that timespan we have witnessed a complete revision of our social structure. One of exile’s positive changes was increased access to education, and as a result of this a new wave of intellectual fervour flourished.

The rich Tibetan Buddhist philosophical heritage, which once remained within the confines of our monasteries, began to permeate the outside world. Tibet is now universally synonymous with concepts like Compassion and the Middle Path. However, this global awakening of interest in Buddhist studies has somewhat overshadowed our unique secular creative heritage in dance, opera, music, folklore and poetry, which remains scantily explored.

Tibetan writing in English, which is a very recent flowering, is a small part of this secular culture. Though such works can be counted on our fingers, its future is undoubtedly bright. Led by the award—winning novel The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu, exile compatriots are in the mood for penning prose and verse (Tib.syan.ngag), both in Tibetan and in English. Since the late seventies we have seen the publication of several poetry books in English by Tibetans.

Yet post-fifties exile Tibetans were not the first to express themselves in English. Prior to the mass exodus of Tibetans to India after 959, a few highly privileged sons and daughters of Lhasa aristocrats, powerful chieftains and rich businessmen received modern educations in Christian boarding schools in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and in the 1920’s four boys were sent to an English public school by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. But neither the aristocratic heirs, nor the four schoolboys educated at Rugby, left behind any literary output worth mentioning. They largely disappeared into history, faceless and nameless.

Therefore Gendun Choephel was probably the first-ever Tibetan to write poems in English. In 1927, when Tibet was enjoying her hard-won return to full independence, a monk from Rebkong in north-eastern province of Amdo arrived in Lhasa — full of vigour and bubbling with ideas. He was a rebel to the core. Desiring to broaden his knowledge, he later travelled to India where he roamed the streets of Calcutta and Varanasi and became what he called a “stray monk”. Some biographers say that he mastered the English language in six months.

Gendun Chophel was born in the Wood-Snake year of 1905. He was a brilliant student and became accomplished in Tibetan grammar and composition early in life. At 25 he joined Gomang College of Drepung Monastic University in Lhasa, where he created havoc in the debating courtyards with his antics and often unconventional, but brilliant, dialectical skills. However, without sitting for his Geshe Lharampab examination, he left Drepung and headed towards Sakya and eventually to India. During his fourteen years roaming India and Sri Lanka he lived like a vagabond. His sole craving was for knowledge. Knowledge, he hoped, that would one day benefit his beloved country — Tibet.

But when he returned to Tibet karma — “that restless stallion”— had turned against him. He was imprisoned for crimes of treason that were never proven, and underwent unimaginable suffering and humiliation. Out of jealousy, ignorance and narrow-mindedness, a few of Lhasa’s ruling elite chose to destroy him. The land that he loved deserted him. Gendun Choephel passed away in 1951 at the age of 47.

Was he an exile compatriot? Politically he wasn’t. But socially he was. He neither found his rightful place in the hierarchical monastic system, nor did his sharp, inquisitive mind and articulate mouth conform to the submissive and rigid social structure in yesterday’s Tibet - especially in the eyes of Lhasa officials. Authority always seems to silence creative voices, since creativity means change and change means danger to those in power. Constricted by such a social climate, and in search of fresh knowledge, he left Tibet. During his self—imposed exile he missed his native land and longingly wrote:

“Rebkong, I left thee and my heart behind
My boyhood dusty plays in jar Tibet.
Karma, that restless stallion made of wind,
In tossing me: where will it land me yet?"

I left thee and my heart behind’ aptly foreshadows our plight today in exile. Perhaps, through his prismatic vision, he saw that his fellow countrymen would one day wander in an alien land. In his own self-imposed exile Gendun Choephel experienced the same estrangement as we do today.


Gendun Choephel 1
Milarepa’s Reply
Oh Where?
Chogyam Trungpa 7
A Letter to Marpa
Tibetan Pilgrim
Season’s Greetings
As Skylarks Hunt for Their Prey
Highlands of Tibet
K. Dhondup 19
Fresh Winds
Lines to a Prostitute
A Poet’s Reply
Cold Mountain Songs
Of Exile and Refuge
After Spring
Existence Anonymous
Poisons of the Mind
A Poem of Separation
Broken Tune
Ngodup Paljor 32
Ways of the World
I Am What I Am
One with Nature
Lhasang Tsering 40
The Monk and the Nun
Tsoltim N. Shakabpa 42
The Dalai Lama
Torn Between Two Countries
Made in China
My Tibet
Om Mani Padme Hum
Calendar on the Wall
In Case You Forgot
Gyalpo Tsering 53
In Search of Gesar’s Sword
First Snowfall
On the Wing
Cold Frost
To You from Exile
At the End of the Rainbow
The Weatherman (Ngagpa-la)
The Nomad I
The Nomad II
The Nomad III
The Hermit
Norbu Zangpo 67
The Broken Plough
To Boat People
The Wish
Tenzing Sonam 71
Rainbow and a Glass Gage
Plea- (Dance of the Shadows)
May Musings
Vignettes in Random
Autumn Love Dance- time for reckoning
Song for the Dead
Song for a Season
Gendun Choephel (G.C.) 83
If I Die
I Wish To be Buddha
Reality and Illusion
Pass By
Visions in Snippets
Let Us and Let Us Not
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa 92
A Matter Not of Order
The Water Song
Third Lesson
Tenzin Tsundue 103
Exile House
The Third Side of a Coin
The Flower and I
Spider Webbed
Looking for My Onion
I am a Terrorist
Pyre of Patriotism 114
Guilty in Love
For Appearance and Worse
Tsamchoe Dolma 122
A Voice
They are still too Young
Love Story of the Snail Queen
A Whispher
Silent Souls
Stolen Moments of Life
Twilight’s Delight
The Mother Cuckoo
Bhuchung D. Sonam 139
Froma a Prison Diary
Dylan, Me and Robin Hood
Dandelions of Tibet
Of Death and Peace
Song of an Old Tibetan
Tenzin Trinley 149
India- I See It Soon Depart
Kalsang Wangdu 150
Ode to Dhondup Gyal
Ugen Choephel152
A Blind Farmer?
Thupten N. Chakrishar 153
The Freedom Song
My last Wish
The Fallen Leaf
A Pledge
Namgyal Phuntsoke 159
A Dry Leaf
Stone Body’s Confession
The Call
Thriving on Flame
Tenzin Palzom 163
I Have Aged
Sherab W. Choephel 164
Anonymous 165
Tibet is My Destination
Wongchen Tsering 167
Is It Snowing in Tibet
Tsering Dokar 168
Dhargyal Tsering 169
Pema Tenzin 170
The View
Dawa Woeser 171
Three Things I Wait For…
Kathup Tsering 172
Don’t be Afraid Mother
In This Life I Saw
Cherin’ Norbu 177
The Majestic Himalayas
Tenzin Gelek 178
Romancing the Night
Unfilfilled Promises
Tshering Dorjee 181
Mr. Fart
Gendun Choephel Wailing 182
From Nangtse Shak Prison
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