Poetry, Translation

Theurang’s Prison Poems4 min read

A Tibetan voice, unchained – translated by Palden Gyal


Editor’s Note: For background on Tibetan poet Theurang and the collection Avalanche in which these poems appear, read translator Palden Gyal’s essay which we published yesterday as part of our Tibetan Poetry week. Below is a selection of Theurang’s poems from the book.



The vast land is stifled in suffocation

The rocks splintered by the rays of the sun

Slumber in the desert of time.

Darkness, like a child wont to fabrication

Runs in your vicinity whispering secrets.

Your eyes are devoid of radiance,

Your mouth deprived of a tongue,

Still, you must live forever

Spreading the rays of light.


History departed piecemeal from us

Entrusted not even an eventual shadow,

In the midst of oppression

Only darkness persists!

Those that are robbed of liberty

Search for history in the heart of darkness,

Traverse swathes of darkness in the depths of history.

Those that gently bid farewell to us,

Still live in the melodies of our lives

For melodies that move human hearts are eternally abiding.

Yet, this morning

I stirred up an uproar as usual:

The vast land needs to breathe,

Mankind must breathe to sustain life,

All languages and letters must also breathe!


A Monologue

In this place

You have neither enemy nor animosity.

Without any regret or rue

You arrived here by following yourself.

Be that as it may

You are not the same as those folks

You do not know how to engage in robbery,

Murder, rape or corruption

You are someone besotted with poetry

Poetry is pure, unadulterated

Acute and arresting,

Yet it exists unfettered

Naturally, you too

Must stay perceptive,

Untainted and unrestrained

That is not a painless pursuit

It requires you to fight against time,

Against life and society, and

Against that which you encounter everyday–  

Feelings and emotions of all kinds

But it is not that grueling either

It is sufficient if you preserve love with dedication,

Stand guard over your character and aspirations.

One day, when you learn

Only loneliness shades your movements,

When you find out

Only freedom flows in your body,

And when you possess nothing save poetry

You can finally build a kingdom of poverty.

In this place, it appears there is just a lot of time

Yet, in truth, you are really your own three-times1

A struggle advanced through vicissitudes of time

An intellect wrought through strife of mortal pain,

So you must always practice prudence and vigilance.

Unlike those folks

You have no stiff and steely nails

No coarse and rough skin

No strong and sturdy muscles.

These fragile and frail hands

Could hold no more than a pen,

Yet no matter where or when

Writing is your destined calling in life.


Those People

Mountains hollowed out, rivers befouled

And wildlife wiped out.

Those people burrow our land

With their fangs and claws.


Pastures denuded, forests demolished

Boundaries of fields and pens dissolved and

Converted into extensive spaces of foreign, unhealthy trees.

Those “guests” have now settled, unapologetically.


Rangelands divided, fenced with iron enclosures

Livestock disturbed, and its population dwindling.

With fierce expressions, they snatch away slabs of our gold ores

And with unblushing smiles, they reward us with a few sacks of flour.

Those people really know how to ingratiate themselves.


Law. Policy. Harmony.


Those people have chains, locks

And awfully tight snares.


Eulogy of the Courageous

On the ancient burial ground under the fluttering wings of vultures,

At Lion Dragon Tiger Fort2

with the descending hair of wild yaks,

And the diamond on the summit of Drakmar3,

Thus, you departed…


Holding a handful of flowers of aspiration,

You agitated the glory of the ungodly

And thus, you bid us farewell, sincerely.

The path is a creek beneath a whip of thorns

Flowing in the guise of a meadow – the sound of horses galloping.

After roaring the revered name,

Your body, speech and mind

Arose in the manifestation of towering flames.


From Theurang, Avalanche (‘International Books Publishing Company,’ November 2017). All translations by Palden Gyal.
  1. Three-times (dus gsum) refers to past, present, and future.
  2. In Tibetan mythology, Seng ’brug stag rtse (Lion Dragon Tiger Peak), also known as seng phrug stag rdzong (Lion Cub Tiger Fortress), is a castle built for King Gesar by Gedzo and Machen Pomra as a prize for winning a horse race. For more detail, see The Epic of Gesar of Ling (2012) translated by Robin Kornman.
  3. Drakmar (Brag dmar), literally “red rock,” is the location of the historical temple complex of Samye, Tibet’s oldest monastery. The mountain slope behind Samye is of a bright red color. Drakmar is also thought to have been the residence of King Trisong Detsen.