The Immortal Ring of Samsara and Poetry

Lama Jabb [1]


Abstract: Chimay is an acclaimed contemporary Tibetan female poet and a revered and beloved Tibetan teacher. She has dedicated her entire intellectual life to imparting the wisdom and wonders of Tibetan language and literature to generations of high school and university students. This essay presents the first-ever English translation of Chimay’s celebrated formal verse poem “The Ring” and uses it to introduce her poetry to an Anglophone readership. Technical brilliance, lyrical accomplishment, emotional and intellectual intensity and a constellation of images distinguish this autobiographical poem, which adroitly strings together fragments of memory through vivid imagery and striking language. Reflections on love, loss, separation, remembering, hope, death and a profound sense of suffering often characterise Chimay’s poetry, expressing complex and intermingled private and public dimensions of a deep sorrow that forms an integral part of her identity. “The Ring” continues to address these prominent themes by capturing aspects of the poet’s lived experience of khorwa in distilled figurative language. It further demonstrates how Chimay finds poetry in pain and employs it to transcend suffering and trauma and to counter forgetting. After allowing the reader to appreciate “The Ring” in its entirety this essay offers a brief commentary on its content and form, referring to other poems and prose pieces by Chimay to provide some contextual insights and highlight recurrent themes. It also touches upon her imaginative exploitation of the Tibetan language and the limitations of translation in mirroring this faithfully. In the final analysis, “The Ring” is an extraordinary poem that epitomises Chimay’s conviction that poetry should be crafted out of one’s real life and mother tongue.

Keywords: Chimay, ring, poetry, language, and translation.


Chimay (’chi med or ‘Immortality’) is the pen-name of one of the most esteemed and prolific contemporary Tibetan female poets. Her real name is Palma Tso, but she is popularly known by her nom de plume. Her brooding, subjective, lyrical poetry is often concerned with life, loss, survival, and memory, and at its heart looms a profound sense of suffering. She was born in Sakyil village in Rebkong, North-eastern Tibet in 1967 and as such was tempered in the fires of the Cultural Revolution. Her father Wandi Tashi was accused of taking part in “the revolt” during the 1950s and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. He passed away several years after his release, when Chimay was six years old, due to injuries he had sustained in prison. Her mother Khamo Gyal was a victim of ‘class struggle’ and suffered incessant public humiliation and torture in ‘struggle sessions’ during the 1960s and 1970s. Chimay went to primary and secondary school in Rebkong and graduated from the Tsongon College for Nationalities in 1987. She has been teaching Tibetan language and literature ever since. She is an award-winning poet and has published numerous poems and prose pieces in literary journals and on online platforms. She has also released two books of her collected poems, The Dreams of the Moon (Zla ba’i rmi lam) in 2012 and The Youth of Water (Chu’i lang tsho) in 2016. The former was awarded the Wild Yak Prize for Literature in 2015.

In this essay I will present my translation of Chimay’s famed poem “The Ring” (“A long”) as an aperture onto her brilliant poetry.[2] After presenting the poem in its entirety at the outset I will make a few brief remarks about its content and form, which are seamlessly bound and charged with emotion and thought. It goes without saying that readers who are literate in Tibetan should consult the original (Appendix One) for a true appreciation of the poem’s arresting rhythm, haunting lyricism and salient as well as subtle repetition of unique Tibetan words and sounds that escape translation.


The Ring

Though gone over are the years and come back the months,

Though the distance be just within and over that distance,

These years and months of longing and long separation

Are the ring of steel, the samsara of oscillating joy and woe.


Though the mind and the mind-met heap of feelings

Are written on the pages of a mountainous book

Inside the little house ripened in karma and body,

The ring of home wears not out, be it written for a lifetime.


The little dance stage of quivering strings of music

Amid the joyous play of strobing lights, white and red,

The sudden awakening from this very dream of a song

With no lyrics is the ring of illusion in bed.


The sheer beauty of shimmering flowers has no bounds,

Bliss imbues the mind when little bees imbibe with their lips.

To be fatigued seeking there the container and the contained

Yet remain without home and in solitude is the ring of exhaustion.


In the expansive landscape formed with ease and grace

When I think and reflect in tranquillity and solitude

And fold each finger inward counting the joys and woes

The ring of past sufferings remains incalculable.


Hidden thoughts and the green garden of love,

Indelible pictures of the mind when displayed for view.

Recalling the uncoloured and natural state of youth

To the saturated mind is the ring of emptiness.


To cast aside tales that narrate unchanging love due to

The karmic burden of hope and fear, loss, gain and discord,

To scatter life and lungta soaked in muddled visions

To the winds on the mountaintop is the ring of hope.


Consorting with the sun and the moon circling in the sky

Ends in utter despair, for the body possesses no wings.

Though little feet might gain a hold in the thin, thin clouds

To perish on encountering the wind is the ring of karma.


How happy I would be if the ground was higher than this,

I would still reach the mountain top even lying down.

How joyous I would be if the water was clearer than this,

The desire to bathe in the open is the ring of swaying.


In that land where the sun shines upon the snow

The blue meadow has gathered me up into its lap.

To scramble on herding the thirty-four consonants and vowels

Imprinting footsteps in the meadow, is the ring of life.


When I furiously stroke the oars roaming aimlessly

Into the sweep of the sea that blankets the earth

To be fleetingly dazed in the abrupt fissure

Of the earth and the sky is the ring of confusion.


Should human life bound by ever-binding customs

Be wiped out by the free and untampered imagination

Only then in a perishable world of purity would I myself

Fulfil every single necessary reality, the ring of desire.


The grey years and months of my solitary wandering

Seeing no blissful worldly revels on this single visit

Are winding pictures on the surface of the earth and moon,

To not reconcile myself to that is the ring of imagination.


It is no obstacle to be merely troubled by cold winds,

Do you not think, you whose mind-core is mingled with mine?

To cocoon each other without betrayal in the warmth of the heart

And hold each other’s hands tightly is the ring of promise.


During that hour when dawn and dusk take turns to arrive

Putting on show all the comings and goings from inside and out

The aimless wayward conduct of my mind running wild

Cannot be captured by limitless intellect, the ring of speech.


The Ringed

“The Ring” is a splendid autobiographical poem characterized by technical brilliance, striking lyricism, emotional intensity, deep reflection and intriguing abstraction. It first appeared in the Tibetan language edition of The Journal of Nationalities Literature (Mi rig rtsom rig dus deb) in 2017, a bimonthly literary magazine published by the China Writers’ Association. The following year it won a literary award named after that journal. Since then, it has reached a much wider audience on social media transcending the limits of the print media and nation-state boundaries. While assisted by this new communication technology, the popular reception of the poem has ultimately been driven by its emotional and intellectual charge and the attraction of its meticulously crafted Tibetan language. Special features consciously devised by the poet appeal to the ear and the heart alike, rendering the poem striking on first encounter and triggering an urge to read it over and over again that makes it endure in the mind.

Among a multitude of other things, poetry is about remembering and being remembered through imaginative marshalling of language. John Carey states that poetry is “language made special, so that it will be remembered and valued” (1). Chimay’s “The Ring” is valued and remembered through its wide circulation and repeated reading, but it is also itself an expressive mode of communication that recalls. It is a store of memories about and reflections on suffering, strife, loneliness, love, hope, death and poetry, recording all of this for the present and posterity. It also appears to be constituted of what Toni Morrison in her 1987 novel Beloved calls “rememories” – one’s identity reconstructed or rediscovered through recollecting layers of often painful memories. In short, “The Ring” is a remembrance of and a meditation on the various iterations of what Tibetans call khorwa (’khor ba): khorwa as in Samsara that is diametrically opposed to Nirvana; khorwa as in the human condition that is, to echo William Blake, woven fine of joy and woe; and khorwa as in domesticity – the arduous management of family life that runs counter to the life of the religious renunciate. Chimay’s poem is about her unique experience of this multivalent khorwa – a ring of unbroken, endless mental and physical activities that revolve around life, struggle, death, and rebirth.

Commenting on his own poetry W. B. Yeats states: “I must leave my myths and symbols to explain themselves as the years go by and one poem lights up another” (qtd. in Parkinson 122). When we read Chimay’s poetic work each poem also brightens and sets ablaze the others with their interlaced content, imagery, and language. In her poetry one often comes across reflections on love, loss, separation, remembering and a profound sense of suffering. There is a complex private and public dimension to this deep agony, which is often indivisibly subjective and collective. Like an old, open wound that refuses to heal, its causes and underlying conditions are never explicitly stated. Many seem unspeakable and as such remain unnamed. Given that all things – including texts – are the mere products of codependent origination (rten ’brel gyi ngo bo tsam), we need to appreciate Chimay’s other poems and prose writing for a more nuanced understanding of “The Ring”. One informative piece of writing that commands special attention is Chimay’s autobiographical essay “Tibetan Women on Tibetan Women’s Literature” (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba”).[3] This candid account of her life and creative intellectual journey sheds vital light on her poetry. There is no space here to undertake even a cursory review of that and Chimay’s other literary output, but reference to two of her other poems will go some way to contextualising the poem under review. Even a fleeting appreciation of these acclaimed works can help to illuminate “The Ring”.

“Love and Karmic Destiny” (“Brtse dung dang las dbang”) is Chimay’s first ever published poem and is in free verse form. It was published in the literary magazine Drangchar (sBrang char, Light Rain) in 1994 and awarded the Drangchar Prize for Literature in 1997. It is a tragic love poem that begins promisingly with the resuscitation of two broken hearts (“two fragmented little red heart-minds”) in the moonlight thanks to the long passage of time.[4] This restoration reaffirms and deepens enduring love and gives new life to poetry: “For the soul of poetry beats once again/ My blood gushes out of your pen nib.[5] The unclouded moon reignites thwarted love and poetry utters it. These are two cathartic sites of nature and culture – both non-corporeal – where the two long-separated lovers can meet. However, lack of freedom and the tyranny of the other make actual reunion in the flesh impossible. This turns their love into a bitter tale of happiness and suffering that the poet is compelled to read with anguish and lamentation. As the poem draws to a close even the moon whose light first revived the lovers is fatally wounded in the West. Swirling clouds on the mountaintop draw the final curtail over the fallen moon. Only the poet’s refusal to forget keeps alive this record of love and karmic destiny.

These themes of love, hurt, loss of freedom, violence and remembrance resonate with redoubled force in another of Chimay’s award-winning free verse poems, “The Tibetan Mastiff” (“’Brog khyi”). This lauded poem, for which Chimay won the Gangjen Metok Prize for Literature in 2012, was first published in the Tibetan poetry magazine Gangjen Metok (Gangs rgyan me tog, Snow Flower) in 2009. It is a powerful work about the rise, fall, ongoing plight, and undying spirit of the proud, independent, and fearsome Tibetan mastiff. The measured tone with which it starts immediately crescendos into a loud bark as the mastiff starts narrating its tragic tale:


I am a Tibetan mastiff,

And I too have a life of my own.

In essence, I too am born of the union of two consciousnesses,

And am a real animal perfected with flesh, blood and mass.


My bark vibrated inside the circle of snow-mountains

Amid the cold wind that made the stars shiver,

The beauty of my hair upon which the sleek dark light played

Made dim the light of the moon on the winter landscape.


When the fierce roar of blizzards devoured entire mountains and valleys

My majesty – to meet head-on and cut through the sharp cold and wind,

My ambition – to pull the stars down to earth with a single leap,

My arrogance – to run in hot pursuit of the blowing fast wind.[6]


The poem goes on to announce the arrival of a cunning and coercive master, resulting in the subjugation and exiling of this once almighty Tibetan guardian and the loss of its homeland. Its tone decreases back to a steady, dignified pace as this story of hurt, repression and mental resilience unfolds. The Tibetan mastiff whose awesome bark resonated within the ring of snow-mountains is stripped of its freedom, independence and wild habitat. It is driven into exile to a distant urbanized landscape that contrasts sharply with its pristine mountainous home. Now it remains chained with an “unbearably heavy ring of black steel” (theg dka’ ba’i lcags nag gi A long) around its neck and is subjected to relentless torture. As it grows old inside a “cage of tempered steel and concrete” (rno lcags dang Ar ’dam gyi gzeb dra ’di nas) its tears dry up and it unfailingly meditates upon “the mountains, the rivers and the plains of homeland” (pha yul gyi ri chu thang gsum bsgoms nas yod). The Tibetan mastiff fights off mind control (“Who can put a lock on my subtle mind?” nga’i sems pa phra mo sgo zwa rgyag thub mkhan su yod), embraces homeland within the mind and refuses to give up its dreams even though it suffers hell on earth. The poem ends with a potent mix of imagery depicting an infernal scene, longing for home, and hope and horror. The Tibetan mastiff fears that one day its master might completely silence its voice but expresses the ultimate satisfaction it would feel were the wind – just once – to carry its “sky-tearing bark” (gnam sa ral bar byed pa’i bdag gi zug skad) and mount it upon the snow-mountain peaks. In her autobiographical essay Chimay reveals that Toni Morrison’s writings on the hardship and suffering of black people inspired “The Tibetan Mastiff,” which is a metonym for her own reawakened pain (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba” 74).

In polished formal verse “The Ring” continues Chimay’s treatment of the intermingled aspects of individual and collective tragedy. Although taking a more personal turn, it addresses the same themes of love, loss, strife, and the strong poetic will to remember what she has experienced in her life. In one of her illuminating review articles Chimay opines that to capture and express one’s true self with transparency is the function and soul of poetry. She believes that “it is to destroy the life and soul of poetry when one writes poetry without prioritizing oneself as the subject and looks for subjects and feelings in other things unconnected to oneself” (“Nga rang dga’ ba’i lhug rtsom zhig” 107).[7] This notion of poetry informs “The Ring” which focuses on the poet herself and reveals a life born of hardship, loneliness and suffering (“The ring of past sufferings remains incalculable”), and a life dedicated to learning and teaching Tibetan language and writing Tibetan poetry (“To scramble on herding the thirty-four consonants and vowels/ Imprinting footsteps in the meadow, is the ring of life”). Through a mixture of directness and abstraction “The Ring” also exposes stifling aspects of domesticity, challenges of married life, and the juggling of family, work, and writing (“The ring of home wears not out, be it written for a lifetime”; “Yet remain without home and in solitude is the ring of exhaustion”).

Through a cluster of metaphors “The Ring” reveals aspects of Chimay’s lived experiences “by flashes of lightning.”[8] Each metaphor pegged to the recurrent image of the ring is an intense illumination in distilled brevity. The reader’s encounter with this set of images carries them on a journey through the poet’s life into the deep interior of the poem. Ultimately “The Ring” seems to concern Chimay’s inner life tempered with pain. Just as in Emily Dickinson’s work, “The Ring” and similarly themed poems appear to communicate “some irremediable shock” that Chimay has endured.[9] Like many of Chimay’s poems “The Ring” is written for those who Shakespeare’s Hamlet unforgettably calls “wonder-wounded hearers” (Hamlet 5.1).[10] Her “phrase of sorrow”, recollection of often painful memories and self-reflection both engage and further sting the already wounded readers.[11]


The Ring Itself

One could be forgiven for overlooking the arduous crafting that goes into the composition of a fine poem like “The Ring”. Its lyrical beauty and seemingly natural fluidity might make the reader take this aspect of laborious devising for granted. If we reread the poem closely with a consideration of its style, Chimay’s conscious verbal inventiveness becomes apparent. Language is manipulated in a deliberately creative way to simultaneously communicate meaning and draw attention to itself. Unlike Chimay’s early poems that are mostly in free verse “The Ring” and many of her later poems are predominantly metrical compositions. This reflects her esteem for the varied and rich Tibetan literary tradition and deliberate return to the practice of stylish formal verse informed by it (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba” 83-84). With regards to meter “The Ring” features fifteen adroitly worked out stanzas, each consisting of four ten-syllabled lines. Each syllable is a pronounced beat. For scansion the syllables are read in pairs and in most cases each pair is a single word that forms the basic metrical unit. This measured flow of two-syllabled words makes up the rhythmical backbone of the poem:


ཕར་སོང་         ལོ་དང་     ཚུར་འོང་     ཟླ་བ་     ཡིན་ཡང་།།

བར་ཐག་     བར་ཐག་     དེ་ཡི་     ཕར་ཚུར་     ཡིན་ཡང་།།

དྲན་བཞིན་     རིང་དུ་     གྱེས་པའི་     ལོ་ཟླ་     འདི་དག།

རེས་སྐྱིད་     རེས་སྡུག་     འཁོར་བ་      ལྕགས་ཀྱི་     ཨ་ལོང་།།


Depending on one’s preferred reading style individual lines can be read in one breath or with a slight pause immediately after the third syllable pair. Such choice is determined by the tempo, tone, and mood one senses in the poem and the elements one wishes to emphasise when reciting:


ཕར་སོང་        ལོ་དང་     ཚུར་འོང་            ཟླ་བ་     ཡིན་ཡང་།།

བར་ཐག་     བར་ཐག་     དེ་ཡི་          ཕར་ཚུར་   ཡིན་ཡང་།།

དྲན་བཞིན་     རིང་དུ་     གྱེས་པའི་          ལོ་ཟླ་   འདི་དག།

རེས་སྐྱིད་     རེས་སྡུག་     འཁོར་བ་          ལྕགས་ཀྱི་   ཨ་ལོང་།།

The introduction of a short pause after the sixth syllable (which is frequently the last phoneme of the third word) makes the flow of sounds smoother and more effortless. While drawing attention to the four remaining syllables and placing particular stress on the fourth word, it also allows the reader to finish the line in a more relaxed and unhurried manner. The number of such pauses and their specific placement within the metrical line is not set in stone. To a certain degree it is dictated by which aspects of the overall rhythmic pattern one wishes to stress.

Another distinct feature of “The Ring” is the frequent use of an incredibly contracted and distilled form of Tibetan collocation. More often than not these collocations are two-syllabled words made up of two different terms. Their use is an integral part of the ten-syllabled poetic sound pattern of “The Ring” and its chiselled diction. As the two constituting units of these compound words are often semantic opposites, they might convey either one single meaning or two or more separate denotations within a given context. Their specific placement might even inject contradictory meanings. This sematic flexibility and multivalence enhance the poem by deepening and complicating it:


ཕར་ཚུར།     ལོ་ཟླ།     དཀར་དམར།     སྣོད་བཅུད།

དགའ་སྡུག     རེ་དོགས།     འགལ་འདུ།     ཐོབ་ཤོར།

ཕན་ཚུན།     ཞོགས་སྲོད།     ཕྱི་ནང་།     འགྲོ་འདུག


The employment of such collocations enriches “The Ring” in several ways. Firstly, as they are mostly constituted of two monosyllabic words and are in common currency, they furnish the poem with a steady rhythm and, like healthy heartbeats, infuse it with a sense of security or comfort. Most of these collocations have high frequency usage and this linguistic familiarity – for the Tibetan reader – endows the poem with a quality of intimacy even though it is quite abstract in parts. Secondly, the multivalence of such collocations creates ambiguity, an attribute celebrated by William Empson as a salient feature of poetic richness. This display of ambiguity introduces indeterminacies, suggests various meanings, opens up multiple readings and also sometimes unites the seemingly disparate elements of a complex whole. Thirdly, the frequent use of these multivalent collocations provides the poem with unfathomable depth. Their ambiguities and their pairings and juxtapositions of words, images, ideas and emotions allow us to dig deep into the poem, thus ferrying us closer and closer to the inner world of the poet.

Chimay’s poem also contains pairings and juxtapositions of distinct entities that are not overtly demonstrated through actual collocations but are arranged in pairs within a single line or separate lines and stanzas. They are sometimes just hinted at. As matches and correlated or contrasted entities that are obvious to the Tibetan reader they can often be overlooked. For instance, phar song lo, tshur ’ong dza ba, sa ’di, chu ’di, gangs, spang, sa gzhi and nyi zla are scattered throughout the poem forming a repeat pattern. Like the compound words these pairings and juxtapositions underline both disunity and fusion of separate entities. Another juxtaposition that is not made explicit but that pervades the poem like breath is that of life and death.


Conclusion: Translation Escapees

Repetition is a prominent formal feature of Chimay’s poem. The overall rhythmic pattern and the unique collocations are both forms of repetition. There is also a pervasive and arresting alliterative presence in the Tibetan original which my translation attempts to mimic but does not necessarily succeed in doing justice to.[12] The ring (A long) is a motif reiterated in each stanza mirroring its referent Samsara – that perpetual cycle of recurrent joy, woe, life, death, and rebirth. John Hoskyns, a 17th century British scholar of rhetoric, states that “in speech there is no repetition without importance” (qtd. in Kermode 19). The repetitions in Chimay’s poem are not just there for stylistic reasons but also for hammering home the content, thereby confirming the Tibetan saying, “One must emphatically repeat what is urgent (gal po che la nan bshad).”

These diverse forms of repetition are one of several aspects of Chimay’s poem that do not easily lend themselves to translation. Besides the untranslatability of the Tibetan meter, sound patterns and cadence, there are many words and phrases that have multiple meanings and are jammed with visual and symbolic significances that escape translation. To cite a few of these fugitives:


འཁོར་བ།     སྣོད་བཅུད།     ལན་ཆགས།     རླུང་རྟ།

རྐང་བགྲོད་ལག་བགྲོད།     ཅི་བསམ་འདི་དྲན་མེད་པ། 

སྣང་བ།     གནས་ལུགས།


Although I have rendered all these terms into English bar one, there are neither singular ‘accurate’ ways of translating them nor exact English equivalents. The context of the poem in its original and target languages and the assumed degree of multi-cultural sensibility and knowledge of the audience affect the translator’s judgement. For instance, I have left lungta (rlung rta) untranslated for the readers of this inaugural issue of a Tibetan studies journal but might translate it as ‘fortune’ for an audience assumed to be unfamiliar with the term and unlikely to explore its significance even when prompted by a footnote. Lungta can be translated literally as windhorse or liberally as fortune. It signifies more than just a thin piece of paper or stretches of material or other artifacts imprinted with holy images and prayers used in a range of private and public rituals. In its common usage it denotes fortune, fame, deeds, and the capricious success and failure of us mortals. It is left untranslated here due to its multivalence and complex cultural associations and with a view to letting it act as a doorway to another translation escapee, the Tibetan cultural world that supplies the bloodstream of Chimay’s poem. In concordance with Arthur Schopenhauer’s misgivings about the translatability of poetry, I hope that I have managed to transpose “The Ring” into English albeit “awkwardly.”[13]

For a more nuanced understanding of the poem and a fuller appreciation of Chimay’s imaginative deployment of Tibetan language and her immersion in the Tibetan literary tradition, I recommend the reader to savour “The Ring” in the Tibetan original. This is not just to offset the limitations of translation but also, most importantly, for the simple fact that Chimay has composed “The Ring” through a painstaking exploration of the resourcefulness of the Tibetan language. For her the making of Tibetan poetry is shaped by one’s real life and the ability to mine the Tibetan language with dogged determination as encapsulated by this Tibetan epigram:





Though the father tongue is a bone, one must gnaw at it

Though the mother letter is a wilderness, one must plough it.[14]



[1] The first draft of this article was presented online at the University of Virginia run Tibetan Women Writing Workshop on 22 July 2020. I would like to extend my gratitude to the organisers – Janet Gyatso, Jue Liang and Tashi Dekyid – and attendees for their warm reception, encouragement and stimulating feedback, and a huge thanks to Jane Caple for her constructive insights and editorial input. 

[2] My translation is based on a version preferred by the poet which differs slightly from the published version listed in the works cited. This can be found online at the Great Tibetan Recitation Platform (Bod kyi gyer ’don spyi stegs chen mo)

[3] Although I have relied on the version published by Tsongon People’s Press (Mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang), a more recent edited version of this essay can be accessed online via the Amnye Machen Messaging Platform (A myes rma chen ’phrin stegs)

[4] chag grum shor ba’i dmar chung gi yid sems gnyis.

[5] snyan ngag gi bla srog slar yang ldang bas/ kyed kyi smyug rtse nas bdag gi khrag rgyun lud.

[6] nga ni ’brog khyi zhig ste/

       nga la’ang rang nyid kho nar dbang ba’i ’tsho stangs shig yod/

       ma gzhi nas/ nga rang yang rnam shes gnyis kyi ’phrad sbyor las byung zhing/

       sha khrag gdos bcas kyi kun gzhi tshang ba’i sems can rnal ma zhig yin/


        bdag gi zug skad ni gang kyi ra ba na g.yo zhing/

        skar mar khong ’dar slong ba’i grang rlung gi khrod du/

        gnag snum ’od kyis rtsen pa’i spu kha yi mdzes nyams kyis/

        dgun ljongs zla ba’i ’od snang mog por bsgyur/


bu yug gi gad rgyangs drag pos ri klung hril gyis ’gems dus/

tsag dang bser bu thod la blang shing thad kyis gzhangs pa’i nga’i zil shugs/

mchong thengs gcig gis skar tshogs sa la ’drud snying ’dod pa’i nga’i ham sems/

bser ma rlung gi rgyu phyogs la’ang hol gyis rjes ’ded gtong ba’i nga’i nga rgyal/

[7] rang nyid brjod byar bya rgyu gtso gnad du mi ’jog par snyan ngag ’bri skabs rang nyid dang ’brel ba med pa’i bya dgos gzhan kyi steng nas brjod bya dang tshor ba ’tshol bar byas na snyan ngag gyi bla dang srog stor pa red. In her autobiographical essay Chimay also touches on this proclivity for frank personal accounts of life in poetry often revealing inner torments. She was influenced by the confessional poetry of Sylvia Plath. After reading Plath’s ‘Daddy’ Chimay composed many poems including “Dear Mother, Why Were You in Such a Hurry to Leave? (A ma lags/ khyed rang phebs par de ’dra’i brel don ci/)” (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba” 72-74). The central belief of Chimay’s that good poetry must capture the real life is also vividly evident in her moving appraisal of Naro’s (Na ro) free verse poem “Mother and Her Life Wisdom (A ma dang mo’i ’tsho ba’i shes rab).” Her high esteem of this poem lies in its true to life portrayal of an ordinary mother in a farming village whose life is forged by fruitful yet relentless physical labour. Triggered by this poem Chimay recalls her own mother as a woman of strength, independence and indomitable spirit who comes to epitomize all hardworking Tibetan farmers (“Zhing kha na ’dzad kyin pa’i sle bo” 159-163).

[8] In 1842 Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the great Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean in these immortal words: “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning” (44).

[9] Detecting the “irremediable shock” conveyed by Emily Dickson’s poetry, the cultural critic and libertarian thinker Isabel Paterson stated: “There are poems also which indicate that Emily endured some irremediable shock, more profound than a parting in life” (qtd. in Pohl 480). Chimay acknowledges the influence of Emily Dickinson on her poetry. As a young poet she wrote several love poems inspired by Dickinson’s poetic treatment of love and life including “Love and Karmic Destiny” (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba” 71-72). 

[10] The verse in full reads:

HAMLET   What is he whose grief

Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow

Conjures the wand’ring stars, and makes them stand

Like wonder-wounded hearers? This is I,

Hamlet the Dane.

[11] For examples of  Chimay’s introspective poems characterized by reflection on love, longing and inner torment  see  “I Long in This Way in the Last Month of Spring (dPyid zla tha mar ngas ’di ltar dran)” (Zla ba’i rmi lam 148-151); “Lama Tsongkhapa Who Longed for his Mother on the Summit of Gadan Mountain” (“dGa’ ldan ri bo’i rtse nas A ma dran myong ba’i bla ma tsonag kha pa”); “One Thousand Years of Yearning” (“Lo ngo stong gi re sgug”); and “The Crystal Stamen” (“Shel gyi ze’u ’bru”).

[12] For my tentative reflections on the challenges and also rewards entailed in the translation of Tibetan poetry see my keynote lecture given at the Lotsawa Translation Workshop in October 2018, available at

[13] Schopenhauer states: “Poems cannot be translated; they can only be transposed, and that is always awkward” (33).

[14] Chimay concludes her autobiographical essay with this epigram (“Bod mos bod mo’i rtsom rig gleng ba” 84).


Works cited:

Blake, William. “Auguries of Innocence.” Blake’s Poetry and Designs. Edited by Mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant, Norton Critical Edition, 1979, pp. 209-212.

Carey, John. A Little History of Poetry. Yale University Press, 2020.

འཆི་མེད། [’Chi med, Chimay]. དགའ་ལྡན་རི་བོའི་རྩེ་ནས་ཨ་མ་དྲན་མྱོང་པའི་བླ་མ་ཙོང་ཁ་པ། [“Lama Tsongkhapa Who Longed for his Mother on the Summit of Gadan Mountain”]. བོད་ཀྱི་ཅེར་འདོན་སྤྱི་སྟེགས་ཆེན་མོ། ༢༠༡༩ །

———. ང་རང་དགའ་བའི་ལྷུག་རྩོམ་ཞིག [“A Piece of Prose I Love”]. ༼གངས་རྒྱན་མེ་ཏོག༽ དེབ་བཞི་བ། ༢༠༡༧ ། ཤོག་ངོས་༡༠༡ནས་༡༠༨།

———. ༼ཆུའི་ལང་ཚོ། ༽་ [The Youth of Water]. སི་ཁྲོན་མི་རིགས་དཔེ་སྐྲུན་ཁང་། ༢༠༡༦ །

———. བོད་མོས་བོད་མོའི་རྩོམ་རིག་གླེང་བ། [“Tibetan Women On Tibetan Women’s Literature”]. ལྕགས་རྡོར་རྒྱལ་དང་། གོ་ཤུལ་གྲགས་པ་འབྱུང་གནས་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་བསྒྲིགས་པའི་༼བུད་མེད་རྩོམ་པ་པོས་གསར་རྩོམ་གླེང་བ།༽ [Women Writers On Creative Writing], མཚོ་སྔོན་མི་རིགས་དཔེ་སྐྲུན་ཁང་། ༢༠༡༧ ། ཤོག་ངོས་༤༡ནས༨༤།

———. འབྲོག་ཁྱི། [“The Tibetan Mastiff”]. ༼ཟླ་བའི་རྨི་ལམ།༽   [The Dreams of the Moon], ཤོག་ངོས་༡༢༩ནས་༡༣༣།

———. བརྩེ་དུང་དང་ལས་དབང་། [“Love and Karmic Destiny”]. ༼ཟླ་བའི་རྨི་ལམ།༽   [The Dreams of the Moon], ཤོག་ངོས་༢༠༡ནས་༢༠༢།

———. ཞིང་ཁ་ན་འཛད་ཀྱིན་པའི་སླེ་བོ། [“The Withering Away Basket at the Edge of the Field”]. ༢༠༡༨ ལོའི༼སྦྲང་ཆར།༽དེབ་བཞི་བ། ཤོག་ངོས་༡༤༩ནས་༡༦༣།

———. ༼ཟླ་བའི་རྨི་ལམ།༽  [The Dreams of the Moon]. མཚོ་སྔོན་མི་རིགས་དཔེ་སྐྲུན་ཁང་། ༢༠༡༢ །

———. ལོ་ངོ་སྟོང་གི་རེ་སྒུག [“One Thousand Years of Yearning”].༼མི་རིགས་རྩོམ་རིག༽ དེབ་དང་པོ། ༢༠༡༧ ། ཤོག་ངོས་༢༠ནས་༢༡།

———. ཤེལ་གྱི་ཟེའུ་འབྲུ། [The Crystal Stamen]. ༼ཆུའི་ལང་ཚོ། ༽ [The Youth of Water], ཤོག་ངོས་༡༥ནས་༡༧།

———. ཨ་ལོང་། [“The Ring”]. ༼མི་རིགས་རྩོམ་རིག༽ དེབ་དང་པོ། ༢༠༡༧ ། ཤོག་ངོས་༢༢ནས་༢༣།

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Table Talk and Omniana of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Oxford University Press, 1917.

Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity. 1930. Penguin, 1995.

Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 2000.

Lama Jabb. “An Act of Bardo: Translating Tibetan Poetry.” Lotsawa Translation Workshop, 4-8 Oct. 2018, University of Colorado. Keynote lecture. Available at:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. 1987. Vintage Books, 2004.

Parkinson, Thomas. W. B. Yeats: The Later Poetry. University of California Press, 2001.

Pohl, Frederick J. “The Emily Dickinson Controversy.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 41, no. 4, Oct – Dec 1933, pp. 467-482.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. “On Language and Words.” 1800. Translated by Peter Mollenhauer. Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida, edited by Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet, The University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 32-35.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (The RSC Shakespeare), edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, Macmillan, 2007, pp. 1924-1999.


Dr. Lama Jabb is currently a Supernumerary Fellow in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies and Head of the Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, where he also teaches Tibetan language and literature. He is the author of Oral and Literary Continuities in Modern Tibetan Literature: The Inescapable Nation (2015) and many scholarly articles. 


Appendix One