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Malayan Literature   By:

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Romantic Tales, Epic Poetry


Royal Chronicles

Translated Into English For The First Time

With A Special Introduction By



Easily the most charming poem of Malayan Literature is the Epic of Bidasari. It has all the absorbing fascination of a fairy tale. We are led into the dreamy atmosphere of haunted palace and beauteous plaisance: we glide in the picturesque imaginings of the oriental poet from the charm of all that is languorously seductive in nature into the shadowy realms of the supernatural. At one moment the sturdy bowman or lithe and agile lancer is before us in hurrying column, and at another we are told of mystic sentinels from another world, of Djinns and demons and spirit princes. All seems shadowy, vague, mysterious, entrancing.

In this tale there is a wealth of imagery, a luxury of picturesqueness, together with that straightforward simplicity so alluring in the story teller. Not only is our attention so captivated that we seem under a spell, but our sympathy is invoked and retained. We actually wince before the cruel blows of the wicked queen. And the hot tears of Bidasari move us to living pity. In the poetic justice that punishes the queen and rewards the heroine we take a childish delight. In other words, the oriental poet is simple, sensuous, passionate, thus achieving Milton's ideal of poetic excellence. We hope that no philosopher, philologist, or ethnologist will persist in demonstrating the sun myth or any other allegory from this beautiful poem. It is a story, a charming tale, to while away an idle hour, and nothing more. All lovers of the simple, the beautiful, the picturesque should say to such learned peepers and botanizers, "Hands off!" Let no learned theories rule here. Leave this beautiful tale for artists and lovers of the story pure and simple. Seek no more moral here than you would in a rose or a lily or a graceful palm. Light, love, color, beauty, sympathy, engaging fascination these may be found alike by philosopher and winsome youth. The story is no more immoral than a drop of dew or a lotus bloom; and, as to interest, in the land of the improviser and the story teller one is obliged to be interesting. For there the audience is either spellbound, or quickly fades away and leaves the poet to realize that he must attempt better things.

We think that these folk stories have, indeed, a common origin, but that it is in the human heart. We do not look for a Sigurd or Siegfried on every page. Imagine a nation springing from an ignorant couple on a sea girt isle, in a few generations they would have evolved their Sleeping Beauty and their Prince Charming, their enchanted castles, and their Djinns and fairies. These are as indigenous to the human heart as the cradle song or the battle cry. We do not find ourselves siding with those who would trace everything to a first exemplar. Children have played, and men have loved, and poets have sung from the beginning, and we need not run to Asia for the source of everything. Universal human nature has a certain spontaneity.

The translator has tried to reproduce the faithfulness and, in some measure, to indicate the graceful phrases of the original poem. The author of Bidasari is unknown, and the date of the poem is a matter of the utmost uncertainty. Some have attributed to it a Javanese origin, but upon very slight evidence. The best authorities place its scene in the country of Palembang, and its time after the arrival of the Europeans in the Indian archipelago, but suggest that the legend must be much older than the poem.

The "Makota Radja Radja" is one of the most remarkable books of oriental literature. According to M. Aristide Marre, who translated it into French, its date is 1603. Its author was Bokhari, and he lived at Djohore. It contains extracts from more than fifty Arab and Persian authors. It treats of the duties of man to God, to himself and to society, and of the obligations of sovereigns, subjects, ministers, and officers... Continue reading book >>

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