The Song of Myself, whose title takes its cue from Walt Whitman’s celebration of the self, Song of Myself, is a modern, free-flowing verse rendition of the classic Sanskrit text, the Bhagavad Gita. It provides a fresh reading of a much translated work that has become overlaid with both Eastern and Western ideas of spirituality which have obscured, and sometimes distorted, the central teaching: to know what the self is, what action is and what non-action is. In this new translation the author has sought to make those ideas clear through a readable verse translation that does not sacrifice literal accuracy, and with notes and commentary that will help the reader separate the complementary strands of this important syncretic work that has contributed to our understanding of the self and its delusions.

Extracts from the text

From the introduction:

The Gita presents particular difficulties for both the reader and the translator. Its meaning is unclear because no single, easily expressible meaning is intended. Like the epic poems of Homer it has no known author to give it a singular authoritative voice. The Sanskrit language itself allows multiple meanings to attach themselves to single words or word combinations. And words are only the surface sediment of a deep evolutionary history of their meaning. They lie scattered on the surface of the text like so many cultural artefacts whose original usage is now obscure. There can be no definitive translation of the Gita. One can only translate the Gita as a reading of the text, with the personal interpretation of meaning that defines the act of reading.

My relationship with the text is a personal one. In undertaking a translation I have hoped to make my own ideas clear by attempting to make clear the main ideas and tenets found in the Gita, and where those ideas are not clear, or are not ideas at all but intuitive assertions, or poetic excursions, or gnomic utterances, or interpolated commentary, I have let them stand as such. Not all crooked things need to be made straight, and a singular truth is less interesting than our numberless attempts at it. I have, in the process, made a number of ‘hidden connections’ of my own between those attempts in the accompanying notes to the text by situating the book in hand among other books whose voices, too, speak of ‘the two old, simple problems ever intertwined’, life and death. Walt Whitman’s was one of those voices that spoke loudly and most to the point, and I have taken lines from his Song of Myself as appropriate epigraphs for each of the chapters of the Gita, to argue for the universality of the first person freed from its narrowness of interest, waiting to be found in more than one place:

     Missing me one place search another,
     I stop somewhere waiting for you.

From Book 6:

is the essence of this way.
There is no way
without renunciation
of self-interest.

The wise man
who desires to find the way
pursues the way of action.
He who has already found it
holds quietly to it.

When not attached
to objects of the senses
or to the objects
of his actions,
and purposeless,
then it can be said
that he has found the way.

6:10 - 6:15
only on the self,
he sits
secluded and alone,
his thoughts subdued,
desiring nothing,
possessing nothing.
He firmly sits
in some place clean and pure,
covered first with fragrant grass,
a deerskin, then a cloth,
placed neither high nor low.
Focused on a single point,
subduing thoughts and senses,
he sits
and practices this discipline
to purify the self.
With body, head and neck erect,
motionless he sits,
focused on the point of his nose
and looking nowhere else.
With quietude of mind
and all fears put away
he dedicates himself to abstinence.
His thoughts controlled,
he sits and concentrates
on me alone, the higher self.
And so by constancy
and diligence in practice
he finally subdues the mind
and finds tranquillity and peace
absorbed in me.