Authors born between 800 and 1100 CE
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Clinging to a Lost Learning
My Heavy Heart is Broken up
Memory Racked with Love
The Hot Taste of Life
Bilhana or Chauras (probably born in the11th Century) was a young Kashmiri poet who wrote a long
panegyiric poem, the
Vikramankadevacharita, in honor of his patron King Vikramaditya VI of Kalyana.
There is a legend that Bilhana and Vidya, the daughter of the king, had a
secret affair. When the King discovered their love, Bilhana was imprisoned
under sentence of death by beheading. While in prison, he composed and
recited a series of verses
celebrating his love, the Chauraspanchasika, which can be translated as
"The Collection of Fifty Verses by a Love Thief". The verses are in
Sanskrit and each begins with the phrase "Even now". The legend has
various outcomes. The happy one is that the verses brought him his freedom and
he married the princess.
The collection of verses has been popular for centuries in India. There
are numerous commentaries and many local and regional variants. It represents
a well-established form of Indian
love poetry, related to other collections of erotic Sanskrit verses that lack
the unifying structure achieved by repeating the first line.
In some versions of the poem there are hints of the legend in the verses themselves. In others, the verses and the legend are separate. In some there clearly has been a separation of the lovers, in others there has not. In general, the verses are presented more in the form of individual pictures strung together rather than as parts of a continuous narrative. On the other hand, the continuous repetition in the opening line and restricted form of the verses produces a cumulative effect that provides a unity to the whole. In the most famous version of the poem in English, E. Powys Mathers freely adapted the verses and the legend to produce a continuous narrative poem, which he published as Black Marigolds. In the selection of verses that follows, I have tried to choose those verses by Mathers that have some correspondence with those in the original as more strictly translated by Barbara Stole Miller.
My thought is all of this gold-tinted king's daughter
With garlands tissue and golden buds,
Smoke tangles of her hair, and sleeping or waking
Feet trembling in love, full of pale languor;
My thought is clinging as to a lost learning
Slipped down out of the minds of men,
Laboring to bring her back into my soul.
If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again
Weary with the dear weight of young love,
Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms
And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine,
As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease
Steals up the honey from the nenuphar.
She is art-magically present to my soul,
And that one word of strange heart's ease, Good-bye,
That in the night, in loth moving to go,
And bending over to a golden mouth,
I said softly to the turned-away
Tenderly-tied hair of this king's daughter.
I bring her back, ah, wearied out with love
So that her slim feet could not bear her up;
Curved falls of her hair down on her white cheeks;
In the confusion of her colored vests
Speaking that guarded giving up, and her scented arms
Lay like cool bindweed over against my neck.
I bring her back to me in her quick shame,
Hiding her bright face at the point of day:
Making her grave eyes move in watered stars,
For love's great sleeplessness wandering all night,
Seeming to sail gently, as that pink bird,
Down the water of love in a harvest of lotus.
She is present to me on her beds,
Balmed with the exhalation of a flattering musk,
Rich with the curdy essence of santal;
Girl with eyes dazing as the seeded-wine,
Showing as a pair of gentle nut-hatches
Kissing each other with their bills, each hidden
By turns within a little grasping mouth.
When all my heavy heart is broken up
I seem to see my prison walls breaking
And then a light, and in that light a girl
Her fingers busied about her hair, her cool white arms
Faint rosy at the elbows, raised in the sunlight,
And temperate eyes that wander far away.
I see her; far face blond like gold
Rich with small lights, and tinted shadows surprised
Over and over all of her; with glittering eyes
All bright for love but very love weary,
As it were the conjuring disk
of the moon when Rahu
With his dark stumbling block to hide her rays.
The pleased intimacy of rough love
Upon the patient glory of her form
Racks me with memory; and her bright dress
As it were yellow flame, which the white hand
Shamefastly gathers in her rising haste,
The slender grace of her departing feet.
Call not the master painters from all the world,
Their thin black boards, their rose and green and gray
Their ashes of layis ultramarine,
Their earth of shadows the umber. Laughing at art
Sunlight upon the body of my bride,
For painting not nor any eyes for ever.
Oh warm tears on the body of my bride.
the stainless fair appearance of the moon
Rolls her gold beauty over an autumn sky
And the stiff anchorite forgets to pray;
How much the sooner I, if her wild mouth
Tasting of the taste of manna came to mine
And kept my soul at balance above a kiss.
Only one dawn shall rise for me. The stars
Revolve tomorrow's night and I not heed.
One brief cold watch beside an empty heart
And that is all. This night she rests not well;
Oh, sleep; for there is heaviness for all the world
Except for the death-lighted heart of me.
I know that I have savored the hot taste of life
Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast.
Just for a small and a forgotten time
I have had full in my eyes from off my girl
The whitest pouring of eternal light.
The heavy knife. As to a gala day.
Introduction: Phantasies of a Love Thief: The Caurapancasika Attributed to Bilhana. Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Columbia University Press, New York, 1971.
Bilhana: Black Marigolds translated by E.Powys Mathers, 1919.