Bilhana

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Authors born between 800 and 1100 CE

Ki no Tsurayuki ] al-Biruni ] al-Ma'arri ] Samuel ha-Nagid ] [ Bilhana ] Omar Khaiyyam ] Anna Comnena ]

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Contents  

Introduction

Clinging to a Lost Learning

My Heavy Heart is Broken up

Memory Racked with Love

The Hot Taste of Life

Sources

 

Introduction

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.

     

 

Clinging to a Lost Learning    

1

Even now

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.

   

2

Even now

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.

 

3

Even now

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.

 

4

Even now

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.

 

5

Even now

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.

 

6

Even now

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.

 

My Heavy Heart is Broken up

 

7

Even now

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.

 

8

Even now

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

     ceases

With his dark stumbling block to hide her rays.

 

9

Even now

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.

   

 

Memory Racked with Love

10

Even now

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.

 

11

Even now

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.

 

12

Even now

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.

 

   

The Hot Taste of Life

13

Even now

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.

   

 

Sources

  1-13   Bilhana: Black Marigolds  translated by E. Powys Mathers (a free interpretation of the Chauraspanchasika), Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1919. An authorized text has recently been published in Britain: Black Marigolds and Coloured Stars, by E. Powys Mathers. Anvil Press, London, 2004; copyright renewed 2004 Margaret Gibson and Lucy L. Painter for the Estate of E. Powys Mathers.

   Introduction: Phantasies of a Love Thief: The Caurapancasika Attributed to Bilhana. Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller, Columbia University Press, New York, 1971. 

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Bilhana: Black Marigolds translated by E.Powys Mathers, 1919.