Twenty-six items from Special Collections (z)

Exhibit ‘Z’: Sanskrit. (Five poems, two anonymous, one by Vacaspati, one by Vidya, one by Varahamihira; unknown dates)

Bibliography: Dropping the Bow: Poems from Ancient India, translations by Andrew Schelling (Broken Moon Press, 1991).

Comment: For the final post in this series, just a handful of translations from Sanskrit, basically a reprise on Exhibit ‘D’ (poems from Hala's Gāthāsaptaśatī). However, the style of translation below is that pioneered by A.K. Ramanujan in the 1970s—very short lines helping to clarify the heavily freighted syntax of the original. 
   H.L. Mencken once described Puccini's music as "silver macaroni, exquisitely tangled." I think the Sanskrit originals of these erotic epigrams must be something like that. The William-Carlos-Williams line breaks let in some oxygen.
   To give you an idea, here is Daniel Ingall's translation of one of the poems below, the piece by Vacaspati.

          You climb upon her swelling breasts
          and touch her shapely and alluring thighs.
          Nay, more; she puts her arm about you,
          her hand delighting you with skillful stroke.
          Oh, stem of the lute, for what austerities
          are you rewarded thus?

Now compare the above with the version below. Ingalls is presumably closer to the original (?), but the Schelling seems more charming.
   Meanwhile, let the Varahamihira piece ("The gold of poetry gets melted and refined...") stand as my farewell to this series. La grazia del Signor Gesù Cristo sia con tutti voi.

5 Poems from the Sanskrit

I’ve never fastened
a bracelet
white like the autumn
moon’s light
to my wrist.
Nor have I tasted
the pliant lip of a
young wife, trembling
with uncertainty.
I obtained no
renown in the places
the gods inhabit,
or by swordsmanship,
but spent my bitter days
in a college
classroom, among the
noisy, impudent


Once again
you mount this playful
woman’s breasts and touch
the tender region
along her thighs.
Closing one arm around you
she draws forth
your pleasure
with measured strokes
of her hand.
Some other lifetime
what austerities
did you practice, O sitar,
to win this reward?


On makeshift
bedding in the cucumber
garden, the hilltribe
girl clings to
her exhausted lover.
Limbs still chafing
with pleasure, dissolving
against him she
now and again with
one bare foot
jostles a shell necklace
that hangs from a
vine on the fence—
rattling it
through the night,
scaring the jackals off.


Now that the rainy
season is on us,
restless wild mountain tribe couples
no longer descend
the paths to make love here.
The bamboo thickets
flanking these hillside
creeks have grown quiet.
Along the banks, fresh
shoots are emerging,
tips clad in soft bark,
black as the skin
on a kid-goat’s ear.


The gold of poetry
gets melted and refined
from the speech of
unreflective men.
Let us go
cheerfully among them
with poised minds.