Favourite Poems VII

Two very small excerpts — namely the few first and last stanzas — from the Caurapañcāśikā, translated by E. Powys Mathers in 1919. (I’ve resisted the temptation of posting the whole poem.) According to the Internet Sacred Text Archive,

[t]his love poem of fifty stanzas was written by the Kasmiri poet Bilhana Kavi in the 11th century. The story runs that the Brahman Bilhana had a clandestine love affair with Princess Yaminipurnatilaka, the daughter of King Madanabhirama. He was discovered and Bilhana wrote this poem in prison before he learned whether he would be executed or banished. The historic outcome is unknown, which adds to the readers’ suspense.

Portions of this poem were quoted in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Black Marigolds

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,
Labouring to bring her back into my soul.

Even now
If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one
Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars,
Drawing unto her; her body beaten about with flame,
Wounded by the flaring spear of love,
My first of all by reason of her fresh years,
Then is my heart buried alive in snow.

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.

***         ***          ***          ***          ***

Even now
Death I take up as consolation.
Nay, were I free as the condor with his wings
Or old kings throned on violet ivory,
Night would not come without beds of green floss
And never a bed without my bright darling.
Most fit that you strike now, black guards,
And let the fountain out before the dawn.

Even now
I know that I have savoured 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.

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