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Absorbed Night and Day

From: Manoa
Volume 25, Issue 2, 2013
pp. 50-51 | 10.1353/man.2013.0084

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Absorbed Night and Day

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samadivasaniśīthaṃ saṅginas tatra śambhoḥśatam agamad ṛtūnāṃ sāgramekā niśaivana tu suratasukhebhyaś chinnatṛṣṇo babhūvajvalana iva samudrāntargatas taj jaleṣu

  • sama. same

  • divasa. day

  • niśīthaṃ. night

  • saṅginas. united with, absorbed

  • tatra. there

  • śambhoḥ. Śiva the beneficent

  • śatam. hundred

  • agamad. went

  • ṛtūnāṃ. of seasons

  • sa. he

  • agram-ekā. one single, just one

  • niśā. night

  • eva. as though

  • na [and] chinna. not cut off, not abated

  • tu. but

  • surata. lovemaking

  • sukhebhyaḥ. delights

  • chinna-tṛṣṇo. (person with) abated thirst

  • babhūva. was

  • jvalana. fire

  • iva. just as

  • samudrā. ocean

  • antar-gataḥ. gone under

  • taj. (for tat) that

  • jaleṣu. in the waters [End Page 50]

Absorbed night and dayŚiva makes loveto Pārvatīhis hunger for pleasurenot slaked.Like a single nighta hundred aeonsroll past.In ocean’s deep watersslow geomorphic flames twistthey toounabated.

Only eight cantos of Kālidāsa’s long poem Kumārasambhava (The Birth of Kumāra) come down to us. The poem’s leisurely narrative never reaches the birth, let alone the deeds, of the prince of war, Śiva’s son. The book leaves off in the midst of Śiva’s rapture with his mountain-girl bride, Pārvatī, daughter of the Himālaya. The poem’s narrative, told from multiple perspectives, is a sustained study in desire, and Kālidāsa depicts love as the generative force of the cosmos. This verse closes the eighth canto.

Scholars surmise that Kālidāsa died midway through the writing of Kumārasambhava. I find it tempting to think that this, then, is the last verse he wrote. As a death poem, it is entirely more satisfying than the “two blue lotuses” that legend assigns him. This verse offers a vision of a mutable world of molten force, animated by love, moving at a geological pace and spanning reaches of time no human can quite comprehend. If human love responds to and is mirrored by plants, animals, flowers, breezes, and rain on Earth’s surface, it seems fitting that the gods should make love in the massive, underlying metamorphic forces of Earth. Their love takes place in geological time: a hundred seasons or aeons (ṛtu means both) leave their desire unquenched.

In mahākāvya (long poems) individual verses accrue to shape a narrative. At the same time, each is composed to stand on its own, apart from its original context. This one, I like to imagine, finishes Kālidāsa’s poem; in it he views his own death from the long, cool perspective of Deep Time. [End Page 51]

Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling, born in 1953 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., has written, edited, or translated twenty books. Early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, plus an encounter with India’s texts, set him on a lifelong engagement with Asian literature. He studied Sanskrit at the University of California at Berkeley, and began to translate from its classical poetry tradition around 1978. His first book, Dropping the Bow: Poems of Ancient India, received the Academy of American Poets translation award in 1992, the first time the Academy had honored work done from an Asian language. Schelling’s own poetry and essays emerge from the Southern Rocky Mountain bioregion in which he lives. Recent books of poetry wrangle with the Arapaho language as a way of reading landscape and the natural cycles; they include From the Arapaho Songbook and A Possible Bag. He has edited The Oxford Anthology of Bhakti Literature and Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual and Erotic Longing (forthcoming from Counterpoint Press). Living on the Front Range of Colorado, he is active on land-use issues and teaches at Naropa University. He also teaches regularly at Deer Park Institute, in India’s Himalayan foothills.