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Clouds Thicken the Sky
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Clouds Thicken the Sky

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meghair meduram ambaraṃ vanabhuvaḥ śyāmāstamāladrumair    naktaṃ bhīrur ayaṃ tvam eva tad imaṃ radhe gṛhaṃ prāpayaitthaṃ nandanideśitaś calitayoḥ pratyadhva kuñjadrumaṃ    rādhāmādhavayor jayanti yamunākūle rahaḥ kelayaḥ

  • meghaiḥ. with clouds

  • meduram. darkened

  • ambaraṃ. sky

  • vanabhuvaḥ. forest groves

  • śyāmās. dark

  • tamāla. an evergreen

  • drumaiḥ. trees

  • naktaṃ. night

  • bhiruḥ. scared

  • ayaṃ. he

  • tvam. you

  • eva. indeed

  • tad. that

  • imaṃ. him

  • radhe. (voc.) O Radha

  • gṛhaṃ. home

  • prāpaya. take

  • itthaṃ. thus

  • nanda. Krishna’s foster father

  • nideśitaḥ. directive

  • calitayoḥ. wandering (Krishna and Radha)

  • pratyadhva. past

  • kuñja. groves

  • drumaṃ. tree

  • rādhā. Radha, cowherd girl, beloved of Krishna

  • mādhava. Krishna

  • jayanti. conquer, overcome

  • yamunā. the Yamunā (Jumna) River

  • kūle. on the shore

  • rahaḥ. secret

  • kelayaḥ. desires, passions [End Page 102]

“Clouds thicken the sky,the forests aredark with tamāla trees.He is afraid of night, Radha,take him home.”They depart at Nanda’s directivepassing on the waythickets of trees.But reaching Yamunā River, secret desiresovertake Radha and Krishna.

These final dozen lyrics come from what is considered the last great poem in the Sanskrit tradition, Jayadeva’s twelth-century Gīta-Govinda. The title means song (gīta) of Krishna. Govinda is one of the common epithets or affectionate names for Krishna, and refers to his upbringing among cowherds. However, poets and singers can use it without reference to the tales of Krishna’s childhood in a small riverside village of cowherds.

If my intuition is correct—that the origin of Sanskrit’s incessant cloud-and-rain imagery lies in evocations of the spirits of nature—then Jayadeva begins with elements picked up from archaic shamanism or animist traditions. This stanza has received a huge amount of attention, almost since Jayadeva’s own era, because of its ambiguity. Who is the speaker? Nanda-nideśita may mean that the opening, quoted voice (ītthaṃ is an alternate for iti, quotation marks) is the “directive” of Nanda, Krishna’s foster father. But it could also mean the “joyous directive,” a reasonable statement for a poem meant to lead to salvation. But that leaves obscure who the speaker might be. Why would Krishna, no longer a child, be afraid of the night? (He himself is the Dark One.) If the boy is frightened or the forest perilous, why would his father ask a cowherd girl of the same age to take the boy home through the dark, as though she would be untouched by fear? Whose home should she lead him to: her own or his? Or does gṛhaṃ (home), have an allegorical meaning? Jayadeva’s poem never shows Krishna returning to the cottage of his foster parents.

On the banks of the Jumna River (yamunākūle), in a thicket of the white-blossoming dark-barked evergreens called tamāla (Cinnamomum tamala), the two young people are overpowered by rahaḥ-kelayaḥ (secret desires or passions). This sets the tone for what will follow: darkness, secrecy, anxiety; a fragrant springtime waking of passion; a mysterious, edgy uncertainty. [End Page 103]

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...



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