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  • They Seize One’s Heart
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

vilāsamasṛṇollasanmusalaloladoḥkandalī-parasparapariskhaladvalayaniḥsvanair danturāḥharanti kalahūṃkṛtiprasabhakampitoraḥsathala-truṭadgamakasaṃkulāḥ kalamakaṇḍanīgītayaḥ

  • vilāsa. teasing, seductive

  • masṛṇa. tender, smooth

  • ullasat. rising, bright

  • musala. rice pestle

  • lola. dangling, swinging to and fro

  • doḥ. arm, forearm

  • kandalī. bracelets

  • paraspara. one another

  • pariskhala. clanging, ringing against

  • niḥsvanair. with sharp sounds

  • danturāḥ. interspersed, alternating

  • haranti. they (the songs) seize, are gripping

  • kala. low, soft

  • hūṃkṛti. hum, groan

  • prasabha. fiercely, violently

  • kampita. heaving, trembling

  • uraḥ. breasts

  • sa-thala-truṭa. torn (from)

  • gamaka. deep tone, drone

  • saṃkulāḥ. accompanied by

  • kalama-kaṇḍanī. (bv. cmpd.) rice mortar (women)

  • gītayaḥ. songs [End Page 64]

They seize one’s heartthese rice-huskingsongs of the women—bracelets chimingalong their bare armsas they swingthe glistening rice paddles.Teasing, tender,now teasing again—a low-toned humforced by exertion fromswaying breastsunderlies the singinglike a drone.

Thirty-eight poems by Yogeśvara come from the Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa, Vidyākara’s eleventh-century collection. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, the Harvard University scholar who published a translation of the anthology in 1965, coined the term “school of forest and field” for a number of the poets from Bengal. Chief among these, he says, is Yogeśvara, who once wrote, “my heart belongs to the meadow by the bend in the river.” Yogeśvara’s poems come as a fresh breeze through field and forest, memorably portraying agricultural and hunting people.

Vilāsa-masṛṇa reminds me of Japanese poet Bashō’s haiku, which suggests peasant rice-planting songs as the “origin of poetry.” Yogeśvara does not say it explicitly, and as far as I know there’s no evidence, but it seems his attraction to rural song and music comes from a similar instinct. The rice-husking songs are by turns vilāsa (seductive or playful) and masṛṇa (soothing or tender).

Two long compounds describe the songs: they are “alternately seductive & tender punctuated by sharp sounds from bracelets clanging &c.” and are “accompanied by a low-toned hūṃkṛti torn from fiercely heaving breasts.” Notice that the first two lines of Sanskrit form a single long compound, the sort of structure that gives the tradition astounding compression. “Minimum words, maximum meaning,” Allen Ginsberg would say. Poets would often—as Yogeśvara does here—build the compounds on repetition of sounds, believing that those particular sounds carry precise spiritual power and propel the listener into deep emotion, rasa. [End Page 65]

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.



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