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  • Hard Rain
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

āsārāntamṛdupravṛttamaruto meghopaliptāmbarāvidyutpātamuhūrtadṛṣṭakakubhaḥ suptendutārāgrahāḥdhārāklinnakadambasaṃbhṛtasurāmododvahāḥ proṣitairniḥsaṃpātavisāridarduraravā nītāḥ kathaṃ rātrayaḥ

  • āsārānta. a hard rain

  • mṛdu. soft, tender, gentle

  • pravṛtta. come forth, all around

  • maruto. wind

  • megha. clouds

  • upalipta. covered, overlaid

  • ambarā. sky

  • vidyut-pāta. lightning-flash

  • muhūrta. moment, instant

  • dṛṣṭa. seen

  • kakubhaḥ. horizon, quarter of the heavens

  • supta-indu-tārā-grahāḥ. (adj. with nights) gripped by sleeping moon and stars

  • supta. sleep

  • indu. moon

  • tārā. stars

  • grahāḥ. grasped, taken

  • dhārā. carrying, bearing

  • klinna. wet, moist

  • kadamba. a tree (Neolamarckia cadamba) with fragrant orange blossoms

  • saṃbhṛta. gathered, collected

  • surāmododvahāḥ. intoxicating fragrance

  • proṣitaiḥ. by a traveler; one absent or gone on a journey; the dead

  • niḥsampāta. thick darkness, depth of night

  • visāri. spread

  • dardura. frogs

  • ravā. noise, croak, roar

  • nītāḥ. are passed

  • kathaṃ. how

  • rātrayaḥ. nights (the long compounds describe the nights) [End Page 66]

Hard rainthen soft wind,a sky smoking with clouds.Flashes of lightningstroke a horizonthat’s there and then not there.Moon and stars vanished,fragrant wet flowers,darkness creaking with frogs.And a solitary traveler?Can he getthrough the nights?

Earth conspires in the erotic emotions, and the most acute form of eroticism is longing due to separation or absence. In the early Indic world, humans lived in direct relation to the natural orders, so the evocation of elemental or natural forces would be evocation of rasa, deep spirit. Do I detect in so many poems like this not just description, but traces of archaic speech-magic, which could summon the rains by in voking them? In The Essential Haiku, Robert Hass observes something comparable behind haiku: “My personal theory, not especially well-informed, about kigo [seasonal words] is that their origin is shamanic, animistic, and ritualistic, that the words…were intended at one time to call forth the living spirits manifested in those natural phenomena.” As Hass notes, shaman songs passed into folk song.

In India the trained court poets regularly drew on folk-song models. They believed the earliest anthology of their tradition, the Sattasai of King Hāla, contained songs collected from rural villages and possibly tribes that lived by the hunt. Animist beliefs would leave tracks in the poetry. Of Sanskrit poets, Yogeśvara in particular had an ethnographer’s eye and ear and traveled among tribal people who still ritualized their animist beliefs.

Proṣita, the word here for traveler, also refers to those gone on the long journey: the dead. The poem’s structure is a single utterance, one sentence: “How are nights passed by a traveler?” Everything else is a compound word describing the nights, which are “clasped in the sleep [concealment] of moon and stars.” So much detail and passion held in a single breath. [End Page 67]

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...


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