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  • Through the Whole Night
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

kimapi kimapi mandaṃ mandam āsattiyogādavicalitakapolaṃ jalpatoś ca krameṇaaśithilaparirambhavyāpṛtaikaika doṣṇoraviditagatayāmā rātrir eva vyaraṃsīt

  • kimapi kimapi. this thing, that thing

  • mandaṃ mandam. softly softly

  • āsatti. tight, fast

  • yogād. embrace

  • avicalita. intimate union, tightly together

  • kapolaṃ. cheek

  • jalpatoḥ. talking, whispering

  • ca. and

  • krameṇa. in the course of time

  • aśithila-parirambha-vyāpṛta-eka-eka-doṣṇoḥ. (bv. cmpd.) while the two (of us) were wrapped tightly in one another’s arms, engaged in lovemaking

  • aśithila. tight, close

  • parirambha. embrace, lovemaking

  • vyāpṛta. engaged, occupied

  • eka eka. one-in-one

  • doṣṇoḥ. arms

  • avidita. not known

  • gata-yāmā. vanishing, fleeing

  • rātriḥ. night

  • eva. indeed

  • vyaraṃsīt. (root: vi-ram, to stop) came to an end [End Page 78]

Through the whole night we slowlymade love,body pressed against body,cheek against cheek.We spoke every thought that came into mind.Lost in each other’s armslost in words, we never noticeddawn had come    the night flown.

This dawn song—or alba as troubadours of Provence called such songs—gives voice to the hour when daylight comes and the lovers must separate. Bhavabūti’s poem opens with soft m sounds: kimapi kimapi mandaṃ mandam. Kimapi is an indefinite: something, anything, whatever. Doubling it gives the sense of everything, anything at all. Mandaṃ mandam … jalpatoḥ: us talking softly, softly.

The poem comes from the drama Uttararāmacarita. As with so many of the best poems, it appears in two variations, the slight difference being only grammatical, nothing to do with meaning. It has been called the finest poem in Sanskrit by a number of critics.

In The Peacock’s Egg, Jeffrey Masson recounts a story. When Bhavabhūti had finished writing his play, he excitedly approached his colleague, the dramatist and poet Kālidāsa, who was absorbed in a chess game. Bhavabhūti read the whole play aloud. Kālidāsa never looked up from the chessboard. When the reading was finished, Kālidāsa lifted his hand, checkmated his opponent, turned to his playwright friend, and declared the drama perfect—except for one superfluous m. Bhavabhūti removed an m from this verse. It changed the second-to-last word from evam to eva. Evam means “thus,” lending a rather heavy emphasis. The more understated eva is a filler word, a nearly unnoticeable tiny gesture—something that in our own poetry we might do with a line break.

“Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling,” wrote Chinese poet Wei T’ai in the eleventh century. It is Bhavabhūti’s reticence that lets the poem’s feeling “linger as an aftertaste.” [End Page 79]

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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pp. 78-79
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