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  • Those First Days
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

purābhūd asmākaṃ prathamam avibhinnā tanur iyaṃ    tato'nu tvaṃ preyān aham api hatāśā priyatamāidānīṃ nāthastvaṃ vayam api kalatraṃ kimaparaṃ    mayāptaṃ prāṇānāṃ kuliśakaṭhinānāṃ phalam idam

  • purā. previously

  • abhūt. was

  • asmākaṃ. our, my

  • prathamam. at first

  • a-vi-bhinnā. never separated

  • tanuḥ. body

  • iyaṃ. this

  • tato. then

  • anu. surely

  • tvaṃ. you

  • preyān. the beloved

  • aham. I (was)

  • api. surely, also

  • hata-āśāḥ-priyatamā. (bv. cmpd.) ruined-hope-beloved, desolate mistress

  • idānīṃ. now, currently

  • nāthaḥ. the husband, lord

  • tvaṃ. you (are)

  • vayam. I (am)

  • api. in fact

  • kalatraṃ. the wife

  • kimaparaṃ. what else? what’s next?

  • hatānāṃ. destroyed, struck, tragic

  • prāṇāṃ. life

  • kuliśa. of the thunderbolt’s

  • kaṭhinānāṃ. cruelty, hardship

  • phalam. fruit, result, end

  • idam. this (is) [End Page 88]

Those first daysof untempered lovemy body andyour body were never apart.The seasons turned.You came to be my cherished lord,I the desolate mistress.Now you’re the husband,I’m the wife,what will come when the year turns again?Life must be cruel as a thunderboltif this iswhere it ends.

Purā … tato … kimaparaṃ … The poem’s weight gets carried by these little, nearly invisible words: “In the beginning … then … what next …?” You can feel the cycle revolving inexorably. Poems such as this appear in anthologies that were divided into chapters; these conveyed the reader through love’s cycles, from the awakening of desire to the desolation of love. Desolation might take the form of ripening pain, or the heartbreaking end of an affair.

Translation often has to reach for context and cultural material that may not be apparent in the original, but needs to be present as part of its underlying metabolism. Such material is implicit in the poem’s ecosystem if not explicit in the words. See Vikaṭanitambā’s “You Ignored” for the phrase premnaḥ pariṇatim (cycle or seasons of love). Readers of the great Sanskrit anthologies would see Bhāvadevī’s poem in the context of these cycles. My translation’s phrase “the seasons turned” is not “in” the original words; it pervades the anthologies, though.

Eliot Weinberger speaks to this when he writes of translation, “Effects that cannot be reproduced in the corresponding line can usually be picked up elsewhere…which is why it is more difficult to translate a single poem than a book of poems.” Weinberger also points out that for a translator, everything depends on the little words. (William Blake says, “Labour well the Minute Particulars, attend to the Little Ones.”) Anybody can translate nouns. In Bhāvadevī’s poem it is those little words, first, then, what next, that make you feel time hardening until love becomes kaṭhina (brittle). [End Page 89]

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. 88-89
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