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  • My Lover
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

kānte talpam upāgate vigalitā nīvī svayaṃ bandhanādvāsaś ca ślathamekhalāguṇadhṛtaṃ kiṃcin nitambe sthitametāvat sakhi vedmi kevalam aho tasyāṅgasaṅge punaḥko'sau kā'smi rata ca kiṃ sakhi śape svalpāpi me na smṛtiḥ

  • kānte. (my) lover

  • talpam. to bed

  • upāgate. when he came

  • vigalitā. untied

  • nīvī. skirt, sash

  • svayaṃ. by itself

  • bandhanāt. from the knot

  • vāsaḥ. dress

  • ca. and

  • ślatha-mekhalā-guṇa-dhṛtaṃ. (bv. cmpd. with dress) held by a loose girdle cord

  • kiṃcit. somehow

  • nitambe. on (my) hip

  • sthitam. stayed

  • etāvat. this

  • sakhi. dear friend

  • vedmi. I know

  • kevalam. only

  • aho. indeed

  • tasyāṅga-saṅge. when his arms wrapped (me)

  • punaḥ. again

  • ko'sau. who is he

  • kā'smi. who am I

  • rata. in sexual union

  • ca. and

  • kiṃ. what

  • sakhi. dear friend

  • śape. I swear

  • svalpa-api. even a little

  • me. by me

  • na. is not

  • smṛtiḥ. remembered [End Page 90]

My loverstepped towards the bed.Somehow the skirtclung to my hipsbut the knot came undone by itself.What can I say?Nothing makes sense in his armsnot who I amnot who is taking me.Is it me that comes?Is it him?

Ko'sau kā'smi rata ca kiṃ: Who is he, who am I, what is this sexual pleasure? There is no good parallel in English for rata, which in Sanskrit sounds delicate, cherished, meaning both the act of intercourse and the fever and ecstasy that accompany it. Most of our English terms sound too raw or too clinical. A feminine version of the Sanskrit noun ratī is personified as a consort of Kāma, the love god.

Attributed in the anthologies to a woman poet, Vikaṭanitambā, the poem also shows up in the Amaruśataka. More evidence that the Amaru collection is an early anthology, not the work of a single author.

Known for her clean, unpretentious style, avoiding the forced figures of speech used too frequently by poets, Vikaṭanitambā lived no later than the early ninth century. One of her extant poems depicts her husband as coarse, illiterate, struggling painfully with Sanskrit pronunciation. If this was the case, she could have had—one critic suggests it—an unhappy marriage. A later poet notes that she was widowed, then remarried. Only six poems of hers survive. [End Page 91]

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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