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  • She Ornaments Her Limbs
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

aṅgeṣv ābharaṇaṃ karoti bahuśaḥ patre'pi saṃcāriṇi    prāptaṃ tvāṃ pariśaṅkate vitanute śayyāṃ ciraṃ dhyāyatiity ākalpavikalpatalparacanāsaṃkalpalīlāśata-    vyāsaktāpi vinā tvayā varatanur naiṣā niśāṃ neṣyati

  • aṅgeṣu. on her limbs

  • ābharaṇaṃ. adornment

  • karoti. she makes

  • bahuśaḥ. repeatedly

  • patra. a leaf

  • api. when even

  • saṃcāriṇi. quivers, moves about

  • prāptaṃ. have arrived

  • tvāṃ. you

  • pariśaṅkate. she imagines, fancies

  • vitanute. she spreads out

  • śayyāṃ. bed

  • ciraṃ. for a long time

  • dhyāyati. she studies, meditates

  • iti-ākalpa-vikalpa-talpa-racanāsaṃkalpa-līlā-śata-vyāsaktā. (bv. cmpd.) engaged in fantasies of one hundred varieties of love on the prepared bed

  • iti. thus

  • ākalpa. ornament

  • vikalpa. variety, art, fantasy

  • talpa. bed, couch

  • racanā. making

  • saṃkalpa. idea, conception, notion

  • līlā. play

  • śata. one hundred

  • vyāsaktā. engaged in

  • api. but

  • vinā. without

  • tvayā. you

  • varatanuḥ. the thin girl

  • na-eṣā [and] neṣyati. will she not (perish)

  • niśāṃ. tonight

  • neṣyati. will perish [End Page 114]

She ornaments her limbsif a single leaf stirsin the forest.She thinks it’s you, folds backthe bedclothes and staresin rapture for hours.Her heart conceives a hundredamorous games on the well-prepared bed.But without you thiswisp of a girlwill fadeto nothing tonight.

Internal rhyme and repetition of sound underlie each of Gīta-Govinda’s verses. Jayadeva particularly used anuprāsa (alliteration) and assonance, creating a trance-like quality in many of his stanzas. Barbara Miller writes of the poem: “alliterative combinations of consonants and vowels reinforce the meters and the sensuous imagery of the songs.” This verse, written in classical kāvya style, shows the way the poet works: ākalpa-vikalpa-talpa in line three. The ending, naiṣā niśāṃ neṣyati, reproduces Radha’s restlessness, impatience, and anguish, carrying the reader back to the opening image of her bahuśaḥ (repeatedly) adorning her limbs at the hint of a quavering leaf.

The repeated sounds, repeated ornamentation, repetition of her thoughts—all fit the erotic tension. Elsewhere in the poem, Krishna too has been taken up by furious desire, as he stumbles in and out of the dark kuñja (thicket), where he first made love to Radha.

Miller writes, “the redundancies are incessant, complex, and multileveled. They create a sensuous surface of verbal ornamentation that suggests comparison with the sculptured surfaces of the medieval Hindu temples of Bhubaneswar and Khajuraho.” Rhythm and repetitive sounds of this sort are used in mantra, liturgy, prayer—all those forms of language which, like poetry, are not meant to describe something, but to propel the speaker or listener into a particular state of mind. Or to provoke supernatural acts. I’m certain that Jayadeva chose the repeated sounds carefully, based on India’s archaic science of speech-magic. [End Page 115]

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...


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