Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE CLOUD-MESSENGER - Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works
THE CLOUD-MESSENGER - Kalidasa, Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works [400 AD]
Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works, by Arthur W. Ryder (London: J.M. Dent, 1920).
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This plan is slight and fanciful. A demigod, in consequence of some transgression against his master, the god of wealth, is condemned to leave his home in the Himalayas, and spend a year of exile on a peak in the Vindhya Mountains, which divide the Deccan from the Ganges basin. He wishes to comfort and encourage his wife, but has no messenger to send her. In his despair, he begs a passing cloud to carry his words. He finds it necessary to describe the long journey which the cloud must take, and, as the two termini are skilfully chosen, the journey involves a visit to many of the spots famous in Indian story. The description of these spots fills the first half of the poem. The second half is filled with a more minute description of the heavenly city, of the home and bride of the demigod, and with the message proper. The proportions of the poem may appear unfortunate to the Western reader, in whom the proper names of the first half will wake scanty associations. Indeed, it is no longer possible to identify all the places mentioned, though the general route followed by the cloud can be easily traced. The peak from which he starts is probably one near the modern Nagpore. From this peak he flies a little west of north to the Nerbudda River, and the city of Ujjain; thence pretty straight north to the upper Ganges and the Himalaya. The geography of the magic city of Alaka is quite mythical.
The Cloud-Messenger contains one hundred and fifteen four-line stanzas, in a majestic metre called the “slow-stepper.” The English stanza which has been chosen for the translation gives perhaps as fair a representation of the original movement as may be, where direct imitation is out of the question. Though the stanza of the translation has five lines to four for the slow-stepper, it contains fewer syllables; a constant check on the temptation to padding.
The analysis which accompanies the poem, and which is inserted in Italics at the beginning of each stanza, has more than one object. It saves footnotes; it is intended as a real help to comprehension; and it is an eminently Hindu device. Indeed, it was my first intention to translate literally portions of Mallinatha’s famous commentary; and though this did not prove everywhere feasible, there is nothing in the analysis except matter suggested by the commentary.
One minor point calls for notice. The word Himálaya has been accented on the second syllable wherever it occurs. This accent is historically correct, and has some foothold in English usage; besides, it is more euphonious and better adapted to the needs of the metre.
A Yaksha, or divine attendant on Kubera, god of wealth, is exiled for a year from his home in the Himalayas. As he dwells on a peak in the Vindhya range, half India separates him from his young bride
- On Rama’s shady peak where hermits roam,
- Mid streams by Sita’s bathing sanctified,
- An erring Yaksha made his hapless home,
- Doomed by his master humbly to abide,
- And spend a long, long year of absence from his bride.
- Before this cause of lovers’ hopes and fears
- Long time Kubera’s bondman sadly bowed
- In meditation, choking down his tears—
- Even happy hearts thrill strangely to the cloud;
- To him, poor wretch, the loved embrace was disallowed.
- Nor did it pass the lovelorn Yaksha’s mind
- How all unfitly might his message mate
- With a cloud, mere fire and water, smoke and wind—
- Ne’er yet was lover could discriminate
- ’Twixt life and lifeless things, in his love-blinded state.
He prefers his request,
- I know, he said, thy far-famed princely line,
- Thy state, in heaven’s imperial council chief,
- Thy changing forms; to thee, such fate is mine,
- I come a suppliant in my widowed grief—
- Better thy lordly “no” than meaner souls’ relief.
- O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;
- My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;
- Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,
- Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright
- From Shiva’s crescent bathes the palaces in light.
and by happy omens.
- While favouring breezes waft thee gently forth,
- And while upon thy left the plover sings
- His proud, sweet song, the cranes who know thy worth
- Will meet thee in the sky on joyful wings
- And for delights anticipated join their rings.
- One last embrace upon this mount bestow
- Whose flanks were pressed by Rama’s holy feet,
- Who yearly strives his love for thee to show,
- Warmly his well-belovèd friend to greet
- With the tear of welcome shed when two long-parted meet.
- Bright as a heap of flashing gems, there shines
- Before thee on the ant-hill, Indra’s bow;
- Matched with that dazzling rainbow’s glittering lines,
- Thy sombre form shall find its beauties grow,
- Like the dark herdsman Vishnu, with peacock-plumes aglow.
The Mala plateau.
- The farmers’ wives on Mala’s lofty lea,
- Though innocent of all coquettish art,
- Will give thee loving glances; for on thee
- Depends the fragrant furrow’s fruitful part;
- Thence, barely westering, with lightened burden start.
The Mango Peak.
- The Mango Peak whose forest fires were laid
- By streams of thine, will soothe thy weariness;
- In memory of a former service paid,
- Even meaner souls spurn not in time of stress
- A suppliant friend; a soul so lofty, much the less.
- With ripened mango-fruits his margins teem;
- And thou, like wetted braids, art blackness quite;
- When resting on the mountain, thou wilt seem
- Like the dark nipple on Earth’s bosom white,
- For mating gods and goddesses a thrilling sight.
- Spying the madder on the banks, half brown,
- Half green with shoots that struggle to the birth,
- Nibbling where early plantain-buds hang down,
- Scenting the sweet, sweet smell of forest earth,
- The deer will trace thy misty track that ends the dearth.
- Though thou be pledged to ease my darling’s pain,
- Yet I foresee delay on every hill
- Where jasmines blow, and where the peacock-train
- Cries forth with joyful tears a welcome shrill;
- Thy sacrifice is great, but haste thy journey still.
The Dasharna country,
- At thine approach, Dasharna land is blest
- With hedgerows where gay buds are all aglow,
- With village trees alive with many a nest
- Abuilding by the old familiar crow,
- With lingering swans, with ripe rose-apples’ darker show.
- A moment rest on Nichais’ mountain then,
- Where madder-bushes don their blossom coat
- As thrilling to thy touch; where city men
- O’er youth’s unbridled pleasures fondly gloat
- In caverns whence the perfumes of gay women float.
- Fly on refreshed; and sprinkle buds that fade
- On jasmine-vines in gardens wild and rare
- By forest rivers; and with loving shade
- Caress the flower-girls’ heated faces fair,
- Whereon the lotuses droop withering from their hair.
- Thou only, happy lover! canst repair
- The desolation that thine absence made:
- Her shrinking current seems the careless hair
- That brides deserted wear in single braid,
- And dead leaves falling give her face a paler shade.
- Where the river-breeze at dawn, with fragrant gain
- From friendly lotus-blossoms, lengthens out
- The clear, sweet passion-warbling of the crane,
- To cure the women’s languishing, and flout
- With a lover’s coaxing all their hesitating doubt.
- Enriched with odours through the windows drifting
- From perfumed hair, and greeted as a friend
- By peacock pets their wings in dances lifting,
- On flower-sweet balconies thy labour end,
- Where prints of dear pink feet an added glory lend.
- Reaching that temple at another time,
- Wait till the sun is lost to human eyes;
- For if thou mayest play the part sublime
- Of Shiva’s drum at evening sacrifice,
- Then hast thou in thy thunders grave a priceless prize.
- The women there, whose girdles long have tinkled
- In answer to the dance, whose hands yet seize
- And wave their fans with lustrous gems besprinkled,
- Will feel thine early drops that soothe and please,
- And recompense thee from black eyes like clustering bees.
and the black cloud, painted with twilight red, is bidden to serve as a robe for the god, instead of the bloody elephant hide which he commonly wears in his wild dance.
- Clothing thyself in twilight’s rose-red glory,
- Embrace the dancing Shiva’s tree-like arm;
- He will prefer thee to his mantle gory
- And spare his grateful goddess-bride’s alarm,
- Whose eager gaze will manifest no fear of harm.
- On some rich balcony where sleep the doves,
- Through the dark night with thy belovèd stay,
- The lightning weary with the sport she loves;
- But with the sunrise journey on thy way—
- For they that labour for a friend do not delay.
- The gallant dries his mistress’ tears that stream
- When he returns at dawn to her embrace—
- Prevent thou not the sun’s bright-fingered beam
- That wipes the tear-dew from the lotus’ face;
- His anger else were great, and great were thy disgrace.
- But steal her sombre veil of mist away,
- Although her reeds seem hands that clutch the dress
- To hide her charms; thou hast no time to stay,
- Yet who that once has known a dear caress
- Could bear to leave a woman’s unveiled loveliness?
Thence to Holy Peak.
- The breeze ’neath which the breathing acre grants
- New odours, and the forest figs hang sleek,
- With pleasant whistlings drunk by elephants
- Through long and hollow trunks, will gently seek
- To waft thee onward fragrantly to Holy Peak.
the dwelling-place of Skanda, god of war, the child of Shiva and Gauri, concerning whose birth more than one quaint tale is told.
- There change thy form; become a cloud of flowers
- With heavenly moisture wet, and pay the meed
- Of praise to Skanda with thy blossom showers;
- That sun-outshining god is Shiva’s seed,
- Fire-born to save the heavenly hosts in direst need.
- God Skanda’s peacock—he whose eyeballs shine
- By Shiva’s moon, whose flashing fallen plume
- The god’s fond mother wears, a gleaming line
- Over her ear beside the lotus bloom—
- Will dance to thunders echoing in the caverns’ room.
- Narrow the river seems from heaven’s blue;
- And gods above, who see her dainty line
- Matched, when thou drinkest, with thy darker hue,
- Will think they see a pearly necklace twine
- Round Earth, with one great sapphire in its midst ashine.
In these battles, the hero Balarama, whose weapon was a plough-share, would take no part, because kinsmen of his were fighting in each army. He preferred to spend the time in drinking from the holy river Sarasvati, though little accustomed to any other drink than wine.
- Sweet friend, drink where those holy waters shine
- Which the plough-bearing hero—loath to fight
- His kinsmen—rather drank than sweetest wine
- With a loving bride’s reflected eyes alight;
- Then, though thy form be black, thine inner soul is bright.
The Ganges River, which originates in heaven. Its fall is broken by the head of Shiva, who stands on the Himalaya Mountains; otherwise the shock would be too great for the earth. But Shiva’s goddess-bride is displeased.
- Fly then where Ganges o’er the king of mountains
- Falls like a flight of stairs from heaven let down
- For the sons of men; she hurls her billowy fountains
- Like hands to grasp the moon on Shiva’s crown
- And laughs her foamy laugh at Gauri’s jealous frown.
- If, born from friction of the deodars,
- A scudding fire should prove the mountain’s bane,
- Singeing the tails of yaks with fiery stars,
- Quench thou the flame with countless streams of rain—
- The great have power that they may soothe distress and pain.
- If mountain monsters should assail thy path
- With angry leaps that of their object fail,
- Only to hurt themselves in helpless wrath,
- Scatter the creatures with thy pelting hail—
- For who is not despised that strives without avail?
- Bend lowly down and move in reverent state
- Round Shiva’s foot-print on the rocky plate
- With offerings laden by the saintly great;
- The sight means heaven as their eternal fate
- When death and sin are past, for them that faithful wait.
- The breeze is piping on the bamboo-tree;
- And choirs of heaven sing in union sweet
- O’er demon foe of Shiva’s victory;
- If thunders in the caverns drumlike beat,
- Then surely Shiva’s symphony will be complete.
- Like powder black and soft I seem to see
- Thine outline on the mountain slope as bright
- As new-sawn tusks of stainless ivory;
- No eye could wink before as fair a sight
- As dark-blue robes upon the Ploughman’s shoulder white.
- Should Shiva throw his serpent-ring aside
- And give Gauri his hand, go thou before
- Upon the mount of joy to be their guide;
- Conceal within thee all thy watery store
- And seem a terraced stairway to the jewelled floor.
- I doubt not that celestial maidens sweet
- With pointed bracelet gems will prick thee there
- To make of thee a shower-bath in the heat;
- Frighten the playful girls if they should dare
- To keep thee longer, friend, with thunder’s harshest blare.
- Drink where the golden lotus dots the lake;
- Serve Indra’s elephant as a veil to hide
- His drinking; then the tree of wishing shake,
- Whose branches like silk garments flutter wide:
- With sports like these, O cloud, enjoy the mountain side.
- Where maidens whom the gods would gladly wed
- Are fanned by breezes cool with Ganges’ spray
- In shadows that the trees of heaven spread;
- In golden sands at hunt-the-pearl they play,
- Bury their little fists, and draw them void away,
- Where lovers’ passion-trembling fingers cling
- To silken robes whose sashes flutter wide,
- The knots undone; and red-lipped women fling,
- Silly with shame, their rouge from side to side,
- Hoping in vain the flash of jewelled lamps to hide.
- Where, brought to balconies’ palatial tops
- By ever-blowing guides, were clouds before
- Like thee who spotted paintings with their drops;
- Then, touched with guilty fear, were seen no more,
- But scattered smoke-like through the lattice’ grated door.
- Where sweet nocturnal journeys are betrayed
- At sunrise by the fallen flowers from curls
- That fluttered as they stole along afraid,
- By leaves, by golden lotuses, by pearls,
- By broken necklaces that slipped from winsome girls.
Here the goddesses have all needful ornaments. For the Mine of Sentiment declares: “Women everywhere have four kinds of ornaments—hair-ornaments, jewels, clothes, cosmetics; anything else is local.”
- Where the wishing-tree yields all that might enhance
- The loveliness of maidens young and sweet:
- Bright garments, wine that teaches eyes to dance,
- And flowering twigs, and rarest gems discrete,
- And lac-dye fit to stain their pretty lotus-feet.
its tame peacock.
- A golden pole is set between the pair,
- With crystal perch above its emerald bands
- As green as young bamboo; at sunset there
- Thy friend, the blue-necked peacock, rises, stands,
- And dances when she claps her bracelet-tinkling hands.
- Small as the elephant cub thou must become
- For easy entrance; rest where gems enhance
- The glory of the hill beside my home,
- And peep into the house with lightning-glance.
- But make its brightness dim as fireflies’ twinkling dance.
The Yaksha’s bride.
- The supremest woman from God’s workshop gone—
- Young, slender; little teeth and red, red lips,
- Slight waist and gentle eyes of timid fawn,
- An idly graceful movement, generous hips,
- Fair bosom into which the sloping shoulder slips—
- Like a bird that mourns her absent mate anew
- Passing these heavy days in longings keen,
- My girlish wife whose words are sweet and few,
- My second life, shall there of thee be seen—
- But changed like winter-blighted lotus-blooms, I ween.
- Her eyes are swol’n with tears that stream unchidden;
- Her lips turn pale with sorrow’s burning sighs;
- The face that rests upon her hand is hidden
- By hanging curls, as when the glory dies
- Of the suffering moon pursued by thee through nightly skies.
- I know her bosom full of love for me,
- And therefore fancy how her soul doth grieve
- In this our first divorce; it cannot be
- Self-flattery that idle boastings weave—
- Soon shalt thou see it all, and seeing, shalt believe.
Quivering of the eyelids
- Her hanging hair prevents the twinkling shine
- Of fawn-eyes that forget their glances sly,
- Lost to the friendly aid of rouge and wine—
- Yet the eyelids quiver when thou drawest nigh
- As water-lilies do when fish go scurrying by.
- But if she should be lost in happy sleep,
- Wait, bear with her, grant her but three hours’ grace,
- And thunder not, O cloud, but let her keep
- The dreaming vision of her lover’s face—
- Loose not too soon the imagined knot of that embrace.
- As thou wouldst wake the jasmine’s budding wonder,
- Wake her with breezes blowing mistily;
- Conceal thy lightnings, and with words of thunder
- Speak boldly, though she answer haughtily
- With eyes that fasten on the lattice and on thee.
The message itself.
- Thus too, my king, I pray of thee to speak,
- Remembering kindness is its own reward;
- “Thy lover lives, and from the holy peak
- Asks if these absent days good health afford—
- Those born to pain must ever use this opening word.
- With body worn as thine, with pain as deep,
- With tears and ceaseless longings answering thine,
- With sighs more burning than the sighs that keep
- Thy lips ascorch—doomed far from thee to pine,
- He too doth weave the fancies that thy soul entwine.
- He used to love, when women friends were near,
- To whisper things he might have said aloud
- That he might touch thy face and kiss thine ear;
- Unheard and even unseen, no longer proud,
- He now must send this yearning message by a cloud.
third, dreaming of her;
- And when I toss mine arms to clasp thee tight,
- Mine own though but in visions of a dream—
- They who behold the oft-repeated sight,
- The kind divinities of wood and stream,
- Let fall great pearly tears that on the blossoms gleam.
- Oh, might the long, long night seem short to me!
- Oh, might the day his hourly tortures hide!
- Such longings for the things that cannot be,
- Consume my helpless heart, sweet-glancing bride,
- In burning agonies of absence from thy side.
- This memory shows me cheerful, gentle wife;
- Then let no gossip thy suspicions move:
- They say the affections strangely forfeit life
- In separation, but in truth they prove
- Toward the absent dear, a growing bulk of tenderest love.’ ”
- I hope, sweet friend, thou grantest all my suit,
- Nor read refusal in thy solemn air;
- When thirsty birds complain, thou givest mute
- The rain from heaven: such simple hearts are rare,
- Whose only answer is fulfilment of the prayer.