Poems from the Sanskrit

Poems from the Sanskrit

by John Brough

For many readers in the West, Indian literature means the 'Bhagavad-Gita' or the Kamasutra; this anthology of secular poems from the classical Sanskrit redresses the balance.

In his introduction John Brough confesses his affection for Sanskrit poems - an affection which is reflected in his verse translations.Taken from the back cover

  • Language: English
  • Category: Poetry
  • Rating: 4.10
  • Pages: 160
  • Publish Date: December 8th 1977 by Penguin Classics
  • Isbn10: 0140441980
  • Isbn13: 9780140441987

Read the Book "Poems from the Sanskrit" Online

When he saw her, He was struck by the arrows of love.

This is one of the best anthology of samskrta verses available in English.

The introduction must be read before attempting the body of this work.

One day a man shall live to share my thought: For time is endless and the world is wide -Bhavabhuti (p.53) I try not to saturate this blog with book reviews, but I have a justification in this case. The translators stated purpose for compiling this volume is as follows: Normally Sanskrit translators, focus on conveying meaning at the expense of poetic or prosaic style. But since Sanskrit and English grammars differ considerably, meaning focused translations often come across as stilted or sometimes even unreadable. Sanskrit Poetry compounds this problem, because so much literary value is vested in the poetic structure itself (for example: The number, repetition, and weight of syllables.) This is a translation, which attempts to give equal weight to content and form. Translating a Sanskrit poem into rhyming verse while keeping the original meaning intact is an impossible task. Perhaps a more accurate description of the book is: an anthology of English poems by John Brough, based closely on Sanskrit classics. The purist in me recoils at this prospect, but if you read the poems without wringing your hands over the potential butchery of the originals which preceded them, they are actually quite lovely on their own merits. Ill jump right into the verses and save my criticisms for the end: I noticed some recurring patterns: Anti-Clericalism: There are a surprising amount of poems in here, which are highly critical of priests, focusing on their hypocrisy foolishness, or exploitation. One day, a puddle in the sea; The next, hell try to stand Upon the oceans surface, which To him appears dry lad, To such a drunkards foolishness Theres hardly any end: Hell even think, when hes in drink A king might be his friend - Bharthari (p.66) Anti-clericalism in particular occurs too frequently to brush it off as an artifact of Broughs translation. Romance and Eroticism: The heavy majority of the poems in this volume have to do with love and sex. - Bharthari (p.58) But there are also quite a few which directly address sexuality directly: In this vain fleeting universe, a man Of wisdom has two courses: first, he can Direct his time to pray, to save his soul, And wallow in religions nectar-bowl; But, if he cannot, it is surely best To touch and hold a lovely womans breast And to caress her warm round hips and thighs, And to possess that which between them lies -Bharthari (p.113) Take this perplexing verse. Initially, its hard to see how it could be about romance and/or sexuality at all: Did you sleep in the garden, dear, On a bed of magnolia flowers? I refer you to the introduction: Indeed, there are some aspects of love-making quite frequent in Sanskrit poetry, of which, I suspect, it would be difficult to find even a hint among the love-poems of Europe. So also i scratching: and the girl may either with some pride display to her friends the weals on her breasts and elsewhere, as proof that she really had been loved; or, if she is by nature more modest, she may attempt the excuse (though with little chance of being believed) that she has been scratched by the thorn-bushes in the garden. (p.38) Women and Consent in the 7th century and Today: Some poems positively describe what we would consider sexual assault in the modern west, although It surely read differently in an ancient Indian context: First find yourself a charming girl, And while she says, No, no! Through the male characters masculine, and sexually charged use of force upon the female character, he draws her out of her timidity, and reveals a hidden truth about herself that she in fact loves him. Examples of the nonconsensual, yet ultimately romantic kiss in Bollywood: (youtube links): Dil Se Arya 2, (Telugu film) Kambakht Ishq Devdas (not quite the same, but it is violence legitimized through romance) This scene from Dil Se would not be out of place in 7th century Sanskrit poetry. This final verse summarizes the ancient Indian view of women conveyed by these poets: Loving the manly virtues, they delight To point his fault out in the plainest way; Theyll give their souls to him they love, despite The fact that their eyes will neer their hearts betray. For the rest, a man Lives close companion to disease and tears, Losing his love, working for other men. -Bharthari (p.54) Vignettes: Besides the romance angle, these are the most interesting poems for me. -Amaru (p.62) Esoteric Academic References: The ideal Indian poet was meant to be highly educated in every academic subject available to them from logic and science, to grammar and philosophy. These guys were ancient nerds and I love it: The grammar-books all say that mind is neuter, And so I thought it safe to let my mind salute her. I think that these two flaws could have been fixed if he had provided the Sanskrit text for each poem as well, or if he did two translations for each poem: one literal and one poetic. Kings arent accorded the near universal reverence and obedience, which the religious texts would like us to believe, nor is the piety of holy men taken for granted. Kalidasa (135) 1 All page numbers in this post come from John Broughs 1968 edition of Poems From the Sanskrit, unless otherwise noted

By the age of eight, he or she would have memorized the first 1,000 sutras of Panini's grammar, and not long after that, the full 4,000 sutras.

Although the book wasn't organized in any way, I almost feel like the randomness of the poems mirrored the philosophical underpinnings of many of them--the playfullness and enjoyment of life.