The Meghaduta or Cloud Messenger is a masterpiece of Sanskrit
literature, and was composed by the court poet Kalidasa some time
before AD 634 in northern India. A Yaksha or nature deity begs
a passing cloud to carry a message across the subcontinent to
his grieving consort in the fabled city of Alaká. Under this fiction,
Kalidasa presents a sympathetic portrait of northern India, and
weaves in the various moods of love traditional in classical Sanskrit
Early translations sacrificed the meaning to the exigencies
of English verse. Later translations are close to the prose sense
of the Sanskrit, but employ free-verse styles that give no hint
of Kalidasa's elevated and harmonious language. The version here
by the poet Colin John Holcombe is taken from the standard 1912
Hultzsch text, and employs accomplished English verse to render
the simple magnificence of the original while remaining faithful
to the meaning.
The translation is for the general reader, and includes a brief
treatments of alternative readings, metrical issues, the aims
of Sanskrit poetry, and a glossary of unfamiliar words and allusions.
MEGHADUTA PART ONE (Excerpt)
A year from amorousness: it passes slowly.
So thought a Yaksha by his master sent,
For scanting duty, to the Rámagiry:
To mope in penance groves as banishment
By rivers Sítá's bathing there made holy.
Áshádha's ending on the mountain found
Him weakened, gold ring slipping from his wrist,
And mixed his pleasure as a cloud came down
So playfully to hug the summit mist,
As elephants in heat will butt the ground.
In tears withheld he took his fall from grace,
From wealth attending on the King of Kings.
The otherworld that brimmed in cloudy air
Was still discomfort when far longing brings
A breath to hold him to that neck's embrace.
With now the rainy month stood close at hand,
To fresh Kutaja blooms he adds his plea
And asks most courteously the cloud bring news
Of welfare to his loved-one words that she,
Revived to hear of him, will understand.
How can a cloud so moving, mixed and got
Of water vapour, fire and wind be used
By Yaksha appropriately as messenger?
But he in eagerness and grief confused
Mistakes as sentient a thing that's not.
Such clouds the ending of the world presage;
You minister to form at will. Though kin
I plead for are by power detained, better
To be by majesty refused than win
An approbation of base parentage.
I ask you, shelter from the sun's fierce glare,
As one apart, beneath Kubéra's sanctions,
To bear this message to a loved one waiting
In Alaká, where Shiva on those mansions
Sheds forehead's moonlight from his garden there.
For you the women look through tangled hair
With menfolk travelling and take their cheer
From unions urged on by your path of air,
While I still distant and to blame appear
A hapless prisoner to another's care.