love poems

14 February 2012

i have never been one to celebrate Valentine's day. i don't fully boycott or denounce it, but i don't willingly embrace it either. ever the romantics, andrew and i regularly make gestures to show our love in both subtle and bold ways. i much prefer to be surprised by unexpected love notes, "love you" gifts, and other small but thoughtful acts of love than to be unnecessarily showered with gifts and sentiments on one designated day. when the mood strikes, however, i do sometimes spoil andrew or my close friends with a little Valentine's love. i have a soft spot for paper goods and hand-written love letters.

so to celebrate love in the tradition of the written word rather than in images or material goods, i thought i would share two of my favourite love poems from two entirely different traditions, although both are equally charged with sensuality and earthly passion. the first poem is by Naubel Laureate Pablo Neruda, translated from its original Spanish by Donald. D. Walsh. the second is the twelfth and final chapter from Sanskrit poet Jayadeva's twelfth-century lyrical poem, the Gita Govinda, which tells of the divine love of the Hindu deity Krishna and Radha, his favourite gopi or cowherd girl. this excerpt is from Barbara Stoler Miller's 1977 translation, Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva's Gita Govinda.


When your hands go out,
love, toward mine
what do they bring me flying?
Why did they stop
at my mouth, suddenly,
why do I recognize them
as if then, before,
I had touched them,
as if before they existed
they had passed over
my forehead, my waist?

Their softness came
flying over time,
over the sea, over the smoke,
over the spring,
and when you placed
your hands on my chest,
I recognized those golden
dove wings,
I recognized that clay
and that color of wheat.

All the years of my life
I walked around looking for them.
I went up the stairs,
I crossed the roads,
trains carried me,
waters brought me,
and in the skin of the grapes
I thought I touched you.
The wood suddennly
brought me your touch,
the almond announced to me
your secret softness,
until your hands
closed on my chest
and there like two wings
they ended their journey.


Ecstatic Krishna 

When her friends had gone,
Smiles spread on Radha's lips
While love's deep fantasies
Struggled with her modesty.
Seeing the mood in Radha's heart,
Hari spoke to his love;
Her eyes were fixed
On his bed of buds and tender shoots.             

The Twenty-third Song, sung with Raga '"Vibhasa"

Leave lotus footprints on my bed of tender shoots, loving Radha! Let my place be ravaged by your tender feet!
    Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!                     

I stroke your foot with my lotus hand—You have come far.
Set your golden anklet on my bed like the sun.
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!              

Consent to my love; let elixir pour from your face!
To end our separation I bare my chest of the silk that bars your breast.
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!                  

Throbbing breasts aching for loving embrace are hard to touch.
Rest these vessels on my chest! Quench love's burning fire!
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!            

Offer your lips' nectar to revive a dying slave, Radha!
His obsessed mind and listless body burn in love's d/desolation.
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!                      

Radha, make your jeweled girdle cords echo the tone of your voice!
Soothe the long torture my ears have suffered from cuckoo's shrill cries!
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!                      

Your eyes are ashamed now to see me tortured by baseless anger;
Glance at me and end my passion's despair!
     Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!                   

Each verse of Jayadeva's song echoes the delight of Madhu's foe.
Let emotion rise to a joyful mood of love in sensitive men!
      Narayana is faithful now. Love me, Radhika!  

Displaying her passion
In loveplay as the battle began,
She launched a bold offensive
Above him
And triumphed over her lover.
Her hips were still,
Her vine-like arm was slack,
Her chest was heaving,
Her eyes were closed.
Why does a mood of manly force
Succeed for women in love ?

The Twenty-fourth Song, sung with Raga "Ramakari”

Yadava hero, your hand is cooler than sandalbalm on my breast;
Paint a leaf design with deer musk here on Love's ritual vessel!
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.    

Lover, draw kohl glossier than a swarm of black bees on my eyes!
Your lips kissed away the lampblack bow that shoots arrows of Love.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.      

My ears reflect the restless gleam of doe eyes, graceful Lord.
Hang earrings on their magic circles to form snares for love.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.      

Pin back the teasing lock of hair on my smooth lotus face!
It fell before me to mime a gleaming line of black bees.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.      

Make a mark with liquid deer musk on my moonlit brow!
Make a moon shadow, Krishna! The sweat drops are dried.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.       

Fix flowers in shining hair loosened by loveplay, Krishna!
Make a flywhisk outshining peacock plumage to be the banner of Love.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.        

My beautiful loins are a deep cavern to take the thrusts of love—
Cover them with jeweled girdles, cloths, and ornaments, Krishna!
She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.     

Make your heart sympathetic to Jayadeva's splendid speech!
Recalling Hari's feet is elixir against fevers of this dark time.
     She told the joyful Yadu hero, playing to delight her heart.     

"Paint a leaf on my breasts!
Put color on my cheeks!
Lay a girdle on my hips!
Twine my heavy braid with flowers!
Fix rows of bangles on my hands
And jeweled anklets on my feet!"
Her yellow-robed lover
Did what Radha said.                                           

His musical skill, his meditation on Vishnu,
His vision of reality in the erotic mood,
His graceful play in these poems,
All show that master-poet Jayadeva's soul
Is in perfect tune with Krishna—
Let blissful men of wisdom purify the world
By singing his Gitagovinda.    



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