Sunday, November 6, 2016

Peacocks in the rain

One of the poems my students encountered this semester in Classical Indian Philosophy of Language is found in both in Mukula Bhaṭṭa's Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā and Ānandavardhana's Dhvanyāloka. It describes "the cloud's friends" who cry out at the rain clouds. My students weren't sure who the "cloud's friends" were, and why it would mean "peacocks," even though Mukula explains that it is because they have similar qualities of fondness.

I explained their role in Sanskrit poetry, but without actually having seen peacocks singing and opening their feathers in the rain, it's difficult. Then I found this nice image, a woodblock by a fellow named Ralph Kiggell, in a book called The Third Thing. If you click you can read the accompanying Sanskrit poem (which I haven't tried to track down). It is by Yogeśvara and was translated by John Brough in Poems from the Sanskrit--I am not sure why the book says "anonymous" and doesn't credit the translator!


With tail-fans spread, and undulating wings,
With whose vibrating pulse the air now sings,
Their voices lifted, and their beaks stretched wide,
Treading the rhythmic dance from side to side,
Eyeing the rainclouds dark, majestic hue,
Richer in color than their own throat's blue,
With necks upraised, to which their tails advance,
Now in the rains, the screaming peacocks dance.

This made me think a bit about the difficulty of translating poetry. Here there is rhyme, which signals "this is a poem" to a lot of readers, but at the expense of a sing-song quality that may not match the original meter. What is it that translators aim at when translating poetry? Since poetry is "sound and sense" as the Alaṁkāra tradition puts it, it's basically impossible to get both together precisely in source and target language. Here's the Sanskrit of the poem my students read:

    snigdha-śyāmala-kānti-lipta-viyato vellad-balākā ghanā
    vātāḥ sīkariṇaḥ payod-suhṛdām ānanda-kekāḥ kalāḥ
    kāmaṃ santu dṛḍhaṃ kaṭora-hṛdayo rāmo ’smi sarvaṃ sahe
    vaidehī tu kathaṃ bhaviṣyati ha hā hā devi dhīrā bhave ’ti.
Krishnamoorthy[1] translates this in his version of the Dhvanyāloka so:
The quarters are all painted deep
With the glistening black of clouds,
And the cranes in circles fly (with excitement);
The breezes are moisture-laden
And these friends of clouds, the peacocks,
Send their joyous notes in the wind.
Let them all confront me!
I shall bear them all as I am Rāma
Whose heart is adamant to be sure;
But how will Sīta fare!
Alas! Alas! My dear queen!
Be bold, I beseech thee.
Venugopalan[2] translates the same verses in the Abhidhāvṛtta(or -vṛtti-)mātṛkā  differently:
Let there be the clouds which shine with gently moving cranes and which have completely smeared the sky with their shining black colour; let there be the chill winds; let there be the sweet cackling cries of the peacocks, the friends of the clouds. I am Rāma with a hard heart. I can bear everything. But Vaidehī! How will she feel? O, dear, take heart.
Ingalls et al[3], in their edition of the Dhvanyāloka is closer to Krishnamoorthy:
White herons circle against the dark clouds
that paint the sky with their wet lustre.
Winds carry the small rain.
The peacocks, friends of the clouds, cry out with joy.
Let all this be: my heart is hard;
I am Rāma, and can bear it all.
But Vaidehī, how will she live?
Alas, my queen, alas, be brave!
And most recently, McCrea[4] has taken this approach in his discussion of Mukula's text:
The clouds, with cranes wheeling against them, smear the sky with dark, wet, splendor; the winds contain droplets of water; the joyful cries of the friends of the clouds [i.e. the peacocks] are sweet. All right, let them be so! I am Rāma, whose heart is very hard; I can endure all! But how will Sītā survive? Alas, my queen, be strong!
Rather than go through all the differences in detail (should the cranes be called "white" if the word is not in the poem? Is "smeared" preferable to "painted"?) I'll just point out that rhyming isn't a choice any of the translators made, although some have decided to emulate verse form (Ingalls, Krishnamoorthy) rather than write as prose (Venugopalan, McCrea). And the grammatical structure of the poems vary, depending on the emphasis that the translators prefer. McCrea takes clouds (ghanā) as the grammatical subject in his version, where Krishnamoorthy and Ingalls focus on the birds. Venugopalan takes Rāma's settled expression kāmaṃ santu and incorporates it throughout the poem, as a way to emphasize what it is that he is accepting.

I have tried my own hand at this poem--constantly rewriting in an effort to balance fidelity to the Sanskrit with fidelity to the imagery. I have the benefit of the previous translations as a guide. Right now, I prefer to use "white" (with Ingalls) and play on the sense of movement in vellad to an alliterative "whirl." I take clouds on its own--it stands at the end of the first line--and keep the past-passive participle lipta although I lose the case-ending of viyataḥ in favor of an em-dash. And I conclude the poem with a contrast to the movement of the opening lines.
White cranes whirl. Clouds!--the sky is smeared with radiant wet color.
Winds sprinkle water. The cloud's friends cry joyfully.
Let all of this be. My hard heart is firm. I am Rāma. I bear it all.
But Vaidehī, how will she live? Oh, alas, queen, stand firm!
[1] Ānandavardhana. Dhvanāyloka of Ānandavardhana. K. Krishnamoorthy, ed. and transl. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974 (2016 reprint). 39.
[2] K. Venugopalan. "Mukulabhaṭṭa's Abhidhāvṛttimātṛkā." Journal of Indian Philosophy (4):1977. 230.
[3] Ānandavardhana and Abhinavagupta. The Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana with the Locana of Abhinavagupta. Daniel .H.H. Ingalls and Jeffrey Masson, M.V. Patwardhan, transl. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990. 204.
[4] Lawrence McCrea. The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008. 169.