When the moon was bathing in his silvery rays
The raven tresses of the night,
When the spring was enquiring of the buds
The price of their spicy wines,
When the lunatic wind was scattering in the dust
The necklets of dewy pearls,
Then didst Thou descend, O my Master,
To teach me the elixir of Song.
There arose from Thy glance of compassion
A net-work of golden dreams.
That smile on Thy lips in departing
Left me plunged in an adorable pain.
I mangled the melodies Thou hadst taught me ;
My fingers stumbled on the strings.
O Lord of Compassion,
Thou didst cover my errors with Thy love.
How many ages have passed since that night!
How many lamps have burnt themselves out!
Yet still Thy ravishing melodies Elude my grasp.
Now I can no longer sing, my Master.
My fingers are tired,
And the strings of the lute have worked loose.
Now take Thou this muffled jangle
And drown it in the harmony of the spheres.
* * *
When the world had dipped into the early dew
His paint-brush of silvery beams
And was tracing on the cheeks of the buds
His tales of compassion and woe,
When the artless clouds were prodigal
With the sighs of their melting hearts,
And the darkness was applying its balm
To the gaping wounds of the day,
When the chaste blossoms of the starry worlds
Had spilled into the pollen of the flowers of the earth,
And the still lake’s rim
Was quivering faintly, like a widower’s tender heart—
Then came He silently,
Like mute adoration, like delectable pain,
Like a call from the land of dreams,
To sound the heavenly notes of His flute.
The speedy envoys of His glance
Flashed out their secret.
Oh, what a perturbation
At the lids of my unblinking eyes !
Since then I am one possessed.
Seems but a mortal cankerous growth.
My mind demands depths of agony,
Cup after cup.
That day my Kingdom of pain
Beyond the horizon was transported far
To that land wherefrom death is the only release,
And where silent weeping
Is the eternal sentinel guarding the gate.
O my companion,
How canst thou dismiss that meeting
As merely a dream ?
His smile yet gleams
Together with my tears amidst the brimming flowers.
* * *
When the spacious chamber of the night
Is dwindling to a nest of sighs
And its festoons of shining pearls
Are being squandered piece by piece,
Then the mute eyes of the half-extinguished stars
Write with their tears this sad lament:
“ How fragile is sansar ”.
When dawn is smiling, and her crimson fard
Lies spilled and scattered on her robes of gold
And the giddy sunbeams are toppling
On the glassy surface of the waves,
Then do the quiet buds draw back their leafy veils
And the tears on their tender eyelids proclaim :
“ How enchanting is sansar ”.
When the withered flowers have already made
Their gift of perfume to the wind and cried :
“ Once we bent low to honour thy path,
And now wilt thou steep our eyes in dust ? ”
And the bees’ sweet murmur only complains :
“ Dead is their savour, rotted on the stem.”
Then seems the rustling and the sobbing to reply :
“ How cruel is sansar ”.
When day is proclaiming his defeat –
In letters of shining gold, :
And the twilight has illumined her courtyard
With the lamps of a million stars,
Then laughs the advancing tide of night
From behind the horizon’s darker shore :
“ Aeons and aeons have already passed,
And on and on rolls mad sansar ”.
When I have fashioned anew my days
With flowers gathered from my dreams,
And my lunatic desires are thinking
That their Kingdom will last without end,
Then from some unknown depth there sweetly surges up
I know not whose compassionate strain of
“ How insane is all sansar ”.
These were three poems of mahadevi varma
Mahadevi Varma was the principal of a girls’ college in Allahabad. Apart from her volumes of mystical verse, some of which she has illustrated with her own hand, she was the author of several works of autobiography and essays in distinguished prose. She was universally recognized as one of the best living poets in Hindi. The translations here offered aim to follow the line of Mahadevi Varma’s thoughts fairly closely, but they do not give much idea of the craftsmanship of the originals, which are as compact and harmonious as an Elizabethan sonnet.