banner













  • Subscribe to our e-letters



  • Facebook_icon


The Stephen Spender Prize 2018 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

Open category, second prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2018 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


William Roychowdhury

from The Cloud Messenger


Once a certain caretaker      neglected that selected as his task    and was
cut off        from his love    separated        from his power
all that long year he ate it up            his punishment        in mountain hermitages
in tree-thick-sticky shade        beside the waters Sita washed herself to clean …

a sexual man            he wasted from his lover    on that hill    for months until
his rings fell from his hands   and    then    when            the rains
    broke he saw it    –      a cloud that        wrapped itself around
the peak and seemed to stoop
                                 like an elephant        to scratch against the slopes …

to use this cloud to send    some news to soothe     his lover through
the long monsoon            the lie that he was peaceful    that was his desire
so he wove a welcome    out of dogbane flowers
and spoke kind words to the raincloud …                        now
smoke-with-brightness-met-with-rain-and-wind    met in a cloud

                                                                                that's
one thing
a sentient thing    with wherewithal for message    and for meaning

    something else
but when we're pained by love we cannot tell the conscious from the dumb
        he didn't weigh this                        and he pleaded
"Raingiver    because you give relief from burning     will you go    to the rich homes
of Alaka    where moonlight laps the palaces    whenever Siva turns
his head    in far gardens                and give a message to the one
the anger of the Lord of Wealth has cut me from …

but before you hear my message and you drink it in
I'll point you out the way go        so                        whenever you
are weary weary    you'll land on drizzled hills    whenever you
are spent up spent up you'll drink the lightest water you can
                                                            swallow from the streams …
now clear the crown        of this hill and as you go    the women in the fields
will gulp you down        with damp desiring eyes    that never narrow
for you bring harvest        you make the farmland sweet to plough
as you scud a little to the west        rise nimble to the north

above the royal road when night            is pin-prick-tight and    blocks
the view of women going to a lover's house      them the way
            by lightning        like true gold scratched across a stone
but don't let    thunder        downpour            give the game away …

then pass the night                on ridges of a roof            with your own
lightning-wife            slowly            exhausted            from sex
but when the sun comes up    go on    don't                        linger
when you've made promises to a friend …

because you're beautiful    it may be you'll find your way into
Gambhira's river water        into her clear mind
even if    it's only with        your reflected-self    don't disappoint
her night-lotus-white   her   leaping-fish-tremble    glances    with your
                                                                        steadfastness

the   reed branches that she holds   fall        slightly    from her banks of waist
her blue water vestment                            help it off                        then
dear friend                    resume your journey
though    you will be slow to go when you've    tasted her there …

so go up    touch    the peaks turned    upside down    by the demon king
a looking-glass for goddesses                                to see themselves    lily-pure
across the sky    as day piles onto day        the high    white    laughter
of the three worlds …

and finally   Alaka        lying in the lap of a lover    the cloak of Ganges
falling away                    once you've seen it you cannot    not    know
Alaka        with its turrets flooded    Alaka with its    multitude of clouds
like    a woman necklacing    her pearls                    at this time of year.

Translated from the Sanskrit by William Roychowdhury
top


Meghadūta

kaścitkāntāvirahaguruṇā svādhikārapramattaḥ 

mśāpenāstaṃgamitamahimā varṣabhogyeṇa bhartuḥ / 

yakṣaścakre janakatanayāsnānapuṇyodakeṣu 

snigdhacchāyātaruṣu vasatiṃ rāmagiryāśrameṣu // 1


tasminnadrau katicidabalāviprayuktaḥ sa kāmī 

nītvā māsānkanakavalayabhraṃśariktaprakoṣṭhaḥ / 

āṣāḍhasya prathamadivase meghamāśliṣṭasānuṃ 

vaprakrīḍāpariṇatagajaprekṣaṇīyaṃ dadarśa // 2


pratyāsanne nabhasi dayitājīvitālambanārthī 

jīmūtena svakuśalamayīṃ hārayiṣyanpravr̥ttim / 

sa pratyagraiḥ kuṭajakusumaiḥ kalpitārghāya tasmai    

prītaḥ prītipramukhavacanaṃ svāgataṃ vyājahāra // 4  


dhūmajyotiḥsalilamarutāṃ saṃnipātaḥ kva meghaḥ 

saṃdeśārthāḥ kva paṭukaraṇaiḥ prāṇibhiḥ prāpaṇīyāḥ / 

ityautsukyādaparigaṇayanguhyakastaṃ yayāce 

kāmārtā hi prakr̥tikr̥paṇāścetanācetaneṣu // 5

 
  

saṃtaptānāṃ tvamasi śaraṇaṃ tatpayoda priyāyāḥ 

saṃdeśaṃ me hara dhanapatikrodhaviśleṣitasya /  

gantavyā te vasatiralakā nāma yakṣeśvarāṇāṃ 

bāhyodyānasthitaharaśiraścandrikādhautaharmyā // 7  


mārgaṃ tāvacchr̥ṇu kathayatastvatprayāṇānurūpaṃ 

saṃdeśaṃ me tadanu jalada śroṣyasi śrotrapeyam / 

khinnaḥ khinnaḥ śikhariṣu padaṃ nyasya gantāsi yatra 

kṣīṇaḥ kṣīṇaḥ parilaghu payaḥ srotasāṃ copayujya // 13


tvayyāyattaṃ kr̥ṣiphalamiti bhrūvikārānabhijñaiḥ 

prītisnigdhairjanapadavadhūlocanaiḥ pīyamānaḥ / 

sadyaḥsīrotkaṣaṇa surabhi kṣetramāruhya mālaṃ 

kiṃcitpaścatvraja laghugatirbhūya evottareṇa // 16


gacchantīnāṃ ramaṇavasatiṃ yoṣitāṃ tatra naktaṃ 

ruddhāloke narapatipathe sūcibhedyaistamobhiḥ / 

saudāmanyā kanakanikaṣasnigdhayā darśayorvīṃ 

toyotsargastanitamukharo mā ca bhūrviklavāstāḥ // 40


tāṃ kasyāṃcidbhavanavalabhau suptapārāvatāyāṃ 

nītvā rātriṃ ciravilasanātkhinnavidyutkalatraḥ / 

dr̥ṣṭe sūrye punarapi bhavānvāhayedadhvaśeṣaṃ 

mandāyante na khalu suhr̥dāmabhyupetārthakr̥tyāḥ // 41 


gambhīrāyāḥ payasi saritaścetasīva prasanne 

chāyātmāpi prakr̥tisubhago lapsyate te praveśam / 

tasmādasyāḥ kumudaviśadānyarhasi tvaṃ na dhairy 

ānmoghīkartuṃ caṭulaśapharodvartanaprekṣitāni // 43


tasyāḥ kiṃcitkaradhr̥tamiva prāptavānīraśākhaṃ 

hr̥tvā nīlaṃ salilavasanaṃ muktarodhonitambam / 

prasthānaṃ te kathamapi sakhe lambamānasya bhāvi 

jñātāsvādo vivratajaghanāṃ ko vihātuṃ samarthaḥ // 44


gatvā cordhvaṃ daśamukhabhujocchvāsitaprasthasaṃdheḥ 

kailāsasya tridaśavanitādarpaṇasyātithiḥ syāḥ / 

śr̥ṅgocchrāyaiḥ kumudaviśadairyo vitatya sthitaḥ khaṃ 

rāśībhūtaḥ pratidinamiva tryambakasyāṭṭahāsaḥ // 61 

   
 

tasyotsaṅge praṇayina iva srastagaṅgādukūlāṃ 

na tvaṃ dr̥ṣṭvā na punaralakāṃ jñāsyase kāmacārin / 

yā caḥ kāle vahati salilodgāramuccairvimānā 

muktājālagratitamalakaṃ kāminīvābhravr̥ndam // 66



Kalidasa
top


Translation commentary

'The Cloud Messenger' tells the story of a man who sends a message to his lover, by way of a passing raincloud. Translations of this ancient Sanskrit poem are often stilted and archaic. I wanted to attempt a modern, even modernist, version that captured some of the original's feeling, beauty, and complexity.

Some challenges: Sanskrit is often made up of long compound words, juxtaposing ideas. I have tried to show these compounds piling up – like the cloudbanks massing at this extract's close. Often the constituent words in these compounds have more than one relevant meaning: sometimes I've made choices, sometimes I've made new compounds of my own.

It is hard to capture the music of the original's metre, its long lines, the patterns of alliteration and assonance. I haven't preserved metre, aiming for its effect instead through devices such as internal rhyme. I have attempted a modern version of the long, stately line. Sanskrit is organised by the places of articulation in the mouth: as the raincloud moves the play of gutturals, dentals or labials can rumble like thunder, crackle like lightning, build from the patter of rain into a downpour, or float lightly on the hiss of a breeze. Throughout, the progress of the cloud is also linked to the static man on the hill. At times the lines are heavy and slow, reflecting the languor of separation, at other times erotically excited.

The full poem is over 100 stanzas; I have extracted 13 from its first half, describing the cloud's journey. Picking stanzas to tell a tale in miniature was hard, as was excluding Part Two, where the couple – in imagination at least – are reunited through the delivery of the message. But in trying to return this message to our time, some losses are inevitable.

William Roychowdhury