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Sara L Russell

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The most exquisite poem I have ever read is...
By Sara L Russell
Last edited: Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Posted: Saturday, October 04, 2003



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Black Marigolds, also known as the Chaurapanchasika: The Fifty Stanzas of Chauras. Translated from the Sanskrit by E. Powys Mathers, with great skill and sensitivity, for us all to enjoy. To me it is the most beautiful love poem of all time.




I want to write a brief artible about this amazing, haunting love poem, which I feel is probably the best love poem ever written. It was written many centuries ago, by a young poet who knew he was going to die, for having loved the king's daughter. His love lament survived, and was translated by E. Powys Mathers, and quoted in the novel Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

It is a poem which has been one of my biggest influences.

At the bottom of this article you will find a link to a page which gives the history of the poem.

Here is one of my favourite stanzas:

  Even now
  I bring her back to me in her quick shame,
  Hiding her bright face at the point of day:
  Making her grave eyes move in watered stars,
  For love's great sleeplessness wandering all night,
  Seeming to sail gently, as that pink bird,
  Down the water of love in a harvest of lotus.

In fact, you can dip into this poem (all 50 stanzas of it) anywhere and find something to delight and amaze:

  Even now
  By a cool noise of waters in the spring
  The Asoka with young flowers that feign her fingers
  And bud in red; and in the green vest pearls kissing
  As it were rose leaves in the gardens of God; the shining at night
  Of white cheeks in the dark; smiles from light thoughts within,
  And her walking as of a swan: these trouble me.


One thing that gives this poem such enduring beauty is the references to gorgeous, exotic Asian flora and fauna:

  Even now
  If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again
  Weary with the dear weight of young love,
  Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms
  And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine,
  As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease
  Steals up the honey from the nenuphar.

....I love the imagery of the "reeling pirate bee", and until reading this poem, had never heard of the nenuphar flower. The poem opens up a whole world of colour, light, spice and passion to me, flooding my senses and emotions, which is exactly what a poem should do. Many people all over the world have fallen in love with this poem. I hope that anyone reading this will treat themselves, and click the link below. I promise that the last few stanzas will give you tears of awe, sadness and wonder. And you too will see that the poet Chauras did not die in vain; the magical splendour of his verse will live forever. See bottom of page for web link to the poem.

Additional information (added November 2004) from the copyright owners of this work:

Authorized text published in 2004 by Anvil Press Poetry, London in E. Powys Mathers: BLACK MARIGOLDS AND COLOURED STARS. Copyright renewed 2004 Margaret Gibson and Lucy L. Painter for the Estate of E. Powys Mathers. All enquiries to anvila.anvilpresspoetry.com

This stunning work by E. Powys Mathers: BLACK MARIGOLDS and Coloured Stars, has a preface by Tony Harrison:

"E. Powys Mathers (1892-1939) is the not-quite-forgotten man of modern English poetry. Despite his appearance in Yeats' famous Oxford Book of Modern Verse - he died the same year as Yeats - he is best known for his translation of the Thousand Nights and One Night, and as his alter ego, Torquemada of the Observer - a name to conjure with in the history of the cryptic crossword puzzle. But his poetry, especially Black Marigolds, has long been admired by poets, and for many of them his translations from Asian and Oriental poetry are unparalleled. Black Marigolds, from the Sanskrit Chaurapanchasika, has appeared in several anthologies and circulates on the internet. Together with the slightly earlier Coloured Stars (versions of fifty Asiatic love poems), his first book, it constitutes the best of Mathers' remarkable poetry, which even now reads with undated freshness.

Tony Harrison is a confirmed Mathers fan and his preface brilliantly and entertainingly describes the puzzles of Mathers' life and the fascination and originality of his poetry. As he concludes: "And Mathers, erotic aesthete, cocktail-shaking Chinese-American, honorary Arab nomad, bhang-chewer, Turkish bisexual, tormenting puzzle-setter, was a true if minor poet whose assimilation of Eastern modes should rank with Arthur Waley or Ezra Pound, and whose name and achievement should be much better known than they are. And the Black Marigolds of Edward Powys Mathers is a masterpiece that still affects me in the same way even now after almost fifty years."


Purchasing information:

ISBN 0 85646 372 8
112pp paperback
Published October 2004
7.95

Anvil Press Poetry
Neptune House
70 Royal Hill
Greenwich
London
SE10 8RF  

Web Site Black Marigolds: Full version with intro...
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Reviewed by Sara Russell 2/2/2010
Firstly, thanks for your comments Ian, Robert, Dwight and Jac...

Hi Dwight Colburn! In answer to your question, in this stanza:

Even Now
They chatter her weakness through the two bazzars
Who was so strong to love me. And small men
That buy and sell for silver being slaves
Crinkled the fat about their eyes; and yet
No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her,
Leading to his grim bed.

...Here Chauras is talking about how the old men of the bazaars and slave markets are gossiping about Princess Vidya because she has consorted with a mere courtier (Chauras) and not a prince, as her father would have wished. This is underlined by:

"... and yet
No prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her,
Leading to his grim bed."
This stanza concludes with
"Little lonely one,
You cling to me as a garment clings; my girl."

I think with those last lines, Chauras is exultant that he was the one to take Vidya's virginity, before any prince could have her - even though he knows that he will have to die for it.

And this excerpt:

"I mind the coming of wise men from towers
Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening
Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl"

...Perhaps Chauras has been visited by priests from nearby temples, who are counselling him to prepare him for his execution (for consorting with the princess). "Wise Men" could mean either priests or prophets/seers. Whatever they said to try to comfort him, he says "And I, listening, found not the salt of the whispers of my girl..." - in other words, nothing that any magi person, poet or priest could say - would be anything like as beautiful to his ear as the voice of his beloved Vidya, whispering to him in bed. He uses the word "salt" because salt has always been as precious as any spice. Just as we might describe someone as "the salt of the earth", he has used that word as a way to savour the precious commodity of his lover's voice.

I have read the whole poem over and over. I love every word of it. :)

Reviewed by Dwight Colburn (Reader) 1/20/2010
Please HELP me!

I just finished reading Cannry Row and absolutely fell in love with Black Marigolds, but there are a couple stanzas I can't understand. Any insights would be much appreciated.

Even Now
They chatter her weakness through the two bazzars
Who was so strong to love me. And small men
That buy and sell for silver being slaves
Crinkled the fat about their eyes; and yet
No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her,
Leading to his grim bed.

(Also this part...)

I mind the coming of wise men from towers
Where they had thought away their youth. And I, listening
Found not the salt of the whispers of my girl

If you can help me with that or know of any site that gives an indepth explination of the poem, I would surely appreciate it - thanks.
Reviewed by jac cherry 7/22/2007
absolutely, sarah, i completely agree. i discovered the poem ten years ago and since then have only shared it with three people. these are my favorite stanzas...

Even now
If my girl with lotus eyes came to me again
Weary with the dear weight of young love,
Again I would give her to these starved twins of arms
And from her mouth drink down the heavy wine,
As a reeling pirate bee in fluttered ease
Steals up the honey from the nenuphar.

Even now
My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting, painting
Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings,
That tap against cheeks of small magnolia leaves,
O whitest so soft parchment where
My poor divorced lips have written excellent
Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more.

Even now
I love long black eyes that caress like silk,
Ever and ever sad and laughing eyes,
Whose lids make such sweet shadow when they close
It seems another beautiful look of hers.
I love a fresh mouth, ah, a scented mouth,
And curving hair, subtle as a smoke,
And light fingers, and laughter of green gems.

you have excellent taste.
Reviewed by A Serviceable Villain 8/31/2004
Sara,

Excellent - thanks for your outstanding thoughts!!

Robert
Reviewed by Ian Thorpe 10/6/2003
Its great that you are drawing attention to this style of verse Sara, what we who follow the Druidic path call the bardic style. It is often mistaken for free verse but is much more difficult to write, being similar to the stressed syllable line writing of poets like Whitman, Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Thus, though not stricly scanned in the da daa da daa (or even the daa da daa da) of latin verse it takes on a musical quality when we manage to get it right, very like the "spraken und sangen" delivery of north European minstrels and bards in pre - renaissance times or the plainsong of monastic orders. But Sanskrit is the mother tongue of north European languages such as German, the Celtic tongues, Anglo Saxon and Swedish with its Scandinavian variants
Certainly should give those creative writing teachers who think "free verse" means "anything goes" food for thought.
love
Ian

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