From The Amarushataka

translation by Andrew Schelling

The Amarushataka or “Hundred Poems of King Amaru” is a cycle of love poems dating to about the middle of the eighth century. Indian tradition ascribes it to a single author (otherwise unknown), but most Western scholars consider it an early anthology. Some of its best poems appear in later anthologies, credited to other poets. It has maintained a central position in Indian literature since the ninth century when the Kashmiri scholar, philosopher, and critic Anandavardhana wrote, “It is well known that a single stanza of the poet Amaru may provide the flavor of love equal to what’s found in whole volumes.” Four different versions of the text occur in India, ranging from 96 to 115 stanzas. For my translations I have worked with the Southern edition, edited in about 1420 by Vemabhupala.

My translation of the full cycle will be published in fall of 2004 by Shambhala Publications in their Shambhala Library Series, under the title Erotic Love Poems from India.

—Andrew Schelling

You provided love,
you touched her
intimately for a long time.
Now in a fatal twist
you’ve inflicted the rawest wound.
Tender words can’t assuage
her unbearable jealousy.
Our friend needs to cry now—
grief has
unlocked her throat.

—Amarushataka 7

When she’d been icy he
dropped at her feet.
But accused of cheating in secret
he bristled and
left. She exhaled audibly
both hands on her breasts
and glanced
through moist eyes at
her girlfriends.

—Amarushataka 19

Why is this enchanted
creature asleep,
a sash fastened over her robe—?
He was softly querying
the servants
when she cried bitterly
Mother, he disrupts my dreams even here!
and turned as if
sleeping to make room
on the bed.

—Amarushataka 20

Each turned aside
on the bed
silently suffering
secretly hoping to reconcile but
afraid to lose face.
At some point their furtive eyes met—
there was a quick
unintentional laugh and the
quarrel broke
in one wild embrace.

—Amarushataka 21

In bed he whispers
the wrong name.
She feels her youthful enthusiasm wilt
& curls coldly away
from excuses.
He falls silent.
And she turning back softly
eyes him—
Don’t go to sleep.

—Amarushataka 23

The lord of her heart
made some
injurious remark.
Lacking the counsel of friends
she could not compose her bewildered
body or phrase
a slant reply.
Blue eye petals darting about
she just wept—
tears on bright cheekbones
locks of stray hair.

—Amarushataka 27

Now I know everything.
Please go. Talking is pointless.
You don’t bear the
slightest blame,
fate has simply turned from me.
If your so abundant love
comes to this
what pain could I experience
if hateful life—
mere flicker of nature—

—Amarushataka 28

She averts a well-bred face
when her lord
fingers her skirt.
He moves to enfold her
she extracts
her limbs mildly.
Caught wordless,
eyeing the conspiratorial smiles
of her bridesmaids
at a first joke the girl
nearly perishes.

—Amarushataka 36

We’d been drinking.
She noticed wounds on my skin
from her own
and bolted up jealously.
Let go, she cried when I caught her skirt.
Tear-streaked face averted
lower lip quavering—
who could forget
what she said next?

—Amarushataka 47

Unhappy women
have used tears, severe oaths,
even collapse
to prevent a lover
from traveling.
Darling I’m a pluckier girl.
Good luck & for your
early departure
I hope a good day.
After you’re gone you may hear
what I see fit to do with my
love life.

—Amarushataka 52

Hear his name
and every hair on my
body’s aroused.
See his moonlike face
I get moist like a moonstone everywhere.
He steps near enough to touch
my throat
& pride is broken oh hard
diamond heart.

—Amarushataka 58
Note: In Indian folklore the moonstone is said to secrete moisture when struck by a moonbeam.

You’re determined
to lead your whole life
like a child?
Develop some pride
take a risk
with a lover you need to be devious.
Her face whitened
at her friend’s admonishment—
speak softly he’ll hear you
he dwells
in my heart.

—Amarushataka 82