Feb 13 2009
English version by W. S. Merwin & J. Moussaieff Masson
Even the man who is happy
or a hair of sound touches him
and his heart overflows with a longing
he does not recognize
then it must be that he is remembering
in a place out of reach
shapes he has loved
in a life before this
the print of them still there in him waiting
— from East Window: Poems from Asia, Translated by W. S. Merwin
/ Photo by Stig Nygaard /
and his heart overflows with a longing
he does not recognize
I just love these lines.
It reminds me of revelation I had around age 20 that really helped me through a lost, lonely period. It was a time when I felt this excruciating inner ache, a hole in myself, an empty space, with no idea how to fill it. Other people that age were busy with life: schoolwork, friends, dating, imagining their futures. But at that age I was struggling with a terrible void.
But then I started really watching people. I wanted to watch all the “normal” people to figure out how I could be more like them. Then suddenly it struck me: No matter how “happy” one may be, everyone — without exception — has that same gaping hole in their life. Most people pour all of their energies into either filling it endlessly, and with the wrong things, or they cover it up, ignore it, avoid it through endless activity. That sort of happiness is brittle, all too fragile. Suddenly we glimpse something or “a hair of sound touches” us, and that empty space becomes unavoidable. The hunger, the longing overflows.
I came to see that the whole world is defined by that longing. And I also began to understand that I wasn’t really different from everyone else. It’s just that perhaps I found it more difficult to avoid staring at that uncomfortable question mark that sits at the center of everyone’s life.
That insight not only reassured me that I was fundamentally okay, it also gave me permission to feel compassion for people I used to quietly envy. Everyone, all of us, high and low, rich and middle class and poor, famous and infamous and obscure — we’re all struggling with that haunting hunger.
But why? What is that hunger? Why is there a hole in the center of the world?
To really know the answer, we have to stop looking away. We have to stop distracting ourselves. And we have to stop trying to fill it with petty things — money, sex, fame.
Turn and sit and just quietly look at that empty space. Get to know it. Learn its feel.
Here’s what I’ve discovered in my own exploration: That hole is exactly God-shaped.
But there’s an important corollary to that statement: God is not shaped like the cutout doll handed to us when we were children. The word “God” itself is too limiting, and is heavily layered with cultural assumptions. That’s why I often use words like the Divine, the Eternal, the Real.
The most important thing about that God-shaped hole: When we finally, truly, really see it, an amazing river of bliss pours through that hole and washes over us…
Boy, was that somber, or what? Ivan wakes up to an overcast Colorado morning, and this is what he gives us? I predict the sun will shine next week!
An Indian poet and dramatist, Kalidasa lived sometime between the reign of Agnimitra, the second Shunga king (c. 170 BC) who was the hero of one of his dramas, and the Aihole inscription of AD 634 which praises Kalidasa’s poetic skills. Most scholars now associate him with the reign of Candra Gupta II (reigned c. 380-c. 415).
Little is known about Kalidasa’s life. According to legend, the poet was known for his beauty which brought him to the attention of a princess who married him. However, as legend has it, Kalidasa had grown up without much education, and the princess was ashamed of his ignorance and coarseness. A devoted worshipper of the goddess Kali (his name means literally Kali’s slave), Kalidasa is said to have called upon his goddess for help and was rewarded with a sudden and extraordinary gift of wit. He is then said to have become the most brilliant of the “nine gems” at the court of the fabulous king Vikramaditya of Ujjain. Legend also has it that he was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of Kumaradasa.
Kalidasa’s first surviving play, Malavikagnimitra or Malavika and Agnimitra tells the story of King Agnimitra, a ruler who falls in love with the picture of an exiled servant girl named Malavika. When the queen discovers her husbands passion for this girl, she becomes infuriated and has Malavika imprisoned, but as fate would have it, Malavika is in fact a true-born princess, thus legitimizing the affair.
Kalidasa’s second play, generally considered his masterpiece, is the Shakuntala which tells the story of another king, Dushyanta, who falls in love with another girl of lowly birth, the lovely Shakuntala. This time, the couple is happily married and things seem to be going smoothly until Fate intervenes. When the king is called back to court by some pressing business, his new bride unintentionally offends a saint who puts a curse on her, erasing the young girl entirely from the king’s memory. Softening, however, the saint concedes that the king’s memory will return when Shakuntala returns to him the ring he gave her. This seems easy enough–that is, until the girl loses the ring while bathing. And to make matters worse, she soon discovers that she is pregnant with the king’s child. But true love is destined to win the day, and when a fisherman finds the ring, the king’s memory returns and all is well. Shakuntala is remarkable not only for it’s beautiful love poetry, but also for its abundant humor which marks the play from beginning to end.
The last of Kalidasa’s surviving plays, Vikramorvashe or Urvashi Conquered by Valor, is more mystical than the earlier plays. This time, the king (Pururavas) falls in love with a celestial nymph named Urvashi. After writing her mortal suitor a love letter on a birch leaf, Urvashi returns to the heavens to perform in a celestial play. However, she is so smitten that she misses her cue and pronounces her lover’s name during the performance. As a punishment for ruining the play, Urvashi is banished from heaven, but cursed to return the moment her human lover lays eyes on the child that she will bear him. After a series of mishaps, including Urvashi’s temporary transformation into a vine, the curse is eventually lifted, and the lovers are allowed to remain together on Earth. Vikramorvashe is filled poetic beauty and a fanciful humor that is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In addition to his plays, Kalidasa wrote two surviving epic poems Raghuvamsha (“Dynasty of Raghu”) and Kumarasambhava (“Birth of the War God”), as well as the lyric “Meghaduta” (“Cloud Messenger”). He is generally considered to be the greatest Indian writer of any epoch.
– from imagi-nation.com