Friday, April 24, 2009

Gitagovinda: The Indian Song of Songs

Today I cataloged "The Indian Song of Songs", a vintage translation of Gitagovinda, the remarkable sacred sensuous musical drama from India by the 12th century poet Jayadeva, translated in the 19th century by Edwin Arnold. This Out of Print paperback would be notable if only as No. 472 in a series entitled "Lovell's Library, A Weekly Publication of the Best Current & Standard Literature" as the cover proudly proclaims. It has pages of period advertisements, e.g. for pianofortes, "Crosby's Vitalized Phos-phites", and "Pond's Extract - the Lady's Friend". Truly, this is a window into a vanished time!

However, the content is also interesting. Basically, it's an English translation of a Sanskrit play of gods and romance, edited somewhat (according to the translator) "in order to comply with the canons of Western propriety". The translator's Preface compares it to the Biblical Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon or, as I learned it in Catholic school, Canticles) which can be enjoyed for its beautiful poetry or is unabashed sensuality.

The Preface is very helpful in explaining the background of the work, of the complexities of Indian music and its author Jayadeva, but the reader may prefer to leap in and enjoy the story. This may be for you if you like Victorian romantic poetry, or even more so if you like puzzling out the way in which the translator dealt with physical aspects of love "too glowingly depicted by the Indian poet for exact translation".

You can learn more about Gitagovinda here and here.

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