"Hindoo Love-Poems," The Academy and Literature, 15 Mar. 1902, p. 263-4.
The Garden of Kama, and Other Love-Lyrics from India. Arranged in Verse by Laurence Hope. (Heinemann. 5s. net.)
How far these lyrics are renderings of actual Hindoo originals, or how far
they may be imitations of Hindoo poetic style, only those with expert knowledge
of Hindoo poetry could say. Some are obviously written from a Western
standpoint. But the question matters little. For the majority have
the East written broad across them: whether direct translations, adaptations, or
imitations, they render the East in terms of the West, and do so with
power. They are essential translations, in the best sense; and the measure
of their literal fidelity concerns us as little as in the case of FitzGerald.
The Garden of Kama is able and interesting work; and it is now an open
secret that "Laurence Hope" is the pen-name of Mrs. Malcolm Nicolson,
wife of Lieutenant-General Nicolson, late of the Indian Army. Women are
taking more than their share in revealing to us the Hindoo mind, and Mr.
Nicolson succeeds in poetry the prose of Mrs. F.A. Steele.
It is perhaps inevitable that some reviewers have raised the great comparison of FitzGerald; but it can do no good service to Mrs. Nicolson--or "Laurence Hope." She is very far from the uniform classic perfection of form and diction which have helped to make "Fitz's" Omar Khayyám itself a classic. All Laurence Hope's poems are not fine poetry, by any means; which may be caused by the weakness of her originals. But the inequality of the execution is her own, and often her technique shows the awkwardness of the amateur. It is a passing flaw, an inexpertness, but quite sufficient to make over-exalted comparisons invidious. At her best, however, the sun of the East is in her lyrics, and the execution on a level with the emotional fervour. Perhaps it needed a woman to interpret the emotional abandonment of the songs of India. It is no Western love which they breathe. It is a love frankly and completely on the plane of the senses, with no admixture of spirit; it is a love without reservations; and a love which does not even expect to last. The utter self-abandonment to the rush of passion, the belief that love is a power fatal and beyond resistance, the entire throwing one's self under the feet of the beloved--especially on the part of women; these things are of the East wholly, and exotic to the Western mind. Even more strong in contrast to the Western reader is the fleetingness which all these lyrics regard as inherent in love. Seize it quickly, and seize it fiercely, for to-morrow it dies: that is their note. A flame of flax, hot, sudden, and suddenly gone, is the love of The Garden of Kama. And always there broods over it the menace of tragedy. With such love, indeed, tragedy must needs be a constant companion. The passionate self-surrender of this Hindoo love is well seen in Less than the Dust, which is also one of the author's best pieces:
Less than the dust, beneath thy Chariot wheel,
Less than the rust, that never stained thy Sword,
Less than the trust thou hast in me, O Lord,
Even less than these!
Less than the weed, that grows beside thy door,
Less than the speed of hours spent far from thee,
Less than the need thou hast in life of me.
Even less am I.
Since I, O Lord, am nothing unto thee,
See here thy Sword, I make it keen and bright,
Love's last reward, Death, comes to me to-night,
That is strong, and full of lyric passion, while the execution is sustained throughout. It has both the abandonment and the tragic note of this Hindoo eroticism. The woman is not loved--then she will die as simple matter of course. Male passion shows itself only less tragically complete in self-surrender in the lament of Mohamed Akram, To the Unattainable:
I would have taken Golden Stars from the sky for your necklace,
I would have shaken rose-leaves for your rest from all the rose-trees.
But you had no need; the short sweet grass sufficed for your slumber
And you took no heed of such trifles as gold or a necklace.
There is an hour, at twilight, too heavy with memory.
There is a flower that I fear, for your hair had its fragrance.
I would have squandered Youth for you, and its hope and its promise,
Before you wandered, careless, away from my useless passion.
But what is the use of my speech, since I know of no words to recall you?
I am praying that Time may teach, you, your Cruelty, me, Forgetfulness.
That, too, is a successful poem, with a certain delicacy of fancy which is apparent in all the poems assigned to Mohamed Akram. We with the Marriage Thoughts of Morsellin Khan were not too long for quotation. It is really a charming little prothalamion, as may be gathered partly from the opening:
I give you my house and my lands, all golden with harvest;
My sword, my shield, and my jewels, the spoils of my strife,
My strength and my dreams, and aught I have gathered of glory,
And to-night----to-night, I shall give you my very life.
I may not raise my eyes, O my Lord, towards you,
And I may not speak: what matter? my voice would fail.
But through my downcast lashes, feeling your beauty,
I shiver and burn with pleasure beneath my veil.
The gay and nai:f little poem proceeds with attendant choruses of women, in true prothalamial form: the divergence characteristic of the East is at the end, where the passing mendicant begs his share of the marriage-feast. He, too, adds the tragic touch which must come, even here; he obtrudes the thought of pilgrimage, and that love is a dream, and the life scarce more. The great elementary unity of marriage-joy has made East and West strikingly akin in all else of this poem; but here the brooding East asserts its separateness. A strange and delicately perfect little poem comes from Kashmir--one would rather have said Paris of the decadence.
You never loved me, and yet to save me,
One unforgettable night you gave me
Such chill embraces as the snow-covered heights
Receive from clouds, in northern, Auroral nights.
Such keen communion as the frozen mere
Has with immaculate moonlight, cold and clear.
And all desire,
Like failing fire,
Died slowly, faded surely, and sank to rest
Against the delicate chillness of your breast.
Tell us this was Mr. Arthur Symons, we might believe; but Juma, a Kashmiri! It comes with a strange surprise.[<263] The poem, however, is solitary in The Garden of Kama. You have other varieties enough. The Afridi lover, addressing his frail beloved as she lies awaiting the retributive sword-edge; sinister stories by Lalla-ji, the Priest, one of which has little to do with Kama, it would seem, and numberless echoes of the one fevered love-cry which sounds through the book:
What is my life but a breath
Of passion burning away?
Away for an unplucked flower.
Oh Aziza whom I adore,
Aziza my one delight,
Only one night, I will die before day,
And trouble your life no more.
The lyric Kama, more elementary than the lyric Eros, is what Laurence Hope has given us; and we thank her for the gift, which is interesting, and rendered with more accomplishment than any of her predecessors have shown. It is a book which deserves to be read--and kept.