One of my favorite books is Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Near the
end of the book, the poem
Black Marigolds is quoted extensively (but
not completely). I wanted to read the whole thing, so I sought it out, and
here is the full text.
rendered into English by E. Powys Mathers (from the book Love Songs of Asia, Knopf, 1946)
And sometimes we look to the end of the tale that there should be marriage-feasts, and find only, as it were, black marigolds and a silence.
—Azeddin el Mocadecci
Even now My thought is all of this gold-tinted king’s daughter With garlands tissue and golden buds, Smoke tangles of her hair, and sleeping or waking Feet trembling in love, full of pale languor; My thought is clinging as to a lost learning Slipped down out of the minds of men, Labouring to bring her back into my soul.
Even now If I see in my soul the citron-breasted fair one Still gold-tinted, her face like our night stars, Drawing unto her; her body beaten about with flame, Wounded by the flaring spear of love, My first of all by reason of her fresh years, Then is my heart buried alive in snow.
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 I bring her back, ah, wearied out with love So that her slim feet could not bear her up; Curved falls of her hair down on her white cheeks; In the confusion of her coloured vests Speaking that guarded giving up, and her scented arms Lay like cool bindweed over against my neck.
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.
Even now If I saw her lying all wide eyes And with collyrium the indent of her cheek Lengthened to the bright ear and her pale side So suffering the fever of my distance, Then would my love for her be ropes of flowers, and night A black-haired lover on the breasts of day.
Even now I see the heavy startled hair of this reed-flute player Who curved her poppy lips to love dances, Having a youth’s face madding like the moon Lying at her full; limbs ever moving a little in love, Too slight, too delicate, tired with the small burden Of bearing love ever on white feet.
Even now She is present to me on her beds, Balmed with the exhalation of a flattering musk, Rich with the curdy essence of santal; Girl with eyes dazing as the seeded wine, Showing as a pair of gentle nut-hatches Kissing each other with their bills, each hidden By turns within a little grasping mouth.
Even now She swims back in the crowning hour of love All red with wine her lips have given to drink, Soft round the mouth with camphor and faint blue Tinted upon the lips, her slight body, Her great live eyes, the colourings of herself A clear perfection; sighs of musk outstealing And powdered wood spice heavy of Kashmir.
Even now I see her; far face blond like gold Rich with small lights, and tinted shadows surprised Over and over all of her; with glittering eyes All bright for love but very love weary, As it were the conjuring disk of the moon when Rahu ceases With his dark stumbling block to hide her rays.
Even now She is art-magically present to my soul, And that one word of strange heart’s ease, goodbye. That in the night, in loth moving to go, And bending over to a golden mouth, I said softly to the turned away Tenderly tired hair of this king’s daughter.
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 divorcèd lips have written excellent Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more.
Even now Death sends me the flickering of powdery lids Over wild eyes and the pity of her slim body All broken up with the weariness of joy; The little red flowers of her breasts to be my comfort Moving above scarves, and for my sorrow Wet crimson lips that once I marked as mine.
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.
Even now The pleasèd intimacy of rough love Upon the patient glory of her form Racks me with memory; and her bright dress As it were yellow flame, which the white hand Shamefastly gathers in her rising haste, The slender grace of her departing feet.
Even now When all my heavy heart is broken up I seem to see my prison walls breaking And then a light, and in that light a girl Her fingers busied about her hair, her cool white arms Faint rosy at the elbows, raised in the sunlight, And temperate eyes that wander far away.
Even now I see her, as I used, in her white palace Under black torches throwing cool red light, Woven with many flowers and tearing the dark. I see her rising, showing all her face Defiant timidly, saying clearly: Now I shall go to sleep, good-night, my ladies.
Even now Though I am so far separate, a flight of birds Swinging from side to side over the valley trees, Passing my prison with their calling and crying, Bring me to see my girl. For very bird-like Is her song singing, and the state of a swan In her light walking, like the shaken wings Of a black eagle falls her nightly hair.
Even now I know my princess was happy. I see her stand Touching her breasts with all her flower-soft fingers, Looking askance at me with smiling eyes. There is a god that arms him with a flower And she was stricken deep. Here, oh die here. Kiss me and I shall be purer than quick rivers.
Even now They chatter her weakness through the two bazaars Who was so strong to love me. And small men That buy and sell for silver being slaves Crinkle the fat about their eyes; and yet No Prince of the Cities of the Sea has taken her, Leading to his grim bed. Little lonely one, You clung to me as a garment clings; my girl.
Even now Only one dawn shall rise for me. The stars Revolve to-morrow’s night and I not heed. One brief cold watch beside an empty heart And that is all. This night she rests not well; Oh, sleep; for there is heaviness for all the world Except for the death-lighted heart of me.
Even now My sole concern the slipping of her vests, Her little breasts the life beyond this life. One night of disarray in her green hems, Her golden cloths, outweighs the order of earth, Making of none effect the tides of the sea. I have seen her enter the temple meekly and there seem The flag of flowers that veils the very god.
Even now I mind the coming and talking 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, Murmur of confused colours, as we lay near sleep; Little wise words and little witty words, Wanton as water, honied with eagerness.
Even now I call to mind her weariness in the morning Close lying in my arms, and tiredly smiling At my disjointed prayer for her small sake. Now in my morning the weariness of death Sends me to sleep. Had I made coffins I might have lived singing to three score.
Even now The woodcutter and the fisherman turn home, With on his axe the moon and in his dripping net Caught yellow moonlight. The purple flame of fires Calls them to love and sleep. From the hot town The maker of scant songs for bread wanders To lie under the clematis with his girl. The moon shines on her breasts, and I must die.
Even now I have a need to make up prayers, to speak My last consideration of the world To the great thirteen gods, to make my balance Ere the soul journeys on. I kneel and say: Father of Light. Leave we it burning still That I may look at you. Mother of the Stars, Give me your feet to kiss; I love you, dear.
Even now I seem to see the face of my lost girl With frightened eyes, like a wood wanderer, In travail with sorrowful waters, unwept tears Labouring to be born and fall; when white face turned And little ears caught at the far murmur, The pleased snarling of the tumult of dogs When I was hurried away down the white road.
Even now When slow rose-yellow moons looked out at night To guard the sheaves of harvest and mark down The peach’s fall, how calm she was and love worthy. Glass-coloured starlight falling as thin as dew Was wont to find us at the spirit’s starving time Slow straying in the orchard paths with love.
Even now Love is a god and Rati the dark his bride; But once I found their child and she was fairer, That could so shine. And we were each to each Wonderful and a presence not yet felt In any dream. I knew the sunset earth But as a red gold ring to bear my emerald Within the little summer of my youth.
Even now I marvel at the bravery of love. She, whose two feet might be held in one hand And all her body on a shield of the guards, Lashed like a gold panther taken in a pit Tearfully valiant, when I too was taken; Bearding her black beard father in his wrath, Striking the soldiers with white impotent hands.
Even now I mind that I loved cypress and roses, dear, The great blue mountains and the small grey hills, The sounding of the sea. Upon a day I saw strange eyes and hands like butterflies; For me at morning larks flew from the thyme And children came to bathe in little streams.
Even now Sleep left me all these nights for your white bed And I am sure you sistered lay with sleep After much weeping. Piteous little love, Death is in the garden, time runs down, The year that simple and unexalted ran till now Ferments in winy autumn, and I must die.
Even now I mind our going, full of bewilderment As who should walk from sleep into great light, Along the running of the winter river, A dying sun on the cool hurrying tide No more by green rushes delayed in dalliance, With a clear purpose in his flower flecked length Informed, to reach Nirvana and the sea.
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.
Even now I mind asking: Where love and how love Rati’s priestesses? You can tell me of their washings at moon down And if that warm basin have silver borders. Is it so that when they comb their hair Their fingers, being purple stained, show Like coral branches in the black sea of their hair?
Even now I remember that you made answer very softly, We being one soul, your hand on my hair, The burning memory rounding your near lips: I have seen the priestesses of Rati make love at moon fall And then in a carpeted hall with a bright gold lamp Lie down carelessly anywhere to sleep.
Even now I have no surety that she is not Mahadevi Rose red of Siva, or Kapagata The wilful ripe Companion of the King, Or Krishna’s own Lakshmi, the violet haired. I am not certain but that dark Brahma In his high secret purposes Has sent my soft girl down to make the three worlds mad With capering about her scented feet.
Even now Call not the master painters from all the world, Their thin black beards, their rose and green and grey, Their ashes of lapis lazuli ultramarine, Their earth of shadows the umber. Laughing at art Sunlight upon the body of my bride, For painting not nor any eyes for ever. Oh warm tears on the body of my bride.
Even now I mind when the red crowds were passed and it was raining How glad those two that shared the rain with me; For they talked happily with rich young voices And at the storm’s increase, closer and with content, Each to the body of the other held As there were no more severance for ever.
Even now The stainless fair appearance of the moon Rolls her gold beauty over an autumn sky And the stiff anchorite forgets to pray; How much the sooner I, if her wild mouth Tasting of the taste of manna came to mine And kept my soul at balance above a kiss.
Even now Her mouth carelessly scented as with lotus dust Is water of love to the great heat of love, A tirtha very holy, a lover’s lake Utterly sacred. Might I go down to it But one time more, then should I find a way To hold my lake for ever and ever more Sobbing out my life beside the waters.
Even now I mind that the time of the falling of blossoms started my dream Into a wild life, into my girl; Then was the essence of her beauty spilled Down on my days so that it fades not, Fails not, subtle and fresh, in perfuming That day, and the days, and this the latest day.
Even now She with young limbs as smooth as flower pollen, Whose swaying body is laved in the cool Waters of languor, this dear bright-coloured bird, Walks not, changes not, advances not Her weary station by the black lake Of Gone Forever, in whose fountain vase Balance the water-lilies of my thought.
Even now Spread we our nets beyond the farthest rims So surely that they take the feet of dawn Before you wake and after you are sleeping Catch up the visible and invisible stars And web the ports the strongest dreamer dreamed, Yet is it all one, Vidya, yet is it nothing.
Even now The night is full of silver straws of rain, And I will send my soul to see your body This last poor time. I stand beside your bed; Your shadowed head lies leaving a bright space Upon the pillow empty, your sorrowful arm Holds from your side and clasps not anything. There is no covering upon you.
Even now I think your feet seek mine to comfort them. There is some dream about you even now Which I’ll not hear at waking. Weep not at dawn, Though day brings wearily your daily loss And all the light is hateful. Now is it time To bring my soul away.
Even now I mind that I went round with men and women, And underneath their brows, deep in their eyes, I saw their souls, which go slipping aside In swarms before the pleasure of my mind; The world was like a flight of birds, shadow or flame Which I saw pass above the engraven hills. Yet was there never one like to my girl.
Even now Death I take up as consolation. Nay, were I free as the condor with his wings Or old kings throned on violet ivory, Night would not come without beds of green floss And never a bed without my bright darling. It is most fit that you strike now, black guards, And let this fountain out before the dawn.
Even now I know that I have savoured the hot taste of life Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast. Just for a small and a forgotten time I have had full in my eyes from off my girl The whitest pouring of eternal light. The heavy knife. As to a gala day.
From the Sanskrit of Chauras (Chaura-panchasika, 1st Century)