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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry



The Transport of Love
(मेघदूत trans. Leonard Nathan)

by
Kalidasa


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author



Title: The Transport of Love
Author: Kalidasa
Genre: Poetry
Written: ca. 400 (Eng. 1976)
Length: 110 pages
Original in: Sanskrit
Availability: The Transport of Love - US
The Transport of Love - UK
The Transport of Love - Canada
  • Sanskrit title: मेघदूत
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Leonard Nathan
  • Includes the Sanskrit text (in Devanagari script)
  • Includes a Commentary and a Finding List
  • See also our reviews of other translations of the Meghaduta:

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Our Assessment:

B : reasonable modern translation, fairly well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
J. of Asian Studies A- 11/1977 Edwin Gerow


  From the Reviews:
  • "This new translation by Leonard Nathan is at once pleasing, sensitive, and unpretentious." - Edwin Gerow, Journal of Asian Studies

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Beginning with the title, Leonard Nathan's translation of Kalidasa's Meghaduta shows a willingness to take a somewhat different approach to this classic Sanskrit poem than many of those before him (see our reviews of the translations by Arthur Ryder (hereafter referred to as AR) and Franklin and Eleanor Edgerton (hereafter referred to as FEE)). Translating the title literally (as "Cloud Messenger") in the first line of his introduction, Nathan nevertheless opts for a very different one for his version: The Transport of Love. It's not a bad title. The story is, after all, of a banished Yaksha, separated "from his mate" for many months, who wants to send a message to her -- by cloud-messenger. A transport of love, in other words. Not a bad title -- but also not Kalidasa's title.
       Nathan's book offers both his translation of the poem and the Sanskrit original (in the proper Devanagari script -- as opposed to, for example FEE, who offer a transliterated version). (Unfortunately, as Edwin Gerow noted in his review, there are lots of "careless errors" in the Sanskrit version.)
       Nathan's introduction is fairly useful, explaining many of the difficulties one faces when translating from Sanskrit (and in translating this work in particular). He also tries to suggest how Kalidasa's audience would have approached the text, and how a modern American reader might "experience something of that achievement". His version, he explains, is "more Yeats than Williams or Pound", as he found that "using the imagist or free style would have gotten a far smaller percentage of the original than the more traditional mode I have chosen".
       One of his appendices offers a commentary on the poem, including a "detailed analysis". This analysis offers a useful summary and overview, but seems somewhat limited in its reading and interpretation of the poem. A second appendix offers a "finding list", briefly explaining Sanskrit terms and names that were not translated into English in the text ("Yaksha: A class of semi-divine beings, usually benign, ruled over by Kubera"). It is an extensive and useful list, but not comprehensive -- we still don't know, for example, what a "bimba fruit" (stanza 79) is.
       Nathan also explains some of his choices, including his decision never to allude to "the Yaksha's mate as his wife or spouse" (as FEE and AR do). He avoids these terms "because they resonate a side of domesticity (...) that never appears in the Meghaduta."

       Nathan's translation is a clean, straightforward one. There are some efforts at getting a poetic feel to it, but Nathan seems primarily to want to convey Kalidasa's words as directly as possible. Few of the sentences are as awkwardly twisted as they are in AR and especially FEE. There seems less artifice here -- though, given Kalidasa's formally strict original, it can seem too much of a simplification.
       Dividing the stanzas into six unrhymed lines (as opposed to four unrhymed lines (the Sanskrit original and FEE) or five rhymed lines (AR)), Nathan's version appears less cluttered and dense. It is a distinctly modern rendering (and Nathan's language has held up well in the quarter century since its publication).
       Nathan's version often seems fairly effortless, flowing in its reading. He writes, for example:

There, clouds like you, driven on
by the thrust of wind to the upper stories
of mansions, marring their paintings
with moisture, fly -- as if suddenly afraid --
out the latticed windows in ragged shreds,
clever at aping puffs of smoke
       (68)
       FEE try a bit more -- not always successfully (the unfortunate "forthwith", below, for example). Still, often their approach is richer:
Brought by their guide, the ever-stirring breeze, to the top floors of its palaces
   And forthwith damaging the pictures with drops of water,
Clouds like thee, as if struck with alarm, cleverly simulate smoke
   And pour from the intricate lattices, rushing forth in broken fragments.
       (68)
       AR's rhymes, however forced, also manages to work quite well:
   Where, brought to balconies' palatial tops
By ever-blowing guides, were clouds before
   Like thee who spotted paintings with their drops;
Then, touched with guilty fear, were seen no more,
But scattered smoke-like through the lattice' grated door.
       (II.vi)
       The Transport of Love is a good introduction to Kalidasa's text -- helpfully also presenting the Sanskrit text (though in a less than ideal version). In his introduction and his commentary Nathan also makes clear his approach to translating the text and his understanding of the poem, a useful if also somewhat limited view.
       Nathan's rendering of the poem itself is a reasonable one: very different in sound and texture than the Sanskrit original, but arguably an appropriate one for an English-speaking (and specifically American) audience. Like the other translations of the Meghaduta, The Transport of Love is only partially satisfying. But it is not a bad version for an English-speaking reader to begin with.

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Links:

Other translations of the Meghaduta under review: Other works by Kalidasa under review: Kalidasa: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Indian author Kalidasa (कालिदास) probably lived during the reign of Candragupta II (ca. 380-413). Only three dramas and a few poems of his survive, but he continues to be revered as one of the greatest Sanskrit playwrights and poets.

About the Translator:

       

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