Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 2 (Jan-Mar 1983) p. 75.


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Translating Shakuntalam

K.KJC Sundaram

Three Sanskrit Plays Translated by Michael Coulson Penguin Classics, 1981.

A PHRASE of poetry drops into the mind like a stone into a pool: the waves go out and out in expanding circles. How soon will they break on a confining shore? It depends on the native abilities and acquired culture of each individual mind. A dull uneducated spirit is a mere narrow well, narrow between walls;

but in a lively and cultivated mind the waves can run on for the imaginative equivalent ofmilesi and hours." So says Aldous Huxley. ^Ay, there's the rub", says to himself the Englishman who has bravely undertaken the task of rendering into his language the great classic of Kalidasa, Abhijnana Shakuntalam.

He could credit himself with a lively and cultivated mind but has to acknowledge that the culture in which it has taken shape and substance is far removed in time and space from the play. He is not optimistic that the few years he has devoted to the study of Sanskrit language and literature will suffice to bring him near enough to the spirit of the play, to establish a sahridayatvam with the poet-dramatist. Nor is he satisfied that such competence as he has in his own language will be able to bridge the inevitable gap between the original and the translation and endow the latter with something of the wave-producing power postulated by Huxley for poetic passages.

It appears from his introduction to Three Sanskrit Plays that the late Mr. Michael Coulson set about his task with considerable diffidence in his own capability. He considers that '^in the end there are no degrees of success, only degrees of failure", particularly for translators of Sanskrit^ poetry, and "to translate a Sanskrit stanza so that it merely bores rather than bewilders can be an achievement in itself." It cannot be said that he found Kalidasa's stanzas boring or bewildering, for a few pages later he is all praise for the limpidity of the poet's style and for

Journal of Arts and Ideas 7^


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