POEMS OF BHARTRIHARI (7th century, Sanskrit)
Translated by Andrew Schelling

Keep silent they call you stupid.
Speak to the moment precisely,
they say indiscrete
or too wordy.
Stand close to those you serve, impulsive.
Keep to yourself, timid.
Calm they call cowardice,
decisive acts, poor breeding.
The dharma of serving the state is a dark mystery.
We yogins
can’t understand it.

K. 35

I can please a man who
knows nothing,
a specialist is just as easy.
But the man disfigured with a sliver of truth
not even Brahma
can talk to.

K. 8

Prajāpati stirred up the wind,
food for snakes
harmless and easily had.
Wild animals chew plants,
they sleep on the ground with ease.
For humans he made
a different way—
designing our spirits to cross
samsara’s stormy froth.
Go that way.
It is a matter of

K. 352


My judgment dried up.
What did I not say to advance
this little life,
worth about a drop of sap
on a bisinī leaf?
In front of rich folk,
their minds made stupid by all that wealth,
I shamelessly talked
about my own
high character.

K. 168

Driving rain,
the lovers
can’t leave their quarters.
Weather’s cold, shivery
the long-eyed lady
cradles him deep in her hips.
Fine raindrops edged with frost
blow in the window
after love
& soothe their fatigue.
A storm-tossed day, what a good one
when you’re luckily nested
in a lover’s
warm clasp.

K. 142

What’s with the Vedas?
the Smritis?
why chant myths and work through the precepts?
There are heaps of old books.
There’s an endless spasm of religious rites too.
Why? to get dropped off in heaven?
where life’s about the same
as in a little
village hut?
I know a different path.
A fire there is that ends time,
that turns the hard manacles of duhkha to ash.
I call it deep spirit joy.
Those other things?
shopkeeper stuff.

K. 191

From Some Unquenchable Desire by Bhartrihari, translated by Andrew Schelling (c)2018 by Andrew Schelling. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO, USA. www.shambhala.com

Verse numbers refer to D.D. Kosambi, The Epigrams Attributed to Bhartṛhari, (Munshiram Manoharlal: New Delhi, 2000).

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