Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary

Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary

by Amit Majmudar


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Godsong: A Verse Translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, with Commentary by Amit Majmudar

A fresh, strikingly immediate and elegant verse translation of the classic, with an introduction and helpful guides to each section, by the rising American poet.

Born in the United States into a secularized Hindu family, Amit Majmudar puzzled over the many religious traditions on offer, and found that the Bhagavad Gita had much to teach him with its "song of multiplicities." Chief among them is that "its own assertions aren't as important as the relationships between its characters . . . The Gita imagined a relationship in which the soul and God are equals"; it is, he believes, "the greatest poem of friendship . . . in any language." His verse translation captures the many tones and strategies Krishna uses with Arjuna—strict and berating, detached and philosophical, tender and personable. "Listening guides" to each section follow the main text, and expand in accessible terms on the text and what is happening between the lines. Godsong is an instant classic in the field, from a poet of skill, fine intellect, and—perhaps most important—devotion.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524733476
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 94,041
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

AMIT MAJMUDAR is a diagnostic nuclear radiologist who lives in Westerville, Ohio, with his wife and three children. He is the author of three volumes of poetry, most recently Dothead. His first collection, 0°, 0°, was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award; his second, Heaven and Earth, was selected for the 2011 Donald Justice Prize. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Best of the Best American Poetry, and many other places, including the eleventh edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature. He blogs for the Kenyon Review and is also a critically acclaimed novelist.

Read an Excerpt

Session 1

Arjuna Despairs

King Dhritarashtra, the father of the cousins (the Kauravas) opposing Krishna and Arjuna, asks his visionary advisor, Sanjaya, what is happening on the battlefield. Sanjaya, who has the power to witness events without being physically present for them, narrates the action.

The action takes place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The two armies are in formation, facing off, ready to make war. Duryodhan, the leader of the Kauravas, addresses his military mentor, cataloguing the warriors on both sides.

Arjuna asks his friend and charioteer, Krishna, to park his chariot between the two armies. Surveying his extended family, he is overcome with panic and despair. He tells Krishna how he feels and how he has a horror of fighting his own relatives. Arjuna throws aside his weapons and sits down.

Dhritarashtra said,

On that field of dharma, Kurukshetra,

My sons and Pandu’s

Mustered, wanting war.

What did they do, Sanjaya?{1}

Sanjaya said,

Seeing the Pandava formation’s

Vanguard, Duryodhan

Advanced ­toward his Master.

The words . . . the King is speaking. . . .{2}

“Take a look at that army. How grand!

The sons of Pandu, Master, mustered

Under Drupada’s son,

Your ­sharp-­witted student.{3}

The heroes ­here—­great bowslingers!

Matches in a clash for Bhima and Arjuna,

For Yuyudhana and Virata

And Drupada in his great chariot.{4}

Dhrishtaketu, Cekitana,

Kashi’s heroic king,

Purujit, and Kuntibhoja,

And ­bull-­necked Shaibhya,{5}

Yudhamanyu with his spirited stride,

And courageous Uttamaujas,

Subhadra’s sons and Draupadi’s,

All in great chariots . . .{6}

Ours are excellent, ­too—­better

Believe it, best of Brahmins!

Just so you can get a sense, I’ll name

The marshals of my army:{7}

Your Lordship, Bhishma, Karna,

Battle-­winning Kripa,

Asvatthama, Vikarna,

And Somadatta’s son as well,{8}

And many other heroes

Who give their lives up to my ends,

All specialists in war,

Armed to launch multiple strikes.{9}

It has no measure, this force of ours

That Bhishma guards.

It measures up, that force of theirs

That Bhima guards. . . .{10}

In all maneuvers,

Every one of you

At every station,

Keep guard over Bhishma!”{11}

The eldest Kuru,

To make his grandson happy,

Sent up a lion roar

And searingly blew his conch shell.{12}

At that, conch shells and kettledrums,

Cymbals, snare drums, bullhorns

Struck up all at once.

This sound became a tumult.{13}

Standing fast behind the onrush

Of yoked white horses,

Madhu’s scion and Pandu’s son

Blew their divine conch shells.{14}

Krishna, his hair bristling,

Blew Panchajanya. ­Wealth­winning Arjuna

Blew Godsgift. ­Wolf-­bellied Bhima,

Fearsome in action, blew Paundra.{15}

King Yudhishtir, Kunti’s son,

Blew Neverending Victory.

Nakula and Sahadev

Blew Sweetsound and Gemblossom.{16}

Kashi’s king, the best of bowmen,

Shikhandin in his great chariot,

Dhrishtadyumna and Virata

And invincible Satyaki,{17}

Drupad, Draupadi’s sons,

Subhadra’s great-armed son—­

Your Majesty, they blew their conch shells,

Each his own and all together.{18}

This hue and cry, King Dhritarashtra,

Tore through the hearts of your sons.

Of the sky and earth

The tumult made one thunder.{19}

Under the banner of Hanuman, Arjuna

Scanned your sons in squadrons

Formed for the coming clash of arms.

Pandu’s son held high his bow.{20}

To a bristling Krishna, Arjuna

Spoke these words: “Ever-enduring one,

Station my chariot

Midway between the armies,{21}

Just while I survey

The war lust of these squadrons.

Whose battle ardor wants

To make war with me?{22}

I see them here, come together,

About to battle us. They want

A war to serve the evil

Mind of Dhritarashtra’s son.”{23}

These were the words that Arjuna spoke

To Krishna where

Midway between the armies

He had stationed the chief chariot.{24}

Faced with Bhishma and Drona

And all the rulers of the world,

Arjuna said, “Just look at this:

A Kuru Family gathering!”{25}

Pritha’s son could see them standing there:

Fathers and grandfathers,

Teachers, uncles, brothers,

Sons, grandsons, friends as well,{26}

Fathers-­in-­law, kindhearted

Friends in both the armies,

All his relatives in close order.

The son of Kunti pondered them.{27}

Pierced by infinite pity,

In despair, he said,

“Seeing ­this—­my own people, ­Krishna—­

Drawing close because they’re dying to fight. . . .{28}

My legs buckle

And my mouth dries up

And my body gets the shakes

And my hair stands on end!{29}

Gandiva falls from my hand,

And my skin, it burns,

And I can’t stand anymore,

And it’s like it’s . . . wandering, my mind. . . .{30}

And I see omens, Krishna,

Inauspicious ones, and I

Can see no good will come

Of killing my own people in battle!{31}

I don’t want victory, Krishna,

Or a kingdom, or ‘happiness.’

What’s a kingdom to us, Cowherd?

What are pleasures, what is life?{32}

The ones for whose sake we would want

Kingdoms, pleasures, ­happiness—­

On a war footing here

They give up breath and wealth!{33}

Teachers, fathers, sons,

Even grandfathers,

Uncles, ­fathers-­in-­law, grandsons,

Brothers-­in-­law . . . other relatives, too. . . .{34}

Though they are out to kill me, Krishna,

I don’t want to kill ­them—­

Not for the kingship of three worlds!

How much less, then, for some ground?{35}

Killing off Dhritarashtra’s sons. . . .

What kind of joy would that be?

If we kill these hostile archers,

The evil’s going to stick to us!{36}

We just don’t have the right to kill

Dhritarashtra’s sons. Our own relatives!

If we ­really were to kill them,

How could we be happy, Krishna?{37}

Even if greed so overpowers

Their thoughts that they can’t see

How wrong it is to wreck a family,

How ruinous, to betray a friend,{38}

Since when do we not know enough

To turn back from this sin?

Seeing clearly, Krishna, as we do

How wrong it is to wreck a family!{39}

Wreck a family, the family’s

Ancient laws vanish. Once its laws

Have vanished, lawlessness

Overpowers the whole family.{40}

Lawlessness in power, Krishna,

The family’s women grow corrupt.

The women once corrupted, Krishna,

The colors pour together.{41}

Intermix, and it all goes to hell,

The family with the family’s wreckers.

Their forefathers get debased,

Robbed of their ritual rice and water.{42}

The wrongs of these family wreckers

Make the colors pour ­together—­

Codes of caste, eternal

Family ­laws—­obliterated!{43}

Men whose family laws

Have been obliterated, ­Krishna—­

We’ve heard of this ­happening—­

They dwell in hell forever!{44}

Ah—­ach—­what a great sin

We’re ­hell-­bent on committing!

So greedy for kingly pleasures

We’re ready to kill our own people!{45}

If ­I—­no resistance, no ­weapons—­

Were killed by the armed sons

Of ­Dhritarashtra—­that

Would be easier for me!”{46}

Having said this in the war zone,

Arjuna sat on the chariot seat,

Throwing down his bow and arrow,

His grief-stricken mind recoiling.{47}

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