The Meghaduta

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The Meghaduta has traditionally been divided into two parts, Purvamegha and Uttaramegha; these are apparently meant to distinguish the stanza’s covering the cloud’s imagined journey from those covering its arrival at the Yaksha’s home, Alaka. But this particular division (between stanzas 63 and 64) is open to some doubt has not always been observed, even in some early commentaries. There are, in fact, more than two parts to the Meghaduta, especially if one wishes to mark those points at which the poem changes the scope of its concerns. For example, stanzas 1-12 constitute a preamble; 13 serves as transition to a much longer section upto 63, which describes the cloud’s journey northward. Stanza 63 is again transitional, leading to a description of Alaka, concluded at 71. Here attention narrows to a description of the Yaksha’s own residence upto 77, when another transition again narrows the focus, this time to the Yaksha’s mate. This section continues to 93, which with 94 constitutes a transition to the delivery of the message, which itself extends from 96 through 109. The final two stanzas of the poem close the address to the cloud. These divisions should, of course, be noted, but they do not constitute major breaks in the plot or movement in the poem. Rather they indicate continual narrowing of attention to the climactic meeting of the cloud and the Yaksha’s mate.

Stanzas 1-13: This unit establishes reader expectation by setting the pervasive tone, the time, place and character. We are given to understand that the protagonist’s irrational behaviour is the result of love-sickness reinforced by the presence of the awesome sign of rainy season.

The Yaksha’s actual address to the cloud takes the form of a traditional supplication, mixing the pathos of the supplicant’s condition with flattery for his benefactor along with the promise of reward for performing what is asked. Contained in the supplication is a brief synopsis of the journey which will be elaborated in the body of the poem; such foretelling is a convention of Indian poetry, effective because Indian audience did not expect novel facts or the resolution of suspense in their poetry. Instead, they expected to find what they already knew, rendered in some especially beautiful way. So the foretelling serves to whet audience appetite, perhaps in the manner of a sleight-of-hand expert who tells what he is going to perform and even sometimes how he is going to perform it, and then astonishes everyone by making the performance still appear to be magic.

Throughout the synopsis and in the request in stanza 12 that the cloud begin its mission, Kalidasa also establishes a motif that will persist and grow throughout the poem; that is, with the cloud at the centre either simulating union or bringing to mind comparisons suggesting it. Thus, the audience is immediately reminded of the ties of sentiment aroused by the cloud’s presence as a sign of rain, of kinship of cloud and birds, and of the affection between mountain and cloud. These are oblique statements of that underlying unity of things which supports the celebratory tone of the poem, and they are made with a fine irony that the Sanskrit audience would appreciate; for it is the Yaksha’s very sense of separation that makes him perceive – on the verge of the season of union – the abiding and joyously intimate connection of all things in Nature.

Stanzas 14-63: Though this section constitutes a single entity—a catalogue of locales the cloud will see on its journey north—it in fact, is divisible into smaller units, themselves pervaded by the general pattern of the cloud’s activities. This pattern consists of repeated drinking from the rivers it passes over, followed by resting on the slopes of the mountain peaks it comes to. In the Yaksha’s erotic imaginings, the drinking from various rivers is equated with sexual intercourse.

Earlier in the poem, the extraordinary nature of the cloud has been touched upon: its massiveness (sloka 2), nobility (sloka 6), generosity (sl 7), efficaciousness (sl 11), and affectionateness (sl 12). These traits are amplified and extended in this second section until something like supernatural status is conferred on the cloud. For example, in stanza 14, rising from the nichulas for its journey north, it is mistaken for a mountain top by the wives of the siddhas, certain semi-divine beings noted for their purity. Their innocent wonder provides the way to measure the startling magnitude of the cloud. So, too, does the assertion at the end of the stanza that the divine elephants of the eight directions, who support the universe, consider it a worthy challenger of their strength. Indian myth associates elephants with clouds in a number of ways from resemblance to actual kinship. Kalidasa exploits these associations throughout the poem.

In stanza 15, the cloud’s supernatural character is enhanced by the comparison to Vishnu; the selection of that deity’s Krishnaavatar for the comparison not only refers to the natural colour of the water-laden cloud, but also suggests its erotic aspect. The lore concerning the rainbow is complex and is of primary importance to understanding the comparison itself: “The Breaker’s (Indra’s) Bow” lends magnitude to the cloud since Indra is king of heaven. Of much more import is the significance of the anthill which reminds the audience of the asterism called Aslesha (the snake pit) which is associated with the mythological bearer of the earth, Adishesha, the great snake on whose body the god Vishnu reclines. The anthill is taken, by some modern commentators, to refer to an actual anthill. In either case, the rainbow can easily be explained, according to traditional lore, as the beams radiated from the jeweled hood either of Adishesha or of a great serpent living in the anthill.

After the reminder in stanza 16 of the cloud’s intense relation to the fruitfulness of the land, the drinking-resting pattern begins in earnest, but is inset with vivid detail and with allusions to traditional lore, serving mostly the transformation of the landscape into some manifestation of love, summoned forth by the coming of the cloud.

Although mountains are usually perceived as male, in stanza 18, Amrakuta, covered with ripe mangoes, is compared to a great breast. Mangoes, here, are also meant to imply human fruition, just as most of the allusions to flora in the rest of the poem are meant to signify either human flowering or beauty. In some instances, as with ‘kakubhas’ whose fragrance tempts the cloud to stop on the peaks where it grows (stanza 22), flowers are perceived as a kind of offering of welcome suggesting either worship or affection.

Animal allusions, also, have something like emblematic meaning, usually, though not always, with erotic overtones. In stanza 20, for example, the Yaksha asserts that Reva’s waters will taste of the exudation of rutting elephants. Already we have seen that the elephant can serve as a measure for magnitude and force; now it functions to suggest overpowering sexuality.

In 21, the cloud’s capacity to freshen the earth acts like a magnet, drawing creatures after it to enjoy the effect of its passing. Its power to transform nature into a complex of loving relations is extended to encompass even what might appear to be outside the range of legitimate sexuality: in 25, the cloud, if only by its presence, is associated with the “bought women” whose perfume fills the caves on Nicula’s slopes.

The detail which enriches the drinking–resting pattern throughout all these stanzas is the human presence, particularly of beautiful women of all types — the prostitutes in 25, the flower harvesters in 26, the idle flirts of the court of Ujjayini in 27. These references are nicely positioned between the cloud’s amorous drinking in of rivers, so that the audience is never allowed long to forget the pervasive presence of female erotic intensity that grips the Yaksha’s imagination. The human embodiments of that intensity are transposed to natural phenomena in the same way that the attributes of one element in comparison get transferred to the other. Thus, what might have seemed a rather laboured personification of theNirvindhyaRiverin 28 is less arbitrary following the description of human seductiveness in the preceding stanzas.

Kalidasa is careful to keep the erotic before us in even the most perfunctory allusions, as in the seemingly offhand reference in 30 to “Udayana’s story”, which the old countrymen of Avanti know by heart; so too would his audience, for King Udayana was a popular hero whose love for the princess Vasavadatta provided plots for other writers in whose work the king is perceived as the model of the gallant courtly lover.

In the same stanza, the poet manages to link the erotic with the moral in his description of Vishala (Ujjayini) comparing the city to a fragment of heaven brought down by those who, having exhausted their religious merit, have had to return to earth. This linking of what in the West might seem hardly compatible categories of action does not trouble an Indian audience which sees no conflict among the three earthly goals proposed by their culture: Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (Wealth), andKama(Pleasure). In fact, the upright man ought to expect as the reward for his virtues both wealth and pleasure. So it should be no surprise to find all three values drawn from in various combinations to enhance the wonder of some person, place, or thing.

Indeed, in the next few stanzas Kalidasa moves us through descriptions of animal and human sexuality in an environment of great wealth to an elaborate treatment of Mahakala, the presiding deity in Ujjayini’s great shrine to Shiva, the Master of the three Worlds and husband to the mother goddess, one of whose name is Chandi. And here a holy sanctuary is comfortably defined in terms of wealth and pleasure (particularly in 35) as well as by the piety associated with the cloud’s service to the god (34). By implication we are made to understand the typical Indian view that there is no separate sphere of religion isolated from the worldly. The sacred also participates in the complex of relations and correspondences that make up the ethos of the poem.

In this sequence (34-37), the cloud continues to serve in its usual roles: an almost divine mediator for union or harmony among the parts of the world, a great saving agent, and a release for pent-up desire. Thus, the cloud is associated with divinity by being mistaken for the darkness ringing Shiva’s throat. According to Indian lore, the god acquired the hue when, in order to save the world, he swallowed the poison churned up from the ocean of Milk: the great undifferentiated mass stirred by the gods in order to obtain from it amrta, the immortalizing nectar. The cloud’s association with divinity is further extended when it is invited to use its thunder to serve as Shiva’s drum in the god’s great ritual dance and to provide him a cloak in lieu of the blood-soaked hide of a demon-elephant slain by Shiva. The complex allusions concerning the elephant hide is highly compressed. When the demon, Gaja, in elephant form, threatened to annihilate the sages, Shiva came to their aid by forcing Gaja to dance with him until Gaja collapsed. Shiva then ripped off his hide, threw it over his shoulders and performed his wild victory dance, the Tandava. In stanza 36, the god is apparently about to commemorate ritually that victory over evil, no less terrifying for its being a ritual repetition; this explains the fear in the eyes of his consort (here called Bhavani).

Amid all this awesome power and destruction, the cloud’s power to soothe is measured by its calming effect on the great goddess as she watches her husband begin his terrible dance. The same comforting effect has already worked on the human level in 35, where the weary temple dancers are refreshed by the cloud’s soothing rain.

In 37, the cloud, like Shiva Himself, exhibits a double nature, both beneficent and frightening: its lightning can show the way to lover’s assignations, but its thunder can terrify. Nor does it appear confusing that the cloud’s lightning should be seen as a means of illumination in this stanza and in the next be personified as the cloud’s own mate. In a world of correspondences, the same element, seen in different contexts, would be expected to suggest different congruences.

We note once again the cloud has moved out of the divine and human into the natural world, ready to resume its journey. Yet not completely out, for the sun in 39 is personified as a competing lover, and once more we are reminded of the kinship and correspondences in a world imagined by love.

In the next few stanzas the general pattern resumes, with another interruption in 43 at the shrine of Skanda, the war god. The two allusions to religious sanctuaries in such close proximity are not merely the result of the literal fact that one follows close after the other on the cloud’s itinerary. Kalidasa could easily have passed over the latter with the barest mention. But his attentiveness to both indirectly alerts the audience to the fact that the cloud is nearing the most sacred precincts ofIndia, theHimalayas, where the divinity is as much at home as humans are at Ujjayini. And since the poem celebrates its culture, Skanda’s shrine, like Shiva’s, is a fit place for reverent attention. But even here the sexual is brought into play, suggesting, with other kinds of binding sentiment, connectedness. For the Yaksha alludes in abbreviated form to the miraculous birth of Skanda, whose conception began with Shiva flinging his semen into the mouth of the fire god, Agni, who in turn deposited it in the Ganga, among whose reeds the deity was fully born. Still other conventional allusions establish a complex of relations: Skanda’s cherished vehicle, the peacock, and Bhavani’s indulgent affection for her son. Though in 43, Skanda’s birth is represented as occurring without the participation of a woman, Shiva’s consort is often referred to as his mother, as is Ganga who received the god’s seed from Agni’s mouth.

Two more allusions complete this section: the reference to pairs of Siddhas with their lutes, mildly suggestive of the erotic, and the reference to Rantideva whose sacrifice of a multitude of cows caused the creation of the Charmanvati river when the flowing blood of slain animals was miraculously transformed into water. Here the lore of great piety is used in conjunction with the lore of erotic and familiar affection to establish correspondences and to show how Indian earth was in the oldest sense of the word – cultivated, made usable and significant to men.

Resuming its pattern in 47, the cloud descends to drink from the river created by Rantideva’s sacrifice and in doing so, appears to have taken on the dark hue of Krishna, a reminder again of its semi-divine status. But more important, Kalidasa demonstrates what can be done with idealizing distance, putting us at such a height that the union of cloud and water can be seen as an elegant artifact – a strand of pearls with a sapphire pendent. Nature, in this transformation finds similitude in art created to adorn human beauty, and again – for those who have the eyes, and the perspective, to see – rich connections are revealed.

Kalidasa’s ability to bring everything into the complex of relations that make up the ethos of the poem is tested severely in 48, when the cloud crosses the field of the Kurus; this is the battle ground on which, in the epic Mahabharata, vast armies slaughtered each other, leaving only a few heroes alive. So massive is the lore suggested by the allusion to the great epic and so well known to his audience, that, had the poet brought it too much forward, he could have upset the poise of the established tone, which is not heroic. In fact, the heroic here, embodied in the deed of Arjuna, the great warrior of the epic, is kept in the background, serving merely as a comparison for the impact of the cloud’s downpour on vulnerable lotus blossoms.

The allusion to Krishna’s brother, Balarama, in 49 also suggests the heroic; but again its force is subordinated to the pervasive sentiment of the poem. Balarama, here seen as something of a pacifist and ascetic, refused to join the war between kinsmen that is the topic of the Mahabharata. Instead he spent his time purifying himself with the waters of the Sarasvati, one of the most sacred rivers of the tradition, where the cloud is now about to refresh itself. Again, the connection between the superhuman and the cloud is asserted; so too is the power of love in the brief mention of Revati, Balarama’s wife.

When, in 50, the cloud reaches the Ganga river (Jahnu’s daughter), the allusions associated with this most sacred river are packed into a complex tour de force, merging the lore of piety, eroticism, and the iconography of Shiva in one of his representations—all set forth the significance of the river. Lore has it that the flow of the Ganga interfered with the worship of a certain royal sage, Jahnu, who eliminated the nuisance by drinking up the river, but was later prevailed upon by the gods and sages to release its waters. In this sense Ganga is Jahnu’s daughter. Other allusions too function to define the river. For example, its power to purify is “demonstrated” in the mention of Sagara’s sons, 60,000 of whom were incinerated for disturbing the mediations of the sage, Kapila. Through acts of great piety, the Ganga was brought down from heaven so that its waters, purifying the ashes of the victims, would permit them to rise to heaven. The river’s other aspect, its divine charm, is characterized by its connection with Shiva who, according to lore, caught its waters in his great mat of hair as they fell from heaven. This story is transmuted in to a domestic triangle, for Ganga personified as the god’s second wife and competitor with his first—the great goddess (here, Gauri) who is jealous at Ganga’s playful touseling of Shiva’s moon-crowned hair; and Kalidasa exploits the literary convention that laughter is white to represent Ganga’s foam as a provocation to Gauri.

The explanation is complex, but the actual unfolding would not have been so for a knowledgeable audience deeply engaged, if for no other reason than to see how the poet brings the rich fragments of lore into relation with each other and with the sentiment of the poem. They would remain engaged fort eh same reason by 51, in which, once again, the cloud is compared to a divine elephant. But the climax of this small section comes at the close of the stanza, where the union of cloud and river, dark and light, is made to appear (again in distant but astonished eyes) like the holiest confluence of rivers in India, that of the Yamuna and the Ganga. Here again, Nature is transformed, this time by a combination of the erotic and sacred; beauty and goodness define the landscape, seen here in a union of purifying waters. The cloud serves, in this instance, as a reminder of that relationship.

It is no accident that the poem becomes denser with lore as the cloud reaches the Himalayas, since this is divine territory and the proper home for great wonders, the “marvels” alluded to in 57. On these heights which fathered the Ganga, the cloud rests (52), its hue compared to that of the earth pawed by Shiva’s Bull vehicle, Nandi, another reminder of the cloud’s status; Just as its virtues are suggested in the following verses. Its beneficence in 53 and its wise force in 54, exhibited in its treatment of the fabulous Sharabas, beasts resembling deer, but possessing eight legs and under-like aggressiveness.

In 55, the cloud’s piety is called into play by the holiness of the place where Shiva has left his footprint. This section attains a climax in the concert in which all things, natural and supernatural, join to hymn Shiva’s destruction of the city of Tripura, once the home of the demons. The Kinnaras of 56 are another type of demi-god whose special genius is for music. The cloud is again invited, as in 34, to fill the role of the drum with its thunder.

The general pattern of drinking and resting reaches its last phase at 57 as the cloud nears the Yaksha’s city; but this last phase, though not the climax of the Meghaduta, achieves its own crescendo, for the landscape is more massively dramatic as it lifts towards the peaks of the mountains. Consequently, the actions of the cloud seem more momentous. Both references at the end of 57 are heroic; the first to “Bhrgu’s Lord,” alludes to the mighty Brahman fighter, Rama of the axe, who single-handedly slew the whole warrior caste and split mount Krauncha with his arrows to make a passage way through. The second, to Vishnu, refers to that deity’s victory over the demon,Bali, who had promised Vishnu, in his dwarf avatar, as much territory as he could cover in three strides. With the first two, the god, taking his full form, covered heaven and earth; with his third, according to a common version of the myth, he reached beyond the vision of man. Here again, but on a gigantic scale, lore infuses landscape with meaning, and again the cloud is associated with divinity by its comparison to the god’s huge impending foot.

In 58, the cloud attains the sacred summit of Kaildasa, the locus of Alaka, and the mountain’s glacial brilliance and amplitude are foregrounded. This is partly accomplished by the allusion to the stupendous attempt of Ravana, a mighty demon king, to steal the peak; he had such power that only Vishnu in his avatar as Rama could destroy him, a feat that constitutes the climax of the Ramayana. Though he can change shape, Ravana is pictured typically as a huge, terrifying figure with ten heads and twenty arms. Among the Rakshasas (demons of the most malefic kind), he was the wickedest; yet his ascetic feats gave him near invulnerability. His lawless audacity is embodied in the legend of his attempt to remove the sacred peak to his own capital in Lanka.

In the next stanza, the cloud takes its last rest before Alaka and is seen brilliantly dark against the snow, a contrast which is built into the epic comparison that follows in which the white mountain with the cloud resting on its slope is perceived as the heroic Balarama in his black mantle – a sight that “will draw to itself steady-eyed looks,” that is, gazes of entranced astonishment that serve to measure the scope of this marvel. Magnitude is heaped upon magnitude in the next stanza in which the cloud is asked to transform itself into a grand stairway of ice so that Gauri, helped by Shiva, can stroll on Kailasa, their “pleasure mount.”

Interrupted for a moment by the erotic play of the bathers of 61, the cloud will take its last drink in the Lake Manasa (62) whose holy waters in the most sacred of places serve as a fitting climax to all the early drinking and  resting. There, before its final task is undertaken the cloud is given a little breather (in which it serves as a shade for Airavata, Indra’s elephant mount), toys with the garments hanging from the divine tree that grants all wishes, and plays with its own shadow on the icy slopes.

In 63, it comes to the heavenly city of Alaka, and here its function changes; it will no longer be seen as the centre of the action. Already, in this stanza, though the beginning of the Uttaramegha is traditionally said to be at 64, the focus narrows to one object, the city. And it is no surprise that the first characterization of Alaka is erotic; it is the home of divine pleasure and it houses the object of the Yaksha’s longing. In our first view of it, it is likened to a woman engaged in love-play; its cloud-topped mansions are compared to the head of a beautiful woman, a comparison in which its name, which can mean “curls”, is exploited in a pun. Sanskrit literature treats this figure of speech far more seriously than any Western literature, primarily because the phenomenon of double meaning is not regarded as an accident of language, but as one more sign of the deeper correspondences of things.

Stanzas 64-71: The shift of focus to Alaka is accomplished in 64, which begins a long hyperbolic catalogue of the city’s wonders. Here also the new role of the cloud is established; for instead of other material supplying comparisons to magnify the cloud, its qualities are now appropriated to heighten the value of Alaka, whose virtues are extolled through 71. These virtues are presented, typically, in terms of the abundance of Alaka’s wealth and potential for pleasure, but also in terms of its power to transcend natural limits as in the flower catalogue of 65 which includes blossoms from each of the six Indian seasons, but all blooming simultaneously in Alaka.

Though no longer the centre of things, the cloud’s presence is still felt, for example, in the comparison of its thunder with the drums in 66, and more complexly, in the allusion, in 67, to its role in releasing the moon’s rays so that these in turn can release the soothing drops from moonstones – which are treated in lore as solidified moonlight – another suggestion of correspondences in the context of the erotic. The section culminates with the reference to the enmity between Shiva and the God of Love, Kama. Since Shiva dwells in Kailasa, which is very close to Alaka, the city of Alaka is avoided by Kama, who once was burnt to ashes for having disturbed Shiva’s meditations with his arrows. These arrows were tipped with flowers and shot from a bow whose string consisted of bees; thus the conceit in 71, comparing the glances of Alaka’s divine girls to the love god’s darts.

Stanzas 72-78: At 72, the attention of the poem narrows again, this time to an intense and climactic focus on the Yaksha’s own dwelling. Here the tone begins to modulate slowly from hyperbolic praise to the pathos befitting a description of love-in-separation. The note of pathos is struck immediately in the comparison of a “young Mandara tree” to his mate’s “proxy son”, again with a suggestion of correspondence, here between nature and the human. But the pathos is mixed with celebration in the loving attention that the Yaksha gives to the description of his residence in the next stanzas.

The cloud, though still peripheral to the Yaksha’s attention, in 74 also makes its presence felt as a force for union; for its appearance reminds the speaker of the pleasure hill on the grounds of his home, his beloved’s favorite spot. Traditional lore serves also in the next stanza to suggest correspondence and relationship, as in the personification of the ashoka and the amaranth trees which require, according to tradition, stimulation from a young woman in order to bloom.  The trees, that is, experience the appetite of a pregnant woman for the strange and the erotic. Lore has the ashoka requiring a woman’s kick in order to blossom, the amaranth to be splashed with wine from a woman’s mouth. The Yaksha’s description of his residence concludes in 77 with an allusion to painting on its gates of the conch and lotus, both auspicious emblems either in their own forms or personified. But the concluding comparison of the house itself to a faded lotus gently mocks at the efficacy of these charms.

Stanza 78 is transitional, leading to the most intense focus of the poem, the Yaksha’s mate. In this stanza there is one more comparison of the cloud with the elephant, a last reminder of a major motif of the poem – the cloud’s power, now adjusted to a benevolent diminution to accord with the character of its task.

Stanzas 79-95: The description of the Yaksha’s beloved is based on a series of conventions as predictable in this circumstance as they are hyperbolic. The challenge to the poet is what he can do with them by way of rich and elegant combinations. The conventions are simply a set of common formulae for treating woman’s physical beauty, her character and feelings, and the effects on all these of separation from her lover. Western poetry during its medieval phase developed something like the same conventions, in which the term “affictio” referred to the prescribed head-to-toe description of a woman’s physical attributes, and the term “notation” to its counterpart with regard to her moral qualities. Kalidasa distributes the formulaic materials with different degrees of elaboration through several stanzas. But the opening description of the woman’s beauty in 79 is routinely straightforward, with the usual comparisons and hyperboles: her lower lip is likened to the “bimba fruit” (red), her eyes to those of a deer, her hips so full that her walking is slowed, her breasts so heavy as to cause her to stoop slightly – this capped by the hyperbolic compliment of the last line. All this serves the function of background for what follows: the detailed and pathetic description of what separation has done to her normal beauty, introduced in 80 with the allusion to the “Cakravaki bird,” fated always to be apart from its mate at night and consequently signifying the lamenting lover in separation.

The next stanzas more directly show the effects of separation on the Yaksha’s mate; they do so somewhat in the way Keats establishes pathos in To Autumn, that is, by stylized portraits of a woman in one or the other solitary and melancholic pose. In the Meghaduta, the personification is not of a season, but of a woman suffering in her lover’s absence, so the pathos is more specific and intense. But the portraits are almost allegorical, usually signifying distracted grief. Thus we see in 81 her tearful face cupped in her hands, her hair disheveled; in 82 she is seen in the act of devotion or sketching her far-off beloved, or conversing with the Sarika – here a sad reminder of a loving relation. In 83, she is posed, lute on her lap, its strings dampened by tears, a reference which should call to mind the mention in 45 of the Siddha pairs who  avoid the cloud’s path so that their lutes do not suffer the same fate. The contrast here is between love in union and love in separation. Finally in 84, she is pictured counting with blossoms the remaining days of separation or lost in erotic reverie.

Despite its lesser role at this point, the cloud is not permitted to fade too far into the background, for in 81, it serves as comparative material to enhance the pathetic description. The pathos intensifies beginning in 85, when the cloud’s friend (a polite epithet for the Yaksha’s mate indicating no intimacy) is shown passing the night when torments of separation are at their worst. The pathos underscored by contrasts with past pleasures as in 89. Stanza 91 could, however, seem to break the tone, but in fact aims to reinforce it by the predicted testimony of the cloud’s behaviour when it will see her; then, according to the Yaksha, in a handsome conceit, the cloud will be forced to weep. In this stanza, too, the intensity of his mate’s suffering is explained as the result of the depth of her love and of this being the first separation. Kalidasa is careful to remove what might be regarded as the narrator’s vanity in his confidence that his mate is pining for him.

Stanza 92 resumes the direct portrait of sorrow, but with a hint of the union to come by the allusion to the throbbing lid, a sign of impending good, as is, in 93 the throbbing of the left thigh. But the erotic also enters the portrait in this stanza with the mention of conventional signs of passionate love-making – nail marks, here noticeable for their absence on the flesh of the Yaksha’s mate. Also the cloud here resumes its earlier role of universal match-maker, this time as a herald of good news looking towards eventual union of the lovers. Stanza 94 and 95 serve as transition and preamble to the imagined delivery oft eh message.

Stanza 96-109: In 96, the cloud introduces itself and states its mission. It is careful (in the Yaksha’s imagination) to assert first its connection with her beloved and the fact that the latter still lives; only when these most urgent matters are dispensed with can it state its purpose and characterize itself as the ally of those suffering in separation. In 97, the Yaksha imagines his mate’s response by drawing from the epic background of the Ramayana: that moment in the story when Sita, abducted by Ravana sees Rama’s messenger, Hanuman. Again Kalidasa subdues epic lore to less heroic purposes to express only the intense joy in the event, a sentiment explained by the generalization that concludes the stanza.

Generalizing of this kind, it should be noted, is frequently found in the poem, as a sort of pause or break in narration. It functions as an aside, often to the audience outside the poem (though often ostensibly directed to some audience inside it). It is a tool of traditional poetry, both in India and in the West, although contemporary poets shy away from it as unpoetic, perhaps because it is a rhetorical device that draws its authority from a large pool of generalized common lore – almost dried up in our day. It has traditionally served, along with folk adages, to explain or justify individual behaviour, appearance, or what have you, in terms of larger normative categories. Often it justifies or explains what might seem odd, implausible, or exceptional. This is how it functions when Homer has the desperate Odysseus pray to the deity of a certain stream: “Even the immortal gods do not rebuff a poor wanderer who comes to them for help.” In 97 of the Meghaduta, the technique makes plausible what might seem a somewhat overeager reaction to the cloud’s first words.

The message itself begins at 98, first pressing home simple but urgent details. But this is a preamble to the masterful tour de force of the next stanza, which English can only produce a shadow of, since it lacks the means of the original language. Because it can link nouns and adjectives by inflection, Sanskrit permits Kalidasa to unite the lovers through a series of paired words that transform, at its most painful moment, love-in-separation into a union of suffering. And this union is so intense that all the earlier ones, overseen or experienced by the cloud, seem mere facile foreplay.

Stanza 99, in fact, is the tonal climax of the poem, though what follows it is not quite anti-climax; for here the Yaksha describes the effects of separation on his own life, and they too have been devastating. In 100, for example, his anguish is renders by a contrast between past happy states and the present; in 101, by his seeing her beauty piecemeal in one aspect of nature or another, but never finding in nature her whole beauty. In 102, he describes his futile attempts to sketch himself and his beloved together, failing because tears cloud his eyes; in 103 he asserts that his pain has even moved the local goddesses to tears. In 104, he recounts most movingly, how he hugs to himself winds coming from the north because they may have touched her body; and in 105 he confesses his helplessness in the face of separation. Throughout this long plaint the motif correspondences established early in the poem serves as a background, found most obviously in the resemblances between human and natural beauty and in the sense of connectedness implied in imagining the wind as a link between lovers, a role that the cloud has largely played before and, as messenger, still plays. So the transforming powers of love, even in this lament, are held up to the audience as the great generating force of human meaning in the Meghaduta.

Nor does the message itself end in despair. In 106, there is consolation in the form of stoical device, and in 107 a vision of their union after the four remaining months of exile, at the end of Vishnu’s sleep, which coincides with the rainy season.

And in 108 the Yaksha adds a token of authenticity to the message by reminding his mate of an incident only the two could know. With superb tact he chooses a humorous one that might help in cheering her up. Finally, he concludes (109) on a solemn note with two generalizations that, taken together, are calculated to assure her of his unshakeable fidelity; first, the false commonplace that gossip cites – that passion dies in the absence of the lover; and second, the true one – that passion grows with absence. One function of generalizations, as noted earlier, is to justify what might seem hard to believe, and that is the point of this one, which is aimed at canceling its unsettling opposite. The last assurance is thus underwritten, so to speak, by common wisdom.

Stanzas 110-111: The two final stanzas resemble the end of formal supplication: they cite the cloud’s generosity to other petitioners who have received what they have requested even though the cloud remained, as it is now, silent. The cloud then is offered two honourable motives for performing the Yaksha’s errand and finally dismissed with a blessing that once more affirms loving relationship. For in praying that the cloud never be separated from its mate, the lightning, as the Yaksha has been from his, a profound natural affinity between all lovers is implied. Separation, then, must be regarded as unnatural and, as such, a cause of pain as intense as that felt at amputation.

Here the poem closes, the cloud having “joined” the lovers as well as all else in the scope of its world.