“The Maggots”- A poem by Kamala Das

At sunset, on the river ban, Krishna
Loved her for the last time and left…
That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt
So dead that he asked, What is wrong,
Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said,
No, not at all, but thought, What is
It to the corpse if the maggots nip?

[from The Descendants]
Kamala Das

One of the finest of Kamala Das, a forthright female(not feminist) poet of India ,equally comfortable in her mother-tongue Malayalam and in English, the poem strikes one for the terseness of her language and the beautiful narrative form she has adopted here in this poem. First , the narrative form.

The poem begins at the beginning. Krishna had loved Radha that evening on the river ban. “Loved” is a usage that suggests a continuous emotion .How could Krishna have loved her for the last time? Was it that he made love to her for the last time, a sensual act by a lover to his beloved and is one- time? No.If that were so ,he would not have loved her and left.

The narrative goes on to what happened in the night after Krishna had loved and left.Her husband made love to her (not loved her) . In his arms Radha felt so dead that his kisses felt like maggots on a corpse.Did she mind the kisses,a considerate husband would ask.No. Not at all.It hardly mattered to Radha who was already dead to any love.After Krishna had left Radha became dead to any love.The kisses were just maggots on her corpse.Did the corpse feel the maggots nipping it?

The narrative form adopted is beautiful.The first two lines tersely deal with the events that happened before what unfolds in the next stanza, which is about the love act between Radha and her husband. The first two lines are a preface to what the poem speaks about in the next stanza.

The event of love making between Radha and her husband is dealt with not in a third party narrative style but as a dialogue:

what is wrong,
Do you mind my kisses,love?

And she said
No,not all.

(but thought)

What is it to the corpse if the maggots nip?

The maggot thing Radha merely thought.She did not say it to her husband, So we have a prior event of Krishna having loved and left,told in a third party narration. Then we have a narrative of what happened in the night by a dialogue between Radha and her husband , followed by what Radha thought, i.e. what happenedinside her. A beautiful narrative form.

“She felt so dead that he asked…” is layered with meaning. Love(not love making) is what makes you alive. The moment Krishna loved and left Radha felt like a corpse to all sensations. The husband’s kisses are mere maggots feeding on her dead body. So she thought. She did not say it. But she felt so dead that…made all that clear.

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Neruda’s lemon

A Lemon

By Pablo Neruda

Out of lemon flowers
loosed
on the moonlight, love’s
lashed and insatiable
essences,
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree’s yellow
emerges,
the lemons
move down
from the tree’s planetarium

Delicate merchandise!
The harbors are big with it-
bazaars
for the light and the
barbarous gold.
We open
the halves
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
brims
into the starry
divisions:
creation’s
original juices,
irreducible, changeless,
alive:
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.

Cutting the lemon
the knife
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
altars,
aromatic facades.

So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
wells
to your touch:
a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet. 

 

Much like my own lemon and possibly yours, Neruda has caught the lemon just in time before its fragrance depletes and its hemispheres turn acidic and barbarous. Sweet lemon , let us make  lemonade  of it , if  we have  far too many of them loosed on the moonlight. The yellow of the lemons drops from the tree’s planetarium,a barbarous gold for sale in the bazaars of the town while the harbors are big with them. The clotting of the acids brims into its starry divisions.

Love the micro description .The lemon flowers are loosed on the moonlight- a visual delight  to imagine the lemon flowers slipping into a rampant moonlight losing themselves in it. The lemon flowers are loosed on the moonlight as some of them do not form fruits and are dropped and some of them turn fruits but lose their identity as flowers. Creation’s  very own juices (not an apple?) are irreducible and changeless in the sweet smelling  house of the rind.

We all have our lemons and  may have to make lemonade  of them. So we cut the lemon and find a little cathedral with its alcoves full of light unguessed by the eye. While the hand holds the cut of the lemon, half of a world on the trencher, the gold of the universe  swells to your touch, much like your girl’s lemon- nipples swelling to your finger-touch in their love.The cup is yellow with miracles, a breast and a nipple perfuming the earth. A flashing made fruitage of the earth the lemon is a diminutive fire of the planet.

Some beautiful images:
Lemons moving down from the planetarium.

Here lemons are astral bodies falling from  the sky-dome. The image is extended later in the metaphor of the diminutive fire of the planet.

The harbors are big with it
Beautiful image of a pregnant belly- the sensuousness of a lemon breast and nipple leading to the mellow fruitfulness of motherhood.

Half a world on a trencher

A lovely image of a cut lemon as the earth’s hemisphere placed on a trencher

Barbarous gold
Unrefined gold, the pure gold that dazzles the eye by its yellow sheen

The cup is yellow with miracles:
Beautiful. The cup is full with miracles, ripe with them.Like leaves turn yellow in autumn. A miracle of transformation of trees to season’s golden yellow.