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]
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
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.