A necklace of green parrots drapes the banyan tree.
He doesn’t see it; she doesn’t see it.
(Sanskrit, ca. 1000 BCE, translator unknown)
It is, I suppose, allowable to read these two verses as a straightforward love poem. “He” and “she” are so absorbed in each other that they are oblivious to everything around them, including the beauty of the natural scene.
But where is the poet in this reading, the observer and recorder who is able to note both the closed loop of the lovers’ attention and its setting under the branches of the banyan? This question seems more interesting then the brief love lyric.
Just as the lovers are perfectly symmetrical, enclosed in their single verse and in their reciprocal gazes, in their mutual approach and response, there is also a violent asymmetry in the poem --- the poet gazes at the world, but the world does not gaze back at him. I say “him” because I read the eroticizing metaphor of the first line to be casting Nature in a role as feminine presence --- the parrots drape the tree as the jewels of a necklace lie across the breasts of a woman. Metaphor, this longing to see the unity between terms that are essentially other, is always an erotic maneuver (which, of course, has its feminine expression, too; it just happens to be a male gaze in this case).
So, to what extent am I willing to read this poem as being about the origins of the poetic word itself? Excluded from the hermetic delight of the two lovers, the poet transfers the erotic impulse of metaphor-making to speaking a version of the ever-unattainable natural world, a gaze that will not be returned despite renewed and renewed effort, desire for a world that is already prefigured as a lost world in the need to speak? Otherwise, there would be no need for a poem. Love would be enough.