The Secret of Death and Other Poems – Edwin Arnold (1886) (1st US)


The Secret of Death and Other Poems – Edwin Arnold (1886) (1st US)


One of the earliest English versions of the Katha Upanishad.

Title: The Secret of Death (from the Sanskrit), with Some Collected Poems

Author: Edwin Arnold

Publisher: Roberts Brothers, 1886. First American edition.

Condition: Hardcover, no dust jacket. Very good. Very slight fraying to edges of spine. Slight tanning and foxing to edges. 252pp., app 7″ x4″.

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A collection of poems by Edwin Arnold, containing a mix of Indian and European  songs and poems, rendered into English verse. Included here is Nencia, a poem by Lorenzo de Medici, which Arnold translates for the first time.

The main poem of this book, however, and after which it is titled, is The Secret of Death. This is Arnold’s rendition of the Katha Upanishad, one of the primary Upanishads, found in the Black Yajurveda (Krishna Yajurveda). According to Arnold, the poem relates a conversation he has with a pundit, who recites to him the Katha Upanishad and explains to him what each verse means. Accordingly, every stanza in the poem begins with a Sanskrit verse (a line from the Upanishad), and the poem is written in the form of a dialogue. This Upanishads posits the existence of a divine, imperishable soul (the atman), and the importance of yoga, and is sometimes seen to be representative of the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, the latter denying the existence of the soul. This Arnold rendition is possibly the second only translation of the Katha Upanishad into English, following the Max Muller translation published the year before.

About Edwin Arnold (from Wikipedia):

Sir Edwin Arnold KCIE CSI (10 June 1832 – 24 March 1904) was an English poet and journalist, who is most known for his work The Light of Asia.

In it, in Arnold’s own words, he attempted ‘by the medium of an imaginary Buddhist votary to depict the life and character and indicate the philosophy of that noble hero and reformer, Prince Gautama of India, founder of Buddhism’. It appeared in 1879 and was an immediate success, going through numerous editions in England and America, though its permanent place in literature is quite uncertain. It is an Indian epic, dealing with the life and teaching of the Buddha.

Arnold’s other principal volumes of poetry were Indian Song of Songs (1875), Pearls of the Faith (1883), The Song Celestial (1885), With Sadi in the Garden (1888), Potiphar’s Wife (1892), Adzuma, or The Japanese Wife (1893), and “Indian Poetry” (1904).