During the 18th and the 19th century Tamil Nadu witnessed some of the most profound changes in the political scene. The traditional Tamil ruling clans were superseded by European colonists and their sympathisers. The Tamil society underwent a deep cultural shock with the imposition of western cultural influences.
Anupama contributes five poems translated from the anthology of classical Tamil poems known as the Kuruntokai pro-nounced Kurundohaygorgeously symbolic love poems that work within a strict formal structure.
Strange and beautiful they are, a revelation of an ancient culture and tradition to which we have as a guide, also, a lovely essay by the translator who uses, yes, Ludwig Wittgenstein as an entry point into her own considerable cultural heritage.
The essay is a delight, not the least because it lays bare some of the structures of the poems and thus does what good criticism should always do—help us read more deeply.
In my work of distilling English in my poetry, I had begun to notice my many refusals to use foreign words and syntactic differences, which often correspond to my thoughts stemming from Indian philosophy.
I turned to learning my mother tongue and attempting translations with the hope of finding a door through which I might reconcile these two movements in my own writing.
Reading this work was not only an opportunity for me to walk into Tamil with a brilliant guide, it represented a chance Tamil poets poetry roam in the genius of a community of poets and scholars in ancient India.
These poems revolve around a love affair with a cast of five speakers: Each poem is a short monologue or half of a dialogue, part of an unfolding drama, but is self-contained, a glistening snapshot of a particular moment. The simplicity of the verses in the translations is deceptive.
I was amazed to find allusions and symmetry working together to create a trapdoor in each poem. As I worked on my own translations from the original Tamil, I found poetic devices like parallel feet in symmetric opposition representing the dichotomy of the senses and the mind.
An example of this is versewhere the hero speaks about his heart setting out boldly to embrace his lover at the start of the second line of the poem and then speaks of his mind as hardly daring to think at the end of line 7. These are set symmetrically around the center of the poem: Another set of parallels occurs even closer to the center of this poem, amplifying the effect: In both cases, the references are ambiguous.
The other one could refer to the waves of the ocean or to the deadly tigers. Sometimes the image or word in the geometric center of the poem is a hinge point or a clue. In verse 36, the central foot of the poem is about the inseparable intimacy of the two lovers. The effect here is that the conscious statement of the heroine is contradicted by the very way she is making her statement.
The elephant is in the room, even though she denies it by her words. On another level, the deeper intelligence, sleeping under the surface, is the point here. Sometimes the poem seems to flow backwards, with images at the beginning of the poem only making sense at the end.
Throwing the reader back to the beginning of the poem seems to be one of the reasons for this device, as in verse The original poem unfolds from the opening image of the wings like faded waterlilies and ends with the statement that her lover has left for another land. When the reader skips back to the beginning, automatically because of the surprise of the revelation at the end, the image of those limp brown wings suggests that no one is really going anywhere.
In traditional Indian villages, dried cow dung is used as fuel. The mysteriousness of these love poems is even more striking because they were compiled during the legendary gatherings of Tamil poets and scholars roughly a thousand years ago. I wondered, why love poems? Why landscapes and flowers?
I went to philosophy texts for those answers. The commentary in Edwin F.
Jeyaganesh and my mother, who offered literal translations and discussion.As Dr K V Raghupathi, convener of a recent National Seminar on Women Poets in Indian English Poetry observed in March at the Central University of Tamil Nadu, poetry by women writers in post-colonial times, has "organically responded to the Indian situation by raising questions related to self, identity, patriarchy, political and social.
Gowri Koneswaran is co-editor of Beltway Poetry attheheels.com is a Tamil American poet, performing artist, and lawyer whose family immigrated from Sri Lanka. Her advocacy has addressed animal welfare, the environment, and the rights of prisoners and the criminally accused.
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