Okay, these are love poems and not love poems. Deeply erotic, they are also metaphors for consciousness and its object, for the way the mind works in our dualistic universe. And make no mistake, we humans do experience our universe as dualistic; it’s not a matter of preference as some people think; it’s deeply inscribed in the language we use, in the concepts of self and mind and reality; and the dance between the self and what it thinks reality is can most effectively be described as something like love. The ancient Greeks, just as the ancient Tamils, knew this. A. Anupama offers here luscious translations of very old poems, poems from a sophisticated and civilized tradition, articulate, knowing and eloquent.
See also her earlier translations ” Translations of Classical Tamil Love Poetry, Essay and Poems” and the essay we published in this self-same issue, “Poetry’s Om.” For the majority of us who are brought up in one tradition, it is an immense privilege to be tendered an insight into something very different and profound.
Poem from the purple-flowered hills
Swaying vines sprawl under the honeybees’ hive.
A seated cripple curls his palm into a bowl beneath,
pointing and licking. Like mountain honey, my lover,
who doesn’t care, doesn’t love
but is sweet to my heart, which sees again and again.
Kuruntokai, verse 60
Poem from the hillside woods
Pink as a partridge’s leg, the roots of the black mung bean plants,
which the deer trample and rob of their ripened pods.
In this harsh morning dew, I’ll find no cure.
No medicine for me other than my beloved’s chest.
Kuruntokai, verse 68
Poem from the bare desert
I will not tie a vow on my wrist
in the cracked caverns to win grace of the victorious goddess.
I won’t seek auguries, won’t stand watching for omens.
My friend, I won’t think of him, soul of my soul,
without whom I die each moment.
For him, strong enough to stay away and forget, I won’t.
Kuruntokai, verse 218
Poem from the blue lotus seashore
Thick buds unfold above the prop roots of the screwpines,
petals spreading like a perched pelican’s wing.
And in the front yard of this small house, all surrounded by water,
waves come and go. Even though
I give him up to his land far away,
he is near my heart in his cool country.
Ceyti Valluvan Peruncattan
Kuruntokai, verse 228
Poem from the blue lotus seashore
“I’m leaving, leaving,” he said. And I, thinking it
another bluff like before,
said “and stay away.”
Where is he now, who used to shelter me like a father?
Black-eyed white egrets could wade
in the large pond I’ve made in the space between my breasts.
Kuruntokai, verse 325
Poem from the fertile fields and ornamental trees
Talaivan’s mistress says—
On cool ponds, colorful thick buds
tempt bees, which force open each stemmed mouth.
When I lie down with him, our two bodies
are close as the archer’s fingers on the bow.
But, if I clasp his strong chest, we become one body.
Kuruntokai, verse 370
—Translated by A. Anupama
A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including The Bitter Oleander, Monkeybicycle, The Alembic, Numéro Cinq and decomP magazinE. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York. She blogs about poetic inspiration at Seranam.