ASIAN 226: Poetries of Asia
Tamil sangam poetry (translations by A.K. Ramanujan)
What She Said Bigger than earth, certainly, higher than the sky, more unfathomable than the waters is this love for this man of the mountain slopes where bees make rich honey from the flowers of the kuriqci that has such black stalks. Te:vakulatta:r (Kuruntokai 3) What the Passers-By Said This bowman has a warrior's band on his ankle; the girl with the bracelets on her arm has a virgin's anklets on her tender feet. They look like good people. In these places the winds beat upon the va:kai trees and make the white seedpods rattle like drums for acrobats dancing on the tightropes. Poor things, who could they be? and what makes them walk with all the others through these desert ways so filled with bamboos? Perumpatumana:r (Kuruntokai 7) What She Said It looks as if the summer's glowing new blossom on the dark neem tree will not stay for his coming. These cruel women's tongues are working on me, now that he is gone, grinding me to paste like the one fig of the white tree rising by the waterside, trampled on by seven ravenous crabs. Paranar (Kuruntokai 24) What the Concubine Said You know he comes from where the fresh-water sharks in the pools catch with their mouths the mangoes as they fall, ripe from the trees on the edge of the field. At our place he talked big. Now back in his own, when others raise their hands and feet, he will raise his too: like a doll in a mirror he will shadow every last wish of his son's dear mother. A:lankuti Vankana:r (Kuruntokai 8) What She Said On his hills, the ma:nai creeper that usually sprawls on large round stones sometimes takes to a sleeping elephant. At parting, his arms twined with mine he gave me inviolable guarantees that he would live in my heart without parting. Friends, why do you think that is any reason for grieving? Paranar (Kuruntokai 36) What Her Girl-Friend Said O long white moonlight, you do him no good at all as he comes stealing through the night in the forest where the black-stemmed ve:nkai drops its flowers on the round stones and makes them look like tiger cubs in the half-light! Netuvennilavina:r (Kuruntokai 47) What Her Friend Said to Him Even if passion should pass, O man of the hills where after the long tempestuous rains of night the morning's waterfalls make music in the caverns, would our love also pass with the passion? Kapilar (Kuruntokai 342) What He Said What could my mother be to yours? What kin is my father to yours anyway? And how did you and I meet ever? But in love our hearts are as red earth and pouring rain: mingled beyond parting. Cembulappeyani:ra:r (Kuruntokai 40) What She Said Don't they really have in the land where he has gone such things as house sparrows dense-feathered, the color of fading water lilies, pecking at grain drying on yards, playing with the scatter of the fine dust of the street's manure and living with their nestlings in the angles of the penthouse and miserable evenings, and loneliness? Ma:mala:tan (Kuruntokai 46) What He Said As a little white snake with lovely stripes on its young body troubles the jungle elephant this slip of a girl her teeth like sprouts of new rice her wrists stacked with bangles troubles me. Catti Na:tana:r (Kuruntokai 119) What She Said Will he remember, friend? Where the curve of the parrot's beak holds a bright-lit neem like the sharp glory of a goldsmith's nail threading a coin of gold for a new jewel, he went across the black soil and the cactus desert Will he remember? Allu:r Nanmullai (Kuruntokai 67) What Her Friend Said to Her Our man of the hills where the bent green bamboo springs back to the sky with the spring of an unleashed horse grows thin longing for our love, like a tethered bull in summertime, not knowing that here we are, wasting away for his sake. Vittakutiraiya:r (Kuruntokai 74) What He Said Her arms have the beauty of a gently moving bamboo. Her eyes are full of peace. She is faraway, her place is not easy to reach. My heart is frantic with haste, a plowman with a single ox on land all wet and ready for seed. O:re:ruravana:r (Kuruntokai 131) What She Said Once: if an owl hooted on the hill, if a male ape leaped and loped out there on the jackfruit bough in our yard my poor heart would melt for fear. But now in the difficult dark of night nothing can stay its wandering on the long sloping mountain-ways of his coming. Kapilar (Kuruntokai 153) What He Said O did I not think of you? and thinking of you, did I not think and think again of you? and even as I thought of you was I not baffled by the world's demands that held me to my work? O love, did I not think of you, and think of you till I wished I were here to sate my passion till this flood of desire that once wet the branch of the tall tree would thin till I can bend and scoop a drink of water with my hands? Auvaiya:r (Kuruntokai 99) What She Said Look, friend, fear of scandal will, only thin out passion. And if I should just give up my love to end this dirty talk, I will be left only with my shame. My virgin self of which he partook is now like a branch half broken by an elephant, bent, not yet fallen to the ground, still attached to the mother tree by the fiber of its bark. A:lattu:rkira:r (Kuruntokai 112) What Her Girl-Friend Said The sands are like heaped-up moonlight. Right next to it stands all by itself, as if all night were crammed into it, the cool dense shade of a flowering grove of the black punnai. Our man has not come back. Only our brothers' fishing boats will return from their hunt of many kinds of fish. Aiyu:r Mutavan (Kuruntokai 123) What She Says (about her friend's sympathy) This is worse than the sleepless agony of thinking about him, far away, wandering long among trees through difficult branching pathways. This is much worse: I cannot bear to think of my friend's grief for me, it's like the deaf-mute's when he sees at night the suffering of a dun cow fallen into a well. Ku:van Maintan (Kuruntokai 224) What She Said Before I laughed with him nightly, the slow waves beating on his wide shores and the palmyra bringing forth heron-like flowers near the waters, my eyes were like the lotus my arms had the grace of the bamboo my forehead was mistaken for the moon. But now... Maturai Erutta:lan Ce:ntampu:tan (Kuruntokai 226) What Her Friend Said Will he not really think of us when he passes the clumps of milk-hedge with their fragrant trunks and hears the redlegged lizard call to his mate in cluckings that sound like the highway robber's fingernail testing the point of his iron arrow, will he not really think of us, friend? Pa:laipa:tiya Perunkatunko: (Kuruntokai 16) What She Said People say, "You will have to bear it." Don't they know what passion is like, or is it that they are so strong? As for me, if I do not see my lover grief drowns my heart, and like a streak of foam in high waters dashed on the rocks little by little I ebb and become nothing. Kalporu Cirunuraiya:r (Kuruntokai 290) What She Said Only the thief was there, no one else. And if he should lie, what can I do? There was only a thin-legged heron standing on legs yellow as millet stems and looking for lampreys in the running water when he took me. Kapilar (Kuruntokai 25) What Her Foster Mother Said Let no sun burn may trees shade the little ways on the hill may the paths be covered with sand may cool rain cool the desert roads for that simple girl her face the color of the new mango leaf who left us for a man with the long bright spear! Kaymana:r (Kuruntokai 378) What Her Girl-Friend Said In the seaside grove where he drove back in his chariot the neytal flowers are on the ground, some of their thick petals plowed in and their stalks broken by the knife-edge of his wheels' golden rims furrowing the earth. O:ta Qa:ni (Kuruntokai 227)

Last update 20 Jan 2004.