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What He Said -- Cempulappeyanirar

Guest poem sent in by gauri keshavan
(Poem #1255) What He Said
 What could my mother be
 to yours? What kin my father
 to yours anyway? And how
 did you and I meet ever?
 But in love
 Our hearts have mingled
 like red earth and pouring rain.
-- Cempulappeyanirar
         from the tamil anthology "Kuruntokai"
         translated by a.k.ramanujan, in
         "The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology".

Cempulappeyanirar wrote about 2000 years ago, a Sangam age poet. In Tamil
literary tradition many works remained anonymous and there is the practice
of identifying a poet by a phrase or word from his work.  So
"cempulapeyanirar" literally means 'the poet of red earth and pouring rain'.

The metaphor 'red earth and pouring rain' beautifully evokes union in love.
It also connects to the geographical context, since Tamil Nadu is the land
of red soil..though the smell of the first rain has been synonymous with
images of love and longing in various Indian language literature, lines like
these remind us that it's not all the same thing, because each soil has its own
different perfume, quite unforgettable for the native.

I read Vikram Chandra's amazing first novel 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' a
few years ago and had mentally applauded the author for coming up with such
a beautiful title! Interestingly, Chandra's publishers did not include the
acknowledgement. Anyway, that line has been haunting me long before I
accidentally discovered the poem on a website featuring London Tube poetry.
It simply is the best love poem I have ever come across.


49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

At 04:04 PM 5/15/2003 -0700, you wrote:
>Guest poem sent in by gauri keshavan
>'What He Said'

This is an excellent poem, translated by one of my favorite poets of all
time, AK Ramanujan.

Can we have more Ramanujams please? Translations he did (not his original
poetry, that's been covered in minstrels quite often)


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