Guest poem submitted by Ravi Rajagopalan:
(Poem #1459) Every Town a Home Town
Every town our home town, Every man a kinsman. Good and evil do not come from others. Pain and relief of pain come of themselves. Dying is nothing new. We do not rejoice that life is sweet nor in anger call it bitter. Our lives, however dear, follow their own course, rafts drifting in the rapids of a great river sounding and dashing over the rocks after a downpour from skies slashed by lightnings- we know this from the vision of men who see. So, we are not amazed by the great, and we do not scorn the little.
from "The Purananuru" translated by A. K. Ramanujan. I am adding to your collection another poem in Tamil - the language spoken by 50 million Indians and more in Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana, Mauritius and South Africa - from the ancient collection called "Purananuru" or "Four Hundred Poems about the Exterior" - an anthology of 400 poems by more than 150 poets composed between the first and third centuries in the Christian Era. Written before the penetration of Aryan influence in South India, it remains a great historical record of life in pre-Aryan India. Moreover, as George Hart and Hank Heifetz state, "The Purananuru is one of the few works of classical India that confronts life without the insulation of a philosophical façade; it makes no assumptions about karma and the other world; it faces existence as a great and unsolved mystery". The Purananuru concerns itself with life outside the self and family - with kings and kingship, war, statesmanship, greatness and generosity, ethics, death and dying. The first line of this particular poem is very well known amongst Tamil speakers - "Yaavum Oore Yavarum Kelir". The poem in itself is work of remarkable simplicity and existential realism. It makes no pretense to understand the whys and wherefores of the world. It merely makes a statement that the world is what it is. The great dualities that concern us all, and indeed most religions - such as good and evil, joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, victory and defeat - are a part and parcel of the great uncertainty that is life. In this sense it resonates with modern poetry, which is amazing considering that it was probably written 2000 years ago. The universality of life expounded in this poem really appeals to me. Again, AK Ramanujan has achieved a lyrical translation from the Tamil original. Tamil poetry has an alliterative and sometimes dramatic quality to it that adds to the pleasure of listening to it being declaimed. This is difficult to reproduce in any other language - but Prof Ramanujan has managed it. Those of you interested in reading about early Tamil poetry to understand its place in world literature would do well to look at George Hart's "The Poems of Ancient Tamil" The University of California Press, 1975. Ravi.