translations from Kuruntokai

Kuruntokai (The Short Collection) is an anthology of classical Tamil verse collected by Pooriko Nachinarkiniyar in the sixth or the seventh century CE. The poems are lyrics of love and longing. Apparently they offer layers of religious symbolism. Here are two translations of #36, giving some sense of the original:

Poem from the purple-flowered hills

Talaivi says to her friend—

He swore “my heart is true.
I’ll never leave you.”

My lover from the hills,
where the manai creepers
sometimes mount the shoulders of elephants
asleep among the boulders,
promised this on that day
when he embraced my shoulders, making love to me.

Why cry, my dear friend?

Paranar, Kuruntokai, verse 36, translated by A. Anupama
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), translated by A.K. Ramanujan

Or #46 …

Poem from the fertile fields and fragrant trees

Talaivi says—

Don’t you think they have sparrows
wherever he has gone, with wings like faded water lilies,
bathing in the dung dust in the village streets
before pecking grain from the yards
and returning to their chicks in the eaves,
common as evening loneliness?

Mamalatan, Kuruntokai, verse 46, translated by A. Anupama
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), translated by A.K. Ramanujan

I’ll try a reply:

We used to watch sparrows like this one.
They'd look up at her, at me, hopeful,
Head tilted: crumbs? fly away?

Now it's only me. This one flutters up
To hunch under an eve and wait.
When the rain stops, maybe it will find a bite.

See also: when the lotus bloomed, nostalgia for now, voices

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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