ABOUT THE POEMS If the poems of Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) sound quaint today, it is because he wrote from within a bardic tradition that has fallen away from modern poetry, which is suspicious of passions of a communal nature. But this fiery patriot, a journalist and social reformer in his life outside literature, wrote from a passionate conviction not just in his ideas but also in poetry’s demotic power to rouse, or heal, through rhythmical language. “Wind and fire and the wide expanse of heaven – compounding these together, our Tamil poets make the sweetest songs,” he wrote. As the poems here demonstrate, Bharati’s poetic godhead—one with deep roots in the Indian south, with its veneration of the dyadic energy of Shiva and Parvati—was the Mother Goddess or Shakti, often projected onto the form of India itself. But if Bharati gave the transcendent its due, he did not slight the beauty and solidity of this world either, as his mocking of the Indian tradition of the world as illusion in “False or True?” attests. “To subdue another is to take one’s own life./Haven’t you heard this, kindly heart?” writes Bharati. Usha Rajagopalan’s new book-length volume of translations of Bharati (Hachette, 2012) allows Indian readers in English the chance to grapple with the challenging ethics and metaphysics and distinctive lyric sensibility of one of modern Tamil literature’s greatest poets.
Kuyil Paattu 2
In the trilling and warbling of birds in the forest,
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