Two Poems by Kutti Revathi translated by Lakshmi Holmström

Elections 2024
01 April, 2015

ABOUT THE POEM The Tamil poet Kutti Revathi is widely recognised as the maker of a vital new idiom, both within the poetics and politics of the Tamil literary tradition and in that borderless space we now think of as “world poetry.”

As these two poems demonstrate, Revathi can take up that oldest of poetic subjects, the sea, and generate from its agitation a completely original and convincing linguistic, metaphorical and ideational schema. Her image, in ‘First Mother,’ of raging waves as a sign of the sea’s search for justice is unforgettable, as is the much more muted, but no less dextrous, metamorphosis of the sea into a fish. The poem’s movement, at first world-spanning but then content to work itself into something very small and humble, is paralleled in ‘The Waves Swoop Ashore’ by the final image of the boatman, a human subject who creates the world twice over with his labour and with his eyes.

First Mother

Our Ancient Mother took the form of the sea.

Surging upwards,

her passion for justice became raging waves.

Striking her breasts, she wrote her songs,

and carried in her body, like a cross,

the betterment of human beings.

Cupped into the earth, she grew dry

like salt, or wine.

Yet again she became a herbal medicine

stirring memories of unwritten histories.

In the fire-pot she carries, she creates each day,

over the last of the flames,

Love that defeats all Time.

She turns her children into waves

and sends them to play ashore.

River-beds turn into her saris

and rise to the surface, where her sorrows

take the colour of seaweed.

And there, our First Mother, in the form of a fish

wanders still.

The Waves Swoop Ashore

The waves swoop ashore, bringing

the dreams, sorrows and epics beneath our feet,

the agitation of the seas.

They fling to the shore flowers

gathered at mid ocean,

the unceasing swirling turbulence of small creatures,

the earth’s waterlessness,

the many full moons fallen into its waters,

deep sorrows of man, smouldering underground

for long years,

clouds of lovesickness pervading

the bridegroom’s body,

dreams and hopes of the migrating birds’|

return to their land.

One after the other they hasten ashore

leaping, like racehorses

their manes standing on end.

Water horses rush forward until

their hooves touch the shore, and their knees

buckle. The foam gathers, spreads, scatters.

Loading into his little boat

the vision he saw at a far distance

at that moment when sky and earth touch, 

the boatman swoops ashore.