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Tamil Love Poetry: The Five Hundred Short Poems of the Ainkurunuru

Translated and edited by Martha Ann Selby

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Paper, 256 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-15065-1
$28.00 / £19.50

June, 2011
Cloth, 256 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-15064-4
$85.00 / £58.50

Dating from the early decades of the third century C.E., the Ainkurunuru is believed to be the world’s earliest anthology of classical Tamil love poetry. Commissioned by a Cera-dynasty king and composed by five masterful poets, the anthology illustrates the five landscapes of reciprocal love: jealous quarreling, anxious waiting and lamentation, clandestine love before marriage, elopement and love in separation, and patient waiting after marriage.

Despite its centrality to literary and intellectual traditions, the Ainkurunuru remains relatively unknown beyond specialists. Martha Ann Selby, well-known translator of classical Indian poetry and literature, takes the bold step of opening this anthology to all readers, presenting crystalline translations of 500 poems dense with natural imagery and early examples of South Indian culture. Because of their form’s short length, the anthology’s five authors rely on double entendre and sophisticated techniques of suggestion, giving their poems an almost haikulike feel. Groups of verse center on one unique figure, in some cases an object or an animal, in others a line of direct address or a specific conversation or situation. Selby introduces each section with a biographical sketch of the poet and the conventions at work within the landscape. She then incorporates notes explaining shifting contexts.


Excerpt:

He has gone off all by himself
beyond the wastes
where tigers used to prowl
and the toothbrush trees grow tall,
their trunks parched,
on the flinty mountains,

while the lovely folds of your loins,
wide as a chariot's seat,
vanish as your circlet
worked from gold
grows far too large for you.

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About the Author

Martha Ann Selby is associate professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and an NEH Fellow at the National Humanities Center. She is the author of Grow Long, Blessed Night: Love Poems from Classical India and A Circle of Six Seasons: A Selection from Old Tamil, Prakrit, and Sanskrit Verse and the coeditor of Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India.

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