The Five Hundred Short Poems of the Ainkurunuru
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.
He has gone off all by himselfbeyond the wasteswhere tigers used to prowland 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.
Rather than translating a small set of poems picked out of a much larger collection, Selby translates one entire Sangam text, from the first poem to the last. In doing so, she gives the English reader a chance to see how deeply each of these poems works in relation to the ones that precede and follow it. In other words, her translation reveals the sensibility not just of individual poems but of the poetic collection itself.
The Ainkurunuru, with its exquisite haikulike poems, is, by any standard, a major South Asian literary text, eminently worthy of a good poetic translation into English. Martha Ann Selby is one of the finest translators from Tamil, Prakrit, and Sanskrit in this generation. She has a wonderful ear for the deft turn of phrase in English and is a very sensitive and erudite reader of Tamil. She has opened up the Ainkurunuru to the worldwide audience it deserves.
In Selby's exquisite translation, the Ainkurunuru can finally speak to an English-language audience. In these brief, densely packed verses, all the varieties of desire, erotic longing, jealousy, anger, infidelity, and domestic romance find their own natural landscapes. By rendering the entire anthology, Selby enables an appreciation of both the evocative individual poems and the subtle gathering architecture of the whole.
The book is most heartily recommended to all, not just to specialists in Tamil literature...
Jaroslav Vacek, Charles University in Prague
1. Marutam (100 Poems on Jealous Quarreling by ?ramp?kiy?r)
2. Neytal (100 Poems on Lamenting the Lover's Absence by Amm?van?r)
3. Kuriñci (100 Poems on the Union of Lovers by Kapilar)
4. P?lai (100 Poems on Separation by ?tal?ntaiy?r)
5. Mullai (100 Poems on Patient Waiting for the Lover's Return by P?yan?r)
2014 A.K. Ramanujan Book Prize for Translation, South Asia Council, Association for Asian Studies