“Inspiration is not only at the beginning of poems and things; the craft has to be inspired contiually. Every little change, every self-criticism you make, has to be a creative act. There is no line between craft and inspiration, no real line between intelligence and imagination. At that point it’s sensibility (I almost said ‘character’) or nothing—all through, in the beginning, the middle, the end. If not, it’ll really show. There’ll be dead words, holes, borrowings, helpless patches, betrayals.”
—from The Oxford India Ramanujan
Ramanujan was a fine poet in his own right, but we owe him a special debt for his tranlations of classical Tamil poetry (50 CE – 300 CE) and Tamil and Kannada Bhakti Poetry (600 CE – 1200 CE). The Oxford edition includes both his poems and translations.
Here’s one of Ramanujan’s own:
Forgive the weasel his tooth
forgive the tiger his claw
but do not forgive the woman
her malice or the man his envy
said the guru, as he moved on
to ask me to clean his shoe,
bake his bread and wash his clothes.
Give the dog his bone, the parrot
his seed, the pet snake his mouse
but do not give woman her freedom
nor man his midday meal till he begs
said the guru, as he went on
to order his breakfast of eggs and news
asking me to carry his chair to the dais.
I gave the dog his bone, the parrot
his seed, the pet snake his mouse,
forgave the weasel his tooth,
forgave the tiger his claw,
and left the guru to clean his own shoe
for I remembered I was a man born of woman.
Ramanujan’s translations are amazingly various, but my personal favorites are the classical Tamil poems. Conventionally, the poems are spoken by “he” or “she” or “her friend” and employ a complex system of metaphor and allusion. In English, they sound like classical Chinese poems in translation: direct, transparent, subtle. Here’s one:
What He Said
they say. Yet love
is no new grief
nor sudden disease; nor something
that rages and cools.
Like madness in an elephant,
coming up when he eats
for you to find
someone to look at.