Give, Eat, and Live is a selection of poems translated from the 12th century Tamil poet Avvaiyar, arguably one of the most important female poets in Tamil’s two-thousand-and-five-hundred years of literary history, and certainly one of the best known, of any gender. Although people across the state of Tamil Nadu know many of her works by heart, she has received little attention outside India, owing largely to the lack of decent translations. The one comprehensive work in English, Avvaiyar, a great Tamil poetess, by C. Rajagopalachari (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971), has long since been out of print and renders Avvaiyar’s poems in accurate but wooden translations. This book, by contrast, seeks to render her finest songs in a supple and poetically charged English that allows both her intellect and poetry to shine.
The selection includes poems from two of Avvaiyar’s major books on the good life, Mūturai, “The Word that Endures,” and Nalvali, “The Right Road.” It also includes a generous sampling of poetry that was written separately and later gathered into collections. All of them use a Tamil verse form called venpā , dating back to the late Sangam period (first to third century C.E.). Though they speak of ethics, they do not cease to be poetry, employing imagery drawn from the Tamil landscape as well as a deeply musical line. These are poems meant to be chanted and sung.
Many of these poems have been published individually, both in India by the country’s leading journal of Indian literature in translation and by the Temenos Academy in London. Give, Eat, and Live, in turn, will bring her work the wider attention it has long since deserved. Both aficionados of Indian literature and lovers of poetry alike will savor this first literary translation of one of Tamil’s best loved poets.
“Tamil is one of the oldest world languages and English is one of the world’s youngest. To negotiate successfully between the two, to have so mastered a Dravidian language which is a mystery to 95% of Indians themselves, is a feat which isn’t merely academic but to my mind, a civilizational triumph.”
—Mini Krishnan, Editor, Translations, Oxford University Press, India
“I value these translations supremely. Following the death of the distinguished translator, A.K. Ramanujan, Thomas Pruiksma is one of the few poets sufficiently sensitized and equipped to reveal in English the delicacy and beauty of Tamil verse such as Avvaiyar’s.”
—Paul L. Love, Director of the Study Centre for India Literature in English and Translation, Madurai, India
“Thomas Pruiksma’s translations present ancient wisdom-teaching poems in luminous, sparkling English as lively and rich as they must have been in the 12th century Tamil of their author, Avvaiyar. Read these poems; eat these poems; give them away; live with them. They are a joy.”
—Sam Hamill, author of Habitation: Collected Poems