In those days...

M L Thangappa is an accomplished Tamil poet who has published several collections. Not for him free verse, and all his poems are written in a variety of traditional metrical forms. His mastery of Sangam vocabulary and prosody is such that he has even written a modern ‘guide poem': Iyarkai Attrupadai mimics the attrupadai genre to guide an urban youth to the pleasure of nature. Here is tradition encountering talent at its best. He has also written a number of Tamil poems in the akam and puram genres …

It is this thorough immersion in Sangam poetry – its language, vocabulary, style and content – that makes Thangappa an enviable translator. His understanding of the poems is more intuitive than erudite. Not for him the second-hand interpretation of Sangam poems through medieval and modern commentators... (from the introduction, by A R Venkatachalapathy's to this selection, recently published by Penguin, India).

Composed at the turn of the Common Era, the ancient poems translated from classical Tamil in Love Stands Alone are breathtaking in their directness, subtle in their nuances and astonishingly contemporary in tone.

The poems fall under two broad themes: akam, the interior and puram, the exterior. The akam poems are concerned with love in all its varied situations: clandestine and illicit; conjugal happiness and infidelity; separation and union. The puram poems encompass all other aspects of worldly life. They talk of wars and battlefields, the valour of warriors, the munificence of kings and chieftains, and the wisdom of bards. These timeless, marvellous poems succeed in engaging today’s readers with their acute rendering of the secular life of an ancient people.

In our Poetry section, in hardcover, 256 pages, Rs 399. ISBN 9780670084197