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For instance, the poet Kapilar named 99 flowers in a garland that the lovelorn heroine strung after bathing in a waterfall — where each flower suggested a subtly different nuance of love. This often alludes to mythology and is to be divined through knowledge of context and codification. The ullurai becomes, as it were, a floating chamber of meaning trapped in the underwater roots of the poem that must be released — for the poem to blossom in the mind like a lotus opening at dawn.

Andal, a poet of exquisite allusions, used both poetic devices effortlessly. In verse one of Song Nine, Cintura Cempoti she mentions small red bugs, akin to ladybirds, swarming over green leaves. Beside the concreteness of the image, the emergence of these confounding red bugs evokes the onset of the monsoon, and consequently, the traditional time for men to return home from warfare and palace work to help in agricultural duties of sowing. Therefore it is the time for the lover to claim her in fecund wet surroundings — as ready as she is.

And this too: she waits impatiently, demanding her hymen be torn and she bleeds like rain falling over the earth as her lover, the supreme god, takes her. Here is a version that holds this cluster of embedded meanings:. Blood drops of ladybugs fluttering through moist sparkle settle on lush land like a scatter of rubies flung from skies reeling with rain — irradiating as my love for him who covers me all over with his darkness. Nacciyar Tirumoli is a work of layered suggestion and unambiguous wild passion wedded to an overwhelming enchantment with the divine. Other translations concentrate on expounding Srivaishnava philosophy, using the guidance of scholars and historians to illuminate the aforementioned aspects or render literal translations that exhibit remarkable fidelity to the original; we have attempted to do something very different.

We concentrate on the aesthetic properties of her songs, reimagining them as lyric poems and foregrounding the metaphoric and sensory valences of her words, while keeping the more esoteric and philosophic meanings in the background, informing but never conscripting us. The translations of Andal that we have read and there are not many and many fine translations of Sangam era poetry use one of two strategies for translating these verses:.

This results in meshing levels of resonance into one smooth, evenly coloured narrative. O rain clouds rearing like dark elephants above the hill of Venkata the word of the lord who slumbers upon the serpent has turned false.

The Mystique of the Difficult Poem

In my counselling room I have heard many a dark story about the primitive, cruel, consuming aspects of sex that she describes so succinctly. I would like to make her known by publishing a selection of her poems and, as an experienced translator, I am impressed by her ability to write in a language that was not her first.

It makes the translation process all the more interesting as the constraint of writing in a second language comes across as paradoxically liberating, despite her ease and fluency in French. Perhaps there are things one can only express in a foreign language. From my own experience, I am aware that sometimes the thoughts I have in French are quite different from ones I have in English, not just idiomatically but at an emotional level. I am committed to making Joyce Mansour known to the English-speaking world.

I recently went to Paris to obtain the translation rights from her son, who has given my work his full approval. Modern Poetry in Translation review are publishing six of my translations in but I want to give this extraordinary poet a full volume of selected poems.


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I was knocked out by her work when I first read her and I continue to be amazed. Do you still remember the sweet smell of plantain trees? How strange familiar things can be after a parting How sad the food How dull the bed And the cats Do you remember the cats with their strident claws? Howling on the roof as your tongue searched me Arching their backs as your nails peeled me They trembled as I yielded I no longer know how to love The painful bubbles of delirium have vanished from my lips I have given up my leafy mask A rose bush suffers under the bed I no longer move my hip on the stones The cats have fled the roof.

I opened your head To read your thoughts I crunched your eyes To taste your sight. We already know so much about love and the erotic that we might in fact fail to see, to touch, to smell, to conceptualize. More philosophically, we modern westerners tend to think we have truly liberated human sexuality to its fullest expression. But this might just be simply a dangerous illusion as Michel Foucault dramatically points out in the first volume of his powerful The History of Sexuality. Although he is one of the strongest defenders of postmodernism —-a movement which criticizes the tyranny of modern reason—— there Foucault radically criticizes the connection between modern sexual liberation and the false sense of overall liberation we assume we have reached from the deeper western roots found in our confessional practices.

But back to the poem. These words seem more a youthful description than a poem; they merely recount a very personal moment which most of us keep to ourselves. But let us not be so quick to dismiss it; maybe its apparent simplicity demands of us an effort which goes unnoticed at the start. Line-art, as I have argued elsewhere, does so similarly. That we situate ourselves in the time of the lover who loves; that time is the now of our existence. To remember a love is not be in love. To demand a love to the future is not to love fully. We humans can only fall in love in the now, we can only love in the present presence of the now.

But we ALL know this; so, what makes this poem so special?

A blog for those pursuing some reflective understanding

Why tell us about it? If I had written it, I would probably not have much to say. But here is the thing, it was written by a lover, perhaps the greatest woman lover of them all. These simplistic words were written by Sappho, one of the greatest poets in human history. But besides, all her words carry an erotic charge which has not dissipated over the centuries. In her poetic lines she confronts us and reminds us of the complex nature of erotic life as expressed in our deepest longings and complex desires as humans.

But let us go back to the poem. Therein precisely lies its force. Its simplicity deludes us into thinking that no complexity is there to be found. Its simplicity masks purposely. This journal tries to investigate this simplicity. It briefly seeks to investigate some of the many questions regarding erotic desire and its puzzles as seen by Sappho. One could even go so far as to say that this type of exercise is required in order to deepen the discussion on sexuality in our societies. We constantly hear that we, as a society, have failed in our own erotic education.

I truly believe we have failed and will fail, unless we take seriously the task of understanding desire beyond the technical and biological aspects we emphasize as moderns. That type of technical education and practice speaks thus: your sexual organs are such and such; they are located here and here; you put this there; you put this on like so; if you touch here, then ; have any problems? Take this… …. Instead of defending such crass reduction, an investigation on the metaphors of erotic love becomes central to understanding ourselves; even to deciding what type of life we choose to live.

For the questions around the erotic involve a choice of life. Such an investigation will touch on Sappho here as one of the representatives of the views of eros as defended by artists. Art and philosophy are THE privileged avenues to desire. Exploring them both, opens us to ourselves in a broader, less illusory fashion. But perhaps the tension between both areas will eventually lead us to defend and, actually live, altogether different erotic lives. Shaken by coming to recognize that what we thought was an irrelevant poem, we want to take another chance with it.

We want to let ourselves be opened by the poem, Sappho wishes to open us and close us repetitively, teaching us the motions of our desiring natures. For her, we must be ready to love as lovers do. For her we must be ready to risk. So let us return to these opening lines which we now know have a poetic backing like few others. The poem, once again, reads:. What do you mean? For in love, says Sappho in this poem, you just do not know anymore! Repetitive loses accumulate as we cannot grasp what is going on each time. What you are trying to say just means, most probably, that you are now in love.

Only in being in love do these words touch you as they should, for in love you are no longer yourself. As Sappho says, in love you do not know what you should do. And if you think you do, Sappho thinks you might just be deluding yourself. This is the characteristic of the worst of lovers, says Plato in his beautiful Phaedrus. Plato finds this tyrannical type of love exemplified in the story of King Midas.

Everyone knows his story; he tried to control the temporality of love, and failed. In the appearance of the erotic other, I lose all possibility of thoughtful presence.

Emily Dickinson, Erotic Grief Counselor - Big Think

This Sappho affirms. Little wonder we mock those in love; we humor ourselves through their lost capacities. This is nowhere more poignantly revealed than in The Damask Drum , a must read for anyone interested in erotic desire. This is a short play by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima in which a poor and old janitor named Iwakichi, claims to fall in love with a 20 year old beauty called Kayoko.

The perplexing dynamic of their affair reveals much about the way we mock those who lose themselves in love. But be that as it may, we have ALL at one time or another actually mocked those in love. For, you see, they truly seem out of their wits! They actually seem irresponsive, as in a dream. They are slow to reaction and for this we taunt them. Even their bodily functions are a total loss! The absence of the loved one does not mitigate in the least the feeling.

For responsible actions require some kind of identity that affirms such decisions. No wonder lovers are irresponsible! We are paralyzed as rarely we are. This is why Saphho adds that her not knowing involves primarily not knowing what I should do. Perhaps you seek such security, but ironically such security erases the moment which held the erotic tension in its extreme possibility. You get back to the security of yourself, but perhaps this is precisely the way to lose yourself. How come you do not know what you should do?

Or send him a denial. But that, precisely, is NOT the point. In contrast, Sappho asks us to remain in the presence of the moment in which the other comes into our view as a lover we desire intensely. But to remain there, this is almost impossible in our first loves, for powerful enigmatic forces override us, as we shall see. Perhaps in reading and understanding Sappho, other more enticing possibilities might appear for us.

But remaining in that privileged instant, we are —- paradoxically— conscious we no longer are fully conscious of ourselves. I do not know what to do in that moment which many seek to avoid, to forget. To this we shall return. For captivated by it, we can no longer do anything as we did. And a question arises; is Sappho speaking here of the moral limitations of social life? Not in the least. That is not her concern here.

Her point, instead, is that eros is a kind of assault; we tremble, we feel uneasy, and yet —paradoxically—we desire to feel so. Eros pushes us besides ourselves, and in doing so we, says Sappho, risk our very own personal and uniquely created identity.

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This is confirmed by the simple words that follow. The expression of this enigmatic and unexpected entrance brings about severe division and fragmentation. He who was once one, has NOW become two. Knowing yourself divided, a fall of consciousness that both opens the world to new possibilities, but risks the very foundations of who we have become. Sappho adds in the poem, as if to validate our previous words:. What we have suspected above is revealed as true.

Knowing she cannot act, she nonetheless begins by accepting this rupture and division. The penalty of not being ruptured lies in the constant immersion in the ordinary world of constant personal presence. Many of us live, prefer to live, without such disruptions all our lives. We can actually BE with another and yet not love as Sappho claims we should.

But some of us chose not to live so.

Such are true artists, such are true philosophers. Instead of the safety of the known, the artistic lover embarks in another type of self-affirmation which might end badly for her. That is why she cries out of two severed minds that she is in love and that she is not, that she is not crazy and that she is.

These words have the sound of a certain truth to them, they reveal the stance of the person who has fallen in love.

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To fall in love is indeed to fall; it is to become another who no longer is as he was. To be in love. To become two; to be unable to decide. In love we are and we cease to be. For we love and we long to be with another, and yet that other who beckons us makes us fear we will be utterly lost to ourselves. But without such erotic presence the loss might be double! Divided we stand as we long to be and not to be in front of her. How peaceful it was when time was not rushing forth in the now. How peaceful it is to simply remember as if one had once lived such a life and had gotten over it.

Emily Dickinson, also a woman, knew of this kind of love. In her No. We will forget him! You and I —- tonight! You may forget the warmth he gave — I will forget the light!