If Ezra Pound was “the inventor of Chinese poetry for our times” as T. S. Eliot once remarked, then the celebrated translator, poet, and scholar A. K. Ramanujan is the inventor of Tamil poetry for our times. The Interior Landscape: Classical Tamil Love Poems includes the work of fifty-one poets selected from a renowned anthology of love poetry, the Kuruntokai, that dates back to the first three centuries AD. These poems, classified in the Tamil tradition as akam, or “inner part,” take the love of man and woman as the ideal expression of the “inner world,” which in itself is defined by five landscapes—mountains, forest, countryside, seashore, and wasteland—each with its distinctive imagery and elements that serve as a visionary revelation of the five phases of love. This collection unfolds as a drama in monologue, spoken in the voices of the hero, the heroine, the hero’s friend or messengers, the heroine’s friend and foster-mother, the concubine, and various passersby. Ramanujan uses every word, every space and indent and line to evoke the beauty and ecstasy of a poetry that is at once formalistic and free, brimming with nuanced feelings. He has also written a translator’s note that discusses some of the challenges and pleasures of translating from the classical Tamil, as well as an in-depth afterword about the history and culture of this fascinating tradition of love poetry that is now renewed in contemporary English.
In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems. In their values and stances, they represent a mature classical poetry: passion is balanced by courtesy, transparency by ironies and nuances of design, impersonality by vivid detail, leanness of line by richness of implication. These poems are not just the earliest evidence of the Tamil genius. The Tamils, in all their two thousand years of literary effort, wrote nothing better.
—A. K. Ramanujan, from the afterword