A review of Indian Love Poetry by A.L. Dallapiccola

This is a well-proportioned book with illustrations to accompany every excerpt of poetry. The illustrations come from a different time (seventeenth to nineteenth century) than the poems, some of which date from as early as the fifth century of our era. The pictorial elements are free of our notions of realism: the important figures are larger than the minor figures regardless of space relationship, and details are executed with a meticulous precision.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Indian Love Poetry
by A.L. Dallapiccola
Interlink Publishing
2007, ISBN 1-56656-656-8, $17.95, 100 pages

A. L. Dallapiccola is Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh and has written Hindu Visions of the Sacred and Hindu Myths. She is preparing a catalog of the South Indian paintings in the British Museum.

This is a well-proportioned book with illustrations to accompany every excerpt of poetry. The illustrations come from a different time (seventeenth to nineteenth century) than the poems, some of which date from as early as the fifth century of our era. The pictorial elements are free of our notions of realism: the important figures are larger than the minor figures regardless of space relationship, and details are executed with a meticulous precision. Both characteristics recall the work of western primitive artists but are here sophisticated and comfortable with themselves. Many of the male lovers appear with a blue skin to indicate that the poems concern the spiritual world of Krishna

The poetry is presented at the disadvantage of very prosy translations with explanations – not always available at need – thrust disturbingly into the body of the poem. Biographical details of the poets’ lives follow the poems, and the reader will do well to read each as the poem indicates.

Dallapiccola stresses that these love poems also express religious thought. It would certainly be an error to describe this as a metaphorical relationship. In metaphor we illuminate a likeness by a kind of intellectual pun. Such a venture argues dissimilarities and depends on incongruities. The ideas of dissimilarities and incongruities are inapplicable to these poems and indicate a wholeness of the psyche that is sadly foreign to our culture of the divided self.

Some of the poetry comes through the stodgy presentation: this lyric by Vidyapati, for example:

He left me saying that he would return tomorrow,
I covered the floor of my home
Writing repeatedly ‘Tomorrow’.
When dawn returned, they all enquired:
Tell us, friend,
When will your tomorrow come?
My beloved never returned.
Says Vidyapati: Listen beautiful one,
Other women lured him away.

There is enough of this to justify the writer’s intention and the reader’s involvement. The gradual accumulation of many small perfections, even if more imagined than experienced, lures the reader towards a world that is splendid with insights that one would seek in vain from anything else. It is part exotic and it is part startlingly familiar, a powerful inducement to pursue more material of this kind. Recommended.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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