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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 6 page 23

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  • Notes
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* Page 1: This poem, "What the heroine’s friend said to the hero, requesting him to marry the heroine," is from the "Sangam" or classical period of Tamil literature, which ran from about the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE, in ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam). The earliest extant works of Tamil literature come from this era. Ammoovanār is a renowned Sangam poet believed to have lived in the 2nd century CE. "Akananūru 10" means this is the tenth poem in the Akananūru, one of the anthologies compiled by scholars long after the poems themselves were composed. The male and female subjects of a Sangam love poem are referred to as the "hero" and "heroine." In this poem, the heroine’s girlfriend speaks to the hero on behalf of the heroine, since by tradition the latter could not announce her love directly to the hero.

Sangam poetry is Nature poetry not only in the sense that the people live immersed in Nature, but also in the sense that images from Nature provide a commentary upon the people.

Sangam love poetry was highly conventionalized, indicating a long prior evolution. Love poems occur in five ‘modes’, each mode being named after a flower, and each associated with a particular landscape whose images are used to support a particular romantic theme. This particular poem, like almost all of Ammoovanār's poetry, is in the Neythal or "blue water lily" mode. The blue waterlily grows near the seashore, which is the landscape of the poem. The seashore landscape is associated with separation, anxious waiting, pining for the loved one. An unmarried woman might readily believe that her absent lover has abandoned her, choosing instead to roam the wide sea. At the same time, the poetry is anchored to a certain fisherfolk earthiness and realism.

The buds of the budding tree are a school of fish swimming in air. The heroine’s waterlily eyes shed tears, because she is meant to be a community, she is meant to be a more-than-one. Her beauty is like that of a thriving seaside town. See how the fisherfolk live and share in the fish town. Does that not tell you that the hero and heroine could live and share in their own intimate settlement?

Vaidehi Herbert's translations of Sangam poetry are available at sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com.

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* Page 8: A typical example of the verse that made Crémazie popular is this opening stanza from his "Song of the Old Canadian Soldier." France had failed to provide sufficient resources to defend its North American colony (i.e., the Canadians) against British takeover in 1759. Long after, with eyesight fading, leaning on his son for support, the old soldier visits the ramparts of Québec each day hoping for a sign of the French fleet:

Mere soldier that I was, in younger day,
For you, Frenchmen, I fought without abate;
Now I come back, though I am old and gray,
For your triumphant warriors I wait.
On these ramparts where I shuffle my feet,
How much longer must I wait for you here?
Such a grand day will the dawn ever greet?
Tell me, my son, do they not yet appear?

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* Page 13: In 1868 a group of secular and clerical figures launched a quixotic campaign to convince Ottawa to grant Crémazie a pardon. But the reality was that Crémazie, unable to return to Canada since he might be arrested, was equally unable to qualify for a pardon since he had yet to be convicted.

Those who believe that somewhere in our hearts we know our own future might be interested to know that one of Crémazie’s early poems, “Colonisation,” written to scold those of his fellow Québécois who had abandoned Québec to emigrate to the USA for work, uncannily forecast Crémazie’s own soul-dead years in France:

The fool who takes exile far from his land of birth
Endures a dreary life that brings nothing of worth;
His heart is without love, his days without pleasure,
No solace can he find, because his mournful eyes
Will never see again the soothing homeland skies,
And the earth he treads holds no memories to treasure.

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