A River by Ramnujan: Analysis and Text



A.K. Ramanujan is a very popular poet of Indian English literature. He is a gifted poet in the world of Indian English poetry. He has earned great acclaim for his literary contribution. His poetry reflects the touch of humanity, Indian ethos and pertinence of life.

His A River is a beautiful poem. It is taken from his magnum opus, The Striders. It consists of four stanzas. Here Ramanujan uses a variety of techniques to produce effect. Alliteration, assonance, consonance and enjambment have been used suitably.

Here the poet has presented the attitudes of the old and the new poets. He has drawn the conclusion that both the groups of the poets are indifferent to human sorrow and suffering. Their poetry has nothing to do with the miseries of the human beings.

The present poem deals with a river. It flows through the heart of Madurai. This Madurai is a holy city full of temples. In this poem Ramanujan presents the vivid picture of this river of the summer season and the rainy season. The river almost dries up in the summer. Only a very thin stream flows. The sand ribs are visible on the bed of the river. The hair and straw are seen clogging the Watergates. The pieces of the stone that lie on the bed of the river also become visible. The wet pieces of stone look like the sleeping crocodiles. The dry pieces of stone look like shaven buffaloes. This scene of the river symbolizes the utter degeneration of the human condition. It is a matter of amazement for the poet that the poets do not describe such scenes of the river too often.


During the rainy season when this river is flooded, the poets of the present like the poets of the past observe it very anxiously. They sing the same song of the flood every year. They are in habit to romanticize the flood. They talk about the rising of the river inch by inch. They discuss how the step stones of the bathing place submerge one by one. They remember that three village houses, a pregnant woman and a couple of cows were washed away. These are not uncommon occurrences. But the poets do not bother to present the details of who is impacted. It seems that the people are also used to that. Here Ramanujan attempts to show the insensitiveness of the poets and people.

A River by A.K. Ramanujan


In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the Watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.
Sandal S Anshu, Satna

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