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Honouring Meary James Tambimuttu

In 2007, the Ceylon London Bloomsbury Group will hold a special ceremony to mark the achievements of a Sri Lankan poet, the late Meary James Tambimuttu. A product of the University of Ceylon in the 1930s, Tambimuttu went to England where he was the first Sri Lankan intellectual to be accorded an entry in the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

He was a poet, editor, publisher, and edited Poetry London from 1939 to 1947 and was publisher, the Lyrebird Press.

The co-ordinator of the Bloomsbury Group, N. Sivasambu, informs that a commemorative tree will be planted in Fitzrovia in honour of Tambimuttu.

As Sivasambu says: "Fitzrovia was the name coined by Tambimuttu for the area in London that was, from the 1930s to the Fifties, the home and haunt of artists, writers, poets, architects, intellectuals and bohemians.

Even the word 'Fitzrovia' was accepted by the Oxford Dictionary." Sivasambu adds that a bronze bust of Tambimuttu by Tissa Ranasinghe will be placed beside the tree. "We will also hold a seminar on Tambimuttu's total achievement. He, with such other stalwarts like Lionel Wendt, created what is now acknowledged as the Contemporary Period of our Modem Cultural History. What stands out is Tambimuttu's unusual and exceptional personality." The seminar will be held at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Fascinating poems

What do we have of Meary James Tambimuttu today? I decided to fine-comb my own library-and after some hours that began to grow quite painful (oh, my poor back!) I found the first issue of the Ceylon University College magazine, published by the College Union Society.

It was the 1937/38 issue, edited by Norman J. Waidyaratne and, Lord be praised, I found from pages 25 to 27, five poems by Tambimuttu! What was so heartwarming to know was that Tambimuttu, a Tamil, had written five "Sinhalese Love Lyrics" and I'm going to give you three of them. Call it, if you wish, my own way of honouring this man who became London's first Sri Lankan intellectual.

The poems are fascinating, patterned in a manner that we rarely come across, the kind of prose-poetics that remind us of Rabindranath Tagore. In them lie passion and tenderness and words that seem to embrace both the lovers and the land they love in:

Be to me as the sun is to the sky

Be to me as the sun is to the sky, while the crumpled hours are withering like blossoms

Spring in me as an eternal spring, unbudding a swirl of light and laughter in a silver shining rose

Be my light when the rolling cogs of darkness pass silently over the face of the earth

Abide with me like the firm rock in the forest and the undying whisper hovering in Laxapana, like a molten eternal palm-frond in the air

Speak to me with the voice of the streamside willows and the murmur of platinum moonlight spattering the passionate rice-fields

And hold me fast, beloved, in the fastness of the loneliness

A joy removed from the breeding of the earth Hold fast, fast-

You came to me....

You came to me with your red hibiscus lips and the saffron moonstain congealed upon your brow like water gleaming in the Nelun blossoms.

You breathed on me with the full-blown pinesmell in your presence and the soft voluptuous mingling of the sun-grain in the heavens when the papaw leaves are drooping big-eyed in the crackling noonday heat. You burst on me like a golden cassia-shower of big-lipped innocence shaking a store of yellow-gleaming sovereigns into the quiet pool of the limpid evening dusk

And you spoke to me, beloved, in the mysterious voice of pulsing sandalwood and softly breaking jasmin buds

The stark nakedness of full-fleshed lonely mountains and the wide open spaces with the stars swinging over them

Lotus fingers

For you are my ambalam in the desert-ways when the fire of youth had died within me like a snuffed-up candle flame in the breathing dark and left me a wisp of cotton-nothingness in the racing squat tempest of life

And you took me to your beloved from the mind in which I was born; wiped the rough tears from my eyes with your lotus fingers

And gave this ragged and vagrant soul the little happiness for which it has always longed

With a dumb-eloquent took in its animal eyes -my poor eyes you are delicate like a pink cowrie

You are delicate like a pink cowrie that the flower hands of the ocean have deposited on the soft-sanded shore

And I am afraid to touch you with my passion lest you crumple like an earthenware pitcher under the wheels of the juggernaut in which

Our Lord is carried in state when he visits the bright bazaar. So let me hold you in my hand my Naya like a glistening heap of rosy pomegranate seeds that I am reluctant to eat, because they are so very beautiful to look at

And let me twine around you like the broad emerald flame of a giant creeper that clings in a delirium of happiness to the bosom of a lofty tree in the jungle

For I want to have you Naya, gently, delicately in my blood like the fragrant spices that breathe impalpably in the Moorman's muscat and his sherbet wine

And I want to breathe and throb and thrill and live and die with you in a perfect oneness-loneliness for you are the dark oil within the bowl and I the wick And how shall I ever burn without you?

Three stunningly beautiful offerings from the pen of a master. It is little wonder that Tambimuttu attracted some of the finest poets in London as well. We should be so proud that in the world of Literature, Sri Lanka is running just as well as all the rest!

Courtesy : Tamil Week

 

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