Critical Essay on Poet: A.K. Ramanujan

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A River is a popular and major poem, written by A.K. Ramanujan who was an Indian poet, translator, scholar, and imagist poet. This poem is published in 1966 in the Striders. The poet Ramanujan has compared and contrasted the attitudes of the old poets and those of the new poets to human suffering throughout this poem by using simple language, themes, techniques, and poetic strategies. In his perspective, he emphasizes that both old poets and new poets did not sing or write in verses related to either humanity or human suffering during summer and flood. In this case, he highlights that they both have similar attitudes. This poem is entirely unromantic and unrealistic. Ramanujan implicitly interprets that everyone sings about the beauty or wealth of a river. Particularly, the old poets enjoyed singing about the flood only. The new poets also intend to go along with the old poets. But no one comes forward to write or sing or even talk about the misery or danger hidden behind that beauty of both seasons. Let us consider how the poet expresses the attitudes of the old and new poets through human sufferings in this poem.

Ramanujan commences this poem with the wording “In Madurai,” which reveals the setting of the poem. The poet continuously describes the city through irony “City of temples and poets”. He justifies that it is the major city as well as the heart city of Tamil Nadu that has lots of temples especially the Meenakshi temple. Also, he points out the unique thing of the city that it is well-known for the poetic tradition, and great classical Sangam poets were in this city. Repetition of the “temples” and “Cities” reveal that not only those old poets but also the modern poets have sung about cities and temples, and they always connect themselves with religious matters. Generally, people consider this city as a holy and sweet city that is deeply connected with the life and culture of the Tamil people. In this stanza, the poet indirectly mentions the River Vaigai which flows through the city of Madurai. One strange thing about the Vaigai River is it presents two distinct spectacles in two different seasons. That is to say, it is completely dry in summer and entirely flooded in the rainy season. This is why the people living along this river often experience several sufferings and agonies. The poets who praise the beauty and traditional romantic view of the river Vaigai must have said human sufferings. But they failed to look at another view. Consequently, Ramanujan criticizes that both poets did not keep an eye on people’s sorrows.

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As I have stated earlier, the poet Ramanujan illustrates two different aspects of the appearance of the river, such as Summer and Rainy season. First, let us see how the poet describes the summer to depicts both poets’ approach and mentality. In this stanza, the poet utilizes these lines

“every summer

a river dries to a trickle

in the sand,”

to show how the river seems during the summer season. Here, he asserts that there was an exceedingly small amount of water flowing slowly in the river. In this stanza, the poet accentuates the distressing situation. Because the poets particularly, the old poets and the new poets did not watch out for the river during this summer season even though the river looked like parched land that makes the land visible. Furthermore, Ramanujan expresses through this line “baring the sand ribs,” that the land of the river seems like dry mud cracks due to excessive heat. According to these lines

“straw and women's hair

clogging the watergates

at the rusty bars

under the bridges with patches

of repair all over them”,

Ramanujan gives a great picturization regarding pollutants found in the river through visual imagery. He continuously illustrates the garbage that may be the waste of hay because we can assume that most people who live close to the river take their animals to bathe in the river. In addition to this, he signifies the hairs which fell from the women’s hair while showering. Both pollutants hay and hairs blocked the river gates or flood gates of the river that used to control water flow during the flood. People could identify those ugly matters due to the bare land and drought. At this point, Ramanujan provides more explanations regarding water gates and bridges. He declares that the bars of the water gates seem rusty as they were old and placed under the bridges that close to the river water that has some patches of reparation. Furthermore, the poet uses the simile “the wet stones glistening like sleepy crocodiles, to compare the wet stones to resting crocodiles that shows the danger of slippery and he uses the metaphor “the dry ones shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun” to compare the dry stones to shaven buffaloes relaxing lazily in the sun. In the last line of this stanza “The poets only sang of the floods.”, Ramanujan exposes how the Tamil poets of both old and new generations have failed to present the real facts related to the river when it is almost dried up in summer. Also, he shows satire to those old and new poets who are only romantically obsessed and inspired by the sight of the flooded river but are quite indifferent to the innocent victims of the flood.

Ramanujan’s ironic hit reaches its height when he introduces “He” who has visited the village during a flood. It may represent the speaker or the poet. Subsequently, he emphasizes that he had only visited there for a day when the river entirely flooded. At this point, the poet acknowledges that those poets show interest in writing poems regarding the attractiveness of the flood and river only. That is why he went there after the flood came. With these lines

“People everywhere talked

of the inches rising,”,

the poet Ramanujan exposes human sufferings. He continuously explains that people who live along with the river talk about the terrible things and the level of rising water by using the safety stones. He portrays that the water of the river rises inch by inch from time to time due to the flood. Also, he shows how the stone steps of the bathing place are flooded one by one. This is the typical method that people all over the place use to measure the water level especially, in the home well. In this stanza, the poet implicitly shows the lifestyle of the people living near the riverside. Particularly, they do not have proper houses to survive. Those houses look like small ghettos. We can understand that those people usually take bath in the river. Hence, they have built safety place near the river for bathing. However, that place has also begun drowning in the flood. Consequently, Ramanujan throws criticisms to those poets. Though those poets know that people face pitiful situations, they do not focus on those struggles. Further, Ramanujan highlights both poets’ casual attitudes through this condition. In addition to this, the poet emphasizes the heart-wrenching situation through these lines

“and the way it carried off three village house,

one pregnant woman

and a couple of cows

named Gopi and Brindaas usual.”.

the poet picturizes the cruelty of the flood of the river and reveals the devastation of the flood by using visual images. He tells, three houses in the village, one pregnant woman and a couple of cows have washed away in the flood. Here, the poet tries to connect it with Hindu ethics. That is to say, he states that those cows have the names respectively, “Gopi” and “Brinda” as the identity but that pregnant woman does not have any identity. Ramanujan indirectly asserts that she may be an economically poor lady, or she may be the low status in their village. No one reveals what her name is. However, the poet criticizers those poets at that moment. Because both poets did not sing or write or even talk regarding the human miseries especially, the pregnant woman. The wording ‘as usual’ is marked with irony. The heartless attitude of the people to look at the flood has been dramatically criticized. The image of the pregnant woman refers to the two generations, the present, and the future. Both poets’ attitudes show that they were not much aware of or sympathetic with human suffering.

Then the poet Ramanujan uses these lines

“The new poets still quoted

the old poets, but no one spoke

in verse”

to throw criticism on the new poets who blindly follow the old poets glorifying the river and the flood. They also did not write in their poetic collections regarding the pregnant woman most probably she carries the twins in her womb. Ramanujan uses the repetition “pregnant woman” to signify the misfortunes of the pregnant woman and her twin babies. Those babies may have kicked their mother’s walls of the womb to escape from death. This is a heart-wrenching moment for not only the babies but also the mother and readers. However, both old and new poets did not refer to all these agonies. Ramanujan expresses that they lose realism and creativity because of their attitudes. Further, he says that this kind of attitude makes their poetry weak and unattractive, and hopeless.

At last, the poet Ramanujan uses the tinge of irony with these lines

“He said:

the river has water enough

to be poetic

about only once a year”,

to signifies that the poet or the speaker may be happier if the river flooded its banks frequently. The poet portrays that such cruelty and inhumanity are undesirable and intolerable to the genre of poetry and manhood. Moreover, he utilizes repetitions “three village houses,”, “a couple of cows”, “named Gopi and Brinda”, “and one pregnant woman” and “expecting identical twins” to emphasizes the human suffering and destruction of the flood again and again. Ramanujan states that the babies may identical twins who do not have any differences to tell them apart. The poet highlights that the mother will use “coloured diapers” to show differences. In this stanza, Ramanujan compares and contrasts the writing of the poet himself and other poets of his age. On one hand, all the other poets try to praise the beauty of the river, and on the other hand, the poet himself makes a balance between the beauty and the losses inflicted on the people by it. In this stanza, Ramanujan shows the similarities of both the old and new poets.

Thus, the poet A.K. Ramanujan compares and contrasts the attitudes of the old poets and those of the new poets to human suffering in his poem A River. Furthermore, he emphasizes that both poets did not sing or talk or even write regarding human sufferings, but they focus on only the beautiful form of the river in floods. It shows their indifference towards human suffering. We can easily understand that they live in their own imaginary world, and they stay away from life and reality. Their callous, ignorance, heartless, uncaring, merciless, one-sided view attitudes of both poets to human suffering are evidently shown throughout this poem. Further, the old poets sang and talk about the flood and the new poets wrote about the flood. However, both poets have the same attitudes in religious matters, and also, they both try to make a balance in both beauties and lose of the river.


  1. Critical analysis of the poem a river by ak ramanujan? (n.d.). Answers. Retrieved July 9, 2021, from https:www.answers.comQCritical_analysis_of_the_poem_a_river_by_ak_ramanujan
  2. A River. (n.d.). Poem Analysis. Retrieved July 9, 2021, from https:poemanalysis.coma-k-ramanujana-river
  3. A. (2021, January 15). A River By AK Ramanujan Summary • Summary
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