The Vision Of Men Who See

“Every Town a Home Town”

Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.

Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.

Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,
rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings-

we know this
from the vision
of men who see.

we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.

— Kaniyan Punkunran
from “The Purananuru”
translated by A. K. Ramanujan.

This poem, sent to me by my poetry mail list, was written in India 2000 years ago. It speaks of simplicity and existential realism the very issues I am dealing with on a daily basis 2000 years later. It makes no pretense to understand the world. It merely presents the world as being what it is. I should be so wise.

This poem presents the great dualities that concern us all – good and evil, joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, victory and defeat, life and death – as part and parcel of life, be it post-modern or ancient. It makes me wonder if we really know all that much more after 2000 years of progress. It makes me wonder how much more we really need to know.

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