The poem “A River” written by AK Ramanujan describes the coldness of new poets towards the harsh reality of the things that they romanticize.
The poet also expresses his concern about the tradition of copying the ideas and ways of old poets by the new poets and their inability to create something which is about the present rather than the past.
The poet is about the river that flows through the city of Madhurai. He first talks about the beauty of the river and then tells how it killed people. The poem has been divided into four main stanzas with different line lengths.
In Madurai, which is the city of temples and poets who according to the poet sing for the beauty of the city, its temples and its river which dries up making the sand visible. As the water flows in small streams, the sand looks like ribs of humans.
In addition to the sand, there are straws and woman hair under the bridges having rusted bars and also patches of repair all over them. And these rusty bars obstruct the free flow of water.
There are also wet stones which are shining and look like sleeping crocodiles and those which are dry seem to be like water-buffaloes without hair relaxing in the sun. In addition, the poets have also written about the floods i.e. the rainy season.
However, the poet says that the poets have written only about these two seasons i.e. the summer and the rain and that too describing its beauty. They have not brought to their verses what loss has been inflicted on the people because of the rainy season.
The poet says he was there for a day. ‘He’ here refers to the poet himself. He tells that he has seen that incident when there was a flood. People everywhere talked about the rising level of river water and the number of stones of the bathing places had submerged in the river.
It also carried off three village houses, a pregnant woman and a couple of cows which were named Gopi and Brinda as usual. The names of the cows seem to be amusing
However, the new poets (those of his times) still quote the old poets. And no one ever talked about the pregnant woman who was drowned with the twins in her belly who were kicking at blank walls even before birth i.e. they died before coming to the world.
The poet imagines that the twins were kicking at the while to escape but couldn’t and were ultimately drowned to death with their mother. The poets never brought this tragic incident to their poems.
The poet again refers to himself using the third person ‘he’. According to him, the river is poetic or in other words, it can be romanticized only once a year.
And then in just half an hour, it takes away 3 houses, a couple of cows and a pregnant woman who was expecting twins having fair bodies and also was thinking of having diapers of different colors so as to distinguish between them.
The last stanza thus 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.