The Longman Anthology of World Literature


      The following translation of Tukaram's poems from the book Says Tuka by Dilip Chitre have been included in the The Longman Anthology of World Literature Volume C The Early Modern Period published by Pearson Longman, New York.

I was only dreaming

I was only dreaming
Namdeo and Vitthal
Stepped into my dream
 “Your job is to make poems,”
Said Namdeo.
“Stop fooling around.”

Vitthal gave me the measure
And slapped me gently
To arouse me
From my dream


Within a dream

The Longman Anthology
World Literature

“The grand total
Of the poems Namdeo
vowed to write
Was one billion.”
He said,
“All the unwritten ones, Tuka,
Are your dues.”

If Only you would

If Only you would
Give me refuge O Lord
To stay at your feet
In a line of saints.

I’ve already left behind
The world I loved.
Don’t stand still:
It’s your move now.

My caste is low;
My origins humble.
A little help from you
Will go a long way.

Thanks to Namdeo
You visited me
In a dream that left me

Have I utterly lost my hold on reality

Have I utterly lost my hold on reality
To imagine myself writing poetry?
I am sure your illustrious devotees,
All famous poets, will laugh at me.

Today, I face the toughest test of life:
Whereof I have no experience,
Thereof I have been asked to sing.

I am the innocent one asked to sin,
Without any foretaste of what I must commit.
I am just a beginner, untutored in the art,
My master himself is unrevealed to me.

Illuminate, and inspire me, O Lord.
Says Tuka, my time is running out.

I scribble and cancel it again

I scribble and cancel it again,
O heavenly critic, to pass your test.

I choose a word, only to change it,
Hoping to find one you’d like the best.

I beg your pardon again and again:
Lord, let not my words go waste.

Says Tuka, please, talk back at least
So that this poem will have something to say.

Where does one begin with you?

Where does one begin with you?
O Lord, you have no opening line
It’s so hard to get you started.

Everything I tried went wrong.
You’ve used up all my faculties.

What I just said vanished in the sky
And I’ve fallen on the ground again.

Says Tuka my mind is stunned:
I can’t find a word to say.

Some of you may say

Some of you may say
I am the author
Of these poems
Believe me
This voice
Is  not my own.

I have no
Personal skill.
It is
The cosmic one
Making me speak.

What does a poor fellow like me
Know of the subtleties of  meaning?
I speak what Govind¹
Makes me say.

He has appointed me
To measure it out.
The authority rests
With the Master;
Not me.

Says Tuka, I’m only the servant.
All this bears
The seal of his Name.

1.Govind (“Lord of cows”) is an epithet of Krishna, a form of the creator god Vishnu.

To arrange words

To arrange words
In some order
Is not the same thing
As the inner poise
That’s poetry.

The truth of poetry
Is the truth
Of being.
It’s an experience
Of truth.

No ornaments
A crucible.
Fire reveals
Only molten

Says Tuka
We are here
To reveal.
We do not waste

When my father died

When my father died
I was too young to understand;
I had not to worry
About the family then.

Vithu,¹  this kingdom is Yours and mine.
It’s not the business of anyone else.
My  wife died:
May she rest in peace.
The Lord has removed
My attachment.

My children died:
So much the better.
The Lord has removed
The last illusion.

My mother died
In front of my eyes
My worries are all over
Says Tuka.

Born a Shudra, I have been a trader

Born a Shudra, I have been a trader
This deity comes to me like a sacred heirloom.

I am unable to say any more, but O saints,
I shall honour my pledge to answer your question.

I was extremely miserable as a householder
Ever since both my parents died.

Famine reduced me to penury, I lost my honour.
I had to watch one of my wives starve to death.

Ashamed of myself, I suffered great anguish
To find my business in ruins.

The shrine of my deity had fallen apart
And I felt like restoring it first.

In the beginning, I used to perform keertan¹ there.
On the day of ekadashi², my untutored way.

I had learnt some sayings of the saints by rote
And I reproduced them with reverence and faith.

I would join the chorus that followed the lead singers,
I would sing the refrain with a pure heart.

I was never ashamed of following the saints.
The dust of their feet was sacred to me.

I worked hard so that my body could endure more.
I helped others as much as I could.

I was so weary of the ways of the world.
That I spurned all advice given by my friends.

I made my own mind the sole judge of truth.
Rejecting the popular view of life.

I followed the guidance that my Guru gave me in a dream.
I held fast to the name of God.

After a while I was inspired to write poetry
As my mind grasped Vithoba’s feet.

I was denounced and assailed some time later
And it hurt my mind.

So I drowned all my manuscripts, appealing to God
To restore them if I was true and Narayan satisfied me.

If I went into all these details
It would take too long; so I stop here.

Now I am exactly what I seem to you all.
God alone knows what the future is going to be.

I have understood one thing : that Narayana
Never lets down his devotees.

Says Tuka, my only assets in this world are
The poems that Pandurang made me speak.

1.Congregational singing in praise of Vitthal.
2. Eleventh (ekadashi) day of the month. ***

David Damrosch
General Editor

Volume C
The Early Modern Period

Jane Tylus
David Damrosch

with contributions by
Pauline Yu
Sheldon Pollock

Excerpts from The Longman Anthology Of World Literature

Editors Note:
Recognizing that different sorts of works have counted as literature in differing times and places, we have taken an inclusive approach, centering on poems, plays and fictional narratives also including selections from rich historical, religious and philosophical texts that have been important for much later literary work. Nothing is included here , though simply to make a point: whether world-renowned or recently rediscovered, these are compelling works to read.
David Damrosch

Tukaram, who lived in western India in the early seventeenth century and wrote in the Marathi language, gave voice to the literary aspirations of many poets when he exclaimed, in one of his many confessional poems:
I have no
Personal skill.
It is
The cosmic One
Making me speak.

Translated by Dilip Chitre.

Tukaram was born to a family of landed peasants in a village in what is now Maharashtra state in central India. Famine and plague took his parents and one his wives before he was 20 , when he is said to have renounced the world. His highly individual poems are mostly written in the honor of Vishnu named Vitthal, worshipped in the village of Pandharpur in Maharashtra.