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In many ways, Changanpuzha's Vazhakula exemplifies the core of Malayalam Romanticism which begins with the Great Trio and ends with the Late-Romantics




Romantic Poets

Among the Romantic poets who followed in the footsteps of the Great Trio, the most important figure was Nalappat Narayana Menon (1887-1955) whose poetic output was limited; from his early poetic phase, he shitfted his attention to criticism, pyschology, and ancient Indian philosophy; he also published translations from European writers. His best known poetic work, Kannunirthulli (Teardrop), is an elegy on the death of his wife. Written in a terse, lucid style, the poem is still popular as it possesses a rare nostalgic intensity and a new brand of metaphysical reflection. For a literature that thrived on glib invocations of fatalism, Nalappat's poetry opened up a new way of looking at the experience of suffering.

Two younger Late Romantics of equal importance, (both passed away early on in their careers) stand out: Changanpuzha (1914-48) and Idappally (1909-36). Ramanan, the former poet's Lycidas-like pastoral elegy about the latter's suicide at a young age continues to spawn generations of younger poets who freely exhibit their lofty idealism and passion of romantic suffering. Though Changanpuzha himself died at the age thirty-four, he left behind a large volume of intensely lyrical, romantic poetry. His Vazhakkula (A Stalk of Plantains), is a small poetic gem; the poet narrates the story of an untouchable tenant who nurtures a plantain tree in his backyard; their father's work enables the children to dream about the sweet nourishment the tree will render them when the fruit is ripe. But the landlord arrives. He claims the fruit. The fruit of the poor man's labors is snatched away because the rich landlord claimed ownership on the patch of land.

In many ways, Changanpuzha's Vazhakula exemplifies the core of Malayalam Romanticism which begins with the Great Trio and ends with the Late-Romantics: a profound sorrow about the human failure in acknowledging the dignity of all even though all individuals must face the certainty of death. This poetic knowledge emboldens the poet to speak for a revolution of the heart. Romantic poetry weakens with the death of Changanpuzha whom Vallathol outlived by a whole decade. Romanticism in Malayalam contributed greatly toward developing a native poetic voice which is modern, yet non-imitative of Western models.

Post-Romantic and Late-Romantic poets in general sought to strike a truly Malayalam note in their poetry. Among the dozens of poets who did hit the right note, the most important poet was G. Sankara Kurup. Writing in the 1950s and 1960s, Sankara Kurup attained a voice independent of the one set by Europeans. Kurup's collection of symbolist lyrics, Odakkuzhal (Bamboo Flute), won him the first Jnanpith Award in 1965, India's top literary honor.

Inspired more by Tagore than Wordsworth, G. Sankara Kurup played an important role as a poet of the Indian Independence movement, and he championed a poetry of humanism. He is probably the only poet of Kerala who is known as a bard of science, for he refers to the advancements in science in his meditations of the human potential, but his approach has to be understood as the beginnings of a postmodern sensibility, and the best example of this trend is his famous narrative poem, "The Master Carpenter", in which he uses a Kerala legend about a master carpenter's envy for his son who excels in the father's art; to give a postmodern spin to the Western notion of Oedipal story, the poet offers a vivid character study of a father who kills his rival in art, his own son.

The legacy of the poets of the first half of twentieth century (Kunjikuttan Thampuran, Rajaraja Varma, Kattakkayam, V.C. Balakrishna Panicker, K. V. Simon, the two Naduvath poets; Oravankara, Kundoor, K.C. Kesava Pillai) was enhanced by the poets of the post- Romantic period. Of the large number of the post-Romantics who have made significant contributions include Kadathanattu Madhavi Amma, Kunjiraman Nair, Balamani Amma, Idassery, Sister Mary Benigna, Mary John Koothattukulam, Palai Narayanan Nair, Vennikulam, Kuttipurath Kesavan Nair, Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, Olappamanna, Vayalar Rama Varma, Mathan Tharakan, Vailoppilli, Krishna Warrier, M. P. Appan, Nalankal Krishna Pillai, G. Kumara Pillai, O.N.V. Kurup, P. Bhaskaran, Kadavanadu Kuttikrishnan and others.



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Last Updated: December 11, 1998