TIME AND TIME AGAIN
A.K. Ramanujan is one of India’s finest English language poets. He is best known for his pioneering translations of ancient Tamil poetry into modern English. At the time of his death he was professor of linguistics at the University of Chicago and was recognized as the world’s most profound scholar of South Indian languages and culture. His interests included anthropology and folklore. These influenced his work as a craftsman of English. This poem represents the complex distillation of a lifetime of unusual thought and feeling.
Or listen to the clock towers
of any old well-managed city
beating their gongs round the clock, each slightly
off the others’ time, deeper or lighter
in its bronze, beating out a different
sequence each half-hour, out of the accidents
of alloy, a maker’s shaking hand
in Switzerland, or the mutual distances
commemorating a donor’s whim,
the perennial feuds and seasonal alliance
of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim—
cut off sometimes by a change of wind,
a change of mind, or a siren
between the pieces of a backstreet quarrel.
One day you look up and see one of them
eyeless, silent, a zigzag sky showing
through the knocked-out clockwork, after a riot,
a peace-march time bomb, or a precise act
Of nature in a night of lightnings.