Couplets from the Thirukkural


The Thirukkural is a collection of 1,330 short Tamil poems dating sometime to tthe turn of the first millennium. Although it became globally famous in the 18th century (possibly as part of post-colonial Indomania?), it now seems known only regionally; or at least, I had never even heard of it until I heard it mentioned in a Tamil movie.

Here are some of my favorites, translated by Kannan and with small changes made for flow:

Only those who don’t listen to their baby’s sweet babble
will claim that a flute or harp sounds melodious. (66)

Before your tongue goes numb and you let out your last breath,
make haste to do a good deed. (335)

There exists this stupendous beauty called compassion;
and therefore, the world exists. (571)

We give each other
Such distant looks
Like we’re strangers.
Only lovers
Can do that. (1099)

The five senses of
Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch
Come alive
Only with this girl
Of gleaming bangles. (1101)