Indian Love Poetry, A.L. Dallapiccola (ed. & trans.)

Indian Love Poetry
Translated and edited by A.L. Dallapiccola

Publisher: The British Museum Press
Pages: 96 – including biographical notes and bibliography, plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Illustrated Poetry Collection


Love is widely celebrated in Indian poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or passionate and affectionate feelings between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children, family and friends. Although the literary forms and language may not be so familiar, the same themes reappear in many of today’s preoccupations with love and romance.

This attractive collection combines a selection of translations from various languages of the best of Indian poetry with illustrations drawn from some of the finest examples of art in the British Museum. With a brief introduction to the Indian poetic tradition and a short biographical note about each of the poets, this beautiful anthology is the perfect way to discover the treasures of Indian literature and art.

I picked this little book up a while ago when I went to a special exhibition of Indian art at the British Museum a couple of years ago. Because I’m actually rubbish at sitting down and reading poetry, however, it’s taken me this long to get round to reading it. Unfortunately the reason I’m rubbish at reading most poetry is because I don’t very often ‘get’ it, and normally sit there feeling slightly underwhelmed. This was, sadly, no exception.

There were a couple of poems here that I liked (mostly the more erotic ones so make of that what you will) but the majority of these left me feeling a bit uncultured for not liking them more. It didn’t help, of course, that I’m used to western forms of poetry and found a lot of this unfamiliar ground – several of the early poems didn’t even look like poetry to me, but read and looked more like a paragraph of vivid description. But still, that’s all problems with me and my perceptions and preconceived notions, I think, rather than the poetry or the book. Because it is a lovely little book, I found the introduction fascinating, several of the poems made me smile, and the illustrations – copies of Indian paintings and photographs of Indian sculptures, were absolutely gorgeous.

I think certain things about the book could have been formatted better – separating the descriptions more visibly from the poetry itself, providing translations of key words in footnotes rather than breaking the flow by putting them in [brackets], but those were editorial minor niggles. The collections of poems and art worked very well together and it’s a book I’m certain I’ll return to and idly flick through in the future and that some of the poems will grow on me if I don’t try to force myself on them – I certainly liked the sumptuous, lazy, sensuality a lot of them seemed to use and I do adore the illustrations – but for the moment it’s a book that, though fascinating and beautiful, didn’t really stand out or make me fall in love with Indian love poetry.

On a more positive note though! Silly things I did enjoy!

Favourite poem of the collection:

Biting my mouth in love play
since to talk would be to let go
my lord would speak only
with his hands.
– Kshetrayya

Not quite John Donne levels of sexy (Licence my roving hands, and let them go/Before, behind, between, above, below) but I kinda liked it.

Favourite line of the collection:

Listening to my moans as you touch certain spots,
The pet parrot mimics me, O how we laugh in bed!
– Kshetrayya

Almost makes it seem worth getting a parrot, just for the giggles. Then I remember that I hate parrots. And that it probably wouldn’t be so gigglesome when my mum heard it… maybe not such a great idea after all.


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Filed under Poetry, Reviews

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