Vaidehi “Vi” Herbert will tell you she is not a poet or a language scholar. She is simply passionate and disciplined.
Herbert has dedicated the last three years to studying Tamil, one of the classical languages of India, and translating hundreds of ancient Sangam poems from her second language into English. She is originally from Tamil Nadu, located in southern India, where the language has official status.
“No other scholar in Tamil Nadu or from other countries have translated this volume of literature,” Dr. Rukmani Ramachandran, Herbert’s teacher and an assistant professor of Tamil at Queen Mary’s College in Chennai, wrote in an email. “Her passionate love for Sangam poetry knows no bounds.”
The Sangam genre of poetry dates from approximately 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. There are 18 Sangam Tamil books containing 2,381 poems written by 473 poets, 102 of whom remain unknown.
So far, Herbert has translated approximately 1,800 of those poems into English, with plans to complete the remainder over the next year. She has co-authored three books with Rukmani, with five more in the works and has set up more than 20 websites dedicated to teaching Sangam.
“This is something I am doing with passion,” she said. “I spend, on average, 13 to 15 hours per day.”
Herbert’s goal is simple — to share the beautiful poetry with the world.
In her “Introduction to Sangam Literature,” Herbert writes that the poems are “delightful in language and thought, scant in lines but rich in content and filled with human emotions intertwined with the natural elements found in the Tamil country.”
To put it simply, Sangam is “ancient, secular landscape and love poetry,” Herbert says.
“About 75 percent of the literature is love and nature poetry,” she said. “In every poem plants, trees, flowers, animals, mountains, streams, ocean, etc. are used as metaphors and similes. Human emotions are brought out through the nature of nature.”
Via Charles Tiayon