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Eating Hunger: Selections from the Poems of Tukarama,
trans. J. Nelson Fraser and K.B. Marathe

Poems: Tuka On Tuka

Tuka tells his story

By caste I was a Sudra, I became a trader; this God from the first had been worshiped by my family. I ought not to talk of this, but since you have asked the question, I respect your speech, O saints! When my father and mother had finished their course, I was grievously harassed by the world. A famine used up my money, and took away my good name; one wife of mine died crying for food. I grew ashamed and was tormented by this grief; I saw that I was losing by my business. The temple of God which we had was in ruins; I resolved to do what occurred to me. I began by preaching and singing on the eleventh day; but at first my mind was not in practice. So I learned by heart some speeches of the saints, being full of resource and faith in them. When others sang first, I took up the refrain, purifying my mind by faith. I counted holy the water wherein the feet of the saints had been washed; I suffered no shame to enter my mind. I served others when the chance was given me, wearying out my own body. I paid no heed to friends who loved me, I was heartily sick of the world. I bade my own mind testify to the true and the false. I paid no heed to the voice of the crowd. I honored the instruction my teacher gave me in a dream, I believed firmly in God's name. After this the impulse of poetry came upon me; I embraced in my spirit the feet of Vitthoba. A blow fell upon me: I was forbidden to write; thus for awhile my spirit was grieved. My pages were sunk in the river; I sat down like a creditor; Narayana comforted me. If I told all the story, the tale would be long; it would grow too late, so enough of it now. You see now my present purpose; my future course God knows. God never neglects his worshiper; I have learned that he is merciful. Tuka says, This is all my capital, I utter the verses which Panduranga bids me utter.

I merely utter a song

I have no faith myself; I merely utter a song to adorn the world; but do thou, O Savior of the sinful, make true my words! I call myself thy servant, but in my spirit dwell passion, and worldly hope. Tuka says, I assume the outer garb but within me I have nothing at all like it.

I am guilty

I am desolate and guilty, void of good actions, slow in understanding; I have never sent thee any word of mine, O sea of mercy, my father and mother. I have never sung or listened to thy praises. Through shame I have turned from my own true welfare. When the saints are assembled, I delight not in thy story. I have often slandered others. I have neither done nor procured good deeds. I harassed others without compassion. I have dwelt in unlawful traffic. I took on me the burden of a family. I have neglected to visit holy places. I have devoted hand and foot to the service of my body. I have offered thy saints neither service nor gift; I have neither worshiped nor looked upon thy image; I have fallen into evil company, unjust and impious acts; I have forgotten to seek my true welfare; my conduct I would wish to forget and speak no more. I have destroyed myself. I have been an enemy to all my neighbors. But thou art a sea of mercy; O carry me over to the end, says Tuka.

What am I to do?

When I was at ease, I took a rope and tied it round my neck myself. Now what am I to do? I am fast bound; I cannot stir forwards or backwards. I finished all my means; I ran into debt; I left my field unweeded; I starved my wife and children. I plundered many people's houses; I could not save myself, whatever I did. Tuka says, We must give up desire; we must cast it away altogether.

I have opened a fine shop

I have laid up a stock of goods and opened a fine shop; whatever you want, whenever you want it, here it is ready to hand. I have honestly distinguished articles good, bad and indifferent. Tuka sits in his shop and displays wares corresponding to the price offered.

You need not burn the boat

I have shown men a path according to the authority I received. To each has been shown a path according to his capacity; he will learn to know it as he follows it. You need not burn the boat when you have reached the shore; many will depend on it hereafter. Tuka says, If the physician is ill, he will never heal mankind.

It is well

It is well, O God, that I became bankrupt, and was crushed by the famine; this is how I repented and turned to thee, so that the world became odious to me. It is well that my wife was a scold, that I was dishonored, and lost my good name, my wealth and my cattle; it is well that I did not fear people's opinion, but sought thy protection, O God; it is well that I built up thy temple and neglected my wife and children. Tuka says, It is well that I fasted on the eleventh day, for so I kept myself awake.

I have given up faith

I have become skillful in my own conceit; I have given up faith for idle self-satisfaction; thereafter that I should waste my time is a small thing; lust and rage have come to dwell in me. The world is full of faults; the spirits of men persist in envy. Tuka says, I shall admonish mankind, but I am not free from a single fault myself.

I have kept myself far from me

Seeing nothing I have seen all; I have become one with all men, because I have kept myself far from me. Receiving nothing I have received all; I have found feet for my limbs. Eating nothing I have been fed, my tongue has tasted a sweet savor. Though I speak not I am as one that speaks, making manifest the secret of my life. Tuka says, I have not heard with my ears, yet it has come into my mind.

I have begotten myself

I have entered into my own womb; I have begotten myself. My prayers are fulfilled: all desires have vanished. I have become stout and strong in the very moment when I died. Tuka looks round him and finds himself unchanged.

Tuka solicits a gift

Everywhere it is written that the world itself is a beggar! The lord of the world is awake; put some faith in him! Adore, all of you, the only protector of your fields; bring a few leaves and fruit and flowers and water. I wandered long before I reached this city; take no hard task upon yourselves; good deeds and piety are the essential thing. Tuka solicits a gift; O give it with your whole heart.

The internal house

Today the Lord of the senses has come to visit my house. What can I do to serve him? My hut is disordered and broken. I have a handful of spoiled grain seething in water; broken cots with blankets spread on them for mattresses. I have leaves of tulsi to clean the mouth with; I am a feeble man, says Tuka.

Tuka's inadequacy

I feel ashamed when men honor me, for I have no such experiences. I am like a measure worn out in measuring; cursed be this dignity that brings me no true gain! A thorn is a delicate thing, and its point is sharp; but its grace is external, it is hollow within. The paint on a picture looks truly fine; but it is just a lifeless show. Tuka says, O God, methinks I am lost, for I have known no experience of thee.

Let me go though I lose my soul

Now I shall look for the way to my parents house; let my business fall into confusion; it is welcome to do so. What can I do? I can find no peace; I have suffered much and long. My household torments me; my heart is blown upon by many gusts, it longs to see its own. Let me go though I lose my soul, says Tuka; I have seized upon God, my faith has triumphed.

Am I not ashamed to write poems?

Am I not ashamed to write poems any more? The princes of devotion will laugh at me. A day for decision has now arrived; without experience of the truth a man forgets its savor. With experience of the truth who would be so sinful? Ineffectual plans bring shame on a man. Tuka says, I cannot be patient any more; my soul is unsettled within me.

The shame of the poor

Who is there to feel ashamed of me? Says Tuka; no one save He who is ever the helper of the poor.

On poverty

Here our poverty is an ornament upon us, our gourd, our blanket and our begging sound. It is a priceless treasure we pass in, a mind perpetually at peace. Our mansion is a hovel full of holes, our tenantry are mice, but our wealth is the name of God. Tuka says, In my last hour I would fain be alone; this is why I dwell apart from the world.

Tuka's lord adorns him

My mind is turned poet; God's praises flow through my mind like a cataract. There is a road marked out before me; my own nature leads me to follow it. I sing God's excellent deeds, a theme ever new and ready to hand; I shape it as I please. I stand forward in the sight of all; I lead an army of bards that follow me. I speak out when he commands me, rendering willing service. There rains down on me a flood of satisfying gifts from his hand that stills all fear. Tuka's lord adorns him with words that he himself inspires.

A spring of butter

My poems are not minted coins, yet good people accept them. They are indeed a spring welling up with butter; it will do you good to eat it. Tuka says, God drove me violently forward; a great inspiration came upon me.

The need to be bold

Why should I feel shy? I have laid aside hesitation and opened my mouth. Here, on earth, no notice is taken of a dumb creature; no real good can be secured by over-modesty. Such words as occur to me I address to my lord; I embolden my soul and pass straight on. Tuka says, O mind of mine, you have to wrestle with the powerful; slap your thighs and stand forward.