Brief  bio-data:

Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu, was born on 15 August 1915 in Ceylon, and died on 23 June 1983 in London. Poet, short story writer, essayist, critic, editor, and publisher. Published only in English. After breaking off his studies in Botany at Colombo, he turned up in London in 1938, and at the age of 23 launched Poetry London (1939-49), a magazine devoted to poems and critique; and which remained a cynosure of literary activity during the War years. He later edited Poetry London-New York (1956-60) from New York, and finally Poetry London-Apple Magazine (1979-82) in London. He was the moving force behind two publishing houses: Editions Poetry London and Lyrebird Press. His publications include: Out of this War (Poems), London:1941; Edited: Poetry in Wartime, London: 1942; India Love Poems, London: 1977; and an India number of Poetry Chicago. Co-edited: T.S.Eliot: A Symposium, London: 1948.


Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu
"A Prince Among Poets"
1915 - 1983

Dr. T. Wignesan, Editor: The Asianists' Asia     
Centre de Recherches sur les Etudes Asiatiques,
B. P. 90145, 94004
Créteil Cedex, France
[first published in the Journal of Eelam Studies,
London), Fall, 1989, pp. 34-61. © T.Wignesan 1989  ]

Prefatory Note:  "Apart from the festschrift, Tambimuttu: Bridge between Two Worlds1 and the five-volume Cass edition of Poetry London 2 in which are to be found extracts of Tambimuttu's only collection of poems published in the West 3 and other loose poems and critical pieces and excluding the over forty publications of the Editions Poetry London and Lyrebird Press which though important are extraneous to his image, or output, as a poet and critic, the rest of what he wrote: five short stories, scripts of talks, prefaces, etc., are extremely difficult to come by.

His only daughter, Shakuntala, does not even possess a copy each of all his work. Besides, Tambimuttu himself confesses on page 274 of the festschrift that "a parcel of my most valuable possessions (correspondence, my collection of unpublished poems, short stories and other manuscripts... ") was delivered to the offices of British Eagle Airways in New York the very day it went bankrupt and shut down. He does not tell us why it was lost, why he did not keep copies and what in actual fact he lost. Tambimuttu's literary impact is mainly rooted in the forties.

Any assessment of his literary influence must necessarily weigh in the balance 'Poetry London' against all other reviews and publications, dating from the early thirties. I have neither the time nor the vocation for this sort of exercise which seems to interest the majority of the Tamils or Indians with whom I have had the occasion of bringing up his name. They do not seem to be interested in his writing, only his renown and high connections.

As Tambimuttu was/is a controversial figure, it is quite conceivable that those who loved him, admired him, or benefited from his publishing largesse would claim for him a lion's share in the development of contemporary English poetry, those who were or are indifferent to his achievement may not be bothered to react one way or the other, whereas those who did not quite like him, those who were offended by his over-exuberant nature, or those who were not favoured by his literary and/or Fitzrovian patronage might revel in his being set aside as having had anything to do at all with English literature.

I do not really think there are many Tamils who have read Tambimuttu, but then nearly all Ceylonese Tamils would certainly, naturally, wish to bask in his reflected glory, if this could be deftly brought about and this is the rub. On this score, I'm not particularly bothered. What I have to say here I say after due reflection, and even compassion, for a fellow poet and critic. If I'm able to obtain all his creative writings, I shall try to do another article, later on. [ See my article on his poetry entitled: “Tambimuttu: Poet, Critic, Editor/Publisher” in Lanka: Studies in Lankan Culture, 6 (Uppasala University), December 1991, pp. 22-31:, I am primarily concerned with the man and his poetics."

Tambimuttu's life if it were to be written down in all its minute details would certainly, I would wager, read like a fairy tale, a tale of a princely charmer with a charmed life, charming charmable and charming people in a charmed kingdom called "Fitzrovia" which, Tambimuttu, of course, invented and discovered all in one instant, three days after his arrival in London, from a faraway Emerald Isle, early in 1938.

Hardly a year after, the first number of
Poetry London, delayed a month because the type was accidentally spilt in the Women's Printing Society of Brick Street, Piccadilly, made its appearance to applause from Dylan Thomas and Thomas Stearns Eliot, and while Tambimuttu's charms were flowing out of Crystal Palace TV Station, a spell spun itself over London, for at least a decade, until he threw a tantrum one September day in 1949 and the magic wand that procured him funds waved no more in his favour. The spell was broken, and try and try as he may, he never quite found the magic again to rule over his lost kingdom, this descendant of the last king of Jaffna, Cankili II (1616-20), who had already lost his isthmus-sized kingdom to the Portuguese in 1619, never to be regained by any of his descendants.

The trouble with Tambimuttu was that if he had had the good sense to disappear, for instance, into the Himalayas after he had stormed out of the Poetry London offices at 26, Manchester Square in September 1949, he might have achieved what he had vainly sought after for the rest of his life, that is, ensure a lasting reputation of a
Lord Byron and a Dylan Thomas rolled into one, or, alternatively, if he had remained in either India or Ceylon where he had then gone to look for funds, he would have certainly electrified literary activity in the sub-continent instead of leaving it to lesser men in Bombay and Calcutta, while he might have also added to his image as a poet by emulating T.S. Eliot, his early 'forties idol and patron.

All the evidence in the festschrift seems to point in this direction: his first eleven years in London had already made him over into a legend. He was a dreamer, a poet and an artiste-printer, the only self-chosen metiers he had raised himself on, and he chased after a dream of being lionised in the then English literary metropolises: London and New York and fell just tragically short of it. No one comes as near to describing the fall as Grover Amen.

`This is madness,' I said. `You're not Thoreau. You're a crazy drunken con artist, and if you don't have enough to drink, you shake all over and get the DTs. I've heard you babbling about birds on your shoulder when you ran out of booze. You're sick as a dog. You can't function right in the world. You're a lost soul, a misfit. Come off it. Where do you get off giving us this spiritual baloney about living by trust and faith? You can't even piss straight after a few drinks.'4

I agree this is very harsh quoting from perhaps the most critical piece in the festschrift, except for some passages from
Mulk Raj Anand, Bob Kingdom or even Helen Irwin. It has to be done if we are at all to understand the man. It is of some importance to us, Tamils, since he has had the effect of a sort of irresolvable enigma, some undecipherable alter ego, or more importantly, of serving as a focal point to the complex morass of relations with the colonial metropolitan Judeo-Christian culture: English as an intellectual language of prestige and the question of literary dependence or independence with the passing of colonial rule, etc.

Enigmatically, none of these questions have been resolved for the ex-colonial, much less even thought of as a priority if you think of the eagerness with which Asians flock around some Commonwealth literature conference in the hope of an aura of metropolitanism (hence authoritative blessing) rubbing off on them. This is why Mulk Raj Anand's remarks in the festschrift interview with Jane Williams are quite incisive though his blockbuster analysis by lumping all kinds of Asians together fails to drive home his point.

“JW: ...when he arrived in London he was confronted with the effects on himself of his own upbringing, where the English dominated Ceylonese culture so much.(...)

MRA: (...) He took no part, for instance, in the freedom struggle of Sri Lanka that was going on. Nor did his friend Subramaniam. These poets were mainly concerned to become brown Englishmen. Tambi was already one. I think why he was not aware of the slavery in the Empire was because his own people were fairly well off. They themselves had been used to having slaves. And they faced the dilemma of the patriarchal order, as Coomaraswamy, who was another Ceylon man.(...) So they clung to the cliché of Eastern thought in terms of God determining fate.”5

Only a few pieces, mainly from Bob Kingdom, Helen Irwin, Fred Lewis, Susanne English and Grover Amen, give us a more intimate view of the man. No money or time to buy toilet rolls, or an overcoat, though he clung on to word processes and the like right up to his last days, and always ready to buy any one a meal or a pint if he had the money, even if the cash was a donation for a publication. And always, if he liked the man, ready to publish poems, even if there was no money in sight or even if he did not know where the next meal was to come from. For poets and poetry he was always prepared to beg, in a prince-like manner, of course. And he failed to exercise greater care with other people's funds through his runaway ideas of clothing poetry in plush regal garbs. From what Gavin Ewart, his production manager with Editions Poetry London, has to say in a letter in The London Magazine 6 it would seem he was feckless, irresponsible, forever on to women in a drunken spree, and downright careless with other people's manuscripts. Even in his heyday in the forties, we get the impression of a wayward child, lost but charged with a mission.

"I'm fighting to achieve stillness in myself. Then I shall be able to produce something good. T.S. Eliot says I'm going to be a great poet. I could have cried when he said that. He's so kind. He's like a father to me. Sometimes I suffer dreadfully. You have no idea how I live. Such loneliness. No home, no one to belong to. But I have to go through all this. I have to suffer life so as to understand life. One day perhaps all the people in the world will be chanting my poems. Perhaps one day I shall be a saint." 7

Tambimuttu was better known to some of the leading European and American writers and painters and sculptors of this century than certainly to the average Ceylonese or Indian, or even to his own kinsmen. This is not surprising when we see that he spent practically all his adult days in London, New York and thereabouts. Before we begin to inform ourselves of his personality, an essential exercise for a better understanding of his role mainly as a promoter of poetry in the above metropolises, we need to, at least have an idea of the itinerary of his life. He moved about a lot, even while he was in the same city or country, often without a fixed address or a regular job. Not that this might shed greater light on his thoughts, critical judgement or philosophy, but, in the final analysis, it might reveal to us the motivations behind his driving force, for he was indeed considered by almost everyone who knew him as being endowed with a verve for encouraging and influencing all those whom he even chanced upon. Of course, there were quite a few from whom he recoiled at first sight. He had his full share of manias and excuses, too.

Let us then put together the main events of his life, culled mainly from the dispersed details in the festschrift, a biography of his grandfather8 and other published accounts and letters. But, before we do this, there is one point which more than ever needs to be clarified, and that is, his royal descent. Tambimuttu apparently flaunted this to great advantage in the select artistic milieu in which he hobnobbed with the famous and the rich and in which he was so obviously welcomed as an exotic prince from a faraway kingdom as mysterious and splendorous as Xanadu, which says reams for those who unquestioningly worshipped him and willingly enthroned him as the "Prince of Fitzrovia".

Fitzrovia was the name Tambimuttu gave a "mythical" chain of pubs, nightclubs, apartments, galleries, literary and publishing offices, from what we can gather, all over London where the "subjects" actually drank nothing but bitter beer and led a Bohemian existence, first exemplified by Charles Haddon Redvers Gray who wrote occasional poems, "jottings in a schoolboy script, flagrantly romantic and almost illiterate", according to Tambi.

“I was most surprised to hear that this first-ever English Bohemian I had met, my introduction to Fitzrovia, was also a qualified solicitor who had inherited his father's law practice in the City.” 9

One might quibble about where this mythical kingdom suddenly raised its Gondwanian literary masthead: in the late thirties around Queens Square? Fitzroy Place? Howland Street or the Wheatsheaf Tavern in Rathbone Place? But it is more than likely that it was his life-style that Tambi wanted it to commemorate. Tambimuttu claimed descent from the “last” King of Jaffna, Pararajasekharan VI (1478-1519), 10 which is itself an error if we are to judge from a genealogical chart of his brother Paulinus included in his grandfather, S. Tambimuttu Pillai's biography, which, in turn, names Don Constantine (1515-1619) as the last king of Jaffna, a brotherly but significant and telling error.

For Tambimuttu, the telling error was not due so much to his lack of scholarly rigour as to an act of faith with him, an act of self-purification, or, more precisely, an act of revolt against the colonial Portuguese aggressors who had reduced the last King of Jaffnapatham, Cankili11, to the ultimate humiliation - forced conversion to Catholicism. Tambimuttu may not have been a political activist or a freedom fighter, but, we shall see as we progress along with our analysis of his life, he was an uncompromising rebel, a man who wanted above all his independence not only for his poetic ideal of a "co-axial literature", attested  by his refusal to be dictated to in whatever he did (perhaps the reason why he did not, or would not, accept regular salaried employment, the very reason too why he would not continue with PL under Richard March's increasing interference and supervision in 1949).

His was also an intrinsically psychological revolt at a time when his country of origin was becoming independent. Instinctively, he must have seen himself as a victim of the sixteenth century Portuguese and what they stood for even in modern times, and his “princely” nature would not allow for the ultimate humiliation of his ancestors, that Catholic taint in his lineage. Most of the mourners at his funeral were more than surprised to hear the officiating priest refer to Tambi as "Mary James" (he was baptised Meary James), though Anthony Dickins asserts in The London Magazine 11 that he was known to his close friends and family as "Jim". From what I can gather from the signed articles, he never used his Christian names, and later on, suddenly came out with his Tamil patronymic: Thurairajah. He was known to everyone at large as "Tambi", which in Tamil means "little brother" (younger brother).

Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu was born on 15 August 1915, the second son of six brothers and a sister, to Mary Ponnammah and Henry T. Tambimuttu. He lost his mother when he was sixteen, a key factor in his makeup for he was, if we are to believe the accounts in the festschrift, forever evoking the mother in most women he met and cultivated and who, in turn, willingly mothered him, to the extent of protecting him in pubs or of even giving him a bath some mornings at the PL offices: Helen Irwin scrubbed his back in the green bathroom at 26, Manchester Square every time she felt the "pong" of his unchanged shirt called for it, though she was never Tambi's lover.

And then, there were the Shaw-Lawrences, his adopted English family, and one thinks immediately of Jean-Jacques Rousseau whose mother died giving birth to him in Geneva which he leaves at sixteen on his peregrinations and finds in the hospitality of Madame de Warens at Charmettes the only period of peace he always longed for. Henri Tambimuttu was the son of S. Tambimuttu Pillai, glorified as a great savant, the "Grand-father of the Stone House", who like the maternal grandfather, was descended from the Jaffna kings. Whether this is true or not is a moot point. The important thing is that Tambi believed in it, and this very probably was crucial in shaping his behaviour and life-style.

That there were probably untold number of families with equal claim to the lineage, or that the Jaffna kingdom, a not-too-continental one, which had its origins in the 13th century in the person of Vijaya Kulankaic Cakravartti, was virtually wiped out by the Portuguese following a revolt against King Cankili II, organised by a Christian group of Tamils, in August-September 1618, did not seem to bother Tambi whose father had to work for a living in the government printery at Colombo and whose brother had to sell a gold medal he won in an elocution contest in order merely to see the insides of a university.

According to the biography of Tambi's grandfather, which takes for its sources the Yalpana Vaipava Malai and Yalpana Vaipava Kaumuthi, King Pararajasekeram VI had two sons who eventually became Catholics for different reasons. Prince Paranirupasingham, son of his second wife, Valliammai, was the heir apparent, and the anecdote goes like this. Prince “Sankily”, born to one of the king's concubines, Mangathammal, accompanied his father on a pilgrimage to Kumbakonam in South India, where he was thrown into prison for bad behaviour, and the father met the same fate for wanting to deliver his son. Prince Paranirupasingham, on hearing of such outrageous conduct on the part of a Chola king, promptly declared war on the Chola monarch, trounced him in battle and brought back to Jaffna his father and step-brother. The grateful father then settled his property on the valiant son.

According to other historians, the Portuguese who were, in the meantime, in the process of subjugating the southern Sinhalese kingdoms (Kotte, Sitavaka, Udarata) and converting their monarchs, with the exception of the Kandyan court which resisted heroically, sent their missionaries to Mannar in the north where they had had some success. The Tamil kings retaliated in a fashion that drove the Portuguese to engage in two punitive but abortive attempts to quell the Tamil nation, in 1560 and in 1591. It took a final operation in 1619, with the help of pro-Portuguese Christian Tamils, to bring Jaffnapatam (Jaffna peninsula and Vanni) under Portuguese sway.

“One of the key factors in the success of the Portuguese in Jaffnapatam in 1619-21 was the presence of a pro-Portuguese Christian minority at Jaffna. During and after the conquest this minority provided a source of strength in Jaffna, which may well have tipped the scales in favour of the Portuguese on crucial occasions.” 12

Very probably Tambi inherited the pride of these Hindu kings who dared stand up against the hated and unconscionable Portuguese.

To continue the Tambimuttu Pillai biography version, Prince Paranirupasingham, a compassionate and cultivated man, was also an adept Ayurvedic physician. The Kandyan monarch's queen was suffering from an acute colic that refused to respond to traditional treatment. So, the Sinhalese king (Jayavira,1511-52 (?)) sought the intervention of Paranirupasingham who set out, without tarrying, on that mission of mercy. In his absence, “Sankily” lost no opportunity in usurping the throne, one of the games princes play in those days for want of something better to do, and, for some reason, which is not clear from the biography, Paranirnpasingham on his return went away to India to become a Catholic. Here the story gets somewhat mixed up for we are told, Paranirupasingham bequeathed his lands, particularly nine districts, to his son, Prince Pararajasingham, who, in turn, distributed them among his seven sons and daughter, as follows:

1. Nallur and Kalliyankadu to Allakanmai Valla Mudali, who therefore resided in the palace at Nallur,
2. Mallakam to Thanabalasimka Mudali,
3. Sandiruppai to Vettivelayutha Mudali,
4. Arali to Visaya Theiventhira Mudali,
5. Atchuvely to Thidaveerasinka Mudali,
6. Udupiddi to Santhirasekara Mappana Mudali,
7. Kachchai to Irayaredna Mudali, and
8. Mathagal to daughter, Princess Vetavalli. 13

Now this is where the Tambimuttus enter. A second daughter of one of their ancestors, Varithamby Arachiyar of Manipay (in the seventeenth century an important cultural centre) married Kulasegara Mudaliyar, the great grandson of King Pararajasekeram (1478-1519), ( a king who consolidated his power from foreign and internal interference) and thus inherited the village of Atchuvely. S. Tambimuttu Pillay who married Anne Gardiner was from this village. This is the Tambimuttu royal connection as far as I am able to make sense of this badly constituted and muddled biography.

The Paulinus Tambimuttu genealogical chart and other semi-historical narratives in the biography do not make the connection, however, between Thidaveerasinka Mudali and Kulasegara Mudaliyar, unless the latter was his son. The chart however connects Tambimuttu's grandmother to Princess Vetavalli's daughter. All this is very interesting, but then, we are confronted with another one of the gaping lapses in this story from the biography.

“In 1619, the Portuguese captured the Jaffna kingdom and took the king Sankili Kumaran and the queen as hostages and brought them to Goa. Similarly, the 7-year old Crown Prince who was the son of the last king of Jaffna, Pararasasegaran VIII, two princesses and the Prince's brother in-law were also taken to Goa. There Sankili Kumaran was killed, other members of the royalty were entrusted to the care and protection of the convents. All the other Princes and Princesses, who were connected to the Royal Family, were first sent to Colombo and were converted to Roman Catholicism. After the conversion, they returned to Jaffna and went and lived in their respective villages which were given to them as grants. Their descendants were known as Madapali Vellalars and their villages known as Rasa Madapali or Kumara Madapali. Madapali is a Royal village in Kalinga, North India.” 14

All this is very complicating. Who was the last king of Jaffna? Don Constantine or Pararasasegaran VIII? According to a recent history of the island by K.M. de Silva, who was assisted in this respect by Dr.S. Pathmanathan, there were two kings of Jaffnapatam with the same name: Sankili I (1519-61) and Sankili II (1616-20) and the Portuguese Captain General of the island then was Constantino de Sa de Noronha (1618-20). Sankili II was Sankili Kumara, nephew to the last king, Ethirimanna Cinkam, who died in 1615.

Sankili Kumara promptly seized power by killing off all the princes of the blood except the legitimate three-year-old heir, and the Portuguese were forced to recognise Sankili as regent as they were being plagued by another formidable Sinhalese rebel, Nikapitiye Bandara, in the south, but when they refused to come to Sankili's aid against a rival backed by a rebellious lot of Christian Tamils, Sankili appealed to the Nayak of Tanjore in India who quelled the rebellion. Sankili then made every effort, including siding with the Dutch, to oust the Portuguese from the island, but somehow, with the aid of local Christian Tamil groups, including nobles, the Portuguese Captain General Constantino de Sa managed to conquer Jaffnapatam in 1619, followed by two major campaigns to wipe out pockets of resistance, and put an end to the kingdom of Jaffnapatam by taking Sankili Kumara prisoner to Colombo. 15

The above analysis has relevance to our discussion of Tambimuttu since he himself placed great faith in his brother Paulinus' research into these matters. Tambi told Fred Lewis in New York that the Welsh and the Dravidians were brothers.

"The Dravidians sailed the west coast of Britain three thousand years before Christ. Dravidian-Druid-same thing. My brother Singam studies all this. He has done for twenty years.' A little smile ran across his face. `Writing a book about it.'

"Where is he a professor?"
'Not a professor,' he said with faint distaste. `He works by day - British Civil Service - and writes at night.'” 16

Tambi's father, Henry Tambimuttu, took his family to Malaysia when Tambi was only a few years old. The family probably included his sister, Josephine, and six brothers: Francis; Paulinus, Augustine, Joseph and Crysanthus. The father worked as an assistant editor with the Malaya Tribune in Kuala Lumpur. Whether Tambi went to school over there is not known, but we are certain that he attended the Jesuit St. Joseph's College in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, where (or perhaps in Atchuvely?) Henry set up a printing press. Later all the brothers attended a school at Darley Road. At seven, due to ill-treatment at the hands of an over-zealous maths teacher, he managed to obtain his father's consent not to attend that school.

“Whenever he wished to punish a boy, he asked him to hold out a palm and then rapped it with the edge of a foot-rule. I had often been his victim ...(...). He made me feel very uncomfortable with his large, black, moist eyes, his coaxing, insinuating speech and the moist look of his mouth. There was something subterranean and pleading about him which terrified me. I had often felt that he wished to take me aside to have a private conversation and he had time and again suggested a visit to his house which I took pains to avoid or sneak past quickly.”17

Henry then decided to take his children to Colombo where they were all enrolled in the "premier catholic school", which, according to Anthony Dickins, was also St.Joseph's. Some of the most poignant memories of Tambi date from this period in Trincomalee, his first contact with Europeans, his friend Major Graham who introduced him to books by G.A. Henty, and above all, his Hindu childhood friend, Suppiah, his first contact with that inner cultural inheritance that was to win him over quite completely in his last years, the friend who gave him "a tiny -bronze statuette of Ganesha", the first intriguing object of fascination with his Hindu ancestry.

This was also the time when he felt the first and recurrent tugs away from his Catholic upbringing and the pursuit of his mystical Hindu self. Tambi records in "Swami Rock, Raga Rock" 18 early sentiments of this self-discovery, of which the colonial and Catholic West formed the antithetical tastes and influences to shy away from and/or equally to be attracted to. He celebrates his search after and fascination for the legendary Hindu Shiva temple the Portuguese incorporated in their fortress, a 400-feet high temple that was supposedly built by a Tamil king from the Coromandel Coast at Swami Rock, situated in Fort Frederick.

“But Swami Rock was more fulvous and fulsome, more exciting. Its bare-chested priests [in contrast to the French Jesuits of his school], wearing the sacred triple thread, chanting into the wind's throat, on top of the high cliff, and showering flowers into the shuddering sea, were echoes from millennia ago when one of the six great linga, or phallus, temples, sacred to India and Lord Shiva, stood on this spot.”19

In school, they were taught to prepare for examinations set by the University of Cambridge and University of London, preparation that had to be based on textbooks prepared by the colonial master or Catholic missionary. His own Ceylonese background and history was a mystery to him, only to be recounted as after-dinner tales by ayahs, tales of his ancestors and their exploits.

“But in those days, this bit of history [of an ancestor, Pootha Tambi ]was only myth and legend, along with Swami Rock, and it gave me the split personality very early in life which was characteristic of Ceylonese and Indians in colonial times.” 20

In one way or another, this "split personality" condition hounded Tambi almost all his life, the split between his Catholicism and Hinduism, between his Englishness and/or Brown-Sahibness and the Hindu “princeliness”, between his yogic "guru-ness" and the alcoholism and/or drugs, the poet in him versus the intellectual and academic, the cult Bohemian and the craving after the Establishment's recognition, in short, Tambi never quite made the two split ends meet, and this is probably why he would remain a tragic figure in oriental memory.

In Colombo, the father was forced to sell his printery, the "Commercial Press" during the "depression" years, and he entered government service, having been finally placed in charge of the Confidential Branch of the Government Press. He died at the age of 84, in 1971, in Atchuvely where he had himself been trained as a journalist by his own father in their paper, called Sanmarkapothini or The Tribune. Tambi had himself learnt the art of printing his first three slim collections of poems on his father's press. There's absolutely no trace of the first two books, but the third, Tone Patterns, was dedicated to Miriam de Saram, née Pieris, with whom he was reputedly in love, after having fallen out of love with Audrey de Silva. Tambi also took part in all sorts of extra-curricular artistic activity at school. At the age of fourteen, he was living at Forbes Road, Colombo, and he never missed a film show with his cousin Anton, whose father, Sir Chittampalam Gardiner, owned nearly all the cinemas in the island. Tambi later won a scholarship to study botany at University College in Colombo„ but we are told "he couldn't collect his degree", which is, if I'm not mistaken, a way of saying that he did not get through his exams. No matter, since we note how he put to good use his knowledge of local flora and fauna in his autobiographical poem, "My Country, My Village".

“Around our house the mango shoots were pink
The big bassia dropped its blossom like snow.
The pomegranate spun its exciting wheel
Against the dropcloth of palmyra mink,
Between the oleander's and trumpet-lily's show
Pencil of grey areca nut, was a wire of steel. 21
All this was home, and we were self-contained,
Our fields provided grain, tobacco, shallots,
Garlic, pepper, bay-leaves, ginger, saffron,
Yams, greens, herbs, fruits, famed
For delicacy and flavour. The seas filled with pots
And nets, rang in the whole sea's kingdom.” 22

Except for the last four stanzas, which is presumably a rationalised extension, the poem projects in graphic detail the feeling of le mal du pays, tenderly reminiscent evocative detail in apt skeins of local colour which reveal how much Tambi needed these earlier formative idyllic years to sustain him through the hectic years as a promoter and publisher of poetry in London and New York, years when he hardly seemed to worry about where the next meal or pint came from. Here, too, are reasons for some to think of him as a naïf, a primitif or the archetype of the noble savage, though these attributes necessarily gave him the élan for penetrating all forms of sophistication later on.

At sixteen, Tambi composed songs, the period in Colombo when Tambi cemented a close friendship with his cousin Anton Gardiner, a friend who was to be replaced by Anthony Dickins, the organ scholar at Cambridge who studied conducting under Sir Henry Wood in London. Another Ceylonese friend, Alagu Subramaniam, the dashing barrister and writer, the very "substance" of Fitzrovianism, he got to know during his early drinking days in London. Dickins, the co-founder of Poetry London, was so taken up by Tambi's early poems and songs that he arranged to have one of his songs set in the old Eclipse record through a music publisher in Shaftesbury Avenue and which was sold at Woolworth's. Dickins also mentions in an article in The London Magazine that Tambi had had songs published in London even before he left Ceylon. Another, "The Hindu Love Song" with Day& Co. never saw the day "probably due to my indifference", says Tambi, and then, he makes a cryptic remark that is hard to decipher. "In England I was shedding part of what England had given me in Ceylon."23 Are we to conclude he was becoming less concerned about life while in England?

So, after dropping out of college, Tambi worked for a while at the Ratnapura Kachcheri and later at the Public Works Department in Colombo, and at the age of twenty-three, after having had an English school education (in Trincomalee, he would have been fined "1 cent" every time he spoke Tamil), proud of the fact that he could count among his relatives two famous uncles, Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, [Dr. Rama P., the latter’s only surviving son, refutes this lien), the late aesthetician-curator of Indian Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Jesuit lexicographer, Gnana Prakasar, a half brother to his father raised and educated by S. Tambimuttu Pillay, he set out on the Kashima Maru, a Japanese liner, armed with no particular skills, diplomas or funds, for London where he arrived in January 1938.

Tambi then began his love affair with London's literati as the "Prince of Fitzrovia" which lasted a full ten years. He even thought that 45, Howland Street where he moved in first may have possibly been the stopping place where Verlaine and Rimbaud conducted their turbulent romance. Through Redvers Gray, he met Anthony Dickins, his most faithful "subject" and a whole host of the young crop of poets and painters of the thirties and forties.

Eliot, according to Safia, thought he was already a great poet in the make. In this atmosphere of pending doom with Hitler menacing western Europe, here was a group of nonchalant Bohemian poets holding court in Soho pubs, presided over by Tambi. With only £10, he and Dickins managed to launch Poetry London and from then on Tambi had his ups and little downs, but he always seemed to be able to keep the magazine and himself afloat. According to some of the chroniclers in the festschrift, Tambi was in the habit of lazing around for long periods which were then punctuated by hectic activity, and so it would seem since PL surfaced only sporadically. Between 1943 and 1947, only one issue of the PL was brought out, but it was the bumper, new poets number, published in February 1945. In all, Tambi only edited fourteen issues, started the fifteenth .... and that was all, until the four numbers of Poetry London-New York (1956-1960) and the two numbers of Poetry London/Apple Magazine (1979 and 1982) made their appearance in a world of high fashion in publishing all sorts of erudite or avant-garde arty or glossy magazines. Peter Owen's piece in the festschrift makes this clear.

Tambi could not any more lay claim to the role of talent hunter or pioneer promoter of poetry in England. Eric Mottram, in a colossal coup, an Armageddon involving Britain's marginalised poets, took over the Establishment's Poetry Society Review and published for some seven years in the seventies what Tambi could never have dreamed of achieving because he was neither an informed academic nor a marginalised suppressed writer or poet. Today, Eric Mottram, elevated to the Chair of English and American Literature at King's College, London, has more than twenty volumes of highly-charged poetry à la William Burroughs that already belongs rightfully in the twenty-first century to his credit, not to mention a dozen or so ground-breaking critical works on English and American literature and culture.

It is when we compare the two poets and editors, Tambimuttu and Mottram, that we can truly divine to what extent Tambi was wanting in education and guts, guts to stick at a job like Mottram has been doing, teaching endless number of students, over the last forty years, at London University and on three continents. For Mottram recognition came late and is still to come from the kind of people who supported Tambimuttu. When Harvard University turned Tambi down for a post, it was as if the ground gave under him. Tambi's meagre output makes one wonder why he would have wanted to foster other poets' oeuvre. Was it power, and through it, admiration that he was looking for? He was a highly gifted man who could have made his own way as a poet and critic in the English language.

Besides, PL was not the only poetry magazine of the war years. There were others: Life and Letters Today, New Directions, Diogenes, Kingdom Come, Twice n Year, Voices, Partisan Review and so forth, and many of those appearing in the PL were published by the other magazines as well. True, Tambi had a knack of smelling out those who would make a name in the future: Dylan Thomas, Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne, George Barker, but were not their reputations, like a few others, assured by Tambi's own editing of the Editions Poetry London, the publishing firm he established in September 1947 and which published over forty books?

Yet some others who found their way into PL or EPL were already established figures like T.S. Eliot or Walter de la Mare, or those who were gaining more ground at that time: Herbert Read, Louis MacNiece, Stephen Spender, Laurence Durrell, etc. And yet others, W.B.Yeats, Henry Treece, Henry Miller, Salvador Dali, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Vladimir Nabokov and a few other greats did not need Tambi to make their impact, like Eliot, on his age. I'm not trying to belittle Tambi nor his really useful efforts. It goes without saying that he was - even if he was a bit careless with funds - endowed with exceptional entrepreneurial qualities, and as G.S. Fraser attests in his “Letter from London24, poets in the fifties moved about as if they had lost their guiding light.

Tambi's achievement with the PL and EPL was a remarkable tour de force in the times and circumstances in which it was pulled off. What it may have done to English poetry, whether it gave it the necessary fillip it was supposed to be in dire need of is another story. True, Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot were the first to praise him, but that was at the beginning, and, in any case, how is one to assess the impact of fourteen issues of PL in the wider perspective of a mainstream literature which has for its feeder rivers all the genres that make up the ocean of writing in English?

He did indeed get rather passionate about unearthing new writing, say, by a G.S. Fraser or a Keith Douglas, mainly through critical appraisals which demonstrated an innate talent even in this direction. His castigation of D.J. Enright, Britain's “incomparable conqueror" of PL-poets, although the latter praised Tambi's early poems shows to what extent Tambi was a man of his convictions. 25 On the other hand, Tambi's lack of a classical Indian scholarship lay at the root of his frustration, for he was never quite able enough to put across his ideal of a poetics which was more or less that of the Vedic seers.

If we are to believe Bhavani Torpy, and there is no reason why we should not, he seems to have finally/practically in the last days of his pitifully painful post-PL life, found it in the work of Shri Chinmoy, coming as a revelation to
him while watching the poet's play, The Son, in June 1983. Of course, he is not to blame for the crushing Catholic education and upbringing, and the meagre droppings of English culture that a colonial background would allow him in pre-war Ceylon, or for the strict avoidance of all that was ancestrally Hindu by his kinsfolk at Atchuvely or Trincomalee, but then, nothing stopped “his uncle”, Ananda Coomaraswamy, whose mother was English, from imbibing in the best possible way all the best that Hinduism and Buddhism could offer.

Tambi's frantic attempts to learn some Sanskrit from an Indian lady in Bombay - while she exercised herself - after his marriage to Safia, comes too late, pathetically. He sought in vain to embrace a form of Hinduism not in its yogic ethic but in a literary-philosophical poetique, a unique vehicle of challenge to centuries of Euro-American inculcation of a Judeo-Christian culture that he had had to imbibe as a child and eventually come to terms with as a writer, critic and poet. The question is if he had had an Oxbridge education in Eng.Lit., might he not have been content to continue the debate in poetics, (much as an Eliot, whose research in Hindu philosophy at Harvard, might have goaded him on to compose the "Waste Land" )and yet further the argument with his essays in the Western tradition? His attacks on Geoffrey Grigson, Robert Conquest or D.J. Enright, however right he may have been at the time still did not excuse him from acquiring the necessary academic skills, and the fact that he did not, or could not, caused him always to be a bit apologetic about it all. His first letter in the PL-NY is full of this sort of thing.

“In Britain, we survived Objective Reporting, The New Apocalypse, The New Romanticism; and at a time, when other editors favored the already established, or declared outright that there were no new writers, we built up the reputation of a whole new generation of poets.(...) Our policy was to throw our weight on the side which would restore a balanced view, and would be the most beneficial to the reception of modern verse. During the `Thirties, for instance, when the witty, the commonsensical and the scientific technological approach to poetry was generally popular, we tried to focus attention on the poetry of Walter de la Mare, Dylan Thomas, Stephen Spender, or George Barker.(...) [Thomas] dared to emphasise the sensuous, the emotional or even the purely incantatory approach to poetry, as in much folk poetry.”26

Right from the start his was a defensive role, a role which petered out with time, until it was time to have his own poetical base, and none was as handy as something he could fantasise upon. Not that he would have wanted it that way. That he was sincere and honest about it all is true, that he was probably barking up the wrong tree may have also been true, at least, in the English context, where poets were in no great need for revelation poetry, such as his own, "For Katharine (Kamala) Bennett and All True Sadhakas" 27 (Bennett was an associate editor of PL-NY and she financially backed the Lyrebird press that Tambi launched in London in the late sixties), and "Gita Saraswati: A Theology for Modern Science, The Creation and Dissolution of Kosmos" 28, both one might say, were last-ditch attempts at shoring up his dismembering literary personality.

The second poem might well be easily explained away by a reading of the relevant chapters in Coomaraswamy's Myths of the Hindus and the Buddhists and Carl Sagan's Cosmos. In any case, these poems helped to substantiate, like Sri Chinmoy's, his ultimate thesis: holophrasis or wholephrasing. He was nevertheless consistent about his convictions. Right from the start, his "letters' in the PL, followed by the "Fourth Letter" in PL-NY, attempted perhaps in less expert ways a certain idea of ancient Hindu poetics (Was it after all due to his reading of his uncle Coomaraswamy?):

“Every man has poetry within him. Poetry is the awareness of the mind to the universe. It embraces everything in the world. Of poetry are born religions, philosophies, the sense of good and evil, the desire to fight diseases and ignorance and the desire to better living conditions for humanity. Poetry is the connection between matter and mind. Poetry is universal.” 29

“Poetic compression of the highest order is only possible within a culture which expresses the total man, and is universally understood.” 30

He cites the epics Mahabharata, and therefore the Bhagavad Gita, and Ramayana, and Kalidasa's play Shakuntala as examples of this achievement. It was obvious he was trying to articulate something of a poetics without being too sure of it. It was something to him vaguely Indian and therefore the most apt examples to clarify his position had to be drawn from Indian literature. In his exposition of the "theory" he did not fail to mention Dante, but then he forgot Faustus or Paradise Lost. His "theory" of holophrasis may have had its roots in something far more concrete.

"It is impossible for me to describe the perfect high that a Hindu temple with its site, its rituals and atmosphere gives me: the total involvement with all one's senses engaged, liberating, exhilarating, like a plate of very hot rice and curry (...) savoured with sweat pricking and flowing from the hair roots and forehead, psychedelic, round flavoured and universalising in its intent and being., all individual flavours and feelings lost in a oneness, the long note in which all the flavours persist in an indescribable but deeply felt unity. The self, ego, lost in the universal flow of hot energy, one hundred per cent energy, through the Yoga of taste. Harmony with one's surroundings: The perfect high." 31

Although Tambi never meant this passage to be an exposition of his "theory", it is nonetheless the best definition in concrete terms of what he wanted to achieve. It is perfectly valid as "revelation" poetry, as valid as the oral Vedic compositions of pre-Christian times, but when we are expected to seek a model in Sri Chinmoy's "The Absolute", a poem given in full in the festschrift, we might as well ask ourselves if, in actual fact, Tambi was seeking the conversion of the colonial master to Hinduism, a sort of belated revenge for the irreparable damage the master had inflicted on him and his forbears, giving us an aperçu of this "split personality" that he avowed all Indians and Ceylonese were subject to: or, was the end product of such humiliation the worsted schizophrenic self itself?

This explains the inevitable hankering after of the pat on the back from the ex-colonial master, the inclusion of a handwritten "transcreated" Rig-Vedic hymn by the perfect Indian Western pet and non-poet, P.LaI, and other verse by similar Indo-Anglian favorites like Nissim Ezekiel, and even Mulk Raj Anand's anti-colonial dialectics. No one can deny that even today making it in the West with a London or New Yorkian publication is all that the Indian or Ceylonese intellectual or writer dreams of. The Naipauls and Rushdies who have become more English than the English themselves in so many respects seem to reinforce this view, rather than show the way out for other aspirants.

Unfortunately, for Tambi, he never had the English public school or Oxbridge training the former have had to excess. In this sense, he remains a precursor, and this fact must be seen in the light of his achievement in the English literary scene and his manque de baggage intellectuel. One may never know though if he could have achieved his "Englishness" to the full, whether he would have rejected his "Indianness". In the event, what is evident is that this other self, this ancestral pride, served him well as a bulwark against self-effondrement. It came physically too, in 1939.

Eliot had to come to his rescue when Tambi broke down "one evening cut up his hats with scissors and then went on to destroy all his clothing in the same manner, burying the shredded garments in his back garden". 32 He was then nursed at Bridge House, Cranbrook, Kent.

Like most controversial figures, Tambi too was subject to contradictions. His anti-intellectualism, anti-analytical objectivity, found recourse in an erudition that ranged from pronouncements on Eliot and Wordsworth to ripe savourings from Hindu Sanskrit texts. What is still surprising is that this young Ceylonese Tamil, without the necessary literary background, erupted at the age of twenty-three in the veritable English literary metropolis and managed to divert the course of its poetical development.

The Times Literary Supplement review of the Cass edition of the PLs, in 1971, virtually admitted and accused him of it. Highly endowed as a poet and critic, he nevertheless could not get away with a certain muddling shyness of expression, as in his autobiographical pieces and PL letters, which either turned out to be patently literary in a trite way à la Salman Rushdie or attempted to be highly philosophical through mystic or mystifying statements. This is why it is all the more surprising to discover his role in the forties in London. His analytical writings generally stopped short of making general statements, unsupported by verifiable examples or expository detail, since he eschewed critical rigour: "...those determined tweezers-and-scalpel-wielding dissectors of poetry (and I am not really one of them)...” 33 Examples to highlight his various and contorted arguments would be either whole poems or whole stanzas, especially in his "Fourth Letter", reprinted in full in the festschrift.

“It is the extent of holophrasis (synthesis) of sense, rhythm, sound and form elements which determines the varying degrees of difference between a line of poetry and a line of prose. The process itself is explained by Thomas in “I, in My Intricate Image" 34 (which is quoted in full)

Again, when he attempts to draw attention to what he called "The New Moderns", those whom he succoured in his magazines and publications (as against "The Moderns" whom Geoffrey Grigson published in New Verse between 1933 and 1939) and their penchant for vitality and spontaneity, he quotes Kathleen Raine's "The Hyacinth" in full and then, we are left to wonder where he draws the line between his wholephrasing poetics and the highly complicatedly codified Indian aesthetic principle of rasa (which he deems as merely "taste" in a quick footnote).

“These "Modem" poets' art is different from the English poet Kathleen Raine's whose line, irrespective of contemporary myths about ‘poetic stature', have that undefinable quality called by the Indians rasa, `the essence of poetry' which is not forced (for which alone they read it instead of tracts on the nature of man and society).” 35

Tambimuttu also used this Natyasastra term to describe the work of his "Fitzrovia guru", Philip O'Conner "whose explosive and poetic images, tinged by what Indians call rasa or poetic taste (literally, taste in the mouth)..." 36, without possibly considering the third sense, given by B.N. Goswamy, as the acute form of bliss or ananda, that sense of beatitude which, for the Indians, was procured by the spirit's intimations of the Ultimate Reality. One wonders too whether he was aware of rasa's nine elaborately codified principles, not to mention those not mentioned by Bharata, or the thirty-three complementary emotional states (vyabhichari bhavas), the eight natural involuntary bodily functions (sattvika) or the nuances of elements added to the rasa corpus by Vishwanatha"s Sahitya Darpana.

In the ultimate analysis, Tambimuttu's poetics must appear somewhat warped, though he seemed to either borrow freely from Indian thought, or mask his "theory" in the Indian philosophy of oneness. He postulated a use of language in poetry that would telescope images and lines in a "nuclear" fusion, a grand synthesis making for a single idea, resonating and forever expanding, in short, it must found a religion itself or, at least, be a page out of an hypothetical Hindu bible, the Vedas, for instance.

Holophrasis or wholephrasing of sense (and we must bear in mind that the opposite process is also happening) occurs naturally in poetry between specific words, phrases and narrative lines. (...) ... and since it happens (as with the Dylan Thomas poem mentioned above) through the lines, all of them become one idea. As for the opposite process, there are new polarities created and preserved in life-like tension...” 37

His poetics then takes a turn. He wants for it a fusion of several levels of meaning, both "narrative and purely poetic" and to substantiate this point he quotes in full one of his poems, "invocation to Lakshmi", which Norman Nicholson, his first publishing backer, included in The Penguin Anthology of Religious Verse. We may as well quote his own remarks about this aspect of his "theory".

“I cannot think off hand of a poem with several lines of narrative, so I quote an early poem of my own, Telegraphesing (sic) it in wartime London, I was conscious of five locales: a fire-tom street, the beach at Hastings, a London bedroom, a maternity hospital and a South Indian village with cottages, roots, the monsoon, and a temple image of Lakshmi sprung in her beauty from the froth of the ocean holding the thousand petalled kamala (lotus) and later born out of the kamala and as Sita in the Ramayana "by her own will, the mistress of the worlds, in a beautiful field opened up by the plough," Chanchala or Lola, the fickle - the existentialist state, Loka-matha - "mother of the world", Indira and Jaladhi -jha "Ocean-bom" (out of the flux).” 38

This notwithstanding, he has need to found his poetics, on the one hand, by finding support in the work of Pound, Dante, Thomas, Khayyam, Whitman, Kalidasa and other lesser known poets he published in the magazines, and on the other, as in his own, "Gita Saraswati", he chooses to root the image of his poetics in quantum mechanics.

“The images are not `lapidary' [talking of the Rubiyat] but what I have termed ‘expanding' with full resonance in Nature as if they are quanta of energy, integrated, related and in movement in the larger energy, unit of our symbol of the atom or miniature solar system and therefore life-like and vivid...” 39

This is a far cry from his "First Letter" when he was preaching that life and living were simple and that there was actually no need to adopt an intellectual attitude to them.

“Intellectualization removed us further from life. Pure intellectualization is death./Reality in life is simple. Life is simple, living is simple, the roots of thought are simple. It is only intellectualization that is complex.”40

Even if it were easy to criticise Tambi at this distance in time, we must not attempt to seek excuses for him or his views. He had written down all he had to say between the ages of twenty-three and forty-three, and we must not forget that it was as a young man in his early twenties that he championed Dylan Thomas and Keith Douglas, when Eliot thought highly of him. A peripatetic poet who devoted his entire life to poetry (the least of all sins) in the manner of medieval Tamil troubadour bards who made a religion of their servitude to the Muse, which for them was more than a Deity.

Perhaps, the secular Tamil cankam tradition did not seep through to Tambi. He sought through a total synthesis of language, images, tone and feeling, impregnated by love, both sacred and profane, the "interpenetration of matter and spirit" to serve his own attempts at self-realization and self-fulfilment.

And there is nothing wrong or ridiculous about such a quest. His poetics was his religion, the Hindu philosophy of his forefathers that he intuitively comprehended as best he could. He wanted poetry to express the total truth, the Hindu truth ("The flower and fruit of speech is truth."), but at his time, he saw it as a means of revitalising modern or contemporary poetry. Whether he was right or wrong, does not seem to matter, as long as the principal participants in the field followed him with enthusiasm and admiration during the forties. To say now that his influence was deleterious is to say that English poets, and the best of the wartime poets, could be led by the nose by a drunken Ceylonese Tamil with no specially acquired skills. This would be an awful admission. His definition of poetry like any other valid definition may not be objected to on the grounds that he was not of English birth, though one might harbour grave reservations about his idea of what constitutes great poetry. In any case, he has as much a right as anyone to say that:

"Ideally, poetry (a) is a synthesis of all facts and angles of commitment within one word, or more practically, one poem. (b) includes movement and counter-movement of all kinds, including rhythm, tone and ideas, shades and pitch of speech, and process of looking. Poetic clarity thus does not depend on the language of common speech, but on the vividness of the thing said. The most highly charged line is the most poetic and natural in the sense that is (sic) best approximates the condition in `Nature', not as interpretation, but as a sensory equivalent of it. (...) To stress my point by extension to its logical conclusion, the ideal poem should contain, in one word, the stuff of kosmos - the greatest holophrasis possible." 41

It is evident that he had some idea of theoretical physics and certainly knew something about the constitution of the Universe, the "Big Bang" and the "Big Crunch" and quantum mechanics and somehow he tried to make the correspondence between the microcosmic poetical creation and the macrocosmic creation of the Universe, and so, at least, he wrote the unpolished "Gita Saraswati", a fitting embodiment to his poetics, which, for him, must have been, if we are to draw the line somewhere, an act of consummate art. If we do not agree with him, we need not follow him there. It is as valid a poetic achievement as any, where the poet and his poetical credo become an indivisible one. Criticism levelled against him for having repeatedly attacked Geoffrey Grigson, Tambi's favourite punching-bag, or whether he had changed for the worse the course of English poetic development (as if there has to be development for poetry) has got nothing to do with his achievement as a poet and as a "theoretician". He has as much a right to the claim of being a poet and a critic in the English language as any other Commonwealth writer.

His critical piece on Keith Douglas (PL, 2, 10) and his collection, Out of this War, (I had only read some excerpts when I wrote this article, but I have since published an article on his poetry: See “Tambimuttu: Poet, Critic, Editor/Publisher” in amply prove that he was richly endowed to assume the roles of guide, promoter and publisher of English poets.

There is really no great need to dwell lingeringly on the rest of Tambimuttu's life since the end of the fifties, except to say that the misery and humiliation he so obviously had to undergo might have added to the spiritual depth he craved after. Despite all the accounts of the shambles of his emotional or promiscuous life, he did marry thrice. (I don't see any one blaming the women for having married him!)

The first, Jacqueline Stanley, a buxom Cockney blonde, separated from Tambi during the War, and it would seem then that she died of her diabetic condition. They then lived in Marchmont Street. Tambi, himself, was apparently pained by the separation and his only comment about her has to do with the apartment where he honeymooned with her, that is, barely a fortnight after Stephen Spender and his newly wed wife Ines had vacated the place. Tambi returned to Colombo on the S.S. Canton on 7 December 1949 after an eleven-year absence in London.

He was by now a national celebrity, but the shine wore off soon enough. His second wife, Safia Tyabjee, a grand-daughter of a former president of the Indian National Congress Party, he met through a round-about introduction from a Ceylonese friend, and after seeing each other daily for a little over a fortnight, they were married on 15 July 1951. Safia, who could pass for his sister, brought to him a measure of security and, doubtless, marital bliss.

Here in Bombay, in the midst of the Tyabjee clan, he seemed to have been really happy, soldering an enduring relationship with Safia's parents, which says a great deal for his character and viability as a social being. Together, they went to Ceylon in 1952, to meet Tambi's family and friends, and from Colombo, they set out for New York with a four-day stopover in London, where they were warmly received by several friends, including the revered T.S. Eliot. They reached New York in November 1952, during a dock strike, but this did not prevent a friend from the old London days from hailing him by sheer chance. Life began to smile again for Tambi. Invitations to give talks followed. On 19 February 1953, on "Contemporary English Verse" 42 at the Poetry Center, New York; on the following 24th., on "Modern Trends !n English Verse" at New York University, and later, at Brown University in Connecticut. His fame spread.

From 1953 to 1958, Safia and Tambi lived in a large rambling apartment at 338 East 87th Street that their neighbours Claude and Luki Mieville obtained for them. He published four issues of the new Poetry London-New York, between 1956 and 1960. At first, funds poured in and as equally abruptly they dwindled. For Safia, the insecurity and her failing health were hard to cope with. After an operation, she returned to Bombay, and because Tambi could no longer bear the anxiety of having to worry over the magazine and cope with his family responsibilities, Safia agreed to divorce him in 1958, but they remained the best of friends, writing to each other till the end.

Tambi was later to admit that the life he had had with Safia was the happiest period of his life. Then followed a third marriage with Esta Busi in, probably, 1961, and Tambi's only child was born to this union in the spring of 1962. She was characteristically named Shakuntala Safia Tambimuttu. It appears that this marriage did not endure for long. They separated and perhaps divorced in the early sixties. They had shared a ground-floor apartment on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village.

From 1961 to 1966, the offices of the PL-NY was situated at West 11th Street. Soon after, Timothy Leary made his appearance and entered Tambi's life for good, and Tambi associated himself with Leary's League for Spiritual Discovery at Milbrook. He was proposed for a post at Harvard, but this fell through for some inexplicable reason, and Tambi returned to London in 1968, disappointed and broke. Kathleen Falley Bennett then financed the Lyrebird Press that Tambi set up in the late sixties. The October Gallery then provided him with an office at Old Gloucester Street. He cranked up again the old engine, and with some sort of arrangement with the Beatles, brought out two issues of the newly created Poetry London Apple Magazine, one in 1979, the other in 1982. From his last abode at 14, Cornwall Gardens, he made several forays into the United States, without much success of reviving old interests. For some reason again, his life was beset by financial difficulties. Rent did not get paid. Eviction orders arrived.

At the trial, a kindly judge favoured him. Safia showed up sometime earlier for a six-month stay in London, and they saw a great deal of each other. She invited him over to India. Tambi decided to do an Indian poetry number of PG/AM. His visit to India with Shakuntala turned out to be a great success. Even Indira Gandhi received and backed him financially. He came back to London with great plans for an Indian and Ceylonese Arts Council, for the betterment of cultural relations between the United Kingdom and her former possessions. Things seemed to suddenly look up for him. He even seemed enthusiastic. Then he had a nasty fall. He was hospitalised and on the fourth day, on 22 June 1983, he expired.

So ended a life, by all accounts, a heroic life, dedicated to the poetic Muse. Who would have thought that so many, some sixty in the festschrift, among them Durrell and Leary, would lament his going, and all of them not even his countrymen? In spite of some embarrassing situations, Tambi is remembered as a mentor, a kindred spirit, engaging, spirited, compassionate, generous to a fault, but above all as the prince from a faraway island in the Indian Ocean whom they loved for his rags and for his devotedness to one and all alike. Here indeed was a prince among poets!



1. Jane Williams (Ed.), Tambimuttu: Bridge between Two Worlds, London: Peter Owen, 1989, 291p.
2. Tambimuttu (Ed.), Poetry London, l, l (Feb.1939)  to 4, 14 (Nov.-Dec.1948).Reprinted: B.C. Bloomfield (Ed.), Poetry London, 4 Vols.,
London: Cass, 1970.
3. Tambimuttu, Out of this War,
London: Fortune Press, 1941.
4. Grover Amen, "My Last Meeting with Tambi", in TBB7W, p.160
5. Mulk Raj Anand with Jane Williams, "Talking of Tambi", in TBBTW, pp. 195-196.
6. Gavin Ewart, "Tambi the Great", in The
London Magazine, 5, 9 (London), Dec.1965, PP 57-60.
7. Patricia Ledward, "A Few Recollections of Tambimuttu", in TBBTW,p.71.
8. S. John Rajah, A Life-Sketch of Mr. Tambimuttu Pillai,
Colombo: P. Tambimuttu, 1988, vi-70p.
9. Tambimuttu, "Fitzrovia”, in TBBTW, p. 224.
10. Ibid, P.227
11. Anthony Dickins, "Tambimuttu and Poetry London", in The London Magazine, 5,9 (
London), Dec. 1965, p.54.
12. Silva, A History of
Sri Lanka, London: C.Hurst Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981, p- 17.
13. Paulinus Tambimuttu, "Preface", in S.John Rajah, Ibid, p.i..

14. Ibid, p.l.
15. Silva, lbid, pp. 116-118.

16. J. Williams,/bid.,p.145
17. Ibid,p.37

18. Ibid,p.28-45

19. Ibid,p.28

20. lbid,p.29

21. Ibid,p.25

22. Ibid,p.26

23. Ibid, p.227.
24. G.S.Fraser, "Letter from
London", PL-NY, 1,3 (New York), Winter 1957, pp.40,41,42.
25. Tambimuttu, "Third Letter", PL-NY, 1,3 (NY), Winter 1957, p.45.
26. Tambimuttu, "First Letter', PL-NY, 1,1 (NY), March-April 1956, p.2-A.

27. J. Williams, Ibid.,pp.260-262.
28. Ibid, pp.264-273.
29. Tambimuttu, PL, l,I(
London),Feb. 1939,s.p.

30. J.Williams, Ibid.,p. 237-A.
31. Ibid,p.35.
32. Selwyn Kittredge, "Mr.Tambimuttus' Birthday Books", in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Ed.William B.Todd, Vo1.67, New York: Bibliographical Society of America, 1973, p.191.
33. Tambimuttu "Third Letter', PL-NY, Jbid,p.3
34. J. Williams, ibid.,p. 245-A.

35. /bid,pp.256-H-257-A.

36. ibid, p.224
37. ibid, p.248 _

38. Ibid, pp.248-249.

39. Ibid, p.250.

40. Tambimuttu, "First Letter", in Poetry London, l , l (London), Feb. 1939, s.p.

41. J.Williams,Ibid.,p.246.
42. A tape of the lecture is to be found at
Mt.Allison University, Canada.

Bibiliography of Writings by Tambimuttu

1. Poetry (Collections)

Tone Patterns, Athchuvely (or Colombo? ): Pruned and published by Tambimuttu, 1936. (Tambi published two other slim collections himself in Ceylon before 1938.)
Out of this War. With a drawing of the author by Augustus John.
London: The Fortune Press, 1941.

2. Individual poems published in magazines, anthologies, etc.

"Four Ceylonese Love Songs", in Poetry London, 1, 2 (London), April 1939, s.p.
"Elegy for the Dead", Section VI of Out of this War, in Poetry London, 1,3, (
London), November 1940, pp.79-82.
"Invocation to Lukshmi", "Deity", "The Journeys of the Spirit" and "Prayer", in Poetry
London, 1,4 (London), January 15,194 1, pp. 102-105.
"For Katharine (Kamala) Bennett and All True Sadhakas", in Festchrift for KFB, Ed.Tambimuttu.
London: Lyrebird Press,1972. Republished in Tambimuttu: Bridge between Two Worlds, Ed. Jane William, London: Peter Gwen, 1989, pp. 260-262
"Gita Saraswati: A Theology of Modem Sriaace, The Creation and Dissolution of Kosmos", in TBBTW, ibid, pp. 264-273.
"Letter to J. W.", in Ibid., pp.73-75.
"My Country, My Village", Ibid, pp.25-27.

3. Short Stories

Of his five short stories, a few were published by the New Yorker.

4. Autobiographical Writings

"Fitzrovia", in Harpers & Queen (London), February 1975. Reprinted in TBBTW, Ibid,
"Swami Rock, Raga Rock", in TBBTW, Ibid., pp.28-45.

5. Criticism

"First Letter" and "Review of George Reavey's Quixotic Perquisitions,  in Poetry London, 1,1 (London), Feb. 1939, s.p.
"Second Letter", Mr. Symons in his Nursery" (Review), in PL, 1,2 (
London), s.p.
"Third Letter", in PL, 1,3, pp. 65-66.
"Fourth Letter", in PL, 1,4, pp. 89-90 and 121-122.
"Sixth Letter", in PL, 1, 6,  pp. 161-164 and 195.
"Eighth Letter", in PL, 2,7, pp.3-7.
"Preface", in PL, 2, 8 p.65.
"Ninth Letter', in PL, 2, 9, p.3
"Tenth Letter, In Memory of Keith Douglas", in PL, 2,10, s.p. (I lp.)
"Eleventh Letter', in PL, 3,11, pp.5-8.
"First Letter", Dylan Thomas in Limbo" (Review), in Poetry
London-New York, 1, 1 New
), March-Apr1 1956, pp. l-2 and 42-48.
"Second Letter" and "Poetry in A Gray Flannel Suit" (Review), in PL-NY, 1, 2, Winter 1956, pp.1-2 and 59-64.
"Third Letter", in PL-AY, 1, 3, Winter 1957, pp. 1-4 and 44-07.
"Fourth Letter", in PL-NY, 1,4, Summer 1960. Reprinted in TBBTW, Ibid., pp.237-259.
"First Letter", "Tokeshi: An Artist in Search of a Vocabulary", in Poetry
London/Apple Magazine, 1,1 (London), Autumn 1974, pp.3-6 and 109-110.
"Second Letter", in PL/AM, 1,2, pp.

6. Books Co-or-Guest Edited or Translated

with Richard March. T.S. Eliot: A Symposium. London: Editions PL, 1948.
with several others. (transl)
India Love Poems. London: Pamdine,1977.
with Prilish Nandy. Poems from Bangladesh: The Voice of a New Nation,  1972
guest-edited an Indian number of Poetry Chicago, edited. Poetry in Wartime.
London: Faber & Faber, 1942.

7. Pamphlets

Natarajah. London: The PL Pamphlets, September 1948.