The Flight of Love

A Messenger Poem of Medieval South India by Venkatanatha

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Stephen P. Hopkins
Stephen P. Hopkins
  • Oxford, UK: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     304 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Flight of Love translated by Steven P. Hopkins focuses on the South Indian poem Haṃsasandeśa. Written by the popular saint-poet Veṅkaṭanātha, the poet helps to highlight the incredible literary and poetic compositions written in medieval India. Haṃsasandeśa can be used to explore the societal views on emotions, relationships, and location. This new translation and commentary is extremely important to the growing scholarship of Sanskrit literature, poetry, and sacred landscapes. The piece, which is heavily rooted in South Indian tradition and the legacy of the epic Ramayana, is a delightful imaginative piece that inspires love, devotion, and theology.

Hopkins’s exploration of this poetic piece is a great addition to the growing collection of South Asian literature in translation and the role it played in Indian society and religious traditions. Veṅkaṭanātha’s poem helps to illuminate the religious and sacred geographical imagery that was present in medieval India. The Flight of Love explores how messenger poems explored the concepts of time, space, and emotions. Haṃsasandeśa not only is a South India messenger poem, but also part of the Ramayana literary tradition. The situating of Rāma and Sitā directly in Tamil geography also helps to situate the relationship between location and the sacred. This correlation helps to solidify the significance of Haṃsasandeśa and The Flight of Love and why Hopkin’s translation is much needed.

The Flight of Love goes beyond simply being an English translation of a South Asian poem. Hopkins wants to explore the role the poem played within its community and how its role further affected later generations and literary styles.

The actual style and format of the book is a bit too cumbersome for the flow of the poetic piece, its translations, and Hopkins commentaries. As this is a book that is aimed at South Asian scholars, and more importantly, Sanskritists, including the Devanagari would have elevated the value of this book many times over. Hopkins himself spends five pages on a pronunciation guide of Sanskrit and Tamil words, describing what the diacritics mean, yet he only provides the transliterations in his introduction.

Even if Hopkins goal was to reach a larger audience, the inclusion of the Sanskrit could have truly illustrated the beauty that is found within these ancient texts. Hopkins states that his focus was to provide a fluid American English translation with an in-depth thematic commentary, which he does fairly well. Yet, one wonders how much more successful he would have been if he had included the verses in the original language, especially since he himself balks at the claims of scholars Yigal Bronner and David Shulman that Sanskrit is dead after the 11th century(26). The actual translations situated in only the English, only allows the reader to interact with this piece outside of Hopkins translation and views.      

The Flight of Love with its exploration of South Indian messenger poems, is a solid effort to show the significance of Sanskrit and Indian literature and the role it plays in the cultures, religions, and sacred spaces found amongst one of the largest and oldest human populations. Hopkins’s book shows that simple messenger poems hold larger meaning by his connections of verses to the landscape of Tamil Nadu with powerful imagery and emotion.

Hopkins also explores the significance that these messenger poems play in a larger community, that of Buddhist Sri Lanka. This cross-mingling helps to support Hopkins’s attempt to bring light to a poem and genre that has not had much attention given to it. It also allows this book to be of interest to all South Asian scholars and not just Indic or Sanskrit based researchers. It provides a clear view into a specific messenger poem that is full of fanciful and lyrical depictions that makes it much more than merely a long-forgotten poem.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a doctoral candidate at Claremont Graduate University, an adjunct professor at Whittier College, and the Queer Advocate for AAR, Western Region.

Date of Review: 
November 16, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stephen P. Hopkins is Professor of Religion and Coordinator of Asian Studies at Swathmore College in Pennsylvania.


Steven Hopkins

Thanks for taking time to review my book.  On page 26 of The Flight of Love I affirm (and do not balk at) the opinion of Bronner and Shulman -- contra the thrust of the early arguments of Sheldon Pollock -- that Sanskrit was "hardly dead" in the South after 1200.  This marvelous Sanskrit poem is ample evidence of the health and living vitality of the Sanskrit deep into what has been termed the "vernacular millennium."  As for the devanagari, indeed, this would have been optimal, then diacritic guidelines would not have been needed.  This is the convention of the Murty Classical Library of India Series for instance, unlike the earlier Clay Sanskrit library format.  The diacritic notes are to help the reader get a sense of the sound of the languages -- Tamil and Sanskrit -- in roman transliteration.  I have followed this convention in all of my books.  And the book does have several potential audiences, and admittedly this is a challenge.  Again, thanks again for the review.


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