The repetition in “A River” by A.K. Ramanujan is interesting and painfully ironic. The poem itself is Ramanujan's way of atoning for the neglect of previous poets, and repetition is one technique Ramanujan uses to direct the readers' attention to his objectives.
The first repetitions of poets and temples and cities and temples draws two associations. The first associates poets with a divine call through the association with temples. The second associates cities with divinity by the same means.
There is ambiguity in this second repetition because the association may be meant to show that cities too are holy because of their human population. It might also be meant to show an ironic association of a corrupt population with holiness. The association of cities and temples may be intentionally ambiguous in order to evoke both ideas.
Then again, the association of cities and temples may be intentionally ambiguous in order to evoke both ideas. On another level, this repetition has a third layer of ambiguity. It also draws an association between the song of poets in relation to the poet’s responsibility to divine humanity in the cities.
The repetitions of sand, flood, and rising serve several purposes. While rising and flood introduce the subject matter that inspired Ramanujan's poetic contemplations (and protest), sand foreshadows the upcoming discussion of the human victims of the flood.
The most emotional and persuasive repetition is that concerning the
three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.
It is in this repetition that Ramanujan's points are tied to together: where the divine responsibility of the poet to the divine nature of humanity, as well as the holy nature of the cities, are made relevant to daily life. The holy nature of cities, expressed in the association between cities and temples, is further expressed in lines in the first stanza, such as:
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
This final and most persuasive repetition is where he chastises earlier poets who "only sang of the floods." Not only did they sing only of the floods--neglecting the holiness of the city at rest between floods--they emphasized the cows above the pregnant woman by speaking of "a couple of cows / named Gopi and Brinda as usual." Thus, the poets violate their divine nature by trivializing humanity and by humorously diverting attention away from the loss of holy life belonging to the holy city:
The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.
... identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.