Life Kindles the Flame of Poetry
Wise men say that it is not right to demystify poetry by submitting it to critical analysis, which is perforce involved in narration of creative experience. Nevertheless, no less than intellectuals defied this and analyzed the Act of creativity in art.’ and especially in poetry, volumes of criticism evolved from centuries on end. However to my knowledge no poet on his own explained how he got his symbols, metaphors and his purple passages. Either the poets or critics said only in general terms in what state of mind the poet got his lines and what happened to one to reach that state of mind. In the east and to some extent in the West too, in the old world, dialectics of poetry was an intense activity in literature and in the East particularly India, Sahitya shastra (science of literature) flowed down the centuries with uninterrupted continuity, perhaps from times earlier than the 4th century B, C. down to about 16th/17th centuries A.D.
Seshendra with Mr.Indranath Choudary , Secretary Sahitya Akademi , and Dr.U.R. Anatha Murthy, Eminent Kannada writer in “Meet the author “ Adakemi Programme: February , 1995
Earlier known Rhetorician is Bharata in whose times play and ballad were the only dominant genres. But it is obvious that Bharatha was the last author on the dialectics of play writing, which indicates after a long duration of time play writing was reduced to a trickle and eventually vanished. Then followed the endless period of kaavya. While in the play action. Abinaya is the crucial factor; in kaavya metaphor i.e alankaara is the crucial factor. With Bhamaha probably in between the second and third centuries. C. The era of kavya sastra commenced, ringing the curtain on the Natya and Natya shastra. After Bharatha nobody wrote a Natyashastra. In the modern times in India,play-writing draws on the techniques of the westernplay. This is only a preface to say that a narration involving critical analysis of how his symbols and metaphors are acquired by a poet in the given cases will demystify the poetry and rob it its enchantment. That too, it is bound to happen when the poet himself indulges in such narration. When the critics do it,their analysis and interpretation are not infirmly the same,but vary from each other where by the mystery of poetry survives and the poetic enchantment continues. But when the poet comes out with the unfolding of his secret,hi statement becomes the final on the issue and the statements of the critics differing from that of the poet become invalid wholesale. Thus the art of literature ceases to be the moveable feast, and becomes a dead fish by one such grievous mistake of the poet. Nonetheless I would speak in general terms how the symbols and metaphors that a poet gets are like like uninvited guests,who spring a pleasent surprise on the host the poet. After he comes out out of the poem,the poet himself feels surprised how they came to him,in other words how they came to him.So the symbols and Metaphors are not deliberately manipulated and captured like criminals by the police. Symbols and Metaphors visit only those who have prepared themselves as the medium to recieve these visitors.The poet is ofcourse only the ordinary individual but with the difference that he cultured himself by going near and getting involved in life and literature.By such a process of involvement one ceases to be the ordinary individual and becomes too sensetive and therefore suspectible to the invasion of life on him.he is bruised easily.
Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh , India felicitates Seshendra Sharma with Hamsa Award(Special Annual Award for literature ) On UGADI(Telugu New Year Day) on 9th April2005, at Ravindra Bharathi (Auditorium) Hyderabad AP India
He is like a fiddle with strings drawn to final limit,and even a whiff,of wind can knock out a note of melody from the vibrant strings.At the this point the individual is called poet,Reffering to his condition called poet, bharat says 'yortho hridaya samavaade yasya bhaavo rasodbhavah,shareeram vyaapyathe thena shus hkam kaasthamivaagninaa'- (the object with which the poet gets involved and thereby gets totaly involved deu to caonstant engrossment with it,spreads through outs his body from head to foot ,like fire spreads through a piece of dry wood.) The french poet Beadudelaire said that the poet reaches this condition by 'perfected sensebility' and the Spanish poet lorca called it 'sens ibilty perfected by reading and experience'. It is in this condition that the poet's physical EYES become inert so to say and the third eye the metaphysical eye opens.the third eye is the Vision which sees the invisible things through the visible things ,that is,'the thing in itself 'as kant called it. Charles Baudelaire lines are for instance useful here to explain what i said-'the furniture appears to be dreaming and the cloth materials speak a silent language like flowers '-'the vast park abandons itself to the eye of the scorching sun like the youth to the domination of love '-here 'furniture''cloth materials ',flowers ,park,sun.etc..,are seen by the physical eye but furnitu re dreaming ',silent speech of flowers etc can only be seen by the metaphysical eye which is called by the indian kaavya Shastra darashnam .naanrish kavairithyukthah risish cha kila darashanam .Balzac called it the second vision and the great poet mayakovsky descriibed it as the celebrated absent-mindedness of the poet. But the most vivid and appealing description of the condition called poet is given by the Sharadaa Tanaya in his Bhava Prakasham as follows ,'parasyasukhaduhkhadeh anubhavena chestasah tadbhava bhavanam Yena bhavaeth tadanukoolatahah tat satwam'he says that Satva guna which an in vidual attains by abhyasa ie.Practice renders him emotionally too delicate ,too kind and extremely sympathetic ,by which he is pained when his felow-being is happy. Here fellow-being includes all the living beings of the creation.This is called 'karuna vedithwa' in Ramayan. 'tathahkaru navedithwaath adharmoya -miti dwijah nisaamya rudateen kraunchaeem idham vachana mabraveeth'- The more famous line is 'shlokathwa maagathah' So out of shoka the poet rises like the sun .shoka here is equivalent to 'RASA" taadaathmya. The poet in this condition characteristically reacts with great vehemence against 'adharma' i.e., 'injustice' and takes the suide of dharma i.e., justice ,spontaneously. This is how the poet is the real supreme court of a country. I think enough is said of the magnificient role of the creative artist . Thank you
(Seshendra's speech in 'meet the author program at central sahitya academy : New Delhi, 27-2-1995)
POETRY AN ODYSSEY
I am a victim of beauty! It chases me like a hunter chases the wild animal in a forest. It is not that it finds me on its own: I always walk into its trap willingly like a fool. Because life the catalyst in life’s milieu incites me to search for something that I do not know, in every created object. Usually when my vision sights something, I experience a strange pleasure not comparable to any pleasure familiar to all people. I cannot face this pleasure and I feel at once vanquished before it. It is such a total surrender to it, that it is equal to instantaneous death. Sometime later I come out of it limping, due to the unremitting monster of life knocking at the door of my consciousness. Then perhaps I am said to be living; although I feel I was pulled out of that state of being like the dentist pull out the tooth. I am an addict of this killer pleasure and my so-called life is but a string of alternating moments of living and dying.
Why do I search for such pleasure so obstinately and why do I die in the process and why does it not deter me from the search. It is strange but true. May be it happens to many other people too, but their number in the world is I suppose infinitesimally small. Can you explain the experience of this pleasure? No. Sometimes I doubt whether it is pleasure at all, because even deep sorrow either mine or more so of the other person, catches me in the grip of a similar state of mind. You melt now into some primordial liquids and flow away, so to say. It may be rather like an intense involvement with something. It is more poignant when that something is other than your subjective-self. Perhaps Buddha passed through this moment when he saw an old and shriveled man and a dead body on the street and plummeted into a lightening decision t! o leave his wife, his child and his kingdom, to go and melt away like a granule of salt in the vast ocean of humanity.
Poet in chittoor, AP in 1963, where he worked as municipal commissioner
Or probably when he was crucified and was about to give up his ghost, Jesus also, must have had an identical experience and cried out lifting his face towards heavens:”Oh Father forgive them for they know not what they do”- one thing is certain this experience is inexplicable like the lines of Paul Roux, “Like a simple man scattering himself in flute, the shepherd descends the hill’s adolescence; his sheep following him with two wine branches for ears and bunches of grapes for rudders, his sheep follow him walking vines”.
Or like Paul Valery’s lines “ O supple wooden flesh you must twist and untwist yourself, complain without breaking and give the winds the voice they look for in disorder.” These lines are only felt, involved in and enjoyed in the metaphysical sense of the term. That is why still in the process you seem to be groping in the disorder of creation to find the light of order. You are deeply absorbed but not fulfilled; that is why you keep going to it repeatedly.
The architecture of clouds on the treetops, on the housetops or the rains of falling leaves in the autumn, may not mean anything to the common eye. For they have no geometrical or symmetric or any deliberated and calibrated shapes or forms. But the searching eye is captured by them for endless duration of time. They are irresistibly absorbing phenomena leading the viewer to an absolute state of oblivion, where his being is virtually abolished.
Universe, which is a constant flux of occurrences of being and becoming, falls in the ultimate analysis into two parts, the subject and the object. “I” the subject views the Object, the surrounding universe which is a bewildering sight. This is the reason why in the eyes of the child who comes out of the womb and see’s the world for the first time, you find those bewildering looks of search in strange things. Although the child grows and gets familiar with the world and the millions of objects of creation, gathering experience as adult, the mystery of creation still persists even if the child grows leaping from the known to the unknown. It is this everlasting unknonwness always left over at the end of the quest that keeps the wayfarer on the path, eternally trecking, deeply involved in the quest of the unknown. Perhaps! It is this unknown that is felt by the searcher as beauty, tantalizing him endlessly. It is a feeling of something touching his senses and eluding the grip of his faculty of cognition. It is always doubtful whether he captured it at all.
He finds it here he finds it there, he finds it everywhere, in the sunsets, in the sunrises, in the clouds, in the breeze, in the birds, in the flowers, in the crowds, in the solitudes, in the silences and so on. And yet his thirst for it is unquenched and his search remains and adventure or a real Odyssey. It is this grange tantalizing beauty that gives sometimes the seeker, the adventurer the rare flash of what may be the truth, that this baffling phenomenon called creation is perhaps not a conglomeration of many different objects but is only one object manifesting in myriads of forms. Gaudapaada was one such adventurer who said in his Advaita Karikaas “MAYAAMAATRA MIDAM DWAITAM, ADVAITAM PARAMAARTHATHAH”(In the quest, all that you see as several, is illusion, but actually it is only one). It is also possible that another seeker’s experience might give him a different flash of the truth; it is a complex problem of an intellectual hid-and-seek. But the puzzle has been never solved eve since the dawn of mind on this planet though some have laid claims for conclusive solutions. So fulfillment on this subject remains only a utopian dream. At any rate that is my experience of ‘beauty’ at this point of my life, which is long enough for such an expedition. I always felt that everything hurts me and there is nothing to cajole me. This is the common state or fate of a seeker. But then if you do not seek anything and if you do not sharpen your eyes with curiosity, if you lull you mind into sleep by gorging on only familiarities of life, you are one of the creatures of creation in the usual sense of the term i.e. biped-One word of caution- here the word beauty should not be taken in the commonplace sense of the term. It is in fact the philosophical quintessence of the intense quest of the unusually evolved men who are after something yet unknown.
Poet with Yannis Ritsos Greek poet in Athens, 1987
It is in this state of being that these strange men see objects of creation differently and when they speak of what they see we feel it strange and interesting. This is what Rudrata really means in his shloka defining the genesis of genius.
“MANASI SUSAMAASHINI VISPHURANA MANEKA DHA BHIDHEYASYA
AKLISHTAANI PADAANI CHA VIBHAAANTHI YASYAAM ASOU SHAKTHIH”
This in fact is the native place of the symbols, the metaphors, and images.
Vaamana dwelt, much earlier, on this point in similar terms
“Arthasya darshanam drishtihi samaadhi karanatwaath
samadhih”Awahitam hi chittam arthaan pashyateethyuktham purasthaath”.
(chithiika agrya mavadhaanam)
Well this is the philosophical foundation of the poet who is the seeker of order in disorder and called a POET in common parlance. I would now give a few illustrations of my own experience though I have desisted from doing so all my life. It is rather difficult to ruminate on hazy memories of the dizzy-bygone experiences.
Once I was traveling by car. We were passing through forest which was also a hilly track, the orb of sun slipped into the horizon, a thin layer of light and darkness spread over the earth and the car was running fast. Sometime later something in me forced me to shout ‘stop the car’. The car-stopped and I came out. It was a strange, mysterious experience devouring me. Everything was still, the forest, the hills, the birds, all, all-living and non-living beings. In the clear articulating dark blue sky a star appeared as if thrown up by the west from somewhere. It was staring at me. Very soft and cool layers of breeze were wafting from the forest, which looked like a silent crowd of trees running at me and string at me as a strange creature. The profoundness of the silence the real mischief maker, the hero of the evening’expidition, threw a shroud of mystery into a tree and took me away into unknown realms of existence when I felt like changing myself into a tree and grow branches to grab the totality of the feeling of the forest. Then probably the voice of my interior began to speak. Instantly I rushed to the car, took my ever-ready notebook and pen and recorded the speech in human tomes. They are like this:
“Chased away by the human bazaars/silence fled into the hills/
Time flows like water slipping out of the fingers/Seasons like
Spiders weave lines in the valleys of the eyes/drop by drop when I sip the silence of the hills/I cannot even excuse my own heart/which pulsates disturbing beats in my breast/
I measure the forest with the song of a bird or with the melody of
A meandering brook/when the saffron flames run amuck like a
crowd of sanyasins in the forest/ I embrace the bodies of the trees
and listening to their painful heart-beats, I cry loudly-“
(‘Silences; From “The Burning Sun”)
Another time I was passing on my way to Kurnool from Hyderabad(towns in Andhra Pradesh/India). After passing a few villages and some village-like towns far flung from each other and tapering down as we advance, we were finally launched on a voyage of limitless arid land stretching from horizon to horizon. The sky furiously unleashing a downpour of ruthless sun; not a bird, not a living creature anywhere to be seen.
At an astronomical distance a little dot of tree could be seen as the symbol of stoic silence that stretched over miles and miles of distance. A half naked man holding a plough was seen moving slowly forward tilling the unyielding hard soil. He is the only living creature in the immense void encircled by the horizon. The trees, the birds, the winds, all seemed to have fled away leaving this hapless creature called tiller, alone. Again I had stop the car and come out, stand staring at him sinking into thought, leading to unfathomable abyss of the unknown. When the car honked the horn I came out of those primordial waters of sub-consciousness, like a frogman with the snails and pearls of the nether world. I transmuted my experienced silence into speech. Since I pass through, these experiences every now and then, I am wont to overlook noting them in words! Each time. In the present case, the lines are as follows:
“He who bears the plough/On his shoulders and earns his hunger/
Alone earns the right/To appease his hunger/
If the sorrow of the crops that grew this year/is not mitigated/
In the coming year/
Only fist bearing sickles will grow in the fields.”
(‘Flies’ From “The Burning Sun)
Once it so happened that my superior officer who was by nature arrogant and extremely conscious of his power of office unduly insulted me. We have many such lilliputs strutting in millions in our government bureaucracy. I was very upset, returned home and applied for some leave and left for Ooty-My abode of peace! And my Ashram! As the car was proceeding to the airport I saw on the way a woman barely clothed literally in rags, holding a shriveled up naked child and begging. My attention was at once arrested, stopped the car took a deep look at it, keeping a rupee in the palm of her stretched hand. Then I said:
“The child in the womb better it remains/in the womb itself
In our country/otherwise if it comes out and cries with hunger/
The people of this land will show the way to the footpaths/but not
To the fields”.
Poet infront of UN building, New York, 1995
Then it began to revolve in my mind like a whirlpool-
Then came the words:
“Look! That child that descended to the earth holding heavens in
Both fists/is sleeping like a tear, on empty stomach. All the
Metropolises are standing by, hanging their heads in shame/O
Rose bush, don’t sing if you have any shame/vomit all those
Bulbuls from your throat/”
The car passed some more distance when I saw the monstrous structure of the Government Secretariat, in front of which on the roadside Gulmohar trees were in full bloom. It was spring; yet it looked to me like a diabolically wrong juxtaposition of two diametrically opposite things. Like the Greek Sybil all along the route, I was mumbling undecipherable speech. When I turned my head and saw the Secretariat I shouted:
“Now it is not even abuse-from head to foot my whole body is
Blowing dreadful hurricanes of blood and fire/
My hand raises to smash to smithereens that huge structure with
One stroke of my fist.. Exhausted I look at the trees pitiably and
“ I do not want poetry. I want a bomb crammed with a thousand
seeing and breathing the carbon dioxide of this obnoxious
Civilization/why those trees bear flowers? /why don’t they bear
Bullets in their branches?
What do you find there, if you look at me like this? /
Alive I am mortal, dead I am immortal/…
O bird, do not sing your song here, fly away in search
Of your own green hills and forest/”
(From Seshendra’s modern Indian Epic “My country my people”)
A Poet can give any number of such experiences but here any more of them will be redundant. It is enough to sway I guess that a poet is a picture of storms of colors, which give you luminous glimpses of his inner world. How many fascinating dreams. I dream often, how many visions of men and women of the earth, of the creation I get, how many ravishing desires infest my being to fashion and pattern the world at the point of WILL! How many impulses and instincts goad me and lead me to the fantastic articulation of speechless metaphors and dumb symbols helplessly swimming in the dormant waters of my consciousness. They all seem to be the natural citizens of the psychic realms of volcanic men like me, susceptible to sporadic paroxysms of expression.
POETICS : EAST AND WEST
Poetics first appeared in India
Although poetry appeared in many countries of the world from
times immemorial, it was only in India that an enquiry started on
the questions as to what is poetry, how it could be reated, and
why it should be written. In the wake of this enquiry, a large
body of scientific knowledge regarding the mechanics of poetry
and its purpose developed and began expanding through the
centuries. We have a plethora of evidence about this in the
Vedic literature, Ramyana and Mahabharata. I don’t wish to go
into all that here. I shall only give one instance from
Mahabharata (chapter 207 of Rajya lambha parva) Narada is
described”Paribhushaitaa vaachaam varnatah sarvatorthatah”. It
means Narada is also a poet. In those days, evidently, according
to the scientists of poetry, a poet is one who adorned the word
letter-wise and meaning-wise (i.e. word-beauty and sense-beauty).
These words remind us of the great Bhamaha of the later period
and his theory of Alankara. Those books of poetics are not
available to us today. However from the Natyasastra of Bharata
onwards, all the literature on poetics in not only available but
also remains intact with a tradition of being read by scholars
and taught to the students of literature (in Sanskrit).
The scientific knowledge that developed in this country on the
dialectics of poetry, falls into 6 outstanding schools.1.The Rasa
theory of Bharatha, 2.The Alankara theory of Bhamaha,3.The Riti
theory of Vamana,4.The Dwani theory of(otherwise called
Chamatkaar).Jagannatha who said that last word in poetics
says”putras te jataha dhanam te dassyaami iti vaakyaartha
dhijanyasya aahlaadasya na lokottaravatvam.ataha na tasmin vaakye
kaavyatva prasaktihi.” This means sentences like ‘son is born to
your’ ‘ I am giving you money’ though produce immense pleasure,
have no poetry in them. Because, they do not produce that
uncommon pleasure which is not the same as the pleasure derived
from the ordinary worldly experience. The American poet and
Harvard professor Archibald Macleish says:’ words-in-the-poem…
they seem to have, what I can only call, mere weight than the
same words have when we run across them in ordinary coversation,
or on the page of a newspaper’.
Long after in Greece:
A.B. Keith in his history of Sanskrit Literature holds the view
that Bharata’s times was before Bhasa. Bhasa is held to be a few
centuries earlier than Kalidasa who is assigned 2nd century B.C.
Under these circumstances it seems reasonable to infer that
Bharata must have lived a few centuries before Aristotle who
belongs to 4th century B.C. I am not inclined to rely on the
other view, which places Bhasa before Bharata,since it is based
only on the technical aspects of the plays ascribed to
Bhasa,whose authorship is not free from controversy. It is also
necessary to note that research scholar’s have considered on
sufficient evidence that the bulk of Natya Sastra of Bharata is
only a compilation of portions from the earlier texts on the
subject. This pushes the date of literature on poetics in India
far earlier than either Aristotle, or Plato or Socrates.
In the West, Aristotle’s poetics is the only book available on
the subject in the past. It contains 26 small chapters. Aristotle
being a genius, there are instances in the treatise when his mind
touches the fringes of profound thought. However his statements
are not satisfactory to the mind trained in the Indian Poetics.
He says “poet is a maker of fables”. What he means by poetry is
simply fiction. The bulk of his work deals with dramaturgy. There
is one important thing to note in the 25th chapter, which is
absent in our works of poetics: it is on the principles of
literary criticism. Aristotle generally agrees with Indian
poeticians on the question of what constitutes the soul of
poetry? In the 22nd chapter, “ The greatest distinction is to be
metaphorical: for, it is the only one that demands originality
and is a sign of genius,” he said.
Then in Arabia:
In the year 908 Ibn-ul-Mumtaz in Arabia wrote a book
discussing on what makes poetry. He was a poet and a scholar. He
ruled as Khalif for one day Prof: Najibullah in his history of
Islamic Literature called this work the book of Rehtorics: but
Sir Hamilton Gibb in his History of Arabic Literature described
it as a book of poetics. In the words of Najibullah, the book
sums up saying, the “real eloquence consists of the expression of
ideas with the fewest words”. There is a chapter in the book
classifying some figures of speech. Then Qudama in the 10th
century A.D. and then Abu hilal-al Askari in the 11th centrury,
wrote works on the subject. Out of the two, Askari is important.
He says there is nothing new in a poem: the difference between
poet and poet is only in the manner of making the poem, which
alone constitutes the cause of the individuality of each poem or
each poet. One of the theories of the Indian poetics holds the
same view.”taa eva pada vinyaasaah taa evaartha
vibhutayaha,tathaapi nootnam bhavati kaavyam grathana kausalaat.”
The same words, the same meanings, yet a poem becomes new due to
the skill in making it. After the Greeks, in the world, the Arabs
are great torchbearers of knowledge.
COMMON LANGUAGE AND POETIC LANGUAGE;
Bhamaha for the first time in our country separated the poetic
language from the common language by his theory of Vakrokti.
“Saishaa sarviwa vakroktihi anayaartho vibhavyate”said Bhamaha.
Theory of vakrokti in fact owes its birth to Bhamaha. Kuntaka is
perhaps only his commentator despite his original thinking and
establishing vakrokti as a theory. Jagannatha’s chamatkara form
of the same theory, in the ultimate analysis.
Let us suppose there is no difference between the common
language and language of poetry: then why should you call one a
poet and not the other. The question naturally is, what is the
differentiating characteristic here? Does this question arise or
not? In fact there is considerable difference between the two
kinds of language. In the language of the poet there is a
commingling of strange meanings. It is to this that Valmiki
referred to as”vichitraartha padam”, in his Balakanda 4th
sarga(275SL)without this element of strangeness called
vaichitri,mere words and meanings, that is to say, the ordinary
language, can never become poetry. Then, what is this vaichitri?
(Otherwise called chamatkaar). Jagannatha who said the last word
in Poetics says,”putras te jataha dhanam te daasayaami iti
vaakyaartha dhijanyasya aahlaadasya na lokottaratvam. Ataha na
tasmin vaakye kaavyatva prasaktihi”. This means sentences like
‘son is born’,’ I am giving you money’, though produce immense
pleasure, have no poetry in them. Because, they do not produce
that uncommon pleasure which is not the same as the pleasure
derived from the ordinary worldly experience. The American poet
and Harvard Professor Archibald Macleish says:’ words-in-the
poem… they seem to have, what I can only call, mere weight than
the same words have when we run across them in ordinary
conversation, or on the pages of a newspaper’.
The difference between the two languages:
Then where lies poetry? Jagannatha says: it is in “chamatkaara
janaka bhaavanaa vishayaartha pratipaadaka shabdaatwam”. This
means it is in that word which makes us think and by such
thinking reveals a certain skill or poetic cunning
called’chamatkaar”which in its turn leads to the experience of an
intellectual pleasure: it is in that word, lies poetry.
Even before Jagannatha,kuntaka in his “vakrokti jeevita” said of
poetry”sabdaarthou sahitou vakra kavivyaapaara saalini”. The word
that everybody uses is ‘vakrokti’(the skilled word),That is why
he said ”Mahaakavi prabandhaanaam sarveshaam asti vkrataa’ What
is this vakrataa(his skill)’prasiddhaabhidadhaana vyathirekini
vichitraivaabhidhaa’,he explained. The same words well known in
the common parlance joined in a certain skillful combination to
produce a certain surprising strangeness about them, become
vakrokti. After this skilled conbination, the same words behave
contrary to the principles of their normal conduct, which they
show in the course of the day-to-day usage. This is ‘Vaichitri’
or ‘chamatkaar’.Archibald Macleish observes in the same context,
“words as sounds are malleable and may be made to multiply their
meaning by the management of their shapes and movements in the
ear.” When Vamana said”visishtaa padarachanaa rithihi’,I
believe,he meant the same thing’ In the ordinary parlance, as
there is neither the chamatkaar of Jagannatha nor the management
of “shapes and movements” of Macleish nor “visistha padarachana’
of Vamana,it is not poetry.
Word is the Basis of Poetry:
Though poetry is above the ordinary words and meanings (i.e. the
common language),it should be noted that word forms its basis,
Therefore Jagannatha said “Ramaneeyartha pratipaadaka shabdaha
kaavyam”(That word which unfolds beautiful meaning is poetry)and
then he proceeded to establish it with formidable logic.
“sabdaarthayugalam na kaavya sabda vaachayam..sabda viseshasya
eva kaavya padaartharthavam”,(it is not both the words and
meanings: but it is only the special word that can be called
poetry.).Graham Hough said the same: ‘the medium of literature is
verbal. Literature is made of words’. Look at the word of the
French poet Mallarme, the high-priest of modern poetry,” poetry
is not made with words-as-expressions-of-ideas, but with words
The power of the word:
When it is concluded that the ‘sabda visesha’i. e. The special
word, is the basis of poetry, then a Himalayan weight of delving
deep into the powers of the word descends on the shoulders of the
poet (and the critic). It is here in his “Symbolism” that Graham
says ‘Literature exploits other properties of words besides their
referential ones; e.g, their capability of being organized into
rhythmical groups, their auditory and muscular suggestions, their
fortuitous kinships with other words. Latent and undeveloped in
ordinary language, these qualities become decisive in
literature’. From ancient days in our country all the scientists
of poetry without exception have been investigating and
meditating about the four forms of “Vaak”(speech) called
para,pasyanti,madhyamaa,vaikhari and the three powers of the
sound(shabda)namely abhidha,lakshana,and vyanjana. This is an
invariable chapter generally in every work of poetics.
It is above all these levels, nevertheless, that lies the origin
of poetry, ninety nine per cent of which is the look with which
the poet sees objects or rather the vision of the poet. “ The
perfect rose is only a running flame emerging and flowing off and
never in any sense at rest static, finished.” A mind which could
clothe in a handful words, the eternal fire of life burning in
creation, can not be a mere scrap of paper. D.H.Lawrence has
adorned the horizons of the 20 Th century with a new sun. What is
noteworthy is that the red rose did not appear to him as a
flower; he saw only the running flame. We think that the running
flame falls from the branch; but where does it go? It appears in
the branch; it is another flower to one who is not a seer; but to
the seer, it is the same old flower reappearing. The Japanese
poet of the 15th century, Arkikida Moritake had a similar vision;
“The fallen flower- I see returning to its branch! O! A
butterfly…” here the emphasis is not on the buttefly; it is on “
the fallen flower returning to its branch’.
“yo apaam pushpam vedaa pushpavaan bhavati”, is the word of an
ancient Vedic seer. Whoever knows the flower of the water, is the
possessor of the flower.) This has no literal meaning. The entire
universe appeared as water to the ancient Indian seers. The
lengthy hymn in the 29th anuvaka of the taittariya upanishat
is:”Aapovaa idagm sarvam vishvaa bhootanyaapaha…”All this is
water-the entire creation-the living beings who have ‘prana’ the
food that is ‘anna’,the Chandas whcihh are the metres,the
jyothis-chakra th celestial world , the Vedas, the gods-every
thing is water. This very hymn, which is in literal language, is
condensed by a seer into one word”apaam pushpam”.
What appears to the physical eye is the flower, and what appears
to the intellectual eye is the running flame. It is, perhaps this
which Kant called “the thing in itself’, in his critique of the
pure reason. The poet expresses what the intellectual eye sees
while the non-poet utters, what the physical eye sees. There is a
subtle point here… the sage also has the intellectual eye in
common with the poet; but that is up to the vision only. From
that point they go their different ways. The sage conveys the
vision in the ordinary language while the poet conveys it in a
special language, which is his distinction. The poet exploits the
uncommon powers of the word. It is perhaps for this reason that
in a long list of priorities, the Veda places the poet a step
higher than the sage. In the 12th anuvaka of Taittariya
Upanishat, it is said”Bramhaa devaanaam,padaveeh kaveenaam,rishir
vipraanaam,mahisho mriganaam,syeno gridhraanaam….”. The greatest
among gods is bramha, among poets the padaveeh. Among Brahmans
the rishi,among animals the buffalo, among the birds the falcon
and so on. To place the sage on a par with the poet would be a
commonplace statement. But to place the poet above the sate and
below only the gods is a statement of Vedic vision. Therefore one
who wants to emerge as a poet has to become a sage first.
Since poetry begins from the very ‘look’ of the poet, he must
commence his lessons of poetry with cultivation of this ‘look’,
if he has not received it by birth.
At a times a sage also speaks like a poet, Schopenhauer the
German philosopher said, looking at the pillar carrying the
weight of the roof of a temple,” this column is the symbol of the
will to work. I am here to hold up this roof, murmurs this column
ever struggling with the forces of gravitation”. Many people saw
the column –but with their two eyes, Schopebnhauer saw it with
his third eye; and it looked as the ‘symbol of the will to work’.
That is its metaphysical personality.
Hemachandra said centuries ago, in his ‘Kaavyaanusaasana’
“Naanrishih kavi rityuktham rishicha kila darsanaat,vichitra
bhaava dharmaamscha tatva prakhyaacha darsanam”. This means one
who is not a sage cannot be a poet. Then how to become a sage? By
vision. Then what is vision? It is the ability to see the
metaphysical content of the subject. Therefore you have to become
a sage to become a poet. You cannot escape this disaster even by
fleeing to the countries of the west. Because, even there the
great poet Rimbaud declares “ I want to be a poet and I am
working to make myself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a
long prodigious and rational disordering of the senses; there is
unspeakable torture during which he becomes the great patient,
the great criminal and the great learned one among men; for he
arrives at the unknown”.
It brings to our mind at once the life of Valmiki. One has to
pass through all these tortures; there is no escape. See how
wonderfully Rimbaud tells us this great truth “so much the worse
for the wood, to find itself a violin”. After all a mere wood
before it becomes a fiddle and begins to emit melodies, what
terrible experiences it has to pass through at the hands of the
carpenter’s tool; for poet life itself is the carpenter’s tool.
(from Seshendra’s “The arc of blood – poet’s note book”)
The curvature of mystery
Bereft of leaves, the naked branch
That spreads onto our balcony
Is the curvature of mystery
Which poses the question eternally
Its flame like twigs tiny, newborn, its branches of fruits that stop the wayfarer
The cuckoos that sing in its cool shade
The little blue rags of sky caught in its leaves and keep fluttering-
Where are they! Where did they go!
Now of course it is a naked branch,
At its end a kite, like a tail of sankranthi
That vanished into time like evaporating tear invisible-
If I show you one visible posture
I know you people devour the entire invisible world of my thoughts and feelings
I know – that is why –I say it is naked but in that branch
Time is flowing like electric current in the copper wire.
(From his Telugu collection of poetry “Jana Vamsham”)
FLOWERS AND SILENCES
The dim darkness-the diffused light-dimness of one merging into the other-
imparting more length to the long trees that are standing like stretched out
shadows wearing stars in their hair- silence is imparting more depth to the darkness
in this advaita where darkness is merged into silence, my mind wakes up,
now not only sound but even a ray of light is a violent disturbance to the profoundness
of peace- in such moments deep truths unveil themselves-
now I realise it is not sound but in silence melody lives-
I am born out of flowers and silences- while passing my hand brushed against a flower,
I asked 'are you bruised? ‘‘Me or you' smiling, the flower questioned back- the heart
of my pen broke and split blood; - I do not know which paper can bear this pen-
In the gigantic silences of forests, which touch the blue skies, the carpenter bird pecks
at the trunks of great trees which echo, far reaching sounds-
what can he do among the tiny crotons?
I ate days like fruits-now I eat drops of tears like grapes-frightened by the sun
took refuge under shades-sitting on the pavement eating dreams from eyes like ice cream
with spoons- measuring my life with dark evenings- I distributed my wealth
once with metres, now I scatter with handfuls my future
letting it fly in all directions-
I washed my heart in tears and dried it over poetry- walked past
wearing people on my body like shawls-
in the assemblies of flames; in countries abroad I raised my gypsy voice
and sang mixing earth and sky-
this country is the graveyard of my genius- however fast I walk
the distance remains the same. This land is thirsty for my blood,
it is snoring in the little shades of pigmy trees-
I picked my pen and dipped it in the sun
to write a summer song for my nation-
(From ‘The Burning Sun ‘Collection of poems)
PURGE THE LITERARY FIELD
Acceptance speech on the occasion of
the fellowship conferred by
The Sahitya Akademi of India
In all humility I accept the prestigious Fellowship conferred on me by the Sahitya Akademi of India. I feel highly honored and heartily express my sincere thanks to the Honorable members of the Sahitya Akademi, the president of the Akademi Mr. Ramakanth Rath and the Secretary
“ Tatah karunavedithwaath adharmoya
As all of us know we are passing through exceptionally hard time when our country has suffered a steep decline of moral integrity and the first causality of this historic calamity is that the people in positions look upon merit with supreme contempt and willingly kneel before the throne of power, receive their command and trample justice ruthlessly. This is the Phenomenon that we confront in every field of activity in our society today.
In this convenient atmosphere mediocrity is ruling the roost. It is exactly here that literature comes into the picture. It is primary duty of literature to uplift the moral values and human values among the people. This is the role of literature played from the hoary past. We do not know when Valmiki was alive and wrote Ramayana, the World’s greatest epic. Ramayana exerted influence almost over half of the world and the influence still prevails in large areas even outside India to this day.
Valmiki was accidentally witness to the barbaric scene of a tribal man killing one of a pair of birds. The hunter ekes out his livelihood by killing innocent birds and animals and making the dead, the meal of his, his wife and his children. When the bird was struck by the arrow of the hunter and fell down from the branch and died while the female bird was wailing, hovering around its dead mate. Valmiki was overwhelmed by sorrow and indignation. He cursed the hunter and the famous curse ‘ Maa Nishaaada’ came out of his lips in Anushtup Chchanda i.e , in a metre called Anushtup and that too , it ensued unintended. It became famous as a Shloka. It was musical and lending itself to singing. It is in this metre that Valmiki wrote his immortal epic and it is this poignant incident that gave birth to the epic. Here it can be noticed that the sequence of poetry is, first ‘ Shoka’ and from out of it came ‘ Shloka’ and this fact is recorded in the same Sarga ( Canto) as “ Shokasshlokattva maagathah”(2,40).
Here it is noteworthy to understand the implications of the crucial shloka in the same sarga,
Mithi dwijah/nisaamya udatheem
Krauncheem idham vachana mabraveet”
It was such a great wave of sorrow that overtook him that Valmiki consequently became very indignant of the barbarous act of the hunter and shouted “ adharmoyam’( This is adharma) a resounding protest permanently applicable to adharma in all times. This is the role of poet: this is the role of literature. The role is to oppose injustice and to oppose it most vehemently and ferociously for the good of the human race. But how does one become poet, that is to say, how does one identify oneself with others’ sorrow when he has no reason personally to become sorrowful. Now we get back to the crucial shloka ‘ tatahah karuna vedithwaath’.
‘karuna vedithwaath’ that is , due to compassion which is the supreme quality ruling the essential realm of Valmiki’s personality , Valmiki was moeved to the core by the wailing of the bereaved bird. It is this ‘ karuna vedthwa’ that was taken up by the chain of great thinkers over centuries who explored the root cause of poetry by minutely studying the mechanics of the Art of Literature. Sharadaatanaya in his treatise on poetry called “Bhava Prakasha’ name it as Sathwa, Rajas , and Tamas. By this guna i.e qualities of Sathwa , Rajas , Tamas. By this Guna one identifies himself with the others’ sorrows and joys and becomes one with the other. It is with this quality that he distinguishes the good from bad. Sathwa guna sharpens the conscience; the voice of the conscience; becomes profoundly articulate and alert in him. Now, what Sharadaaatanaya said defining Satwa is “ Parasya sukha duhkhaadeh anubhavena chetasah, thad bhaava bhavanam yena bhaveth tadanukulathah thath sathwam(Bhavaprakasha).
It can now be easly drawn from what is narrated above that poetry emanates from a person who is a satwik i.e compassionate, not from a pretender or an imposter. That is to say one should feel for the victim of injustice. Feeling is the essence of a human being. The distinguished Professor of poetry, Harward University, Archbald Mcleish in “Poetry & Experience” says, “The crime against life, the worst of all crimes, is not to feel”.
From feeling are born metaphors. And in another context he says, “When a metaphor dies, a civilization dies”.
It is well to know that one should consciously and determinedly suppress swartha i.e, selfishness in him and it is only then that he becomes open to receive the pains and sorrows of others; that means it is only then he can feel for others. No virtue falls into one’s lap from out of the blue. One has to deliberately practice it. All human beings have to reach this point in their journey on earth. All poets from times immemorial dedicated their lives for this noblest cause and had become builders of civilizations and cultures. How much we are indebted to these great men, we scarcely realize. But for them two persons could not be sitting together and talking to each other as we do today. We would have jumped at each other’s throat and killed and would have continued to be the example of the theory of survival of the fittest, as in the jungle and as in fact we were to start with.
There is a Chchand (Stanza) in Rigveda offering salutations to them. “ idam nama rishibhyaha purvebhayaha purvajebhyaha pathikrithbhyaha Namo vakam prashaasmahe,”
which means PATHMAKERS; they made it easy for the coming generations to walk easily in a world which was a pathless jungle. (In those days for the word kavi they used the word rishi.) We have a similar episode in the modern times, like the bird killed in Ramayana. Guy de Maupassant, the French story writer has story called ‘Love” which is almost similar to Ramayan’ bird. One must read it to feel the thrill. These celebrated bird stories are found in the ancient lore. There is one in Chinese also.
Literature is not worth the name if it does not stand up against injustice and champion the cause of moral values. The renowned Essayist of England, Hazlitt dwelling on the birth and purpose of poetry says “Impassioned poetry is an emanation of the moral and intellectual part of our nature.” So literature played the moral and humanizing role in our society from the ancient times. In the west also literature played the same role as can be seen from the Greek Epic Illiad of Homer, the works of playwrights , Aechylus, Sophocles, Eurepedes and poets like Pindar and the Roman stalwarts like Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Longinus and so on. Aristotle in the end discussing on tragedy in his “Poetics” said “it is the part played by the social morality and rhetoric that is important in making the dialogue.”(C.H 15) Also says “you will win if you blend what is improving with what pleases and at once delight and instruct the reader.’
In English literature it is this tradition that led to the emergence of Morality plays. The immortal Shakespeare is only an extension of this glorious tradition in which the poet dedicates himself to the single goal of uplifting mankind from mire to morality through poetry. In the modern period words worth was the zealous protagonist of teaching morality through poetry. He says “Every poet is a teacher; I wish either to be considered as a teacher or as nothing”. (Letters to Sir George Beaumont).Coleridge went on a few steps forward and said, “No man was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher’, These are the words that Thouthabhatta said in his poetics “ Kavya Kautukam’, “ Naan Rishih kavi rithyukthah / rishih cha kila darshanaath…”
Well, the last and not the least of all is the ultimate truth that the art of literature alone can bring about change in a person, there is nothing else in the world that can do this Himalayan miracle, which to the work-a-day world looks little and negligible. Even at the point of gun one cannot change the other. Perhaps frightened of being shot he may yield and say yes but inwardly he remains unchanged and also will be cursing the threatener inwardly. But these means that the gun could not change him and even the nuclear bomb cannot change anybody. The Governments and the courts punish the thieves and murderers. But after they serve their sentence and come out aof the jail , they again take to the same crimes. The stark reality is that all change has to come from within and it isa conversion of one’s heart, from one state to another state. To the immoral and the unscrupulous, truth is unpalatable and so they instinctively detest any punishment or pontifical teaching. Then what is the solution?
Should the world suffer forever in crime, danger, tension, violence and chaos? No! If we only realize there is a divine medicine, the ambrosia, the nectar, that is, the Art of Literature. That alone can change man entirely from the very core of his person. How? That is what Bhinavagupta in his “Lochana Vyaakhya” explains. He says “ Kaavye Hridaya samvaada vashaath thavath nimagnaakaarikaa bhavathichittavrithih”.
When the reader reads the poem his heart is attracted towards what the poem says in the skilful poetic way. What is the poetic way? One is advised to go the ampler page of poetics to know this. But the change here is a change from within the heart. Hridaya samvaada vashaat
is the crucial point here. Another great personage in the hierarchy of the seers of poetic truth, Mammata says in his (Kaavya Prakasha) obviously expatiating on Abhinava gupta, “Kaantheva sarasthaapaadena abhimukhi kriyacha karothi…."
The earliest of all these authors of poetics the great Bharatha in his Natya Shastra uncovered this truth in most potent words “yortho hridaya samvaade tasya bhavo rasaodhabhavah / shareeram vyaapyathe thena shushkam kashtha mivagninaa".
The object with which the subject has emotional rapport, spreads all over the body and mind of the subject like fire spreads in dry wood.
The Art of Literature invests magnetic power on the word by the skilful use of symbols, metaphors, and various such devices of poetic mesmerism, by which the reader or listener is virtually enticed into its snares and accepts its teaching not even realizing that he changing himself into another. Rudrata in his “Kaavyalankara” says more dexterously “swaadukaavya rasonmisram shastramapyupayujathe/ prathamaaleedha madhavah pibanti katu bheshajam".
Shastra which goes above the head of common people also will be happily received by poetry; it is like the powder of bitter medicine mixed with sweetness and not realizing that it is in fact bitter medicine. It is not irrelevant here to quote the legendary figure in Literature Count Leo Tolstoy from his “What is Art?” Art is infectious; this is the lofty cause which literature has been serving from ages and eons.
All this boils down to one point or leads to one omnipotent question. Should we have to remain quite, with folded hands while such sacred weapon of Literature is being besmirched and tarnished by extra literary barbarians. Should we not act now, while imposters, crooks with literary masks, manipulators and manouverers , masquerading as Maha Kavis demolish merit in the literary field and turn literature into a ladder for social-climbing, using the cotemporary socio-political circumstances in their favor . The greatest atrocity is the television; the most powerful of the publicity media has literary banished Literature from its kingdom. Even cricket and film actors are given the lion’s share of the screen. The poet is not given any place and he is kept out of its gates. The poet has no place to go anywhere in this country. The concerned sections do not realize that this is disgraceful for the country. The country which worshipped Valmiki , Vyasa, Bhasa , Kalidasa and a whole pantheon of poets.
We must revolt against this treachery against all canons of Culture and Humanity. W must purge the literary field of all the evil elements. Let us launch a nationwide debate for this righteous cause. I also call upon the press and all the publicity media to join their voice to resurrect India. Let my voice be the first salvo.
I take this opportunity again for thanking the president, the secretary and the members of the Sahitya Akademi for conferring on me this prestigious Fellowship. Thanking you all.
18th July 1999
| - Seshendra Sharma
Poetry-A performing art
Though poetry is an art by itself, in kavi sammelans (poets’ gatherings) it becomes a performing art. While reciting his poem on such occasions from the Dias, unless the poet becomes expressive by modulations of his voice, his face, and his hands and in many other ways according to the feelings fleeting in the poem, no living communication is reached with the audience. Then alone the audience are drawn into the poem without any physical expressiveness, that is to say, if it is like sounds issuing from a loudspeaker, then the living link necessary with the audience will not be there. When a person reads the poem, without any physical expressiveness, that is to say, if it is like sounds issuing from a loud speaker, then the living link necessary with the audience will not be there. When a person reads the poem, all the nuances of the expressions of the poet when he recites it will be instinctively guessed by the reader. And there by the reader receives the full pleasure that
the poem is pregnant with.
The poet by writing a poem in a language is addressing only a fraction of the people imprisoned in that language. But a poem is the product of feeling and emotions, which are universal, while language is only regional. The poet has to reach the entire mankind expressing crossing the language, region, nationality and such other many barriers that divide mankind.
Translation, of course, has been helping the poet from times immemorial to reach all mankind: and that is how Valmiki, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Aristotle, Kalidas, Galib, Subrahmanya Bharathi, Kabir for that matter all the poets of all languages are the common heritage of whole mankind. While that is the fundamental truth of the art of literature, today’s poets are in self-imposed shackles and not only that, they are also proud of it. They say their language alone is great and others are inferior. While poets are sinking thus into the mire of localism, the politician and the businessman are doing what the poet has to do. Indira Gandhi belonging to Allahabad contests the parliamentary election in some constituency in Karnataka miles and miles away from her place. Similarly the businessman establishes his business centers in distant countries among strange people, strange languages, stranger cultures, while, as said before the poet enjoys sinking into their own mire of localism glorifying his own language and region. The Indian politician, a product of Indian democracy, and whose chief characteristic is opportunism, raises language and region to the glorified level of political slogans to gather votes, while at the same time pretends that he is a nationalist or internationalist. This is the sorry pass to which or poor Indian literature has come to. Any change of this pathetic situation is not in sight anywhere in the near future. –
(Excerpt from the poet’s Collection of News Paper Edit page Articles “How Long these Mirages?”
A POEM: IN DELPHI (1987)
Here the sea is caught in the mountains
and the wind in the olives
the bird suspended in the sky of joy
for a moment, like eternity
Here where the gods walk on the hills
with their mighty legs set like
we tracked our way my friends, into the myth
the breath of time which whispered in our ears
the fables of earth’s childhood
we walked on ruins
which are stones and stories today
A poem was flowing down the cliffs
of my mind
I allowed her to flow
to flow so slowly and softly
that my life may not ebb away-
Tree A Cathedral
Is the flower the Archbishop of a cathedral
Squirrels, birds and insects visit
Its branches like compelled consciences
For a confession
To unload their chest, of echoes
Of the brutality they commit on fruits
The innocent citizens of the vegetable countries
The flower presides
Over the winged and unwinged creatures
Of creation and impart to their lives
The aesthetics of silence
Night is the contemplative mood
Of the garden and the garden
The dream of the night
As the garden lies serene in sleep
Under the stars
Of the dark blue night
It unfolds itself as a great civilization
Meadows of metaphors
Float in the depths of the leafy dream
Of a tiny bird gathered into its wings
In the quintessence of the branch-
In the hermitage of flowers
All colors lead to the destination of the saffron-
WORDS ARE WINE YARDS
This is not a book
the sentences in it are
My arteries and veins-
Cut off my hand if you want, cut off my leg;
But don’t touch my tongue-
it is the instrument of my word –
performing marriage between vowels and consonants,
and anointing honey to ideas, he who brought
meandering stream of life to the world of letters,
in his sweetness world bathes and becomes virtuous-
in words there are wine yards-
authoritarians arrogance cannot humiliate him-
Man can ascend mountain, peak but not the peak of life-
He can touch the stars of the sky but cannot touch the heart-
He can cross the oceans but not a tear-
If man were to be floating in life like
The rag of white cloud in the sky
Why there will be lust and lewdness, rancour and wrath?
Why would wars vanquish this world?
Stop! Stop! Some memory is coming walking on dry leaves;
What message it has brought from
forests of this raging summer
A FLYING GUITAR
The bumblebee, which came
Into the room from the sun
Like a flying guitar
Wakes up the sleeping melancholy…
The trees standing with its fingers
Dripped in the yellow
And dispassionate sky
Draped in deep blue
Suspends me like a feather
In a remorseful painting of still-life-
Out over there,
Stands the season of Indian summer
Bathing the objects in the pouring sunshine;
Wind lies motionless
And bird passes across
Drawing a line as it were
Between the two worlds of motion and stagnation
Time flows into
Infinity in the silence of man and melody
The bird in the midair, balancing itself
With its wings in a horizontal line
To achieve motionlessness,
Is a wall clock in the sky
With its hands
On three and nine-
You may be a mere piece of wood
But you are the one symbol of labour
That raised its head in the ancient years of the earth-
Plough may be your name
But you are that burning letter
Which fell on the earth
From the sky
Abandoning the language of stars-
Your touch roused
The perfumes of dreams
Sleeping in the earth
And dispersed them all over
In the empty space-
Before you might knelt
The woods, the hills
The rivers and the savannahs-
Drinking your sperm
Earth yielded in ecstatic joy
Large gifts of fruits
Hearths, homes and poems
Today in the final page of history
Your have drawn the burning line
Across the mankind
Defining workers and idlers
Held out the promise of a new sun
To the working class of the world –
VIEWS ON POETRY AROUND THE WORLD
I always believe and it is a reasoned belief, that poetry like everything else is the same all over the world wherever there is human society. I agree with Archibald MacLeish when he says; “poetry is poetry in all tongues… a poem in one language is comparable with a poem in another, for both are poems”. It is of interest to note that the Arabic writer Ibn Qutaiba in the 9th century AD says in his book of “poetry and poets” “god has not limited learning and poetry and eloquence to one age rather than another, not distinguished one people thereby above another, but has made it a joint heritage among his servant in every age…”
If we examine the poems of different languages of the world which everyman educated in poetry ought to, we find that a poem has universally more or less the same characteristics in every language. By and large the principle characteristics are common to all of them. The Indian scientific Literature on poetry, which is the only body of such Literature available in the world, agrees on one point regarding the technique of making a poem. That is –the language of poetry should be different from the common language and that it is should have suggestive power rather than limit itself to the ‘referential content’ of the language.
Seshendra with Nikiforos Vrettakos , Greek Poet who wrote preface to
Greek Translation of My Country – My People – Modern Indian Epic : Athens : 1987
It is only in this context that Indian poetics used the words like ‘chamatkaar’ and ‘vakrokti’, for which it is difficult to find synonymous words in other languages to explain their meaning; they have been discussed at some length in the other pages of this notebook. This attitude or outlook on poetry, which the Indian poetics projects us surprisingly true in the case of the poetry of all the languages of the world. I would like to string here the statements of all possible authorities on the subject in different languages, to make the feeling of surprise more explicit.
Although as early as the 3rd century AD. In China Lu Chi attempted to explain the technique of writing poetry, I omitted him from the list of scientific literature on poetry because Lu Chi’s work, Wen Fu, approached the subject entirely poetically, dealing with what a poet’s mind does and what things a poet should choose to derive inspiration etc. The whole thing reads like almost beautiful poem in itself and distinctly lacking in that scientific approach which is seen in the Indian poetics and also in Aristotle to some extent. However Will Durant places before us informed scholarly opinion on the subject in his ‘The story of civilisation’. Referring to language of poetry he says:
“Since abstractions multiply with civilisation, the Chinese language in its written form has become a secret code of subtle suggestion with concentration, and aims to reveal, through the picture it draws, some deeper things invisible. It does not discuss, it intimates; it leaves out more than it says; and only an oriental can fill it in”.
The last sentence brings to my mind A.B.Keith heckling the Indian Dhwani in his history of Sanskrit Literature. Durant continues, “The men of old, say the Chinese, reckoned it the highest excellence in poetry that the meaning should be beyond the words, and that the reader should have to think it out for himself.”
Discussing about the soul of Japanese poetry, Geoffrey Bowanas who seems to have done considerable scholarly work on the subject, informs us as follows, “ To Japanese poet, it has always seemed preferable to suggest in vague terms, to symbolise rather than to express fully and plainly.” In another context he points out… “ The form was clearly one in which the less saintly poet was below his best”.
I will now turn to Arabia. As far back as 908 AD Iban Ul Mu’tazz said, in his book of poetics, “Real eloquence consists of the expression of ideas with the fewest words”. How exactly similar is this view to those mentioned before. Abu Hilal al-Askari, another Arabic author of poetics opines, “little if anything new can be originated in poetry, and that the only difference between one poet and another lies in his manner of expression”. This is the same as Vamana’s theory, which I was discussing elsewhere in this diary.
The origin of poetry, according to one of the highly intellectualised concepts of Indian poetics is explained by the theory, that a poem is seen and not made, for which a poet is to be a seer. “ Naan rishih kavi rityuktham, rishischa kila darsanaath.”(One who is not a seer cannot be said to be a poet; a seer is one who has vision). Much of the best of poetry in the Vedic literature and the subsequent epics comes exactly under this category. At this point, that profound mind of Jung knocks at my doors, his voice calling out. Jung considers symbols as primordial angels, first things. How true he is, is known only to the Indian mind which is bathed in the Vedic waters of Ganges and all that goes with it. In the blue skies of my inner world rises like a full moon, that “Riq” “deveem vaacha majannayanatha devaah.” the hymns of Mandookya Upanishad and the entire world of Tantras in which sounds, colours and symbols float with mixed faces. Jung says, these primordial angels cannot be contrived by poets because they are evolved out of racial memory. They can’t be manipulated in art because they are artefacts in their own right; cores of ultimate meaning about which, as about bits of ancient metal dropped into castle wells, crystals of immeasurable meaning have gathered. They are magnets of the soul fallen like meteors out of eternity.” African poetry had its commencements exactly in the same way. Frances Herskovite who did appreciable work on African poetry informs us of the African conviction that poetry comes in the form of songs into the heads of those initiates in a state of possession, and are interpreted as the voice of the deity himself. Leopard Sedar Senghor explaining the concept of Negritude in poetry says, “In the field of arts the values of Negritude can be essentially summed up in the rhythm and the symbolic image. I generally define the Negro-African work of Art.. As an image or a set of rhythmical images. Symbolic image did I say. In Negritia, every work of art is an image-with-a- sign, with a signification.. Thus Negro-African poem is a network of ‘metaphors’. The meaning of the analogical image, however, is efficiently expressed-I was tempted to say elucidated-only by the rhythm,”
3 great French minds express views on poetry, which are like echoes of the theories of Indian poetics. Andre Maurois says “ A line of poetry is not a group of words having a set number of feet, but a group of words forming an entity and separated from the following group by an empty space in thought, as well as on paper. We think in successive leaps and the quantum thiery is true for thought. Writing prose, on the other hand is to attempt to cement a structure of thought, to fill in the empty spaces and to bind the whole together with a layer of logic. A line poetry, composed of a line and a n empty space, is the twofold action, that respiration by which man absorbs life and gives back intelligible words”.
Paul Claudel says as follows:
“The words that I use, they are the words of every day. And they are not the same… they are your very own sentences. They are none of your sentences, which I do not know how to make use of again. ……. And these feet are your feet, but see how I walk on the sea and how I trample, in triumph, the waters of the sea;”
This recalls to the informed mind the words of Jagannatha; “putraste jaataha,dhanam te daasyaami ithi vaakyaartha dhijanya ahlaadasya na lokottarathvam, ataha na tasmin vaakye kaavyatva prasakhtihi… chamatkaarathavathvameva vaa kaavyathvam.”(Sentece like a son is born to you, money is given to you, though are sources of pleasure, there is no uniqueness in that pleasure. That is why there is no poetry in those sentences. Poetry comes when you give a special twist to them by you genius.)
In the “Vritti” of Dhwanyaaloka of Anandavardhana, the stalwart of Indian poetics, the same view is expressed, “vyangya vyanjana kaabhyaam eva suprayukthaabhyaam mahakavitvalabhaha mahaakavinaam; na vaachya vaachaka rachanaa maatrena” (For great poets, great poetry comes by the skilled use of the suggestive expressions of language, but not by using its literal meanings, which is in other words the common language.)
And here is Paul Valery, another great French mind, poet and critic. He says. “ the writer must be master of various notes in the scale of expression so as to produce multiple effects. He is no longer the dishevelled madman who writes a whole poem in the course of one feverish night; he is cool scientist almost an Algebraist in the service of a subtle dream… he will take care not to hurl on to the paper everything whispered to him in fortunate moments by muse. On the contrary everything he imagined, felt, dreamed, and planned will be passed through a sieve, weighed, filtered, subjected to form and condensed as much as possible so as to gain in power what it loses in length….”.
T.S.Eliot says in his essay on Dante, “The greatest poetry can be written with the greatest economy of words…”(Chapter-2) Then Dylan Thomas who is a rage among the Telugu poets has similar view in the matter. He says: “The best craftsmanship always leaves wholes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.”
LANGUAGE IS NOT POETRY
I reiterate that language is not poetry.
You wonder what I meant to say about language in poetry in my last letter. I know that the idea sounds strange to those who did not bestow thought on it, and it is also inassimilable to my Telugu friends whose minds have been nurtured for a thousand years at least on a thoroughly wrong notion that language is poetry.
Here the crucial question ultimately is what is the role of language in poetry. If we analyse the phenomenon of poetic creation, we will realise that the origins of poetry are inside the ‘being’ of the poet and certainly not outside. There is no doubt scope here to misunderstand me. The materials of poetry maybe outside the poet as for instance like his social life: but the circumstances of poetry are inside. The birth of poetry is exactly like the birth of a plant from the seed. The poet is exactly like the birth of a plant from the seed. The poet is the seed of the poetry. The seed may no doubt draw on the salts of the soil but the plant is born only in the seed. One cannot say the plant is born in the soil. Like the birth as well as the circumstances of the birth are an internal development of the
Poetry is born before it is communicated. It existed before it is brought into language. It is not born during its communication. There is a species of poetry in Telugu known as Ashu Kavita (Extempore poetry). But even in this case the poetry is born before it is communicated and only the gap of time between the birth of poetry its communication is sought to be minimised as much as possible. That is why more often even the extempore poetry is falteringly expressed, this kind of poetry has been held in Indian poetics as of inferior order hardly conforming to any identifiable features of true poetry.
It is usually said, and it a gross statement, that a poem is made under inspiration. Inspiration is the result of the touch of poignant situation in life. Contemplating on this, Lorca said, “The state of inspiration is not the most advantageous one for the writing of poetry. One returns from the inspired state as one returns from a foreign country. Poem is the legend of the journey.”
I recollect a very meaningful saying’ the unheard melody is more melodious than the heard one’: this sums up the entire life of a poem. The poem at its birthplace is unlimited melody but when it is sought to be communicated to the outside world, commences the journey of hazardous adventure of the poem. It is the legend of this journey, which Lorca refers to and which remains to be recorded and which record comes to be called a poem. Poetry lying murmuring in the shores of the remote being of the poet comes out grudgingly under the forcible hand of communication like a cobra into the poet’s basket of words. However, the grandest poem also bears the cruellest marks of the rape of communication. It is here that languages raise their head and words play havoc. In this sense the word occupies an important place in the dialectics of poetry.
If language is indispensable for communication, words become the fundamental constituents of the medium of poetry, and communication turns into the most trickish problem of poetry.
The poet fights his historic battles in the field of language single-handedly with whole armies of words. The readymade weapons are useful only to face the readymade and conventional situations of the warfare. But a real poet whose problems are purely his own the makings of his circumstances, has to find perforce his own methods and manoeuvre of war. He has to construct his own arsenal of weaponry. In this process he manipulates, he pushes and kneads words into places and postures convenient to his motives. Such manipulation of words, which rises to the level of art, however much of art it may be, is still therefore purely incidental to the problem of communication. The plot of communication thickens and hazards increase specially if it is poetry.
Do understand that language is definitely not poetry and that poetry, which clings to language, is inferior poetry. The lay-man’s mind which has no grasp of poetry mistakes it to consist of certain classical words, classical Sanskrit phrases, and certain prosadiacal flourishes which became conventional by flux of time: this is an unscientific and thoughtless feeling and therefore only a figment of imagination. Those so-called modern poets of Telugu who cling to such classical flourishes still are really not modern since they have evidently no modern perception. Even the poetry lovers and critics in this language suffer from the same handicap, for they remark either that there is no craft or that the dignity of language is lost, whenever they miss the aforesaid conventional flourishes.
It is a great historical truth in Telugu poetry that for a thousand years it never occurred either to the poets or to the scholars to apply the established principles of poetics to the Telugu poetic creations during the different centuries in the past, though they were well conversant with them. If they had been applied Telugu classical poetry would have broken off from the language bound line of poetry giving up the false concept of word beauty, which it has remained to be this day.
Failure to develop consciousness of poetry in the light of the principles of established poetics had led Telugu poetry in the past along only the path of word-beauty and misled generations of untrained minds into thinking that all poetry lies only in achieving word-beauty, and thought was relegated to the background. This is perhaps due to a contemporaneous fact that that in the field of Sanskrit poetry all the schools which project focus on thought or rather spirit, like Dhvani, and vakrokti have declined both in the field of creation and in the field of criticism and the schools of word –beauty rose up to power, when the career of Telugu poetry commenced round about 11th century. This is approximately the position. Nannaya Bhatt the first Telugu poet has derived this influence indirectly through pampa the Kannada poetry, who was himself under the influence of the fashions of the then Sanskrit poetry. Therefore, if there are still some poets in Telugu in the contemporary times clinging to the conventional classical flourishes mistaking it to be poetry, it is not their personal fault but it is only that they are not of such original and imaginative calibre to visualise a new language for a new creation, and come out breaking the shell of the old world.
(From Seshendra’s book “LETTERS OF SESHENDRA: IN DEFENCE OF PEOPLE AND POETRY)
POVERTY AND POETRY
Calcatta’s Oberoi Grand was not as grand as we fancied sitting in Hyderabad. After spending some time at the poolside we strolled with our friends towards the coffee-Shop and made ourselves comfortable near a window table. A couple of tables away from where we sat were those who triggered the City of Joy Controversy. They were eating and chatting. On the one side was a foreigner opposite to him sat a Bengali. The room being almost deserted but for a few waiters flitting around in their impressive livery, we could overhear tiny pieces of their conversation. They were obviously discussing the dialogues with the script spread before them. My mind of course swings between Lapierre and his critics. I found some stinging remarks in his book which indicate that, as a writer, he is not sympathetic to poverty squalor and misery of Calcutta. Under a thin veil of appreciation there is also a surreptitious flow of sarcasm. The metaphors, the trend of expression and the general behavior language, especially the third chapter does not throw a favorable light on Dominique Lappierre. Perhaps it was this that ignited the wrath of the citizens of Calcutta. It brought to my mind lines of Rimbaud, the French poet who wrote on Lapiere’s own city, Paris, in his poem called “Paris re -peopled “. “ Syphilitics, Madmen, kings, puppets, ventriloquists / what can you matter to Paris the whore? / Your souls or your bodies your poisons or rags? She will shake you off, you pox-rotten snarlers!”
If you have poverty in India you have more hideous forms of evils in those countries. Poverty has been the theme of many writers and poets in the last two centuries, though poor poets also wrote on royalties in the earlier centuries. H.G. Wells says: “Tennyson achieved great popularity flattered Queen Victoria and was the first among the British poets to be made a peer for his poetry. His Morte D’Arthur is worthy to stand beside the architecture of the time. More plainly, writing of Tennyson T.S. Elliot observed: “Tennyson‘s poetry is flat: it has only two dimensions: there is nothing more in it than what the average Englishman with a feeling for verbal beauty can see.”
But whoever wrote in 19th and 20th centuries on the theme of poverty, in India or abroad, were not scornful of the poor. In India Sarathchandra Chattopaddhyay produced enormous literature centered around the plight of women and poverty and drew the sympathy of millions of Indians towards those two sections of the society. Similarly Bibhuthibhushan Banerjee , in his well-known work Pather Panchali , wrote of those who “ bore all their lives the burden of crushing poverty. (In the words of this translator T W Clarke, London) . In England , France , Russia , perhaps a little earlier , a prodigious quantity of writing flowed from the pens of celebrated writers like Tolstoy , Victor Hugo , Balzac , Emile Zola , Charles Dickens , Emille Bronte , Charlotte Brote and son on . Even Thomas Hardy’s novels had the same scent although love also had its share. His theme was always the people of the open air life, not those of mansions or manor houses. All this literature was overflowing with “class consciousness”, a word that came into vogue later through Marxism. The early pioneers of Marxist criticsm in the USSR like Lenin, Lunascharky , Gorky , Plekhenov , Mayakosky , classified writers like Tolstoy , Charles Dickens, Balzac and George Bernard Shaw as “ Revolutionary “ writers.
Even to this day I feel that the climax of Class Consciousness still lies in Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. He symbolizes the feeling of ‘avenge’ against the exploiting classes.
When French Poet Baudelaire slapped a beggar he got properly boxed in return. But it appears that Baudelaire in return embraced the beggar congratulating him for his action.
Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion goes a step forward to prove that a lower class girl can yet be turned into a perfect lady of the most snobbish classes of the society , given all the social advantages which the upper classes get by birth , and also that it is not birth but the socio-economic environment that determines the mind and personality of an individual , with actors like Rex Harrison acting in it the play acquired great popularity and exerted considerable influence on the contemporary society. It does so even today. Or else why will its plagiarized version-Pretty Women – get such rave reviews?
But the bitterness with which Dickens writes on behalf of poverty is however unique. His Oliver Twist is only next to the bible. His description of the Orphanage. As “the brick and mortar of Elysium where there is all play and no work” is a savage innuendo against the hypocrisy of the religion and the upper classes of England who manage these homes as a pious cloak. They exactly resemble social welfare measures of today’s Indian Government.
When Rudyard Kipling called Indians Liars nearly a century ago, there was a wild consternation all over the country which eventually died down typically Indian way. What surpasses my comprehension is this: when we are guilty and there by expose ourselves to criticism of all grades, what justification can there be to resent such criticism? It is like a thief getting angry for being caught in the act of thieving. I think Dominique Lapierre and many others like him are not indefensible as long as there is poverty in India and as long as those large masses of poor people do not come out of their age-old opium – like contentment and congenital slavish mentality.
Lapierre’s other novel O! Jerusalem makes pleasant reading with its charming emotional undulations, metaphors fall like stars in their places, language moves without creases anywhere and the reader floats with the prose like on a long Chinese river. This is English translation by Kathryn Spink from the original French. So the problem is, to whom are we to attribute the virtues of the artistic language in the book?
That evening at the Poets’ Meet at Nandan, I was called to recite my poems . I started with a brief introduction, al little bit in English and al little in Hindi. “How to reach the Listeners? “is the primary concern of the poet on such occasions. Though it is rather easy in the Hindi- speaking areas since I recite straight away in Hindi, the problem here was the audience was predominantly Bengali speaking. So, the previous night, I made my friend Susanto cast a few of my poems into Bengali, wrote them out in Nagari Script and made him recite the Bengali translation to me in his voice three or four times so that I could catch the nuances in the intonation of the language and reproduce it as far as possible in my recital the next day. My friend admired my idea and my effort and also assured me that the audience would be thrilled. He was right. I had made this experiment with Kannada audience a few years ago with success in a multi-lingual Kavi Sammelan held by the Central Sahitya Akademi; also about a year ago at Ujjain in the Kalidas Academy before Hindi audience.
To my amazement on one or two occasions, though many were pleased, some rose up and requested, “Sir, please recite in Telugu also.” “Do you know Telugu?” I ask them.
Then, is it not a waste of time for you and for me to…?”
“No, Sir we want to hear the resonance, rhythm, melody... of your great language.”
I said “Language is not poetry, poetry can be translated into any language and all those effects which you want can be had in translation. Because given similar emotional situations, all languages manifest similar expressions, similar twists and turns and similar metaphors. In cases where they are not exactly similar there are corresponding expressions which have similar effects. They should be spotted by the translator. The translation of creative literature in the modern world is a great art and demands extensive learning and considerable aesthetic sense. Translation is the modern civilization which brings mankind together and makes them heir to the totality of human heritage.
All this of course falls flat on the ears of those bent upon hearing poems in the original language. I threw up my hands in utter helplessness and recited my poems in Telugu, wondering what the politician did to this country during the last 40 years or more.
-Deccan Chronicle (English Daily)
November 17th, 1991
(From the Poet’s Book “How Long these mirages?” published in 1995,
a collection of his journalistic articles that appeared in various English News Papers)
Is Literature a Science?
“Can literature be treated slightingly?” My friend relegated literature to the position of a pastime and considered it with no more value. This was done in contrast to the great material sciences, which alone are held by him in high esteem as products of intellect and objects worthy of man's pursuit.
I have to think that this mistake arises out of an erroneous attitude towards literature or failure to have come across correct and ideal forms of literature or not having sufficiently exercised his mind in the matter of proper appreciation of its purposes and functions.
Looked at from the correct perspective, literature has a high place in the general scheme of human knowledge. It can only be ranked with the great sciences, because all of the various sciences explain so many species of living and non-living matter or so many stages of evolution, as for instance, inorganic matter is explained by inorganic chemistry, plants explained by botany, animals by biology and finally man by physiologist and so on and so forth.
After creation reached the stage of man, a new chapter had opened and an unprecedented course rose in the line of creation. That is, as seen never before in nature, man began to change environments to suit his life unlike his preceding species, which changed themselves to suit the changing environment and life around them. So, after the augury of the new chapter, the latest species, namely man, undergoing physical change by any environmental change, and thereby perpetuating the lines of evolution in such terms, was elated once and for all. However, it is difficult to say as to how long this history of man will continue without the evolution of a new and more advanced species of life higher than man from the physical point of view.
Nevertheless it is now possible to presage on the available data of historical, archaeological, and scientific material rather than just on man's evolution, or to be more precise; the furtherance of the evolution of creation is not hereafter going to be towards the formation of new physical forms but it could be only towards the attainment of new intellectual and spiritual heights.
But what does this new stage of evolution consist of? In fact we are now witnessing, the ever expanding horizons of the mind and its immense potentialities. In the wake of this development, the pursuit of further human knowledge has finally culminated in endeavors to understand the inscrutable and mysterious behavior and phenomenon of the human mind. To unravel the tangled fabric of the mental process, its reaction, its effects, its vagaries etc., and to delve deep into the dark recesses of its abysmal bowels and cull out its treasured secrets, has become the final and most interesting enterprise of man.
In the wake of this glorious enterprise arose the phantoms of psychology, occult sciences, yoga, philosophy, literature and ever so many other activities of superb inexactitude.
Literature explains the emotional and the intellectual stage of the evolving man. For a more precise expression, I should say it endeavors to explain the latest stage of man's evolution or creation's evolution, for that matter. The extent of knowledge that mankind has so far acquired, of the internal and external universes, only indicates the history of our mind and its evolution. But literature, particularly that form of it, dealing with the intricate fibers of human feelings and sentiments, explains to us, of what the mind has come to be, that is, its ways, its capacities and caprices. The role has not been played by any science or any branch or form of human pursuit except literature.
My friend of course raises the contention that psychology is exactly the department of knowledge which fulfils this purpose, but I feel it is only as much as to say that organic chemistry reveals the secret of sugar's taste. The said science, at best, can only explain the composition and the texture of the chemical compound sugar, but by no means it can pretend to explain its effect on human tongue, similarly psychology can evolve certain principles and indicate by certain symbols, the broad outlines of the forces at work behind the mental processes, as for instance the principles underlying its behavior in the case of the 'Oedipus' complex. So this aspect of mind is best explained only by literature and never adequately by psychology because this part of human personality or being can never be clearly grappled by a system of knowledge, which tends to postulate and reduce itself into mere symbols and principles, which are called science. This aspect of mind that our very language fails very often to hold it in its grip. How then, can a narrow symbolical and inflexible system achieve the purpose? It needs a very comprehensive and elusive subject in an extensive and grand sweep: and that is done by literature alone. Psychology is the dynamics of mind; we can say literature is its science of properties of matter. That appears to be broadly speaking, their relationship to each other.
Yet another comparison may be given, if psychology is the grammar of mind, then literature is its prosody.
Finally I would even go to the extent of saying, that the place of literature cannot be taken by any science-form to achieve the same purpose. The system, with which you have to understand this particular aspect of man's mind, has got to be only an art form. Thus literature may be said to be performing the role of science though not in its exact garb. So literature demands to be elevated to a revered and indispensable position in the grand gallery of human knowledge.
-Deccan Chronicle (English Daily)
Monday, September 8th, 1969