“”When will that shore appear from which at last we see..How all this came to pass and for what reason?”
Reading poetry has been my pastime for long.All my life! Now it has become a passion for me and now it has become a serious pursuit.My tastes and temperament had shaped and changed me to read lots of poetry as a pastime.I have no scholarly interest or academic discipline.Thus,what I enjoy is keep going back to my old favourites and also looking out at the new poets. I have been reading poetry,all sorts of poetry,from all around the world for all my life. But in subjects like poetry that touches one’s emotions and passions and even deeply touches one’s inner recesses of the mind and soul poetry seems to give me a fulfilment,as no other arts have given me.In the high school itself I was a sort of budding poet and an artist of sorts! I won prizes for both.But I never took myself serious as a poet or a painter.Yes,my education took me to very different influences and my exposure to poets,actually living,also added to my interest in poets and their works.That is my experience in poetry. May be there are other arts,music,painting and visual and performing arts,dances,Indian as well as the Western ballet and theatre ,yes,I have had some exposure,rather rudimentary in some fields but my interests continue.One’s life’s circumstances limit the opportunities.Yes,being in a city like Paris or London could make all the differences.But being in India has certain limitations.Even in Bangalore where I spend most of my time these days,I have had few opportunities beyond my chosen routines.Thus,I often see Western musicians performing in Bangalore,more so in recent times,more in diverse genres,more rock and less of course the old classical things with which I had some familiarity.Yet,I dont get the time or the right time to go and watch these havily advertised commercial scale artistic activities. Of all these arts and artistic activities,poetry stands out.That is,poetry you can enjoy and appreciate in your privacy,your chosen ambience.Those poetry volumes, dusty,crumbling pieces of papers,Eliot,Yeats and many others give me the most secure feeling of familiarity.So,poetry remains my favourite reading pleasure.
Anglo-Saxon poetry Ever since my youth I had read both in Tamil and English,I have been a bilingual person.Thus, after a long gap of nearly four decades I brought out my book of poems in Tamil and that evoked an unexpected enthusiastic welcome from fellow Tamils.This only renewed my confidence in my way of looking at the genre of poetry and any tradition,even such a long Tamil tradition can be a fertile soil for any radical world-scale poetry,poetry giving a world picture, new and radical visions.That is poetry’s great genius,to unite the world and the minds of human race to a common urpose. Though my curiosity to read all sorts of poetry remains,lately I seem to be limiting my poetical landscape to my known,well-trodden geographical space.Yes,Anglo-saxon poetry,the poetry written in the British isles,Ireland had remained my favourite readings.One more reason is they are easily available at the British library! I dont read like any serious reader.I am no scholar or my interest is not literary as such.I find reading poetry brings some amount of joy and s atisfaction in my life.That is all. But in Bangalore and elsewhere in India I have friends who are English liyterature students,themselves teach English literature.So,whenever I start talking with them I realise they have all read more than mke in this field.But I am amazed how much still Indians are devoted to English authors. Nirad Choudhary describes famously that in Bengal,they,the educated middle class Bengalis worshipped Shakespeare.Here too in the South ,in Mysore in particular,I still hear of English professors who are said to be experts on Shakespeare or Leavis .There is still the craze to buy and read fat volumes of English novels,onld and new,even by the lately famous NRI wives writing fatty English novel volumes.Even V.S.Naipaul,in spite of his fame,I am not able to read his novels moire than a page!Anyway,my interest in reading English literature is very limited to one or two authors I must have read when I was young or heard of their lives then I must have taken some interest like the women authors,Jane Asuten or Bronte. But my reading the latest British magazines and even occasionally some latest poems published in the journals. I regularly scan the British newspapers and magazines and one of my constant readings for now nearly more than half a century is the TLS,The Times Literary Supplement.Soon after I returned to India I thought of subscribing to TLS.Yes,without at least giving a glance to the pages of this highly reputed literary review weekly,my weeks dont seem complete!I often wonder when I think of Indian readership and the Indian libraries whether we in India realise and care for serious literature at all?If so,then,I would be seeing such magazines in our public liberaries.Alas!This is not so.I would urge any of our educated ministers,whatever their portfolio,please take note of what I say:please ensure our libraries are well-provided with the latest knowledge vechicles.Without latest knowledge,be it literature or sciences or any other branch of knowledge,India cant progress much in the world of letters and learning. Now,one of the latest reading for me throu8gh the pages of the TLS was a full page review of an ,no two anthologies of modern Greek poetry. That page delighted me for days.I leanrt so much about the status of modern Greek poetry.As an educated person,I know so much of ancient Greece and its many achievements.But I dont know a thing about modern Greece,except that I had once landed in Athens city,in its airport once on my way to England.That is all. Now,I learn that like the Olympics,anthology is both a Greek word and a Greek invention!I leanr further that unlike in English poetry,where it is more a ritual and a celebration(poetry is said to be an embarrassment of sorts)in Greece,poetry is much of a mix of song lyrics and also part of so many festivals and celebrations and even political slogan-mondering!I learn that life in Greece is imbued with poetry.In fact,it seems to be like what prevails in societies like the Tamils where poetry,song,religious songs,religious pleadings,confessions and sefl-revelations etc all go into poetry and in fact,there is not much distinction between poetry,as a freeverse,from song as a lyrical compositions meant for public occasions.Is this view right?it seems it is.Take even Bharati’s poetry.There is everything three of what I have said here.There is the frequent invocations to his favourite godess,Kali or Sakthi and there are too many traditional forms of songs meant to be sung in public places.As for poetry,there are only very few that are on the lines of say,Wordsworth or John Keats.Anyway,the point is that there are these days clear lines or boundaries between poetry and other forms of lyrics and songs.Poetry and political expressions seem to go well.”The traditional fifteen-syllable line readily lends itself to slogans during festive protests that block Athenian thoroughfares in spring and summer”. Another interesting point.The word poiese itself still carries its original meaning of “making”,we are told.So,says the reviewer of the two Greek poetry anthologies,”that globalization is pankosmiopoiese”.That is,a baker can call his product a”poet of flour”,so too globalization is also a poetical expansion of the world!Literary magazines,in Athens,we are told,(there is one famous poetical magazine,Poiese)jostle with tabloids at newsstands.In short,Greece is a nation of poets.Yes,again very much like Tamil Nadu where ,as I often jocularly say,there are more moreTamil poets than the Tamil population! So,who are the famous Greek poets?Constantine Cavafy.The two Nobel Laureates:George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.What seems unqiue to Greek poetry,coming as it is fromsuch a long tradition of classical Greek lineage,is the fact that Greek language lends itself to translation and at the same time Greek language’s unique rhyme schemes,stanzas and dictions resist for easy conversion into an alien idiom.The reviewer goes into some detail in these apspects of translation.”Greek poetry has tended overwhelmingly towards free verse,poems have been consistently written that employ traditional forms.”More problematic is the fact that Greek has two distinct forms:a purified but artificial literary from and the spoken or demotic form”.”thus,there is often a richness of diction and association in a Greek poem that is nearly impossible to convey in English.To give an idea of what a modern Greek poetry reads,I have given here one example: Hotel Athena(copy the poem) ……………………………………… It looks that modern Greek poetry had followed the many poetical fashions and poetical movements like:symbolist forerunners,mainstream modernist,surrealist,modern existentialist,traditional neo-symbolist and the world over phenomena of leftwing poets!Greece and Greek literature and arts had exerted an international pull on world literature and every English poet or writer of any consequence had been influenced by Greece:Byron,Shelley,Keats and the Brownings(the husband-wife poetical team) are perhaps the most well-known.The Irish writers and poets,W.B.Yeats and James Joyce were the most famous.Joyce’s novel,Ulysses symbolises the very complexity of man’s life and its many meanings or otherwise! I keep buying and reading or keeping(that is the more appropriate word) more poetry that I can manage.The one book that lies for long with me is the”The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry”,1996.It is a fairly representative coverage.There are some 8o poets from all corners of the world.For the first time I am able to spot poets from the remote worlds,Carribean,Latin America to Middle East to of course Europe and Russia,besides Asia,India represented by A.K.Ramanujan, Jayanta Mahapatra and Bangladesh by Taslima Nasrin. There are so many Nobel Laureates here and I enjoyed reading them all in one place.Some stand out,some make an impression at once,at one reading,others take time to get into your system.Somehow,I am influenced or easily impressed by the life and the struggles of the poets concerned. But I have my own prejudices,I must confess!Somehow,I cant read the American poetry! I havent read a line of poetry from across the Atlantic sea! Though I have my favourites from the Central and Latin Americas!Somehow,the material culture,the worship of money,the consumer capitalist culture doesnt sound well for me for poetry,of all arts.Why,even in such humanities subjects like philosophy(in which I am interested) I see of all the thousans of philosophers in the USA,not one can match,in my opinion,with a single Oxford tutor in the subejct!Yes,poetry for me requires some closed world of exclusive cultures of some long time of gestation and for poetry,as I often leaf through some surveys(one favourite if J.M.Cohen’s Poetry of this Age,1908-1965 I see the European tradition is only congenial for poetry and contemplative pursuits.And for me poetry is the greatest of all contemplative aesthetic experiences!This being my mindset,I have to say that When I chanced to read a review of the volume on twentieth century American poetry I just laughed it off!As I would have done the same when I would see an American writing on philosophy.Only Europe has the classical past and for serious poetry you need a past,a tradition. Now for the European poetry,the French,Italian and Russian poetry I had read,though in bits and pieces.But they have made deep impact on my own mind and imagination. Great poetry and poetical movements comes out ,it seems,only when there is some bigger uncertainty grips a people. Both inside and outside of man and his times.Poetry arises from so many emotions and emotional distrubanes and stresses, meetings,unions and seperations and departures,voids of many kinds,loss of memories and imaginations and remberances.When countries fall apart,empires disintegrate,hopes kindled and hopes dashed! Thus,we see the two world wars giving rise to so much intensity to modern man’s life and existential questions.What a range?What a big tragedy of poetical lives?May be only in France the soil was conducive to live and find meaning in imaginations.Thus,all the great art and poetical and literary movements and creations came out of Paris.The three or four great dictatorships,in germany, Italy and Spain and in Russia in an ironical way turned poets into visionaries, fighters and martyrs and thanks to so much brutalities,tortue,exile,imprisonment and suicides we seem to have got some of the greatest poets of our modern times.I find the lines of Mayakovsky and Pasternak are epochal.”We were epochs,now we are people”(Pasternak),”A genius comes asbinger of betterment And his going is avenged with tyranny”(Pastrnak)Olga Ivinskaya’s memories of Pasternak is an eternal source of inspiration for me.”I am perhaps the last poet”(Mayakovsky). There are some poets I read when I was young and now they have brought me a new sense of familiarity and an identity too.The Spanish poet ,Juan Ramon Jimenez(1881-1958) I got to know when was awarded the Nobel Prize and only lately I looked into his life and work.Obviously,he along with other great Spanish poets(among whom Lorca is one) had to face the Spanish civil war violence and left their countries and wnet into exile. Another personal reason why I took interest in things Spanish was my Oxford Indian friend married a Spanish girl(in fact two of my Indian friends married Spanish girls!) my friend who studied Spanish language and literature enlightened me with all these poets.The Spanish empire and its unique regional cultures resemble much of Indian regional languages and cultures. Thus,Jimenez brought into his poetry much of his unique region(Andalusia)’s sounds and images and when he went to live in the capital(Madrid)as some of our regional poets do when they go to live,say in Delhi,the poetry’s images acquire new colourings.One line of Jimenez:”Intelligence,give me the precise name of things.Let my word be the thoing itself,newly created by my soul.Through me let all those who do not know things approach them”Another poet of my youth,this time he is an Italian poet,Salvatore Quasimodo(b.1901).His name also became familiar to me when the won the Nobel Prize.His native Scicily gave him the childhood happiness(and innocence?)and later the cruelties turned him into”Italy’s first poet of resistence”.His one line:”Harsh is exile and my search for harmoney which I ended with you is changed today into a premature fear of death”.All these poets lived at a time when the world was mad for violence,wars and revenge.Poets as the first citizens of the republic of letters paid heavily.Their lives,mostly ended in great tragedies.Out of these tragedies were born immortal poetry.So life goes on! I have,I must confess,always preferred to read only the English poetry or some poets whom I had come to know for one reason or other in English translations.That’s why my knowledge of world poetry as such is rather very thin to the point of not being anything of value to readers.Among the European poets I read were few whom I had heard over the years since the time of the years before and after the fall of Communism in 1989.The East European poets,the Polish and Russian,among them the Polish emigre poet Czeslaw Milosz,who died recently(on August 14th,2004)aged 93 ,the one won the Nobel in 1980 for poetry, was one poet whose few lines kept me mulling over for days together.They are so haunting,so deeply bringing forth what was hidden long inside the mind of one whose life spanned his century and he was witness to so much,the disintegration os his country and his people,again the valiant fight that saw his country leading the ressurrection that saw the ultimate downfall of Communism from the world! His lines were written at the Gdansk shipyard when the workers rising was being suppressed and yet ultimately gave way a new sweep of the revolution across the whole of Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia. Do not feel safe.The poet remembers. You can kill one,but another is born. The words are written down,the deed,the date I had read recently how he matured into a metaphysical poet,the”search for reality purified by the passage of time”. My sweet European homeland, A butterfly lighting on your flowers stains its wings with blood… “When will that shore appear from which at last we see How all this came to pass and for what reason?” he asked sadly in 1974 in”From the Rising of the Sun”.A poem his fellow emigre and friend,the Russian Joseph Brodsky considered his best. Joseph Brodsky is another rare poet.He was emigre but was a Russian.Milosz was, in fact, a lithuanian-Polish emigre,he lived long in USA and only returned to native free poland only few years before he died).Joseph Brodsky(1940-1996) won the Nobel in 1987.The second youngest poet ever given the prize.He was also forced into exile,he luckily taught himself English and Polish,he admired the Polish poet Milosz and also admired Eliot and others.So,there is realism,metaphysical ,religious and moral aura,with considerable learning in his poems.His many poems on Rome I read with much pleasure.One line:”love,as an act,lacks a verb” The Indian poets writing in English are now a force and there are really some established voices like Nissim Ezekiel and Dom Moraes.Among the younger generation the names R.Parthasarathy and Arun Kolatkar have written some of the memorable lines I enjoiyed reading.
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