When I began to post on this website, I often added a foreword — which, later, switched to being an afterword. (You will notice such a foreword in my very first post.) I used these forewords and afterwords in different ways: sometimes to say a little bit about the creation of the poem, sometimes to offer context that I thought would be useful, and sometimes to expatiate on larger ideas that the poem gave me. In any case, writing these became customary.
However, some two months ago, an observation by a friend got me reconsidering these notes. Were they extraneous? Did they tell the reader how to read, react to and understand the poem in question – even after the forewords became afterwords?
I found myself concluding that these notes had the chance to be useful but were not necessary. It also struck me that removing them would make the page that housed a poem “cleaner” and more direct. That was when I decided to move most of these notes from the page to a central location of sorts. That way, they’d be given their chance to be useful, without interfering with the poem itself.
So, here it is: a single collection of all my notes about the writings. Only those forewords, afterwords or other write-ups I thought necessary have remained with their poem or essay. I hope, if you reading this, that you have travelled here via hyperlink. It is much the better way.
The Rain – An Ode:
This poem is one of the very few poems I wrote in the year 2016. As a member of India’s much-vaunted “youth brigade”, I decided that year to do my part and add my might to the country’s burgeoning workforce. The result was some money in the bank and the gradual decline of the time and “mind-space” I’d had for over a year – a period that saw me write an astonishing (to me) 50 or so poems in 2015 alone.
Regrettably, by the end of 2016, what had been a gush had reduced to the barest trickle – catalyzed relentlessly by the monotony of corporate work and Bangalore’s wildly-entropic traffic.
This particular poem was written about two months into my job – before I had become “as jaded as a dog that has had too much of the sun”. The most significant thing about this poem is that it is a transcreation of a Kannada poem I had written a week previously; in spontaneous response to a spell of rain that followed Bangalore’s hottest recorded day in some 75 years.
I must hasten to add that I am no Kannada poet. However, when the rain came down on April 25, 2016 to provide much-needed respite, I simply began an ಆಟ (aaṭa: play, game) of my own with the Kannada language – a light, breezy, happy game that combined both ನಾದ (nāda: sound) and ಪ್ರಾಸ (prāsa: rhyme) and started and ended as effortlessly as the rain.
And this little poem’s ಗತ್ತು (gattu: gait, progress) was so very nice that I thought I’d try to translate it into English – and when the first two lines came out felicitously, I just continued on and finished the whole thing in a state of a true wonderful happiness, exultation even. (Just thinking about that time makes me smile now.)
In a word, I like to think of this poem as a happy poem. Revisiting it has certainly made me happy.
NB: A transcreation looks to capture the spirit of the original rather than to literally translate it. In this case, the phonetic rhythm of the original has most definitely left its mark on the transcreation.
Song of the Young Girl:
“O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
— W.B Yeats (Among School Children)
I’m not sure there is any freer expression of the human spirit than dance. At its best and most natural, it is an instinct that unites body and mind in some inimitably wonderful wordless way.
As a writer, it has always interested me to write from another’s perspective. I wrote this poem sometime around the middle of 2015 – a year that yielded a wonderfully rich harvest of English poems.
On the Banks of the Sindhu:
This is, in several ways, a sentimental-nostalgic post.
I wrote this essay almost eleven years ago, in the summer of 2008. Written soon after I returned from a fortnight-long trip to the “Himalayas” (as a way to loosely refer to a journey that took us through Delhi, Manali, Leh, Khardung La, Sarchu, Ladakh, and Pahalgam), I like to think of this as my earliest piece of “real” writing—in that it was the first creation that gave me a sense of both pride and satisfaction.
The lead-up to the essay was written in 2016.
Note: A casual remark my mother just made got me to sit up. “A lot of big words”, she said, after rereading the original essay. I have to agree. The lead-up, in contrast, appears to me much more compact. I’d like to think of this difference as a maturing.
On Seeing a Spider Weave Its Web:
I have chosen, for this Thursday’s presentation, a poem I composed sometime around the middle of 2015 – a year that was, as far as my poetry is concerned, an annus mirabilis, a period of both unprecedented creative ferment and fecundity.
I have deliberately chosen the word “composed” – to better describe a poem whose creation was simultaneously oral, aural, and written. As far as I am concerned, this poem is meant to be read out loud.
I would like to draw your attention to the diacritics, (´) and (`), throughout the poem. They are respectively the accent acute, (´) and the accent grave (`). I have used them to indicate where to stretch (´) or emphasize (`) the indicated syllable; or sometimes, the consonant-sound next to the accented vowel. An experiment of my own (inspired by the phonetic rhythm of Kannada poetry in particular), the primary purpose of these diacritics is to suggest the rhythm of the recitation. I hope my own recital will make more clear what I mean.
The conceit of a spider weaving its web “out of itself” goes back to the Muṇḍaka Upanishat (ಮುಂಡಕೋಪನಿಷತ್). It is also found in one of Bendre’s most famous poems. It is possible that my use of it here was influenced by my reading of Bendre.
By the way, here is a revised version of the answer I gave a friend who asked about the accents and how and why I’d chosen them.
“To begin with, English (by its very nature) is a language that when spoken distinguishes between a stressed syllable and an unstressed syllable. It is also, just as importantly, a non-phonetic language. What does this mean? Let’s consider the word “content” for a moment, a two-syllable word spelt using seven letters. This word, depending on how it is pronounced, takes on two wholly different meanings. When it is pronounced con-tent (with the stress/emphasis on the second syllable), it approx. means “satisfied”. On the other hand, when pronounced con-tent (with the stress/emphasis on the first syllable), it approx. means “matter” or “amount”. It is important to understand that this is an inherent feature of the English language (just like the “click sound” is an inherent feature of some languages in the African continent). Importantly, it is this distinction between stressed and unstressed syllables that has historically given English lyric poetry its rhythm; which, together with rhyme, was an essential feature of all lyric poetry (up until the early 20th-century). The Shakespearean sonnet, the Petrarchan sonnet, the villanelle, the sestet, the ode, the limerick even – all these are English poetic forms that were created using different metrical progressions. Blank (unrhymed) verse too had metre – the best-known one being the iambic pentameter made famous by Shakespeare.
Now, in contrast to English, Indian languages like Kannada and Tamil and Sanskrit are phonetic languages that, when spoken, stress every syllable equally. (There is no concept of stressing one syllable more than another while pronouncing a word – which is the reason most Indians pronounce English words “wrong”.)
What does this difference amount to – as far as poetic metre in our languages is concerned? As I understand it (using classical Sanskrit metres as a reference), the Indic equivalent of stressed and unstressed syllables is the heavy (guru) and light (laghu) syllables – which, like everything in Classical Sanskrit, was overdone to the extent that more than 600 metres were created!
And now to the main idea. Phonetic languages can be chanted in ways that non-phonetic languages just cannot be. Notice that I restrict myself to chanting – because, of course, all languages can be set to melodies and sung. Perhaps this is because phonetic languages also, naturally, place equal stress upon every syllable. In fact, I’m not even sure “chanting” is the right word – perhaps intonation or incantation better hits the mark.
In any case, what I am referring to is reciting (or intoning or chanting) a phonetic series like “tananaa-na-naa-na-naa”. Now the units of this series cannot be replaced by English syllables, but can be replaced by syllables from phonetic languages like Kannada or Tamil or Hindi (and these syllables can form meaningful words).
Now, it is possible to think of the “naa” unit here as stretched (it is a guru syllable and counts for two mātras) and the beginning “ta” unit as pressed (at least in comparison to the “naa” part). Sanskrit’s prosody says that that “ta” is a laghu sound and counts for one mātra. In any case, my idea was to try to work with the pronunciation of the English language using these “stretches” and “presses” – elements usually restricted to phonetic languages.
I’ll end by referring to some words in the poem itself.
a. The second “weave” (in the refrain) has been written “wéave” – to indicate that the “e” be stretched out; which is not something that a native English speaker would do naturally.
b. Similarly, “speak” has been written “spèak” to indicate that it must be pronounced by “pressing” on the “e”. Why? Because it seemed to me to give the poem the aural quality I was looking for. You will hear this in my recitation.
c. As for the “e” in “ribbèd”, that is a very conventional accent grave (often used to introduce an extra syallable and stabilize scansion).
d. In “geodesic”, once again, I thought that a “press” on the “e” gave the poem the aural quality I was looking for. If you listen carefully, you can hear the “press”.
Also, you should know that I added (nearly) all these accents after I recited the poem out loud. In other words, I tried to write down the poem to sound like I thought it should sound. Is this the only way to recite this poem? Certainly not. But that’s why I’ve added an audio – to give people a chance to hear it as I hear it. I’d love if know if some reader, upon reading the poem, found his or her own way to recite and best enjoy the poem!
Update: I’ve come to see and also been told that that these “accents”, without all the context I’ve given them, look strange and could very possibly confuse the reader. And I’m inclined to agree. Which is why I don’t use them these days. I think sharing my recitation is replacement enough. That way, the reader who sees it on the page can read and hear it their way. And they can hear it my way if they choose to listen to my recitation.”
India in English:
I consider this poem among the more “important” poems I have written.
I know myself (forgive my immodesty) that I have written better poems than this one, but few, I think, of more importance. Perhaps you will understand why I say this after you’ve read the poem.
Incidentally, in light of the poem’s theme, it is interesting that the rhyme scheme of the poem (aabccb) is exactly that of the ಕುಸುಮ ಷಟ್ಪದಿ or Kusuma Shatpadi (~ floral sestet), a medieval-metre that appears in Bendre’s early Kannada poetry. Believe me when I say that it was not a deliberate attempt but, rather, pure coincidence that gave the poem this form.
I remember listening, some years ago, to a well-known Indian poet in English reading out some of her own poems. (I cannot be certain if it was before or after I wrote this poem. I believe it was after.) One of them was written, she said in the video, in response to a Welsh (?) critic who questioned the “lack of Indianness” in her poems. Adopting a posture of haughty indignance (as though the Welsh critic was right in front of her), she read out her poem – which, if I remember correctly, contained self-concious (and obviously ironical) references to well-worn “Indian” clichés like sambar and henna and verandah and cashemere. “Who are you to question my Indianness?” was the poem’s import.
More recently, the same poet said in an interview that she was tired of talking about the language that poetry was written in. Identifying herself as an Indian poet writing in English, she said she preferred to think of poetry itself as the language.
I bring this up because I feel a certain sympathy with the Welsh critic. I never read his review (which may have been condescending or colonial in its outlook?), but I understand (and even share) his concern; a concern I express in the poem you just read. And I do this as a self-concious insider, as an Indian writing in English who, although privileged, is cognizant of – to a certain extent, even familiar with – both the “Englishlessness” and the “IndianEnglishness” of the India around him. But just how does one capture the essence of this chaotic, babel-like environment; how does one speak not simply for but to the “average Indian”; in what register of the (English) language does he represent the realities of a people who do not even speak the language? And, in case he does find a register, can the expression ever be poetic?
It must be noted that the questions raised here are not new. In fact, they have exercised several important Indian poets who wrote in English. (Prose writers have not been unaffected, but their medium is better suited to handle this vexing issue. R.K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Kamala Markandeya, Raja Rao, and Amitav Ghosh are a few writers who have been praised for their capable handling.) One notable poet is Nissim Ezekiel, a Jewish-Indian poet often considered one of the pioneers of modern Indian poetry in English. Here are a few lines from his poem, ‘The Professor’:
“Whole world is changing.In India also|We are keeping up.|Our progress is progressing.|Old values are going, new values are coming.|Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.”
What stands out here is Ezekiel’s bold and deliberate use of the Indian-English idiom. The professor who speaks, presumably a well-educated man, uses an English that may be called patois and, strictly speaking, even incorrect. However, this “incorrectness” also imparts to the poem a “realism” that it would not have otherwise. By reproducing the professor’s speech, Ezekiel has tried to do what Wordsworth advocated for in the 18th century; namely, a poetry that borrowed its rhythms from the cadences of the common man’s speech. But did Ezekiel’s attempt lead to the creation of a lyric poem? I say no. Even taking into account the modernist movements of the 20th-century (that looked to rid English poetry of its lyricism in favour of many possibilities that “free verse” brought), it is hard to argue that Ezekiel’s creation is a poem. There is no musicality, no rhyme, no rhythm, no striking imagery even. Rather, it reads like a sterile record of a man expressing himself in an “outside” language even as he thinks in a “home” language.
What then is Indian poetry in English? I can offer no definite answer. Nevertheless, it seems to me (setting aside, for the moment, the problem of readership) that one possibility is a poetry that borrows (its spirit) from the cadences of the languages of India, viz., the bhasha-s, as they are often referred to. This poetry would conceivably meld the rhythms peculiar to (phonetic) languages like the Indian bhasha-s with the modern free verse form of a non-phonetic language like English poetry to create a poetry that can be chanted, intoned, is incantatory.
In fact, this is an experiment I have already begun – by using diacritics to indicate stretched and pressed syllables (in contrast to unstressed and stressed syllables). This poem itself is an example and so is this.
What’s more, this transcreation of my own bhasha (Kannada) poem is a nice fine example of what the English language is capable of when it is asked to progress to the beat of an inherently different language’s drum. In other words, I am fairly certain I could not have written this as an original English poem.
As a translator of Bendre’s wonderfully euphonic Kannada poetry into English, I have also looked to work the (non-phonetic) English language in a way usually reserved for phonetic languages. Naturally, this has meant giving a lot of thought to what distinguishes the rhythms of phonetic and non-phonetic languages. Though germane to this matter, I will leave that discussion for another day.
Death, a Mile Distant:
“…our images must be given to us, we cannot choose them deliberately.” – W.B Yeats
“…ಹಾಡೆ ಹಾದಿಯ ತೋರಿತು” or “…the song itself showed the way” – ದ. ರಾ. ಬೇಂದ್ರೆ (Da. Ra. Bendre)
The poem above was written in about three minutes, the words flowing like rainwater down a slope. I do not say this to boast. Instead, I am almost certain that the poem was the (eventual) expression of an image “given” to me – that of a dog that meets its death on a railway track. Where the image came from I cannot really say. What I do know is that I would love for more images to be “given to me”!
Also, the free verse form of this poem is in stark contrast to the rhymed forms of the other poems I wrote around the same time. It is this obvious difference that made me reference Bendre. Who knows – in this case, perhaps it was the poem itself that showed me the form it needed to take.
I’d like to thank my aunt, Anjana, for immediately recognizing the merit of this poem and offering her praise. She has since the beginning (and despite her overwhelming schedule) found the time to be both my most faithful reader and discriminating critic.
Cockroach – Underbelly:
I think this “piece of writing” can be contrasted nicely with this piece of writing. The linked-to piece fits much more nicely into most people’s idea (I include myself) of poetry. Like I say in the introduction to that poem, it possesses several qualities one usually associates with poetry, especially lyric poetry. Specifically, it possesses both rhythm and rhymes – which, together, impart a euphony, as it were, to the poem. As my recitation (I hope) makes clear, these qualities combine to make the poem an incantatory creation.
Now, here below, is a piece of writing. Is it poetry, prose, poetic, lyrical, prosaic, euphonic, musical?
“I just killed a cockroach in a minute and a half. One–two–three–four (I could’ve but I did not stop); five–six–seven–eight (phutphut–phutphut) – and, suddenly, it was too late: the roach lay writhing on the ground, its legs were smashed – beyond escape. I turned my head and saw myself inside the mirror on the door (headphones arched over a crumpled face); I looked at me and returned to the floor. Old memories all flew in different ways like a flock of birds unperched: the stepped-on ant again stepped on, the mice I saw beat by the broom, the spider and the spider-web – both gone. …I wish now I had chosen to brush off the cockroach like it brushed my foot. …And was I right? or was I wrong? (A cockroach-court would sentence me I’m sure); but I would ask for leniency and time and charity to regret my choice – and then create a life-and-death-philosophy.”
You will have noticed that the paragraph you just read was the poem, presented differently. Now think: what if you had seen the paragraph first? How would you have read it? My guess is that you would have read it in a monotone – that is to say, you would have read the words rather than concerned yourself with the lift and fall (unstress and stress) of the syllables that make up the words. So – what is the piece of writing? A poem? Or just prose chopped up?
I’d argue that it would be “just prose chopped up” were it not for the fact that the “point of chop”, (technically, enjambment), has been deliberately chosen to give the prose a certain sinuous (sinusoidal?) quality; a certain oscillatory motion. It is these “points” that signal to the reader (or reciter) the pace of the prose; or, in other words, the poem’s rhythm. And it this rhythm that distinguishes poetry from prose, that takes the even ground of prose and makes of it the gently undulating lea of poetry.
She Refuses to Blame Herself:
In 2005, there was a wholly unexpected “terrorist-attack” on the IISc campus in which I lived. There were several injuries and one life was lost, that of a man who was there just that day for a conference. I remember mention being made of his wife and young daughter – and wondering what it would be like for his wife when she heard the news. Written some ten years later, this poem considers the matter.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about the sun – and particularly about my lack of exposure to it. Ever since I began working some three years ago inside an air-conditioned office (and certainly over the last four months since I moved on from the job), I’ve had to make an effort to get out and feel the sun upon me; its warmth, its light, its vivifying qualities.
I didn’t think like this about the sun when I was young. The sun was there and so was I, underneath it most of the day. Playing in the sun was an everyday affair; sunbathing by the swimming pool before going back into the (deliciously cool) water was the luxury of summer-holiday afternoons; and looking for every last ray of the setting sun’s light was the adventure of countless football-evenings. I did not stretch then towards the sun, it was the sun that shone magnanimously upon me.
To dramatize a simple truth: we are all of us only as young as the sunlight we know. I look forward with renewed enthusiasm to exploring the sun – in ways both mentioned in the poem and otherwise.
On a Rainy Evening:
There is something ethereal about the mellow light of the evening, especially when it is filtered through the green of the trees. Fading slowly away as the night falls (rises?), to catch a glimpse of this magical light has always been one of the happinesses of my evening runs through the IISc campus. The poem itself may have grown old (it’s from mid-2015) but this quotidian wonder remains undimmed.
I suspect the idea of the sun’s “golden cup” may have been inspired by a Yeats poem, “Those Dancing Days Are Gone”, with its lines “I carry the sun in a golden cup.|The moon in a silver bag.” What’s more, if I’m not mistaken, I believe Yeats himself credited another poet for the image.
Note: The opening stanza may be the best one I’ve written. It’s certainly one of my very favourites. I remember being on the NIAS campus at the time line 3 struck; sitting outside in a chair with a book in my hand as I enjoyed the blue of the early evening sky and a sense of well-being brought on by the rays of the mellowing light. Just behind me, to my left, were bougainvillea bracts the colour of faded pink – which contrasted starkly with the deep magenta of the bracts found on other parts of the well-maintained campus. To this day, I remain partial to that wonderfully deep magenta colour.
A poem from sometime in 2016.
A feeling of this kind is perhaps one of the pinnacles of the human experience. But sometimes – only sometimes – and, usually, oh-so-fleeting.
The use of the word ecstasy – instead of rhapsody, say, or some other word – is deliberate and refers to its very origins.
1. late 14c., extasie “elation,” from Old French estaise “ecstasy, rapture,” from Late Latin extasis, from Greek ekstasis “entrancement, astonishment, insanity; any displacement or removal from the proper place,” in New Testament “a trance,” from existanai “displace, put out of place,” also “drive out of one’s mind” (existanai phrenon), from ek “out” (see ex-) + histanai “to place, cause to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand, make or be firm.”
2. Late Middle English (in ecstasy (sense 2)): from Old French extasie, via late Latin from Greek ekstasis ‘standing outside oneself’, based on ek- ‘out’ + histanai ‘to place’.
One Autumn Evening:
This is a poem from my “early period”. I believe I wrote it ca. early 2010, before returning to it a few years later and revising some parts of it. This period was a time when I was both transfixed and inspired by the lyricism of Yeats’s poetry. The poem itself is a somewhat fanciful and exaggerated retelling of taking a nap (and waking up) on the lawn – the Bald Spot – of my college in the US.
A Prayer For Those Who Remain:
In the “Yaksha Prashna” episode of the Mahabharata – one of its more famous episodes – Yama in the guise of a Yaksha (spirit) subjects Yudhisthira to a series of intricate questions. At stake are the lives of Yudhisthira’s four brothers who lie lifeless nearby, having disobeyed the Yaksha’s orders to not drink the water of his lake. The situation, in itself, is a piquant one (even if Yudhisthira’s ultimate success is unsurprising); more piquant, however, are the Yaksha’s questions, one of which is a timeless classic.
“Yaksha: Tell me, Yudhisthira, what is the most wonderful thing in the universe?
Yudhisthira: The most wonderful thing, O Yaksha, is how men, in spite of seeing their fellows around them dying every day, believe themselves exempt, immortal.”
Yudhisthira’s answer strikes at the heart of the “experience” of death – and the awesome mystery that surrounds it. Both unknown and essentially unknowable to the ordinary human being (the rishis of the Upanishads searched both deeply and penetratingly for an answer), death is the Rubicon of the human experience, a “point of no return.” As a consequence, it is (at any time) an experience that divides the human race into two – the living and the dead.
Practically (and perhaps paradoxically), the situation of a death has the greatest effect on those who live, on those who are left behind. Not wonder, not philosophizing, not the idea of “a better place”, not even the recognition of their own mortality is what possesses them then – rather it is a great, personal, sometimes overwhelming grief. “Why?” is their silent scream – whose reverberations shake the earth for an instant.
I saw a grief of this sort when a close relative of mine died (in 2015; which year I wrote the poem). Here is something I created as I wondered how to provide succour.
December 30, 2016:
I’m fond of this poem. I’d say it was simple, straightforward, and short. (Wouldn’t you?) On the other hand, the image of the “ocean of the world” comes from ಸಂಸಾರ ಸಾಗರ (saṃsāra sāgara), a conceit in Hindu philosophy with pretty profound philosophical underpinnings. Here is some background for the interested…
In the Hindu tradition, saṃsāra refers to this world that we human beings live in, or rather, are trapped in through the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. To escape this saṃsāra is the highest form of mōksha or liberation. In this liberation lies a union with the brāhmaṇ: the source of the universe, the ultimate truth and reality, the forever-fount of bliss. Given the vast and magnificent incomprehensibility of the sāgara or the ocean, I should think ಸಂಸಾರ ಸಾಗರ (saṃsāra sāgara) was used to illustrate the difficulty of a pursuit towards the brāhmaṇ.
In the December of 2012, I broke the base of my right thumb (the metacarpal bone) while playing football and had to have surgery. Set in plaster for six weeks, and terribly weak for two months after, I remember wondering if my thumb would ever be the same again. It was more or less so (when I wrote this poem in early 2016) and for that I am very grateful to my doctor.
It so happened that I (hairline) fractured the same thumb in February 2018. It did not require surgery again, but I did have to wear a thumb splint for seven or eight excruciatingly long weeks.
An Afternoon’s Reverie:
I remember half-dozing as I travelled by bus in Bangalore, while images like the ones I’ve described vaguely drifted in and out. I think I noted a couple of these lines down in my pocket-notebook before elaborating on them later. This happened in 2015 (if I’m not mistaken).
Upon a Tree:
I wrote this as I looked out on a seemingly-dead tree from inside the library of the NIAS campus, a small campus beside the IISc campus.
I remember wanting to give expression to seeing a withered Jacaranda Mimosifolia on my daily run. That didn’t materialize, but it may have worked itself into this poem.
I seem to remember that I wrote the first eight lines of this poem sometime in 2010. The last four lines were added some two or three years later to ‘complete’ the poem, as it were.
This poem was, in large part, a response to the poems I used occasionally to come across at the time; poems that seemed, to me, deliberately obtuse and cryptic. Maybe it was my involvement with Yeats’s sublime lyric poetry at the time or maybe it was my discontent at what I considered (and still, to some extent, do consider) the ‘unpoeticness’ of modernist free verse – in any case, I’d say annoyance played a part in this poem’s creation.
In any case, I must confess I’m not sure what, if anything, the poem means.
Upon a Winter Morning’s Walk:
I recall the incident that inspired the poem quite vividly.
I’d woken up unusually early that day and decided, on a whim I imagine, to go take a morning walk through the Tata Institute. When I set out, the sun had only just begun to make its way upwards and spread its warmth upon the cold, misty morning. The route I took brought me to the top of the long slope that descends to the IISc’s swimming pool. I began my walk down that road, enjoying the bracing breeze and watching the sunlight create a light-and-shadow play as it made its way through the green that arched above me. As I neared the bottom of the slope, the green above began to give way to the fresh blue of the lightening sky. I decided to turn right and walk one of those mud-and-stone paths that give the IISc its inimitable old-world charm. I had only just stepped off the flagstones and onto the path when I saw it – the solitary crow, the broken tree, the happiness of blue and green in the background.
The first lines of the poem came to me when the crow took off. Having no pen or paper, I recited them to myself over and over as I made my way to the campus canteen – where I pencilled down the first four lines or so on a piece of crumpled bill-paper. The rest of the poem came gradually (over the next day or two).
Note: I don’t think I could write a poem like this today. For better or for worse, I have moved past such romanticism – like most writers do as they grow older and more experienced. When I wrote it, not only was I a fledgling writer but a young man greatly influenced by and extremely attracted to the overwhelming beauty and romanticism of Yeats’s early poetry.
He Dreams of Dreaming:
It must be more than seven years since I wrote this poem! At the time, I think I was looking to learn about and work with the iambic pentameter. (In fact, given this poem’s form, I wonder if I was also trying to write a sonnet.)
This poem could be called a “wishful” poem. That’s to say, the poem isn’t about an experience; instead, it’s about a wish to experience something and an imaginative construction of that something (though I’m not so sure about the “sea” part). I mean – I’ve always kind of envied people like the rishis and yogis who, it’s said, used to hear things. (Ambikatanayadatta Bendre serves as an example.)
However, nothing quite like this has happened in the years since I wrote the poem. It’s obvious that a certain discipline is necessary if one is to even get anywhere near such an experience. I hope to be able to cultivate that discipline – just in life generally. Wish me luck.
Otherwise – I’d like to thank Matthew Ryan Shelton, an older friend from college and a poet himself, whose “notes” about this poem definitely helped improve it. Thanks, Matt!
At the time I wrote this, Yeats was still an influence. Here, the poem’s title is what reflects that influence.
Funnily enough, this was written out in about five minutes or so. There have been times both before and after I wrote this poem where I have had a line or two “flash” or “come to me”. There was even one time – just the one though – when I got up in the middle of the night, wrote down a line, and went back to sleep. (It was only next morning that I learnt what I’d written down.) But, by and large, this “lament” remains; that is to say, it remains my wish to receive (as it were) a poem.
When the Heart Blooms (or Why Poetry):
I just learnt that today is World Poetry Day. So I thought to share what I consider a relevant poem – relevant not simply for this occasion but also for these rather dark times. That is to say, I believe it possible for poetry – not to mention music and other forms of art – to lift the spirit; to help it shake off its “earthboundedness” and soar, if only for a moment; and I hope this poem helps make happen – for some of you at least.
For my part, I’d also like to draw your attention to some of my other poems on this blog-website as well as to the poems on my other blog-website. I trust at least a couple of them will help lift your spirits.
Note: I mightn’t have chosen to post this poem if it weren’t for my good friend Daniel wondering aloud – in a comment about my poem, ‘Happiness‘ – if I could “depict sadness with equal acuity?”. While this poem doesn’t ‘depict[s] sadness’ in a manner that parallels ‘Happiness’, it seemed like it could serve as a possible ‘answer’ to Danny’s ‘question’. In any case, this one’s for you, Danny boy!
Myth and the World:
I believe I have previously described the year 2015 as my annus mirabilis. While I didn’t not keep count, I reckon I must have written about fifty poems that year; or a poem every week on average. It is disheartening but not unsurprising that I have never even come close to being as prolific since.
A peculiar thing about most poems I wrote that year – and in general – is the memory I have of their genesis. (I have mentioned the circumstances in regard to some other poems in these notes.) If memory serves, the seed of this poem – namely, the first two lines of the present poem – came as I passed the ‘Director’s Bungalow’ during the opening lap of my regular evening run through the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus. I think the evening’s light still remained in the sky thought it was fading fast. I continued to work my way through the poem as I ran, adding new lines even as I gently balanced the first couple of lines. (I don’t remember if I had a phone on me. If I did, it definitely wasn’t a smart phone. Nor did I have a pen and a piece of paper.) When, a little while later, I passed the ‘Bungalow’ again, I was struck by another two lines; now lines 7 and 8 in the poem. The lines were lines piling up now and unwilling to lose them to my dislike of stopping a run “in the middle”, I soon found myself back at the Bungalow’s gate, hurriedly asking the security guard to give me a pen or a pencil or something. When he obliged, it was only after I’d scribbled down the lines I’d being saying over and over in my head that I was able to relax.
I don’t remember how much longer it took for me to work out the poem as you see it now, but I reckon it happened inside the next couple of weeks.
This poem owes a lot to Amma, my mother – not directly perhaps, but certainly indirectly. Like most Indian children privileged enough to have grown up in an English-language environment, I had access from my earliest days to the marvellously wonderful writings of Enid Blyton. Unlike most others, I was fortunate enough to also grow up reading the mythologies and folktales of the world – Hindu, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, African, Chinese, Native American, and Germanic. (The Norse Saga, in particular, was one of my favourites.)
Such access to a whole host of wonderful stories captured my heart and my imagination as they took me through several worlds and times – a wonderful and romantic experience that continues to have an impact. The valorous stories of Norse mythology, the intrigues of the Tale of the Niebulungs, the wonderfully illustrated, slightly-sinister folk stories of Russia, the thrilling adventures of the Greek heroes, the larger-than-life characters of the Mahabharata, the adventurous animals of Chinese folklore, the recurring calabashes of Africa’s folk tales – all these are memories of a golden childhood, memories that may be said to have coalesced in this poem. And the architect of the golden childhood? Amma – who bequeathed to me all those books she had enjoyed as a child, who gave to me stories and heroes and mythologies that had remained (and even now remain) as fresh in her memory as when she first read them, who offered me all those words and worlds that enveloped me in their embrace and made me fall in love with the English language in much the same way as they had made her do many many years prior.