Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tagore's Gitanjali:Opening Lyric "Thou hast made me endless"

Thou hast made me endless , such is thy pleasure" this opening lyric of Gitanjali  may puzzle modern readers of Tagore's masterpiece . To Indian readers who are acquainted with the Bhagavat Gita and the Upanishads , the opening song may not be particularly hard to understand . What Tagore does in this lyric is to re-phrase  the cliché of Indian philosophy that the soul is immortal and that it casts off worn-out body like old garments . It is old thought , but a thought  never so well expressed! Abstrct philosophical thoughts are concretized when they are expressed in metaphors and similes . The density of imgery suffusing the starting lyric makes it  a fitting prologue to Tagore's immortal masterpiece.

Tagore uses the term "Thou" to refer to the Supreme Being who is immanent in the Universe . . The terms I and me are not personal , they are universal , representing the entire humanity . The second verse substitutes"frail vessel" for "old garments" to which Lord Krishna compares worn-out body in the Gita . Apart from this substitution of one metaphor for another is there anything else? You will see the amazing originality of Tagore 's mystic vision from the next verse onwards . --"this little flute of a reed "

Tagore's tone right from the beginning to the end of Gitanjal is one of absolute submission , the submission of the servant to his Supreme Master . The metaphor of the frail vessel accords with the little flute of a reed .They emphasize the need for man's total submission to the Lord . He is indebted to the Lord for every gift that he has received from Him . Though he is the humble flute of a reed , God has breathed through it soul-stirring music ! Man may be of earth , earthy , but he seems to have been fathered by the starry heavens  !

The first stirring of spirituality in man gradually marked him off  from the rest of animals   Man emerged from darkness to light . The history of man's advance is recounted through poetic imagery . God is the iinspiration behind music and poetry . Foreign readers of Gitanjali may not realize what spirituality means to to the Indian mind . It is contemplation of God that inspired Indian poets and musicians  to pour out their souls Indians consider poetry and music as the gifts of God .  Music  is not just a concord of sweet sounds , but it is the language of the soul .  Indian poets and music composers like Thyagaraja, dikshitar , Swatithirunal etc were all inspired by ardent  devotion .  Therefore, Tagore believes that poetic and musical  gifts have taken man to the pinnacle of  power and glory !  "
 Ages pass and still thou pourest "
Man has still heights to conquer . but still he needs God's  bounteous gifts to scale new heights . Materialism will only put back the clock of human progress .Spirituality   alone can ensure peace , progress and happiness for man This is the essence of  Tagore's vision as set forth inGitanjali

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 Prof , V,P,Rajappan  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gieve Patel ; the Belated Link

Can poetry make things happen? After reading the poems of Gieve Patel one will be in no doubt as to the power of poetry to make things happen . The output of this most unpretentious of Indo-English poets may be small , but it is a highly significant one . He is the belated link between Romantic traditrion representd by Sarojini Naidu and Modernist tradition represented by Nissim Ezekiel .

Gieve Patel loves to dwell in his inner world and depict his feelings with the utmost sincerity and sensitivity . He has no use for gaudy ornaments . His poetry is marked by sparseness of similes and metaphors . At the same time it has the power to disturb you , make you ponder and open your reluctant eyes to to see the seamy side of life . He is at home when he is describing people who live in hunger and deprivation . 

I consider NARGOL the most representative poem of Gieve Patel . In this part of the world where there are more beggars than stars in heaven ,the poet's experience is everybody's experience !Pesky beggars importuning for money is a common sight in India . In the opening stanza of the poem , the poet describes his feeling of relief when he does not encounter tne beggar-woman . But the thought of the beggar-woman was not far from the poet's mind . :

At the back of my mind
Behind greetings, dog-licksand deeping
Safety I continued to look for you .

He cannot help feeling that the beggar-woman is physically following his elbow . with her necklace pendulant as her skin and her cringing smile pointing at her disease . Her importunity only begets resistance in him . He sends her away , trotting out excuses like " I hane no money " and You meet me later " . The poet is not exactly lacking in charity bur her obstinacy  only creates an equal and opposite reaction in him . Are  there not occasions in life when we hehave  like petty beggars despite our high social stature ? For the poet"giving" is "giving in " ! He chooses to be a winner  by not giving in to a  beggar-woman's importunity . 

Let her follow let her drone 
Sooner or later she will give up 
Let herself recede 

The poet does not get riddance from the annoying beggar-woman . If she spares him  in the street , it is only to re-appear in the privacy of his home !. The poet is unable to concentrate on his book as the woman is trying to catch his eyes "between page-turns" . The oft-repeated  phrase " I will give you later"  finally does the trick . Why should the beggar-woman pick on him ? Is it need or some private battle? 

The mystery of it all is cleared in the concluding part of the poem . The poet vainly hopes that his pact with the woman will give him riddance from her for a year ! 

My strolls are to myself again 
The sea is reached with ease 
Reading is simplified 

It was not to be a win-win pact , after all ! The battle between the poet and the beggar-woman is indeed an unequal one . The poet is destinrd to be the loser . He loses to a power that never admits battle . Meanness may be a defence for people like the poet . , but not for the beggar-woman . Surrender is the poet's option! The beggar-woman may be dead , but she may re-appear and disturb him because she is the symbol of the deprived and the dispossessed  who are on the trail of the wealthy . 

She is dead , I thought 
And after relief , the thought 
she'll reappear
If only to baffle!

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Nissim Ezekiel- "Poem of the Separation"

I consider "Poem of the Separation"  as a unique poem  by Nissim Ezekien. The poetic  Muse seems to have snatched the pen from his hand for the moment and written the poem for him. Unfortunately, Nissim Ezekiel has a tendency to be too flippant or too philosophical  , and this has marred his poetry . A poet may be a profound philosopher , but his poetry should convey  philosophical truths in an unobtrusive way . Generally speaking, readers do not enjoy poetry that has a design upon them . Ezekiel's preoccupation with philosophy has taken a toll of his popularity The tone of flippancy that shows through even his most serious poetry  is another disconcerting feature of his poetry. ''Poem of the Separation"is a  refreshing contrast to the rest of his poetryHere the higher truths of life are conveyed through the natural setting of romantic loveThe poet takes the reader to a bizarre  world of delicate beauty  The higher truths are conveyed  wrapped in the mystic halo of a spiritual  experience   

The poet opens the poem with the genesis of his love . Love has its own strange logic ! It is no respecteor of place and time . The poet met and fell in love when Kashmir was burning .Ezekiel captures the moment of love in these haunting lines

When the bombs burst in Kashmir 
my life had burst 
and merged in yours 

Love begets strange feeling in the hearts of lovers . People indulge in odd behaviour under the influence of love . 

Love is blind ans lovers do not see 
The pretty follies that themselves commit  (Shakespeare)

Ezekiel expresses the same idea in his own inimitable way  in these lines 

the season, time.and place
rejected their usual names 

As their love progresses, the beloved has the inevitable feeling of growing up . The sentiment of love may make men and women whirlwind and lightning . That being impossible, they had to make do with buses to take them to cafes , beaches and parks where they made love ( music) . Like the human wife in Matthew Arnold's The Forsaken Merman , the poet's beloved becomes fed up with  material life .  She cannot live on echoes - mere illusions in this illusory world . The call of the spirit grows more and more insistent and irresistible . 

The pain of separation has been described by many poets . But none of them has brought forth the poignancy  of separation as Ezekiel has done in these lines 

Ten thousand miles away 
you became a shower of letters
a photohraph, a newspaper cutting
a smell at night 

The great city of Bombay is the  city of his birth and rebirth . In this city she was a new way for him to laugh at the truth . The poet desires her physical presence badly, very badly indeed ! .She can impart to him happiness which she seems to wear so lightly '. - supported by her shoulder , breasts and thighs , symbols of woman's feminine charms . But she is so absorbed in spiritual  contemplation that she cannot think of returning to material life . All that she wants now is merger with the Lord's feet . 

This poem has a quaint atmosphere  and a delicate beauty . It has a haunting beauty . It will linger in the reader's heart like'a  smell at night'

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Prof. V.P. Rajappan!