Vantage point

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


Is it true that sadness is the most potent source for poetry? Or is it just that since human beings imagine themselves to be sad most of the times, sadness is the link they identify with most? Many poems have been written without an iota of sadness or any negative emotion and are still considered works of art. I have pretensions to being a poet as you all know, and speaking about my own experience while composing them, I must say that though sadness can move mountains in the world of poetry, any other emotion which engulfs you completely is capable of producing a good poem as well. Many times it is love. I once said to a friend that I write poetry only when I am in love. Of course that is not exactly true. I could write poetry at the drop of a hat, but what will make it more than just a collection of rhyming lines will be the prime mover, i.e emotion. Being in love is a time when you feel a myraid range of emotions, and in compelling magnitudes.

Now what is it that makes a poem good or bad? It is purely subjective. How many people react to the lines in a poem and how many people react to the name at the end of the poem? Many times we make the mistake of falling prey to the "Halo Effect" and tell ourselves that the poem is good just because a renowned poet wrote it. This is cheating with the poem, for the poem communicates with you, not through its creator, but the other way round. The poet has the poem as a communication channel with the rest of the world.

Some people seek to define poetry in their esoteric terms and decide on behalf of the rest of the world whether a poem is good or bad. That is like deciding which mother is more loving. Every poem has a character of its own and an audience of its own. If you didn't like it, it wasn't written for you. It does not mean a poem is "good" or "bad". As I said it is purely subjective.

I also find this thing called "Poetry Appreciation" as downright blasphemic. I have argued with my english teacher about this at great detail. I dislike people reading a poem and then deconstructing it in prose. When I read a poem, I am making a connection with this unknown person, the poet. It is a strictly one-to-one mode of communication for the duration of the poem. The words in a poem come together to form a unique melody with a rich taste that you can just sit back and savour. When I read "Line 3 depicts the intense longing the poet felt, while in line 7 the poet again draws back from his childhood......", I feel as outraged as anything.

Imagine if you were served vintage wine. Now instead of just sipping it, savouring its taste and letting it roll down your throat in a rhythmic flow, if you rush to the lab, conduct tests and announce to the world its chemical composition. "Poetry Appreciation" is an equivalent of that.

Yesterday a friend forwarded me some emails which had poems and a paragraph which spoke about the poem. I read the poems, enjoyed them, but did not read the paras at all. What can the paras tell me that I won't "see" by myself? And even if the para details something that I failed to notice, it probably wasn't meant for me anyway. If I missed a nuance, then I missed it. Someone pointing it out to me will not have the same charm. It is like pointing out the hidden faces inside a Salavdor Dali painting to another person.

Reading poetry is an experience that should be kept distinct from the world of prose. The moment the daunting world of prose tries to capture the spirit of a poem through clinical paragraphs, a little part of the poem dies.

"The Day is Done"

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time,

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have a power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And comes like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow