Monday, 14 November 2011

Poetry Session – Nov 11, 2011

 Thommo, KumKum, Talitha, and Soma

Ten readers recited verse by poets of six nationalities, three each from India and USA, and one each from Scotland, England, Palestine, and Chile. Only two (from Scotland and India) are contemporary poets, the rest belonged to the twentieth century, with one exception.

Sivaram, Gopa, and Zakia

Readers introduced poets of rare skill who are not widely known outside their circles; this contributed to the exhilaration of hearing novel voices.

Talitha, Soma, Bobby, Sunil, and Mathew

Here is the happy group at the end of the session. Bobby was behind the lens.

Sivaram, Joe, Soma, Zakia, KumKum, Talitha, Gopa, Thommo, Sunil, and Mathew

To participate vicariously in the recitations and discussions that took place on the once-in-a-century day, 11/11/2011, click below.

Kochi Reading Group Poetry session on Nov 11, 2011

Attending: Sunil, Mathew, Joe, Sivaram, Zakia, Thommo , KumKum, Talitha, Soma, Bobby, Gopa
Absent: Priya (priority for son's leaving), Verghese (yet to be seduced by poetry)

The date for the next session to read the novel Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis was changed to Dec 2, 2011, to suit Talitha. The further dates are:
Jan 13, 2012 Poetry
Feb 10, 2012 Tristram Shandy

Sarojinidevi Naidu was a great patriot, politician, orator and administrator, of all the famous women of India, Mrs. Sarojinidevi Naidu's name is at the top. Not only that, but she was truly one of the jewels of the world. Being one of the most famous heroines of the 20th century, her birthday is celebrated as "Women's Day."

She was born on February 13, 1879 in Hyderabad. Her father, Dr. Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, was the founder of Nizam College of Hyderabad and a scientist. Her mother, Mrs. Varasundari, was a Bengali poetess. Sarojinidevi inherited qualities from both her father and mother.

Young Sarojini was a very bright and proud girl. Her father aspired for her to become a mathematician or scientist, but she loved poetry from a very early age. Once she was working on an algebra problem, and when she couldn't find the solution she decided to take a break, and in the same book she wrote her first inspired poetry. She got so enthused by this that she wrote The Lady of the Lake, a poem 1300 lines long. When her father saw that she was more interested in poetry than mathematics or science, he decided to encourage her. With her father's support, she wrote the play Maher Muneer in the Persian language. Dr. Chattopadhyaya distributed some copies among his friends and sent one copy to the Nawab of Hyderabad. Reading a beautiful play written by a young girl, the Nizam was very impressed. The college gave her a scholarship to study abroad. At the age of 16 she got admitted to King's College of England. There she met famous laureates of the time.

During her stay in England, Sarojini met Dr. Govind Naidu from southern India. After finishing her studies at the age of 19, she got married to him during the time when inter-caste marriages were not allowed. Her father was a progressive thinking person, and he did not care what others said. Her marriage was a very happy one.

Her major contribution was also in the field of poetry. Her poetry had beautiful words that could also be sung. Soon she got recognition as the "Bul Bule Hind" when her collection of poems was published in 1905 under the title Golden Threshold. After that, she published two other collections of poems--The Bird of Time and The Broken Wings. In 1918, Feast of Youth was published. Later, The Magic Tree, The Wizard Mask and A Treasury of Poems were published. Mahashree Arvind, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru were among the thousands of admirers of her work. Her poems had English words, but an Indian soul.

One day she met Shri Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He told her to use her poetry and her beautiful words to rejuvenate the spirit of Independence in the hearts of villagers and set free Mother India.

Then in 1916, she met Mahatma Gandhi, and totally directed her energy to the fight for freedom. She would roam around the country like a general of the army and pour enthusiasm among the hearts of Indians. The independence of India became the heart and soul of her work. She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She brought them out of the kitchen. Travelling from state to state, she demanded the rights of the women, and helped re-establish their self-esteem.

In 1925, she chaired the summit of Congress in Kanpur. In 1928, she went to USA with the message of the non-violence movement from Gandhiji. When in 1930, Gandhiji was arrested for a protest, she took the helm of his movement. In 1931, she participated in the Round Table Summit, along with Gandhiji and Pundit Malaviyaji. In 1942, she was arrested during the "Quit India" protest and stayed in jail for 21 months with Gandhiji.

After independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh – the first woman governor in India.

Sunil said the poem may sound remote and out of place today because we have forgotten the freedom struggle. In the discussion that followed someone said we are lucky that India did not have oil, for then many more colonial wars would have taken place. At that time the colonialists were in search of markets for their manufactured goods, and sources for raw materials. Talitha said there was a lot of rhythm and music in her poetry, written under the advice of Gokhale. Sivaram, however found the language archaic. Joe agreed; he too found that Indian poets writing in English in those days assumed the cadences of poets writing in England a hundred years before.

Regarding the poem Coromandel Fishers, Sunil sketched an image of Tamil fishermen balanced like ballet artists on the narrow planks of their catamarans; if they gave a ride to tourists and they fell off, the fishermen would dive in and rescue them. The word catamaran, Thommo, noted, has a Tamil origin, from kattu-maram, meaning tied wood. KumKum imagined these fisher-folk as 'surfing' long before the age of surf-boards. Sunil thought the children of fishermen in Fort Kochi would not themselves take to the sea, for it's unattractive work.


Toru Dutt is relatively unknown in India today, but she was a pioneer of Indian writing in English. The Indian Council of Historical Research lists her among the Makers of Modern India. The only work she published in her brief life of 21 years is called A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields. It is a book published by a press in Bhowanipur, Calcutta, being translations into English of 100 French poems.

The critic Edmund Gosse was by happenstance in the room of a publisher in London when the postman brought a shabby book printed in Calcutta. He remarks: “When poetry is as good as this it does not much matter whether Rouveyre prints it upon Whatman paper, or whether it steals to light in blurred type from some press in Bhowanipore.” ( You may read at this site a touching account of the life and death of Toru, and her constant companion and loving sister, Aru, elder to her by eighteen months.

The journeys Dutt made in her short life presage other similar journeys that later Indian writers would make; the way she and her creative work stand at the confluence of languages and traditions is prescient of how the Indian writer in English, not to speak of the Indian writer in general, is almost always to be found at that confluence. She was born in Bengal, educated in France and Cambridge, and returned to Bengal to write at least three great poems, Our Casuarina Tree, Baugmaree and Sita.

Toru Dutt's sonnet Baugmaree is perhaps the first artistically satisfying example of those texts in Indian writing in English that occupy the space between translation and transformation. Baugmaree, or Bagmari, is on the outskirts of Kolkata; it is where Dutt's family had a country house. In a climate in which most of Dutt's contemporaries and predecessors were writing of historical figures or events, or turning to English literary conventions for their models, Dutt takes a form - the sonnet - that came to her from the English language and opens it on to a vista such as the English language had not known before.

Consider the first seven lines of the sonnet
Baugmaree. The list of colours - the variations of green - does not prepare us for the sudden intrusion of the auditory in the eighth line: Red, - red, and startling like a trumpet's sound. In its transition from one of the five senses to another, from the visual to the auditory, the analogy rehearses the poem's own act of translation, its movement from English to Baugmaree and back again. It also returns us to the 'startling sound' in the previous line, the word 'seemul', the local name for the silk cotton tree - the incorporation of the lovely local word in the frame of the English sonnet - 'startles' with its resonance. It is meant to disturb, disturb both the 'quiet pools' and the diction of the sonnet. It opens the way to further such usages in Indian writing in English.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, a poet writing a hundred years after Toru Dutt, says: “Is it possible Surrealism helped me to resolve the awful contradiction between the world which I wanted to write about, which was the world of dentists and chemist shops, and the language, English, I had to write in? How does one write about an uncle in a wheelchair in the language of skylarks and nightingales? Surrealism… provided the answer, or so it appears in hindsight. It's almost as though I had said to myself that since I can't write about these things in English, let me try doing it in French, so to speak.' Thus, too, for the earlier poet, the incursion of 'seemul' into the 'language of skylarks and nightingales' is, for her, and all of us, an important one; and the odd simile, composed of dissimilar elements, red, and startling like a trumpet's sound, reminds us of the simultaneous coming together and breaking apart of languages that makes that incursion possible. With
Baugmaree begins a journey, which many others since have undertaken.” (Amit Chaudhuri. See )

Baugmaree, near Manicktala in Calcutta, was where Toru and Aru her elder sister spent hours happily gardening. Toru learnt French well enough to be at home writing in the language. Her writing seems fresh and unsentimental today, and worthy of recitation alongside contemporary poets. Her achievement was to bypass the tradition of Shelley and Wordsworth, and assume the voice of the golden age of French poetry of the nineteenth century. Incidentally, Toru Dutt had a famous cousin, Romesh Chunder Dutt, civil servant, economist, and creative writer who translated Indian epics into couplets.

Joe remarked that the first poem is in pentameter. Mathew replied it is a sonnet, though not in the Elizabethan or the Italian rhyme scheme. Bobby mentioned a Kurosawa film in which two old people are sitting silently facing each other, and a bystander asks what they are up to, and one of them replies that they are exchanging old stories.

For further reference, see:

Don Paterson is a contemporary poet, born in 1963. Joe was not aware of his poetry, although Paterson has won practically every prize in the British poetry world. He is Scottish, born in Dundee, and is on the faculty of the English Department at Scotland's famous university, St. Andrews. He is also a guitar player and appears regularly in a band playing jazz. He is married and lives with his partner, a novelist called Nora Chassler, three step-children, and twin sons, Jamie and Russell, one of whom was born with a neurological handicap. 
His work has received the Forward Poetry Prize several times (Best First Collection, Best Collection, Best Poem) and the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, and the T. S. Eliot Prize, twice. He has published five volumes of poetry so far, a book of aphorisms, a technical manual on poetry, and a gloss for everyman on Shakespeare's sonnets.
Quotes from an interview:
  • the poem is never pre-determined, and I would be wary of any poet who writes that way. I doubt I’d want to read them. As I’ve said, I write to find out what it is I think, or to find out something I haven’t thought."
  • Poets understand .... that to express something true about the world, style and brevity are two of the principal means ...
  • I don’t think our lives need redeeming. It’s a Christian word, and we have no need for it. We weren’t sinful in the first place. Nothing was broken, and nothing needs fixing
  • poetic language has two functions; to make things clear and distinct where they weren’t, and to join them back up again when they were broken apart. It’s a natural function of language.
  • Metre’s a bit of a lost art in some quarters,
  • To provoke a feeling requires that you risk sentimentality, which I think you have to; it sounds like a pretty uncool and unfashionable risk, compared with doing something crazy with the syntax; or replacing all the nouns with the word next to them in the dictionary, or whatever - but the worst that can happen there is that you’ll annoy the reader.
  • Imagination is how we correct reality for error
(although, being trained in science, I would characterise imagination as the leap by which we overcome an error of current thinking to grasp at the truth that lies beyond, and always will).


Sivaram chose Harold Pinter, the playwright, to sample his poetry. Pinter wrote poetry throughout his life, and Sivaram was particularly taken by the transparent expressions of love in the short poems he addressed to his second wife and the love of his life, Antonia Fraser, the well-known historical fiction novelist. His first marriage was not a happy one, but when he met Antonia Fraser it was love from the beginning, although she was married to an MP and had borne him six children. She wrote in her biography of Pinter (Must You Go?) that the day she confessed the affair to her husband, Pinter came over and the two men had a drink and “discussed cricket at length, then the West Indies, then Proust.” Lady Antonia and Pinter married in 1980.

Sivaram mentioned Pinter's love for cricket, and his anti-American stance delivered in a scathing lecture videotaped for the Nobel Lecture (he was too sick to attend). He was a man of moods and had his demons of depression, and his wit was acerbic; which makes the contrast with his simply addressed avowals of love all the more delightful: his last poem before he died of cancer of the esophagus (he was a heavy smoker) begins: I shall miss you so much when I’m dead

and ends
My everlasting bride
Remember that when I am dead
You are forever alive in my heart and my head.

Joe thought the lesson from Pinter's verse is that it can unite people, never mind the quality of the verse, provided it is addressed with much feeling.

Although Gopa did not read this time, seeking to get a feel for the poetry sessions, we hope very much she will find some fine poetry to recite for us at the next session on Jan 13. People reminded her of Thommo's baptism in poetry. He too was not a poetry fan, when he joined, being a writer focused on prose, but he decided to take the plunge at his first poetry session by reciting the lyrics of a song by a group he liked; the ballad was called Heavy Horses, if memory serves. Here:

Ever since Thommo has been bringing us novel poets, and poetic novels to read, such as the next one, Lucky Jim.

Mahmoud Darwish was the 2001 winner of the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom. He is considered one of the foremost poets of the Arab world. His readings in Arab capitals are attended by thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—from all sectors of the society. The critic Hassan Khader calls Darwish a poet of love. Darwish’s early poetry was lyrical; it later evolved to address more symbolic and abstract themes. Khader credits Darwish for saving Arabic lyrical poetry from the stagnation it fell into in the ‘60s by taking it beyond immediate political concerns into more metaphysical subjects. His technical innovations affected both the form and the substance of this popular form of poetry. In Darwish’s poems private and public concerns are carefully balanced and expressed through his own poetic vocabulary and imagery. This has had a profound influence on generations of poets throughout the Arab world.

Mahmoud has a house in the Ramallah hills. Homes are less than a quarter of a mile apart. Along with all the other Palestinian cities, Ramallah has been under Israeli military curfew since June 24th, 2002. Israeli tanks rumble day and night on the narrow streets of Ramallah, often causing destruction to walls and telephone poles. Anyone leaving their house runs the risk of being shot. All movement is strictly prohibited. Close to a million people have been forced to abandon their work, their routine, their pursuit of work, life, and pleasure and remain locked up at home in one of the most pernicious forms of collective punishment practiced by a modern state in modern times. No limit has been placed on this practice. Israel has been urged by several governments around the world to withdraw its forces from Palestine population centers, but these calls were not heeded until recently.

Here is an interview with Mahmoud Darwish:

Zakia said Darwish is accepted as the Palestinian national poet. The poem she read (I Come From There) is a metaphor for a lost Eden, a homeland, Al-watan in Arabic. Darwish moved to Haifa, and then joined the PLO. He was allowed to enter Ramallah in 1995. He was married twice. He wrote 30 volumes of poetry, and admired the Jewish poet Yehuda Amichai. Darwish wrote in Arabic and in English.

Zakia said even now after decades of occupation there is no settlement. Only 50,000 illegal settlements, replied Joe, exaggerating a bit. Sivaram added that that someone (the poet?) said “You Americans will never understand what it is to be free.” Sunil mentioned a letter of Eisenhower in connection with Palestine. The British, as usual, with their propensity to draw straight lines dividing countries in the Middle East and Africa, were partly responsible for creating the problem. In former times, Thommo said, Palestine had a large Christian population and revolutionaries like George Habash were PLO fighters. Today the land has only a small Christian population remaining, for people have left to escape the inhuman conditions under which Israel continues to keep the Palestinians as prisoners in their own land. Sivaram cited the book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East by William Dalrymple as a touching story, laying out the tragedy of a dying civilisation of Christians in the Middle East.

Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973) was the pen name assumed by the Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. The name he chose belonged to the Czech poet Jan Neruda. He travelled widely in India. One of his famous works is a group of poems titled Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (20 love poems and a song of despair) in which he pours out his heart in emotionally charged love poetry. Being a confirmed leftist, he lent his support to Allende for the Presidency of Chile, and was himself made Ambassador to France for two years. In 1971, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for his poetry. For more see:

In the poem Thommo recited, the theme may be his love for a woman, but some have read it as a love poem to his country, Chile, where he became a suspect soon after the rightist government of Pinochet came to power through a CIA-inspired coup. When they came to search his house he told the police: "Look around—there's only one thing of danger for you here—poetry."  In his Nobel speech he said a poet “is at the same time a force for solidarity and for solitude. “ Marquez ventured the opinion that Neruda wrote the greatest poetry in any language in the twentieth century. Although their political views were opposed, Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina Borges seconded the view by stating, "I think of him as a very fine poet.”

Sylvia Plath was an American poet of our era. She published a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, which remains quite popular in the US. Plath wrote short stories and articles and tried her hand at drawing too. An Exhibition of her paintings is taking place in London now, curated by her daughter Frieda Hughes.

Sylvia Plath was born in Massachusetts in 1932 and committed suicide in London in 1963. This talented, multifaceted young woman struggled with depression all through her adult life. Her tumultuous romance and marriage to dashing British poet, Ted Hughes, did not assuage her mental disorder. Initially, the two shared a fairytale life. They had two children. But, very soon Hughes sought Romance and love outside his marriage. These affairs wreaked havoc on Sylvia’s delicate condition.

To elucidate: in 1963 Ted Hughes got seriously involved with Assia Wevill. Assia was the wife of the poet David Wevill, common friends of theirs. Hughes was living apart from his wife and their two children at the time. This was the period when Sylvia suffered the most; she was also at her creative best. Her pain comes through in a series of very personal poems. These are her best, and belong to the category of “Confessional Poetry.” After her death Ted Hughes edited and published Plath's poems in a book titled, Ariel.

I will read two of my favourite poems by Sylvia Plath, both composed in the dark days of her life, and bearing the imprint of a soul unburdening itself. KumKum said that critics have taken the mushroom of the poem Mushroom to stand for her own demon of acute depression that would overcome her at times. Talitha thought the lines
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

Means that people without rights will ultimately inherit the earth as they grow and multiply like mushrooms silently overnight. It could stand also for the underdog coming up, said Mathew. KumKum noted that immigrants took up the message as a hope for them, and spread this poem as being about themselves, ultimately destined to win their rights.

The second poem recited, called Pheasant, is a metaphor for the wilting love between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, said KumKum. Whether this is the rumination of an academic or has been vouched by Sylvia, we do not know. Talitha, at any rate saw this poem as a detailed description of pheasants, evoking their loveliness singly or in a flock. Joe remarked on the verb 'unclaps' used in the line about a pheasant coming to rest in a tree:
It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud,
Settles in the elm, and is easy.

Joe could not find 'unclaps' in any dictionary and promised to look it up in the great OED. There it is listed as
Obs. trans.
To open up

with the only example:
1621 T. W. tr. S. Goulart Wise Vieillard A 4 b, My fingers did euen itch to set pen to paper, and to vnclappe so good a Worke.

Louis Untermeyer was the author, editor or compiler, and translator of more than one hundred books for readers of all ages. He will be best remembered as a prolific anthologist. "What most of us don't realize is that everyone loves poetry," he was quoted as saying.

Untermeyer developed his taste for literature while still a child. His mother had read aloud to him from a variety of sources, including the epic poems. In his maturity he encouraged the spirit of experiment that characterized the decade, saying, "it is the non-conformers, the innovators in art, science, technology, and human relations who, misunderstood and ridiculed in their own times, have shaped our world."

Friendships with Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Arthur Miller, and other literary figures provided him with material for books. Bygones provides his reflections on the four women who were his wives. Jean Starr moved to Vienna with Untermeyer after he became a full-time writer; Virginia Moore was his wife for about a year; Esther Antin, a lawyer he met in Toledo, Ohio, married him in 1933; fifteen years later, he married Bryna Ivens, with whom he edited a dozen books for children.

In his later years, Untermeyer, like Frost, had a deep appreciation for country life.

You may read more about Untermeyer at:

The first poem The Portrait of a Machine, accurately conveys the sense of machines with their huge impersonal attributes taking over and man becoming subject to them, by an inversion:
Its master's bread and laughs to see this great
Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn,
Become the slave of what his slaves create.

The second poem renders contrasts the malice of talking as it is practiced by unthinking folk, with the gentle discourse and innocent demeanor he experienced in his father’s talk. You can discern the admiration the son must have had for his father’s qualities, which he would have valued and imitated.


Born in 1940, Gieve Patel is an important presence in the history of modern Indian poetry in English. He is a poet, playwright and painter, as well as a doctor by profession, practicing in Mumbai. He has written three books of poetry (Poems, How Do You Withstand, Body and Mirrored Mirroring); three plays (Princes, Savaksa and Mr Behram); and held several exhibitions of his paintings in India and abroad. He lives in Mumbai.

Patel describes himself as “a profane monk” whose poetry reveals “a slightly sick concern with the body”. This preoccupation is evident in Patel’s poetic terrain (evoked time and again with horrified but rapt fascination): a world of nerve endings and viscera, ragged fibre and vein, gnarled root and leprous hide. The tone is frequently flat, dispassionate, even offhand, wary of any attempt to ennoble, prettify or sentimentalise the subject matter. The existential questions – and they are never far away in Patel’s work – are not presented as airy abstractions; they emerge thickly, haltingly, from the glutinous dough of corporeality that is the focus of what seems to be the gaze of a committed forensic pathologist.

Patel makes no gestures at discerning harmony or resolution in the “chorale” that rises daily “from the world’s forsaken cellars”. But in the relentless feverish probing of the darkest areas of human pain and desolation, he acknowledges, particularly in the later work, the emergence of something else. God may be too grand a word for it.
To most people Gieve Patel is synonymous with the poem On Killing a Tree. “It is the one poem that people remember,” he admits with a sudden smile. “Whenever I travel abroad, people I don’t know at all come up to me and tell me that they had studied it in school.”

The poem deals with an incident that happened when he was in the first year of medical school in Mumbai many years ago. An old peepul tree had sheltered a host of creatures, both wild and tame, under its branches. One day, when he came to school, he found that it had been chopped down. Dr Patel described it in the course of a reading at The School KFI, run by the Krishnamurti Foundation India in Chennai.
The poem just came out without much effort. Most of it just fell into place naturally. And though it’s about the beautiful tree that I missed seeing in its usual place, in some ways the poem suggests, I think, that a tree is not very different from a human life.”

As a practising doctor, images of the human body are never far from his compendium, whether in paintings or poetry. And it’s typical of a Gieve Patel poem that he should see the bark of the tree as “leprous”. It’s as if there’s an equal amount of delight and revulsion with the physical aspects of the world around him.

A. K. Ramanujan, born in Mysore, India in 1929, came to the U.S. in 1959, where he remained until his death in Chicago on July 13, 1993 . Not only was Ramanujan a transnational figure, but he was also a trans-disciplinary scholar, working as a poet, translator, linguist, and folklorist. Although he wrote primarily in English, he was fluent in both Kannada, the common public language of Mysore, and Tamil, the language of his family, as well.

Ramanujan received his BA and MA in English language and literature from the University of Mysore. He then spent some time teaching at several universities in South India before getting a graduate diploma in theoretical linguistics from Deccan University in Poona in 1958. The following year, he went to Indiana University where he got a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1963.

In 1962, he became an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, where he was affiliated throughout the rest of his career. However, he did teach at several other U.S. universities at times, including Harvard, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and Carlton College. At the University of Chicago, Ramanujan was instrumental in shaping the South Asian Studies program. He worked in the departments of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Linguistics, and with the Committee on Social Thought. In 1976, the government of India awarded him the honorific title Padma Sri, and in 1983, he was given the MacArthur Prize Fellowship (Shulman, 1994).

A Kannada short story of A.K. Ramanujan was discovered in a stack of papers by his wife, Molly A. Daniels-Ramanujan, and given to playwright-friend Girish Karnad a few years after Ramanujan’s death in 1993. The papers contain a few humour pieces, poems and notes for a novel. They remained unpublished primarily because they were works in progress. Ramanujan was known to be meticulous with his drafts and spoke of revising them over and over again. Ramanujan did a fair amount of creative writing in Kannada. He had published three anthologies of poems, one novel, four short stories, two radio plays, a few essays and a tiny volume on proverbs.

In the poem Birthdays written a year before he died he is pondering birth and death and draws an analogy between the kicking of a baby as it comes out of the mother's womb and the death throes of a person. He asks:
but death? Is it a dispersal
of gathered energies
back into their elements,
earth, air, water and fire,

Ramanujan is dealing with the riddles of life, which are too difficult to solve in the space of a short poem, but 43 lines is quite adequate to state one more riddle.

The Poems

Sarojini Naidu 2 poems 
To India
O YOUNG through all thy immemorial years!
Rise, Mother, rise, regenerate from thy gloom,
And, like a bride high-mated with the spheres,
Beget new glories from thine ageless womb!

The nations that in fettered darkness weep
Crave thee to lead them where great mornings break . . . .
Mother, O Mother, wherefore dost thou sleep?
Arise and answer for thy children's sake!

Thy Future calls thee with a manifold sound
To crescent honours, splendours, victories vast;
Waken, O slumbering Mother and be crowned,
Who once wert empress of the sovereign Past. 

Coromandel Fishers 
Rise, brothers, rise; the wakening skies pray to the morning light,
The wind lies asleep in the arms of the dawn like a child that has cried all night.
Come, let us gather our nets from the shore and set our catamarans free,
To capture the leaping wealth of the tide, for we are the kings of the sea!
No longer delay, let us hasten away in the track of the sea gull's call,
The sea is our mother, the cloud is our brother, the waves are our comrades all.
What though we toss at the fall of the sun where the hand of the sea-god drives?
He who holds the storm by the hair, will hide in his breast our lives.
Sweet is the shade of the cocoanut glade, and the scent of the mango grove,
And sweet are the sands at the full o' the moon with the sound of the voices we love;
But sweeter, O brothers, the kiss of the spray and the dance of the wild foam's glee;
Row, brothers, row to the edge of the verge, where the low sky mates with the sea.

2 poems by Toru Dutt
A sea of foliage girds our garden round,
But not a sea of dull unvaried green,
Sharp contrasts of all colours here are seen;
The light-green graceful tamarinds abound
Amid the mangoe clumps of green profound,
And palms arise, like pillars gray, between;
And o'er the quiet pools the seemuls lean,
Red,--red, and startling like a trumpet's sound.
But nothing can be lovelier than the ranges
Of bamboos to the eastward, when the moon
Looks through their gaps, and the white lotus changes
Into a cup of silver. One might swoon
Drunken with beauty then, or gaze and gaze
On a primeval Eden, in amaze.

The Tree Of Life
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father's, and I felt
His presence near me. Thus we often past
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there shone
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake:--It was an open plain
Illimitable,--stretching, stretching--oh, so far!
And o'er it that strange light,--a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm.
And in the midst of that vast plain, I saw,
For I was wide awake,--it was no dream,
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
Of divers kinds,--dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell!
Beside the tree an Angel stood; he plucked
A few small sprays, and bound them round my head.
Oh, the delicious touch of those strange leaves!
No longer throbbed my brows, no more I felt
The fever in my limbs--"And oh," I cried,
"Bind too my father's forehead with these leaves."
One leaf the Angel took and therewith touched
His forehead, and then gently whispered "Nay!"
Never, oh never had I seen a face
More beautiful than that Angel's, or more full
Of holy pity and of love divine.
Wondering I looked awhile,--then, all at once
Opened my tear-dimmed eyes--When lo! the light
Was gone--the light as of the stars when snow
Lies deep upon the ground. No more, no more,
Was seen the Angel's face. I only found
My father watching patient by my bed,
And holding in his own, close-prest, my hand.

Don Paterson 2 poems
Two Trees

one morning, don miguel got out of bed
with one idea rooted in his head:
to graft his orange to his lemon tree.
It took him the whole day to work them free,
lay open their sides, and lash them tight.
For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright
they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared
two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years
the limbs would get themselves so tangled up
each bough looked like it gave a double crop,
and not one kid in the village didn’t know
the magic tree in Miguel’s patio.
The man who bought the house had had no dream
so who can say what dark malicious whim
led him to take his axe and split the bole
along its fused seam, then dig two holes.
And no, they did not die from solitude;
nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit;
nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring
for those four yards that lost them everything
as each strained on its shackled root to face
the other’s empty, intricate embrace.
They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.

The Circle for Jamie
(Jamie is the twin, born with a tremor, because he didn't get oxygen at his difficult birth)
My boy is painting outer space,
and steadies his brush-rip to trace
the comets, planets, moon and sun
and all the circuitry they run
in one great heavenly design.
But when he tries to close the line
he draws around his upturned cup,
his hand shakes, and he screws it up.
The shake’s as old as he is, all
(thank god) his body can recall
of that hour when, one inch from home,
we couldn't get the air to him;
and though today he’s all the earth
and sky for breathing-space and breath
the whole damn troposphere can’t cure
the flutter in his signature.
But Jamie, nothing’s what we meant.
The dream is taxed. We all resent
the quarter bled off by the dark
between the bowstring and the mark
and trust to Krishna or to fate
to keep our arrows halfway straight.
But the target also draws our aim –
our will and nature's are the same;
we are its living word, and not
a book it wrote and then forgot,
its fourteen-billion-year-old song
inscribed in both out right and wrong —
so even when you rage and moan
and bring your fist down like a stone
on your spoiled work and useless kit,
you just can’t help but broadcast it:
look at the little avatar
of your muddy water-jar
filling with the perfect ring
singing under everything.

To My Wife
I was dead and now I live
You took my hand

I blindly died
You took my hand

You watched me die
And found my life

You were my life
When I was dead

You are my life
And so I live
(June 2004)

It Is Here
(for A)
What sound was that?
I turn away, into the shaking room.

What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?
What is this stance we take,
To turn away and then turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.

I know the place
It is true
Everything we do
Corrects the space
Between Death and me
And you.

The curtain white in folds,
She walks two steps and turns,
The curtain still, the light
Staggers in her eyes.
The lamps are golden.
Afternoon leans, silently.
She dances in my life.
The white day burns.

To A
I shall miss you so much when I’m dead
The loveliest of smiles
The softness of your body in our bed
My everlasting bride
Remember that when I am dead
You are forever alive in my heart and my head

a poem by Mahmoud Darwish
I Come From There
I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....

a poem by Pablo Neruda 
If You Forget Me  
I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

In Spanish
Si Tu Me Olvidas
Quiero que sepas
una cosa.

Tú sabes cómo es esto:
si miro
la luna de cristal, la rama roja
del lento otoño en mi ventana,
si toco
junto al fuego
la impalpable ceniza
o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
todo me lleva a ti,
como si todo lo que existe:
aromas, luz, metales,
fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

Ahora bien,
si poco a poco dejas de quererme
dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

Si de pronto
me olvidas
no me busques,
que ya te habré olvidado.

Si consideras largo y loco
el viento de banderas
que pasa por mi vida
y te decides
a dejarme a la orilla
del corazón en que tengo raíces,
que en esa día,
a esa hora
levantaré los brazos
y saldrán mis raíces
a buscar otra tierra.

si cada día,
cada hora,
sientes que a mí estás destinada
con dulzura implacable,
si cada día sube
una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
ay amor mío, ay mía,
en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
sin salir de los míos.

Sylvia Plath
2 poems
Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

You said you would kill it this morning.
Do not kill it. It startles me still,
The jut of that odd, dark head, pacing
Through the uncut grass on the elm's hill.
It is something to own a pheasant,
Or just to be visited at all.
I am not mystical: it isn't
As if I thought it had a spirit.
It is simply in its element.
That gives it a kingliness, a right.
The print of its big foot last winter,
The trail-track, on the snow in our court
The wonder of it, in that pallor,
Through crosshatch of sparrow and starling.
Is it its rareness, then? It is rare.
But a dozen would be worth having,
A hundred, on that hill--green and red,
Crossing and recrossing: a fine thing!
It is such a good shape, so vivid.
It's a little cornucopia.
It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud,
Settles in the elm, and is easy.
It was sunning in the narcissi.
I trespass stupidly. Let be, let be.

Louis Untermeyer 
2 poems
Portrait of a Machine
What nudity as beautiful as this
Obedient monster purring at this toil;
Those naked iron muscles dripping oil,
And the sure-fingered rods that never miss?
This long and shining flank of metal is
Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil;
While this vast engine that could rend the soil
Conceals its fury with a gentle hiss.

It does not vent its loathing, it does not turn
Upon its makers with destroying hate.
It bears a deeper malice; lives to earn
Its master's bread and laughs to see this great
Lord of the earth, who rules but cannot learn,
Become the slave of what his slaves create.

A Man
(For My Father)
I listened to them talking, talking,
That tableful of keen and clever folk,
Sputtering . . . followed by a pale and balking
Sort of flash whenever some one spoke;
Like musty fireworks or a pointless joke,
Followed by a pointless, musty laughter. Then
Without a pause, the sputtering once again . . .
The air was thick with epigrams and smoke;
And underneath it all
It seemed that furtive things began to crawl,
Hissing and striking in the dark,
Aiming at no particular mark,
And careless whom they hurt.
The petty jealousies, the smiling hates
Shot forth their venom as they passed the plates,
And hissed and struck again, aroused, alert;
Using their feeble smartness as a screen
To shield their poisonous stabbing, to divert
From what was cowardly and black and mean.

Then I thought of you,
Your gentle soul,
Your large and quiet kindness;
Ready to caution and console,
And, with an almost blindness
To what was mean and low.
Baseness you never knew;
You could not think that falsehood was untrue,
Nor that deceit would ever dare betray you.
You even trusted treachery; and so,
Guileless, what guile or evil could dismay you?
You were for counsels rather than commands.
Your sweetness was your strength, your strength a sweetness
That drew all men, and made reluctant hands
Rest long upon your shoulder.
Firm, but never proud,
You walked your sixty years as through a crowd
Of friends who loved to feel your warmth, and who
Knowing that warmth, knew you.
Even the casual beholder
Could see your fresh and generous completeness,
Like dawn in a deep forest, growing and shining through.
Such faith has soothed and armed you. It has smiled
Frankly and unashamed at Death; and, like a child,
Swayed half by joy and half by reticence,
Walking beside its nurse, you walk with Life;
Protected by your smile and an immense
Security and simple confidence.

Hearing the talkers talk, I thought of you . . .
And it was like a great wind blowing
Over confused and poisonous places.
It was like sterile spaces
Crowded with birds and grasses, soaked clear through
With sunlight, quiet and vast and clean.
And it was forests growing,
And it was black things turning green.
And it was laughter on a thousand faces . . .
It was, like victory rising from defeat,
The world made well again and strong—and sweet.
Source: Father: An Anthology of Verse (EP Dutton & Company, 1931)

A poem by Gieve Patel
On Killing A Tree
It takes much time to kill a tree,
Not a simple jab of the knife
Will do it.
It has grown
Slowly consuming the earth,
Rising out if it, feeding
Upon its crust, absorbing
Years of sunlight, air, water,
And out of its leprous hide
Sprouting leaves.
So hack and chop
But this alone won’t do it.
Not so much pain will do it.
The bleeding bark will heal
And from close to the ground
Will rise curled green twigs,
Miniature boughs
Which if unchecked will expand again
To former size.
The root is to be pulled out
Out of the anchoring earth;
It is to be roped, tied,
And pulled out-snapped out
Or pulled out entirely,
Out from the earth-cave,
And the strength of the tree exposed,
The source, white and wet,
The most sensitive, hidden
For years inside the earth.
Then the matter
Of scorching and choking
In sun and air,
Browning, hardening,
Twisting, withering,
And then it is done.

A.K. Ramanujan

Birthdays come and go,
for brother,son, daughter,
spouse,niece and nephew,
and among them,mine,and as I grow
older, they come as often as death
anniversaries in all the families
I know,
and they linger under tamarind
trees like other absences.

Even universities,
art museums, apple trees
that recycle the seasons,
and inventions like guns
have their birthdays
like St. Francis, Shakespeare,
Gandhi and Washington
marked on calendars.

Birth takes a long time
though death can be sudden,
and multiple like pregnant deer
shot down on the run.
Yet one would like to think,
one kicks and grabs the air
in death throes as a baby
does in its mother's womb
months before the event.
There's no evidence as far
as I can see, which isn't
very far, to say that death
throes are birth pangs.
Birth seems quite special
every time a mayfly is born
into the many miracles
of day, night and twilight,
but death? Is it a dispersal
of gathered energies
back into their elements,
earth, air, water and fire,
a reworking into other moulds,
grass, worm, bacterial glow
lights, and mother -matter
for other offspring with names
and forms clocked into seasons ?
16 March 1992 (written 15 months before he died)

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