Archive for the ‘Poets’ category

Culture

25 February 2010

– a poem by Ashok Mahajan

Two purple-white rose blossoms shown one above the other amongst mint-green leaves.

I missed the chance to nose... a pure damask rose

A pile of brown manure to front and right in a meadow with a chestnut coloured horse in the background slightly out of focus

..merely with animal or human waste.

Bred among odours of ordure
I missed the chance to nose
A pure damask rose.
Now fully grown I realize
We were only taught to use
Green fields as lavatories,
And therefore I have come to associate
All kinds of hues
Merely with animal or human waste.

Pericrocotus flammeus

A tinge of minivet-scarlet
Is no reminiscence of that bird,
But of betel-spittle stains
Left by movie fans
On walls of cinema halls,
And by pimps and harlots
In red-light lanes.

Red betel nut spit stains on a tarmac road.

....but of betel-spittle stains left by...pimps and harlots in red-light lanes.

Siris leaves possess
An autumn flavescence immeasurably less

Than expectorations of asthmatic old men
Coughing doubled-up on loose
Squeaky string cots whose
Rans of twine
Are bro-
Ken as their thoughts.

A golden yellow bovine with blue-grey horns curved back and head lowered to eat grass. The fence of a zoo enclosure is seen in the background.

A takin-gold evokes... memories of some rare beast.

A takin-gold evokes
Not in the least
Memories of dawn or some rare beast,

But scats of stray dogs
Like pagoda heaps

Among scattered slippers
Of scores of worshippers
At a Vashnoi temple-feast.

Tourists note
Fresco-amber
in Ajanta art
I know this pigment from
pools of bovine piss
at any vegetable mart.

Fresco-amber from Ajanta art...

...than pools of bovine piss in a vegetable mart.

Ashok Mahajan, is an Indian poet whose “Goan Vignettes and other poems” provide a peep into the quaint, idyllic and sometimes  anachronistic Goan life-style. This poem, the first poem of the first section – ‘Eclectic sketches” – is one of the ‘other poems’.

Though the compilation is considered light-hearted by some critics, Mahajan’s poems are of more value to the common man who would better appreciate his short true-to-life vignettes of life in Goa as well as in other parts of India. May I add that I am biased towards him as he is a retired army officer, my father’s good friend and he fueled my interest in poetry, though I’m sure that he thought it was to no avail.

In ‘Culture’, he shows us how colours associated conventionally with poetic and literary motifs are equally well served by less salubrious examples in human life. Though the poet chooses his words carefully to avoid repugnance, his craftsmanship and choice of examples evokes graphic images.

The poet attempts to show us colours through Alice’s  looking glass – a new way of imagining colour. At the same time he gives us many ways to interpret this poem.

Is he indicating that  ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are two sides of the same coin as in Kipling’s infamous line :

“For the colonel’s lady an’ Judy O’Grady, Are sisters under their skins”?

Or that good and evil are interlinked as in old English proverb:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Perhaps he mocks the futility of objects that people desire and upon which they bestow high epithets, echoing Daniel Webster’s words:

“One may live as a conqueror, a king, or a magistrate; but he must die as a man.”

I prefer to look at it from the earthy viewpoint of nature-watching. That the commonplace and unremarkable things in nature are as valuable or fascinating or worthwhile to watch as the rare, the unusual and bizarre.

The poem also obliquely draws my thought to a dialogue between the protagonist(s) in “The Last Samurai” – Tom Cruise (as Nathan Allgren a  disenchanted ex-United States Army captain) and Ken Watanabe, the samurai warlord Katsumoto. They talk about finding perfection in life and its virtues, symbolised by the cherry blossom : –

Katsumoto: The perfect (cherry) blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.
….
Katsumoto: I also. It happens to men who have seen what we have seen. But then I come to this place of my ancestors, and I remember. Like these blossoms, we are all dying. To know life in every breath, every cup of tea, every life we take. The way of the warrior….
Nathan Algren: Life in every breath…
Katsumoto: That is Bushido.

A swathe of white cherry blossoms with carmine stamens hang from a branxch highlighted agaist a blue sky.

The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.

Credits

  • All files from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise specified.
  • Click images to reach source page on Commons or elsewhere.
  • Cherry Blossoms – Sakura CC3.0.
  • Takin – ‘stevehdc’ ( on Flickr) CC2.0.
  • Chestnut horse & manure – Malene Thyssen, CC2.5SA.
  • Rose – Ulf Eliasson, CC 2.5.
  • Cow & vegetable mart – ‘brotherscarface’ in webshots (unlicensed).
  • Ajanta fresco – Jonathan A. White (public domain).
  • Betelnut spit – Scott Zona on Flickr (CC 2.0).
  • Scarlet Minivet – JM Garg, CC 3.0.
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A child said, What is the grass?

13 January 2010

In Indian schoolbooks, one often comes across poems by the British masters such as Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats and Hopkins. The American poets such as Robert Frost and Walt Whitman are rarely to be found. This is due to our colonial legacy.

The very first nature poem that was featured on this blog was Robert Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening“.

Here now is one by Walt Whitman, who writes about a very common motif of nature, often overlooked,  over-trod and discounted – Grass.

Grass & wild flowers on a Russian river bank

Grass & wild flowers on a Russian river bank.

A child said, What is the grass?

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

A US Postage Stamp of 1948 commemorating Walt Whitman.

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Walt Whitman

A nature poem?  Not quite!

One could say that Whitman used grass to expound about the human condition much as Sylvia Plath used Mushrooms for her purpose. However Whitman goes much further. He uses motifs from nature and man’s experience of it through the senses to exalt the human body and materialism. This was in stark contrast to the allegory and spiritualism that had been the tone of poetry before him.

Whitman’s magnum opus, is of course “Leaves of Grass“,  an anthology of poems he first published in 1855 and kept revising right till his death. Incidentally, though this poem is from this anthology and is about the common plant we know about, the name of the book ‘Leaves of grass’ is not about that vegetation but, instead, is a play on words.

In the forgotten lingo of nineteenth century book-publishers, ‘grass’ is used to denote works of minor value. ‘Leaves’ referes to pages. The whole name is a mocking apellation for his principal thesis.

Read Whitman’s poem on grass, look for connections with nature, with experiencing nature and for allegories with the human condition. It was a bit strange to me as I am still not used to prose-like poems very much.

It may seem of little value to read about grass. But grass is one of the bases of the food chain.

Algae, grasses and other leaves and branches of other plants are the broad base of autotrophs who support all life in the world. Grasses such as wheat and rice feed mankind directly. Bamboo, a most useful plant, too is a grass of sorts.

All the same, thinking about grass in any way gives us greater insight to this common-place and under-rated vegtation than not thinking about it at all.

Read more about :-

Image credits – Click on the image to reach the source page on Wikimedia Commons.

Dappled things – by Gerard Manley Hopkins

2 December 2009

Clouds over Chaparral, New Mexico (Image:Greg Lundeen, public domain)

Glory be to God for dappled things! (Image:US Dept of Agriculture, public domain).

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) (Public domain image)

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Stippled trout. (Image:Mike Cline, public domain).

Stippled Trout! (Image:Mike Cline, public domain).

This poem was written in 1877, but not published until 1918, when it was included as part of the collection Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Sometimes we enslave our idea of beauty to that which society says or what our senses like. There is an unseen classical beauty in two-toned images. Observe how photographers adore black and white images!

...sometimes we enslave our idea of beauty to that which society says...(Namibi woman. Image:Yves Picq, License:CC-by-SA 3.0)

Every thing does not need to have a lush, sensual quailty.  Starkness, brevity, simplicity, composition, balance are higher qualities than a mish-mash of over-rich hues!

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a priest and an exquisite poet. In the appealing contrast of dappled things he found evidence of divine benevolence! Indeed of God’s grandeur – a phrase which he used as the title of another of his poems.

To Hopkins this would indeed be an image of 'God's Grandeur"! (Image:NASA, public domain).

But all poets are UP TO SOMETHING!

In Hopkin’s case ( as Wikipedia puts it) –

This  ending is gently ironic and beautifully surprising: the entire poem has been about variety, and then God’s attribute of immutability is praised in contrast.

Tools of the trade - Carpentry. (Image:LoKiLeCh, license CC-SA 2.5)

Tools of the trade - Carpentry. (Image:LoKiLeCh, license CC-SA 2.5)