Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tradition and Individual Talent


Tradition and the Individual Talent

BY T. S. ELIOT

Introduction

Often hailed as the successor to poet-critics such as John Dryden, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism informs his poetry just as his experiences as a poet shape his critical work. Though famous for insisting on “objectivity” in art, Eliot’s essays actually map a highly personal set of preoccupations, responses and ideas about specific authors and works of art, as well as formulate more general theories on the connections between poetry, culture and society. Perhaps his best-known essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” was first published in 1919 and soon after included in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920). Eliot attempts to do two things in this essay: he first redefines “tradition” by emphasizing the importance of history to writing and understanding poetry, and he then argues that poetry should be essentially “impersonal,” that is separate and distinct from the personality of its writer. Eliot’s idea of tradition is complex and unusual, involving something he describes as “the historical sense” which is a perception of “the pastness of the past” but also of its “presence.” For Eliot, past works of art form an order or “tradition”; however, that order is always being altered by a new work which modifies the “tradition” to make room for itself. This view, in which “the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past,” requires that a poet be familiar with almost all literary history—not just the immediate past but the distant past and not just the literature of his or her own country but the whole “mind of Europe.”

Eliot’s second point is one of his most famous and contentious. A poet, Eliot maintains, must “self-sacrifice” to this special awareness of the past; once this awareness is achieved, it will erase any trace of personality from the poetry because the poet has become a mere medium for expression. Using the analogy of a chemical reaction, Eliot explains that a “mature” poet’s mind works by being a passive “receptacle” of images, phrases and feelings which are combined, under immense concentration, into a new “art emotion.” For Eliot, true art has nothing to do with the personal life of the artist but is merely the result of a greater ability to synthesize and combine, an ability which comes from deep study and comprehensive knowledge. Though Eliot’s belief that “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality” sprang from what he viewed as the excesses of Romanticism, many scholars have noted how continuous Eliot’s thought—and the whole of Modernism—is with that of the Romantics’; his “impersonal poet” even has links with John Keats, who proposed a similar figure in “the chameleon poet.” But Eliot’s belief that critical study should be “diverted” from the poet to the poetry shaped the study of poetry for half a century, and while “Tradition and the Individual Talent” has had many detractors, especially those who question Eliot’s insistence on canonical works as standards of greatness, it is difficult to overemphasize the essay’s influence. It has shaped generations of poets, critics and theorists and is a key text in modern literary criticism.




Original Essay 


In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to “the tradition” or to “a tradition”; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is “traditional” or even “too traditional.” Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archaeological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology.

Certainly the word is not likely to appear in our appreciations of living or dead writers. Every nation, every race, has not only its own creative, but its own critical turn of mind; and is even more oblivious of the shortcomings and limitations of its critical habits than of those of its creative genius. We know, or think we know, from the enormous mass of critical writing that has appeared in the French language the critical method or habit of the French; we only conclude (we are such unconscious people) that the French are “more critical” than we, and sometimes even plume ourselves a little with the fact, as if the French were the less spontaneous. Perhaps they are; but we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism. One of the facts that might come to light in this process is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles any one else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity.

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not onesided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the wholeexisting order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

In a peculiar sense he will be aware also that he must inevitably be judged by the standards of the past. I say judged, not amputated, by them; not judged to be as good as, or worse or better than, the dead; and certainly not judged by the canons of dead critics. It is a judgment, a comparison, in which two things are measured by each other. To conform merely would be for the new work not really to conform at all; it would not be new, and would therefore not be a work of art. And we do not quite say that the new is more valuable because it fits in; but its fitting in is a test of its value—a test, it is true, which can only be slowly and cautiously applied, for we are none of us infallible judges of conformity. We say: it appears to conform, and is perhaps individual, or it appears individual, and many conform; but we are hardly likely to find that it is one and not the other.

To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he form himself wholly upon one preferred period. The first course is inadmissible, the second is an important experience of youth, and the third is a pleasant and highly desirable supplement. The poet must be very conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement. Perhaps not even an improvement from the point of view of the psychologist or not to the extent which we imagine; perhaps only in the end based upon a complication in economics and machinery. But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.

Some one said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.

I am alive to a usual objection to what is clearly part of my programme for the métier of poetry. The objection is that the doctrine requires a ridiculous amount of erudition (pedantry), a claim which can be rejected by appeal to the lives of poets in any pantheon. It will even be affirmed that much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility. While, however, we persist in believing that a poet ought to know as much as will not encroach upon his necessary receptivity and necessary laziness, it is not desirable to confine knowledge to whatever can be put into a useful shape for examinations, drawing-rooms, or the still more pretentious modes of publicity. Some can absorb knowledge, the more tardy must sweat for it. Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum. What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.

There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. I, therefore, invite you to consider, as a suggestive analogy, the action which takes place when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide.

II

Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation are directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry. If we attend to the confused cries of the newspaper critics and the susurrus of popular repetition that follows, we shall hear the names of poets in great numbers; if we seek not Blue-book knowledge but the enjoyment of poetry, and ask for a poem, we shall seldom find it. I have tried to point out the importance of the relation of the poem to other poems by other authors, and suggested the conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. The other aspect of this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I hinted, by an analogy, that the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of “personality,” not being necessarily more interesting, or having “more to say,” but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.

The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.

The experience, you will notice, the elements which enter the presence of the transforming catalyst, are of two kinds: emotions and feelings. The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art. It may be formed out of one emotion, or may be a combination of several; and various feelings, inhering for the writer in particular words or phrases or images, may be added to compose the final result. Or great poetry may be made without the direct use of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely. Canto XV of the Inferno (Brunetto Latini) is a working up of the emotion evident in the situation; but the effect, though single as that of any work of art, is obtained by considerable complexity of detail. The last quatrain gives an image, a feeling attaching to an image, which “came,” which did not develop simply out of what precedes, but which was probably in suspension in the poet’s mind until the proper combination arrived for it to add itself to. The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.

If you compare several representative passages of the greatest poetry you see how great is the variety of types of combination, and also how completely any semi-ethical criterion of “sublimity” misses the mark. For it is not the “greatness,” the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts. The episode of Paolo and Francesca employs a definite emotion, but the intensity of the poetry is something quite different from whatever intensity in the supposed experience it may give the impression of. It is no more intense, furthermore, than Canto XXVI, the voyage of Ulysses, which has not the direct dependence upon an emotion. Great variety is possible in the process of transmutation of emotion: the murder of Agamemnon, or the agony of Othello, gives an artistic effect apparently closer to a possible original than the scenes from Dante. In the Agamemnon, the artistic emotion approximates to the emotion of an actual spectator; in Othello to the emotion of the protagonist himself. But the difference between art and the event is always absolute; the combination which is the murder of Agamemnon is probably as complex as that which is the voyage of Ulysses. In either case there has been a fusion of elements. The ode of Keats contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the nightingale, but which the nightingale, partly, perhaps, because of its attractive name, and partly because of its reputation, served to bring together.

The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a “personality” to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality.

I will quote a passage which is unfamiliar enough to be regarded with fresh attention in the light—or darkness—of these observations:

And now methinks I could e’en chide myself
For doating on her beauty, though her death
Shall be revenged after no common action.
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
For the poor benefit of a bewildering minute?
Why does yon fellow falsify highways,
And put his life between the judge’s lips,
To refine such a thing—keeps horse and men
To beat their valours for her? . . .


In this passage (as is evident if it is taken in its context) there is a combination of positive and negative emotions: an intensely strong attraction toward beauty and an equally intense fascination by the ugliness which is contrasted with it and which destroys it. This balance of contrasted emotion is in the dramatic situation to which the speech is pertinent, but that situation alone is inadequate to it. This is, so to speak, the structural emotion, provided by the drama. But the whole effect, the dominant tone, is due to the fact that a number of floating feelings, having an affinity to this emotion by no means superficially evident, have combined with it to give us a new art emotion.

It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that “emotion recollected in tranquillity” is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not “recollected,” and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is “tranquil” only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him “personal.” Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

 

III

δ δε νους ισως Θειοτερον τι και απαθες εστιν

This essay proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism, and confine itself to such practical conclusions as can be applied by the responsible person interested in poetry. To divert interest from the poet to the poetry is a laudable aim: for it would conduce to a juster estimation of actual poetry, good and bad. There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.

T.S. Eliot, the 1948 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the giants of modern literature, highly distinguished as a poet, literary critic, dramatist, and editor and publisher. In 1910 and 1911, while still a college student, he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and...

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Phillip Larkin's famous poem

Study of Reading Habits

When getting my nose in a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thick specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my coat and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don't read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who's yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.


Analysis

This poem links well to others about the difference between reality and presentation, such as ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ and ‘Essential Beauties’, and also, through the personal, to ‘Self’s the Man’. As Larkin worked as a librarian his life, he clearly didn’t believe that “Books are a load of crap” that the persona states at the end…at least not to such an extent.

At the beginning of the poem, the persona sees books as a way of solving life’s problems, as it “Cured most things short of school” (Larkin didn’t enjoy school). While reading, the persona ‘becomes’ part of the story, and in this first stanza, he relates to the hero who deals “out the old right hook / To dirty dogs twice my size”. The persona, around ten years old, reads exciting genre fiction.

Within the next stanza, the comical “inch-thick specs” from “ruining [his] eyes” is self-mocking of his appearance. The persona is older, and now he relates to “evil” characters, who are his “lark” – punning on his name. The books he reads give him a sense of thrill, in the exclamative, “The women I clubbed with sex!” and the final simile is humorous, “broke them up like meringues,” when we consider Larkin’s reversed character – the books fill his adolescent fantasies.

But as time passes, things grow grim. In the ellipsis, the persona tries to sound dismissive: “Don’t read much now.” The persona now relates to the ‘lame’ characters in books:

the dude 
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow [cowardly] and keeps the store,

Due to this, the persona concludes, “Get stewed: / Books are a load of crap.” The colloquial tone throughout suggests that it isn’t completely serious, much like ‘Self’s the Man’. Yet perhaps there is some truth in the escapist view of books: they offer us a way to live, while we waste away our own lives.

Most Important Book on Diaspora

Coolie Woman (full title: Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture) is a book written by Gaiutra Bahadur and co-published in 2013 by Hurst and Company of London in Europe and the University of Chicago Press in the US.Editions from Hachette in India in 2013 and Jacana in South Africa in 2014 followed.

The book is a biography of Sujaria, the great-grandmother of the author and simultaneously an exploration of the indentured labor system, which was practiced in the Caribbean.Tracing Sujaria's 1903 journey as a Brahmin caste woman from Bihar, India's poorest state, to the sugarcaneplantations of British Guiana,Bahadur wove both archival and published records,as well as folk and oral sources,[citation needed] to tell the broader story of "the exodus and settlement of Indian women to the Caribbean".She critically examined the Hindu caste system, Indian family structure, and the indenture system itself in an attempt to understand how each of these shaped her grandmother and how migration changed or effected women's lives.For a woman of high caste, unsuited to labor in the cane fields,to become a coolie, which in India is a baggage carrier but which throughout the British Empire referred to indentured workers from Asia, was considered pejorative to the workers themselves as well as shocking. Bahadur, chose the title to acknowledge the stigma,but also as a metaphor for the baggage women carried as a result of colonialism.

Reviewers have pointed to the importance the work holds for a "neglected area of scholarship", in the age when Asian indentured workers replaced African slaves on plantations in the Caribbean,as well as its exploration of feminist themes of societal and family oppression, poverty, lack of power, sexual abuse and violence.Praised for her storytelling, as well as academic treatment, the book has appeal for both scholars and casual readers.Coolie Woman was shortlisted for multiple literary awards, including the Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (2014)and the Orwell Prize(2014). It won the 2014 Caribbean Studies Association's Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Prize, which annually recognizes interdisciplinary works that examine Caribbean culture and society, have been published within the preceding three years, and are written in one of the languages prevalent in the region.

Post Colonial and Diaspora Term "Girmitiya"

Girmitiya or Jahajis are indentured Indian labourers that were brought to FijiMauritiusSouth AfricaEast Africa, and the Caribbean(mostly Trinidad and TobagoGuyanaSuriname, and Jamaica) to work on sugarcane plantations for the prosperity of the European settlers and save the Fijians from having to work on these plantations and thus to preserve their culture. "Agreement" is the term that has been coined into "Girmit", referring to the "Agreement" of the BritishGovernment with the Indian labourers as to the length of stay in Fiji and the Caribbean, and when they would be allowed to go back to India.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Most Important Words

Mostly Used Words


diabolical

showing cunning or ingenuity or wickedness

debacle

a sudden and complete disaster

dragnet

a conical fishnet dragged through the water at great depths

accomplice

a person who joins with another in carrying out some plan

abduct

take away to an undisclosed location against their will

masticate

bite and grind with the teeth

oar

an implement used to propel or steer a boat

ewe

female sheep

manifest

clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment

motley

consisting of a haphazard assortment of different kinds

taxonomy

a classification of organisms based on similarities

entail

have as a logical consequence

empathise

be understanding of

ostentation

pretentious or showy or vulgar display

grubby

thickly covered with ingrained dirt

disingenuous

not straightforward or candid

iffy

subject to accident or chance or change

winch

a lifting device consisting of a cylinder turned by a crank

backtrack

retrace one's course

pique

a sudden outburst of anger

siphon

a tube used to move liquid from one vessel to another

edgy

being in a tense state

volte-face

a major change in attitude or principle or point of view

hokum

a message that seems to convey no meaning

onus

a burdensome or difficult concern

uppish

(used colloquially) overly conceited or arrogant

insidious

working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way

flaccid

drooping without elasticity

abject

of the most contemptible kind

bleak

unpleasantly cold and damp

chastise

censure severely

disdain

lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike

encumbrance

an onerous or difficult concern

flimsy

a thin strong lightweight translucent paper

grisly

shockingly repellent; inspiring horror

hapless

unfortunate and deserving pity

intrigue

a crafty and involved plot to achieve your ends

jaded

exhausted

keen

intense or sharp

dainty

something considered choice to eat

tarry

leave slowly and hesitantly

knuckle

a joint of a finger when the fist is closed

discrete

constituting a separate entity or part

efface

remove by or as if by rubbing or erasing

evident

clearly revealed to the mind or the senses or judgment

composure

steadiness of mind under stress

embargo

a government order imposing a trade barrier

interdict

command against

intrepid

invulnerable to fear or intimidation

importune

beg persistently and urgently

destitute

poor enough to need help from others

pauper

a person who is very poor

evacuation

the act of leaving a dangerous place in an orderly fashion

yuppie

a young upwardly mobile professional individual

silo

a cylindrical tower used for storing grain

demur

politely refuse or take exception to

acumen

shrewdness shown by keen insight

antebellum

belonging to a period before a war

bellicose

having or showing a ready disposition to fight

bowdlerize

edit by omitting or modifying parts considered indelicate

abjure

formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief

circumlocution

an indirect way of expressing something

ameliorate

make better

accolade

a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction

apprise

inform somebody of something

agile

moving quickly and lightly

clandestine

conducted with or marked by hidden aims or methods

clemency

leniency and compassion shown toward offenders

conspicuous

obvious to the eye or mind

havoc

violent and needless disturbance

jeopardy

a source of danger

exorbitant

greatly exceeding bounds of reason or moderation

fiasco

a complete failure or collapse

sap

a watery solution in the vascular system of a plant

blend

mix together different elements

exultation

the utterance of sounds expressing great joy

forthwith

without delay or hesitation; with no time intervening

fortitude

strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity

jubilant

full of high-spirited delight

relinquish

turn away from; give up

redundant

more than is needed, desired, or required

sordid

foul and run-down and repulsive

sporadic

recurring in scattered or unpredictable instances

ruthless

without mercy or pity

heartfelt

earnest

amity

a state of friendship and cordiality

honorary

given as an award without the normal duties

excerpt

a passage selected from a larger work

amiable

diffusing warmth and friendliness

zenith

the point above the observer directly opposite the nadir

pinnacle

a slender upright spire at the top of a buttress of tower

dilemma

state of uncertainty in a choice between unfavorable options

paradox

a statement that contradicts itself

admonish

scold or reprimand; take to task

pilfer

make off with belongings of others

foe

an armed adversary

woe

misery resulting from affliction

mendicant

a pauper who lives by begging

importune

beg persistently and urgently

mull

reflect deeply on a subject

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An article on the Indian novelist Arun Joshi

The strange case of Arun Joshi

His themes are contemporary and still relevant and the quality of his writing first-rate. Then why is Arun Joshi so little known?

Is the greatest Indian English novelist all but out of print? This much is certain: Arun Joshi deserves better. The author of five novels, written mainly during the 1970s, who won the Sahitya Akademi award for his penultimate book, The Last Labyrinth, barely registers as a name today. At least two of his books are out of print, none is easily available. Yet his themes are the most vitally contemporary of all our early English novelists, his characters vividly like us — English-speaking, urban, wracked with confusion — and the quality of his art and thought are both first-rate and arguably far superior to (say) Rushdie (to whom Indian English writing is said to owe a great debt). But if all this is so, what explains his obscurity?

Part of the answer may be the man’s personality. According to some accounts, Joshi was reclusive and publicity-shy. He certainly didn’t climb the publishing ladder like his contemporaries did. Along with most other writers of the time who wrote in English but lived in India (Joshi headed the Shri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations in Delhi), he published locally — with Orient Paperbacks. But even through the 1980s and beyond, post-Rushdie, when Anita Desai, Khushwant Singh and others had moved to foreign or multinational brands, and Penguin India had set up shop, and publishing was starting to become the big-ticket affair it is today, Joshi was still with Orient. (He remained there till his death in 1993, and his books have stayed there ever since.) It is not the case that his merits were unknown in his lifetime. He had won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1982. Did he not push his wares hard enough?

This could be; we don’t know. But we know a general truth, which I suggest applies squarely to Arun Joshi: that it is the man with his finger on the pulse who risks being dashed aside, not the glib talker at the safe distance. That a writer can be ignored, precisely for being too relevant. In exploring seriously and unapologetically the psyche of his very own ‘set’ — the privileged and the upwardly mobile, who read, wrote, talked and thought in English — Joshi was breaking ground that has never afterwards been mined; that has, in fact, been guiltily filled up again, in the years since he published. As a result, his themes, which leap from the page from sheer relevance, lie buried today in a kind of ashamed but aggressive silence.

Consider his best-known book, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, published in 1971. It is the story of the son of a Supreme Court judge, educated in New York, who leaves his comfortable Delhi life, his marriage and his friends, to become a tribal healer in the Maikala Hills of Chhattisgarh. It is a ‘sensational’ plot; Joshi was habitually guilty of slight excesses in that regard. It is also exciting, wise, beautifully constructed, and one of the best English novels written anywhere in the world. Billy’s conversations with the narrator, his old college friend now a conventional but thoughtful bureaucrat, delineate Joshi’s concerns.

“What got me,” Billy confides, years after his transformation, “was the superficiality...I don’t think all city societies are as shallow as ours. I am, of course, talking mainly of the so-called upper classes… I don’t think I have ever met a more pompous, a more mixed-up lot of people.”

“Well,” answers the narrator, “you know why they are mixed up, don’t you? Centuries of foreign rule, the period of transition, economic insecurity and so on.”

“I can understand that,” says Billy, “but for God’s sake they have at least got to think about it. If they don’t, the period of transition, as you call it, is going to last forever and ever.”

This excerpt may suggest, at first, a certain cynicism — the familiar breast-beating of our present-day literary elite — but Joshi is simply too good for that. The shallowness of middle class society is not for him a point of rhetoric, intended to show off his own enlightened superiority, but a theme to be explored with actual concern. He never mocks the men and women whom he critiques. That is why they come to life. Here is Leela Sabnis, from The Last Labyrinth: “M.A. and PhD. from Michigan, something else from London, short, shapely, small-breasted, skinny, trained in philosophy, emancipator of women, married and divorced, believer in free love, harbinger of a new order of things, reformer of the body and a mechanic of the spirit, a good lover... Leela Sabnis was a muddled creature. As muddled as me. Muddled by her ancestry, by marriage, by divorce, by too many books.” This extract condenses the character, but I hope conveys something of the sheer reality of Joshi's material. Leela Sabnis is a woman one recognises.

So is her ‘muddle’. And Joshi explores the muddle of our English-speaking elite, up and down through his first four novels. He knows that it is the wellspring of a great deal of violence, of “the blind blundering vengeance” that stalks Billy Biswas, and the sham and hypocrisy that creep over The Apprentice. That, Joshi’s third and perhaps greatest novel, is a searing account of a young government servant’s descent into careerism and corruption. Published almost four decades ago, no novel could be more acutely relevant to our times. There are lines like prophecy. “We are defeated and we celebrate victory! God exists and does not mind graft! We sink and think we are swimming. Strange... We are a very strange nation.” But perhaps no bookshop stocks it.

This is both tragic and not surprising at all. When the general consensus among our critics is that privileged Indian English novelists cannot possibly have any great themes of their own to grapple with, that all the meaty material lies in ‘other’ Indias or in other languages, that non-fiction may as well take over from fiction — when such idiocies (the right word) abound — then the last thing one knows how to place is the absolute seriousness and unabashed introspection of an Arun Joshi. When I mention that it is the spiritual starvation of the elite, their unattended need for faith and God, that is his ultimate theme, you will see the gap between his thought and the prevailing thought. Nevertheless, it is worth considering, that even as we celebrate writers from the world over, we may have forgotten the best of our own.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Article on Purushotam Lal

Remembering P Lal and Writers Workshop: The original publishing house for the new author

Purushottama Lal, popularly known as P. Lal, was a poet, translator and essayist, but most significantly, the publisher-owner of Writers Workshop in Calcutta.

 

 

Purushottama Lal, popularly known as P. Lal, was a poet, translator and essayist. (Photo: Writers Workshop, Kolkata)

“Somebody should go to Calcutta and write a history of Writers Workshop,” said Adil Jussawalla during a conversation. His first book of poems, Land’s End, was published by Writers Workshop. His author bio read: “Am 22. Left for England in 1957 to study Architecture. Left architecture to write a play. Wrote a second play — a verse drama— before going up to Oxford to study English. This is my first collection of poems. Have also written several short stories. And paint whenever I can.”

Jussawalla will soon turn 80. He has, so far, not published the short stories or the plays. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award for literature—the highest award a poet in India can receive. The biographical note by the then 22-year-old is one of the many treasures one can find in an old Writers Workshop title.

Purushottama Lal (1929–2010), the founder of the press, once wrote, “The main professed aim of Writers Workshop is to demonstrate that ‘English has proved its ability, as a language to play a creative role in Indian literature… Its publishing focuses on English creative and transcreative work by Indians, or such work as deals with, or is inspired by or has relevance for Indian life and culture.'

The opposition to the English as creative expression by Indians would find its voice in Bengali poet and Lal’s contemporary, Buddhadeva Bose, who called Indian English (or Indo-Anglican as he called it) poetry, “a blind alley lined with curio shops, leading nowhere” in The Concise Encyclopaedia of English and American Poets and Poetry (1963). Bose, however, was a well-meaning cosmopolitan and not a provincial nativist. He had a close friendship with some of the leading English writers of his time like George Oppen, and translated several poets like Charles Baudelaire and Rainer Marie Rilke, among others, into Bengali. Why would he then be so disparaging towards his contemporary Indian English writers? Attempting an answer can only be a good speculation at best. Responding to the entry, Lal sent out letters to several Indian English writers asking them to respond to Bose’s allegations. The answers of the respondents, along with their creative work, were published as Modern Indian Poetry in English: An Anthology and a Credo by Writers Workshop in 1969.

Much of the importance of that anthology, apart from Lal’s excellent introduction, lies in the replies given by individual poets. The replies themselves cover a wide variety of styles: from the quirky (Lawrence Bantleman signs off as ‘LAWRENCE DANTE PUSHKIN BUDDHADEVA BANTLEMAN’) to the philosophical (Jussawalla finds fault with Bose’s ‘vision of history’).

Much of the early work of Writers Workshop can stand as a testament to the challenges of two kinds of revolt that were necessary to usher in a new poetic language. The first was a revolt within the inherited tradition of English poetry written in India. “To rebel against giants, who use their excellent strength tyrannously and thereby deaden healthy growth, is a good thing,” he said in the introduction to the anthology. The giant that he takes issue with is Sri Aurobindo, who, for him symbolised a flowery romanticism. (For much of Lal’s insistence on modernism, however, he himself can be described as a “neo-romantic” poet. A look at Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s anthology and his insistence on “the sharp-edged nature of Indian verse” will show that there was arguably another shift in English poetry written in India beginning with the 1960s centred primarily around Bombay.) The second revolt was against those who, like Buddhadeva Bose, discredited creative writing in English by Indians. A significant part of Lal’s defence is also in pursuing his readers to appreciate poetry “for its own sake”: “I am not reading poetry for spiritual propaganda or propaganda of any sort, whether it plugs aspirin or bhakti.” Building this secular identity for poetry is something we take for granted, but it was a struggle to make readers aware of that identity in newly independent secular India.

The other word that has been associated with Lal is ‘transcreation’. He began a monumental process of translating the 18-volume Mahabharata in English in 1968. The process nears completion as Writers Workshop is in its sixtieth year.

What lies in the future? Ananda Lal, his son and the current editor of the press, says, ‘I plan to continue discovering new authors as long as I can, and have some major classics on the horizon as well: the completion of my father’s translation of the full 18-volume Mahabharata, never done in English before; a translation of the Malay Ramayana; and a translation of Annamacharya’s Telugu devotional songs.’ He is, however, apprehensive about how long the press can continue unless they find financial support.

The enthusiasm of the then young 22-year-old Jussawalla is not lost on the younger posts, who have recently published their first collections with the press. “I chose Writers Workshop because of their indigenous modes of publishing: from the author’s contract to the finished book, everything is handmade,” says Sahana Mukherjee. The quintessential Writers Workshop covers made of handloom cloth was invented by Mohiuddin Khan. Akhil Katyal remembers seeing the covers in a library, “During my PhD years in London, I had seen Agha Shahid Ali’s first two books in the British Library, the same (half charming, half toy-town) sari-clad covers.” Perhaps the relevance and need for a press like this are best conveyed in the words of their author, Annanya Dasgupta, who has the last word, “Writers Workshop is an instance of how not everything needs to be largescale to be bigger than life.”

Important Question

The Bhagavad Gita was first translated into English by which of the following Europeans?

[A] Warren Hastings
[B] Charles Wilkins
[C] James Princep
[D] Lord Wellesley

Famous Poem by A. K. Ramanujan

Highway Stripper
A. K. Ramanujan

Once as I was travelling
on a highway 
to Mexico
behind a battered once-blue 
Mustang
with a dusty rear window,
the wind really sang 
for me 
when suddenly out of the side 
of the speeding car 
in front of me 
a woman’s hand 
with a wrist watch on it
threw away 
a series of whirling objects
on to the hurtling road:

a straw
hat,
a white shoe fit
to be a fetish,
then another,
a heavy pleated skirt
and a fluttery 
slip, faded pink, 
frayed lace- edge 
and all
(I even heard it swish),
a leg-of-mutton blouse
Just as fluttery.

And as I stepped 
on the gas
and my car lunged 
into the fifty feet 
between me 
and them, 
a rather ordinary, 
used, and off-white bra 
for smallish 
breasts whirled off 
the window 
and struck 
a farmer’s barbed wire
with yellow-green wheat grass 
beyond
and spread-eagled on it,
pinned
by the blowing wind.

Then before I knew,
bright red panties
laced with white
hit
my windshield
and I flinched,
I swerved,
but then
it was gone,
swept aside
before I straightened up-
fortunately, no one else
on the road:
excited, curious
to see the stripper 
on the highway,
maybe with an urgent
lover’s one free hand
(or were there more?)
on her breast
or thigh,
I stepped again
on the gas, frustrated by their
dusty rear window
at fifty feet
I passed them 
at seventy.

In that absolute
second,
that glimpse and after-
image in this hell
of voyeurs, I saw 
only one at the wheel:
a man,
about forty.

A spectacled profile
looking only 
at the road 
beyond the nose of his Mustang, 
with a football 
radio on.

again and again 
I looked in my rearview
mirror 
as I steadied my pace 

against the circling trees, 
but there was only 
a man:

had he stripped
not only hat 
and blouse, shoes
and panties
and bra,
had he shed maybe
even the woman
he was wearing,

or was it me
moulting, shedding
vestiges,
old investments,
rushing forever 
towards a perfect 
coupling
with naked nothing
in a world
without places.

~A.K. Ramanujan.

Two Important Terms related to Postmodernism

1.
The New Aesthetic is a term, coined by James Bridle, used to refer to the increasing appearance of the visual language of digital technology and the Internet in the physical world, and the blending of virtual and physical. The phenomenon has been around for a long time but James Bridle articulated the notion through a series of talks and observations. The most controversial book by James Bridle is The Iraq War: A Historiography of Wikipedia Changelogs .It is a 12-volume set of printed books that shows every change made to the English Wikipedia article on the Iraq War from December 2004 to November 2009 and represents 12,000 changes in 7,000 printed pages.
2.

X Reality (XR or Cross Reality) is defined as: a form of “mixed reality environment that comes from the fusion (union) of ... ubiquitous sensor/actuator networks and shared online virtual worlds....”. It encompasses a wide spectrum of hardware and software, including sensory interfaces, applications, and infrastructures, that enable content creation for virtual reality (VR)mixed reality (MR)augmented reality (AR), cinematic reality (CR). With these tools, users generate new forms of reality by bringing digital objects into the physical world and bringing physical world objects into the digital world.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Two poems by Jayant Mahapatra

Hunger is one of the best known poems by the internationally acclaimed Indian English poet Jayanta Mahapatra. The poem is widely anthologised in most important modern Indian poetry collections and is the most widely analysed piece among his works. The poem explores the informal child sex trade lurking in the social fabric, and is unique in its bold treatment of sexuality unlike a typical poem by him.

Origin

The poem was originally a part of the poet's collection "A Rain of Rites".

In the poet's own words, the poem is based on a direct real life experience. But it is not clear whether the poet as the protagonist was the visitor to the fisherman's daughter. The poem is an expression of the poet's loneliness as a youth, as Mahapatra had a disturbed childhood.

Structure and criticism

The poem is notable for its directness in approaching the taboo topic of the sexual trade involving a father and his daughter. In the very second line, the fisherman asks casually "will you have her?". However, the exact intention of the father is couched in subtle and ambivalent imagery:- "trailing his nets and nerves" and "his white bone thrashing his eyes". A wide range of poetic devices has been employed to bring out the mind's trappings in the flesh.

The vivid imagery of the seashore in the poem depicts the circumstances that compel a woman to sell her body through prostitution.Some commentators have pointed out the brutal treatment of sexuality in the poem

HUNGER

It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back. 
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly, 
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words 
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself. 
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes. 

I followed him across the sprawling sands, 
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling. 
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in. 
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth 
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas. 

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound. 
The wind was I, and the days and nights before. 
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack 
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls. 
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind. 

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen... 
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine. 
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile. 
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber. 
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there, 
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside

Puri is an eminent town in the state of Orissa. It is distinguished for its religious associations, particularly the annual festival held to honour the deity, Jagannatha.

Dawn at Puri

The poet ruminates on the beach premises at Puri. The endless cawing of crows catches the speaker’s attention at the outset. He then notices a skull on the beach where bodies are normally cremated. The skull is a part of a cremation that has not been completely burnt by the funeral pyre. This skull is emblematic of the abject poverty and spiritual handicap of Puri, in spite of all the religious connections and connotations. The skull represents the hollowness of life and the inevitability of death. It symbolizes the spiritual stagnation and pseudo-existence of Orissa. Puri here, functions as a miniature metaphor of India in. The term ‘empty country’ emphasizes the same, the nihilism in a non-productive life. The hollow skull points to the irrational superstitions prevalent taking man back to primitivism.

The speaker then notices a number of widows adorning white saris all ready to perform the customary rites and rituals. These women are depicted as “past the centre of their lives” They have whiled away a significant portion of their lives, implying they are past their prime. The word ‘centre’ may also signify that they have crossed the peak of their lives. Again, the word centre may point to their spouses who are no more, and were the centre of their lives. They appear serene and solemn. There appears an expression of austerity in their eyes, as they are divorced from all worldly concerns. The white color that they adorn is as symbol of their purity and tranquility. They are like creatures caught in a net. The creatures caught in a net having nothing more to lose as they remain captured. The widows too have nothing more to forgo, as they stand in spiritual submission. The force that anchors these women to be steady in their approach to life is their undeterred faith in God. They dreamt with the hope that religion equipped them with. As they stand in a group, their uniting factor seems to be their timidity .They are a “mass of crouched faces” possessing no individuality. They are presented as a common noun. Women are relegated in a patriarchal society; and this marginalization is more pronounced, if it is a widow.

At the break of dawn as the poet looks at the single funereal pyre burning, a sudden thought occurs to him: that of his mother’s last wish. The phrase “And suddenly breaks out from my hide” echoes the thought springing out; just as the poet sprung out from his mother’s womb(hide). His aged mother wished that she be cremated at this particular place. It comes across very strongly to the poet. Rites and rituals are mandatory. However, perhaps, performing one’s mother’s last wish is far more important than these obligatory dictates of religion and doctrines of custom. It ‘dawns’ on him all of a sudden. The symbol of Dawn is thus also one of realization.

Dawn at Puri

Endless crow noises 
A skull in the holy sands 
tilts its empty country towards hunger. 

White-clad widowed Women 
past the centers of their lives 
are waiting to enter the Great Temple 

Their austere eyes 
stare like those caught in a net 
hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith. 

The fail early light catches 
ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another, 
a mass of crouched faces without names, 

and suddenly breaks out of my hide 
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre 
that fills my aging mother: 

her last wish to be cremated here 
twisting uncertainly like light 
on the shifting sands


Select Dalit Writers

Omprakash Valmiki:

Born in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, Valmiki’s autobiography “Joothan” is one of his most popular books. He is also the author of poetry collections such as “Sadiyon ka Santap” and “Bas Bahut ho Chuka” and short story collections such as “Salam” and “Ghuspaithiye”.

Bama

Born in a family of agricultural labourers, Bama Faustina Soosairaj donned many hats before she finally became a writer. She used to write poetry in college, but became a schoolteacher and a nun later to educate Dalit girls. It was after leaving the seminary in 1992 that she went back to serious writing. The semi-fictional autobiographical novel “Karukku” (1992) is her most famous work, although she has written more novels and short story collections since then. Originally written in the Tamil dialect she used to speak as a child, the novel created quite a stir, with Bama being prohibited from entering her village for seven months. When the novel was finally translated into English in 1998, Bama went on to win the Crossword Book Award in 2000.

Daya Pawar:

Born Dagdu Maruti Pawar, his searing autobiography “Baluta” became a sensation in the world of Marathi literature. Pawar published his first poemin “Asmitadarsh” in 1967. Both “Kondvada”, his first collection of poems, and “Baluta” were awarded by the Maharashtra government. Apart from poetry, Pawar published two collections of essays, a book of short stories, and the screenplay for Jabbar Patel’s movie “Dr Ambedkar”. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1990.

Ravikumar:

The co-founder of Navayana, a publishing house that focuses on issues of caste, he has founded many little magazines. He edited The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing, and edited and contributed to “Waking is Another Dream”, an anthology of poetry on the Eelam genocide.  “Venmous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics” is a collection of his non-fiction work.

Ajay Navaria

An assistant professor in the Department of Hindi at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, Navaria is a prominent face in Hindi literature. He has written two short story collections, “Patkatha aur Anya Kahaniyan (The Sript and Other Stories)” and “Yes, Sir”, and the novel “Udhar ke Log (People From the Other Side)”. “Unclaimed Terrain”, an English translation of his short stories was featured in a Guardian list of best books in 2013.

Namdeo Dhasal

Perhaps the most iconic name in the world of Marathi poetry, Dhasal is also the most recognisable face of the Dalit Panthers, an organisation formed along the lines of the Black Panther movement in the United States.

Poet and critic Dilip Chitre described his first collection of poetry “Golpitha” (1972) thus: “It reveals whatever others would strive to shove under the carpet of poetry. This is my considered opinion more than three decades after its publication and I had no hesitation in writing that Namdeo’s poetry, from that outstanding start, is Nobel Laureate material.”

Dhasal was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999. In 2004, the Sahitya Akademi, while celebrating its Golden Jubilee, awardedhim its Golden Jubilee Life Time Achievement Award.

Meena Kandasamy

Translated into 18 languages, she is one of most famous feminist writers in India, who doubles as an activist. She is the author of two collections of poetry, “Touch” and “Ms. Militancy”, the critically acclaimed novel “The Gypsy Goddess” and most recently “A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife”.

Important poems by Indian Poets

I don't know politics but I know the names 
Of those in power, and can repeat them like 
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru. 
I amIndian, very brown, born inMalabar, 
I speak three languages, write in 
Two, dream in one. 
Don't write in English, they said, English is 
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave 
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins, 
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in 
Any language I like? The language I speak, 
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses 
All mine, mine alone. 
It is half English, halfIndian, funny perhaps, but it is honest, 
It is as human as I am human, don't 
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my 
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing 
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it 
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is 
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and 
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech 
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the 
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing 
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they 
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs 
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair. 
WhenI asked for love, not knowing what else to ask 
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the 
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me 
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten. 
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me. 
I shrank Pitifully. 
Then … I wore a shirt and my 
Brother's trousers, cut my hair short and ignored 
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl 
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook, 
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh, 
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don't sit 
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows. 
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better 
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to 
Choose a name, a role. Don't play pretending games. 
Don't play at schizophrenia or be a 
Nympho. Don't cry embarrassingly loud when 
Jilted in love … I met a man, loved him. Call 
Him not by any name, he is every man 
Who wants. a woman, just as I am every 
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste 
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans' tireless 
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone, 
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and, 
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I 
In this world, he is tightly packed like the 
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely 
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns, 
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love 
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying 
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner, 
I am saint. I am the beloved and the 
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no 
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

by Kamala Das

Lightly, O lightly we bear her along, 
She sways like a flower in the wind of our song; 
She skims like a bird on the foam of a stream, 
She floats like a laugh from the lips of a dream. 
Gaily, O gaily we glide and we sing, 
We bear her along like a pearl on a string. 

Softly, O softly we bear her along, 
She hangs like a star in the dew of our song; 
She springs like a beam on the brow of the tide, 
She falls like a tear from the eyes of a bride. 
Lightly, O lightly we glide and we sing, 
We bear her along like a pearl on a string.

by Sarojini Naidu

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 of it, feeding 
Upon its crust, absorbing 
Years of sunlight, air, water, 
And out of its leperous hide 
Sprouting leaves. 

So hack and chop 
But this alone wont 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. 

No, 
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. 

by Gieve Patel

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ten most famous poems by Nissim Ezekiel

10 BEAUTIFUL AND FAMOUS POETRY BY NISSIM EZEKIEL

Nissim Ezekiel ( December 16, 1924 – January 9, 2004) was an Indian Jewish poet, actor, playwright, editor and art-critic. He was a foundational figure in postcolonial India’s literary history, specifically for Indian writing in English.

He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his Poetry collection, “Latter-Day Psalms”, by the Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters. Ezekiel has been applauded for his subtle, restrained and well crafted diction, dealing with common and mundane themes in a manner that manifests both cognitive profundity, as well as an unsentimental, realistic sensibility, that has been influential on the course of succeeding Indian English poetry. Ezekiel enriched and established Indian English language poetry through his modernist innovations and techniques, which enlarged Indian English literature, moving it beyond purely spiritual and orientalist themes, to include a wider range of concerns and interests, including mundane familial events, individual angst and skeptical societal introspection.

10 Beautiful Poems By Nissim Ezekiel

#1: Night Of The Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.

Parting with his poison – flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
he risked the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.

With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world

against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh

of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.

My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

#2: Philosophy – Nissim Ezekiel

There is a place to which I often go,
Not by planning to, but by a flow
Away from all existence, to a cold
Lucidity, whose will is uncontrolled.
Here, the mills of God are never slow.

The landscape in its geological prime
Dissolves to show its quintessential slime.
A million stars are blotted out. I think
Of each historic passion as a blink
That happened to the sad eye of Time.

But residues of meaning still remain,
As darkest myths meander through the pain
Towards a final formula of light.
I, too, reject this clarity of sight.
What cannot be explained, do not explain.

The mundane language of the senses sings
Its own interpretations. Common things
Become, by virtue of their commonness,
An argument against their nakedness
That dies of cold to find the truth it brings.

#3: Island – Nissim Ezekiel

Unsuitable for song as well as sense
the island flowers into slums
and skyscrapers, reflecting
precisely the growth of my mind.
I am here to find my way in it.
Sometimes I cry for help
But mostly keep my own counsel.
I hear distorted echoes
Of my own ambigious voice
and of dragons claiming to be human.
Bright and tempting breezes
Flow across the island,
Separating past from the future;
Then the air is still again
As I sleep the fragrance of ignorance.
How delight the soul with absolute
sense of salvation, how
hold to a single willed direction?
I cannot leave the island,
I was born here and belong.
Even now a host of miracles
hurries me a daily business,
minding the ways of the island
as a good native should,
taking calm and clamour in my stride.

#4: Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher – Nissim Ezekiel

To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing;
Until the one who knows that she is loved
No longer waits but risks surrendering –
In this the poet finds his moral proved
Who never spoke before his spirit moved.

The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
In silence near the source, or by a shore
Remote and thorny like the heart’s dark floor.
And there the women slowly turn around,
Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
With darkness at the core, and sense is found
But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.

#5: Jewish Wedding In Bombay – Nissim Ezekiel

Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn’t really
crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
sympathized, and said don’t be silly.

Her brothrs had a shoe of mine and made me pay
to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours’
children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
bridegroom of the day.

There was no dowry because they knew I was ‘modern’
and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
When I said I did’t know, he laughed it off.

There was no brass band outside the synagogue
but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
and grape juice from a common glass for bride and
bridegroom.

I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
according to the Mosaic Law.

Well that’s about all. I don’t think there was much
that struck me as solemn or beautiful. Mostly, we were
amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief
we had?

Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef because it
was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by
relishing pork.
The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking.

Nothing extravagant, mind you, all in a low key
and very decently kept in check. My father used to say,
these orthodox chaps certainly know how to draw the line
in their own crude way. He himself had drifted into the liberal
creed but without much conviction, taking us all with him.
My mother was very proud of being ‘progressive’.

Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes,
world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
we lay on a floor-matress in the kitchen of my wife’s
family apartment and though it was part midnight she
kept saying let’s do it darling let’s do it darling
so we did it.

More than ten years passed before she told me that
she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.

During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
returned it, but not one of the books I had read
instructed me how.

#6: Minority Poem – Nissim Ezekiel

In my room, I talk

to my invisible guests:
they do not argue, but wait

Till I am exhausted,
then they slip away
with inscrutable faces.

I lack the means to change
their amiable ways,
although I love their gods.

It’s the language really
separates, whatever else
is shared. On the other hand,

Everyone understands
Mother Theresa; her guests
die visibly in her arms.

It’s not the mythology
or the marriage customs
that you need to know,

It’s the will to pass
through the eye of a needle
to self-forgetfulness.

The guests depart, dissatisfied;
they will never give up
their mantras, old or new.

And you, uneasy
orphan of their racial
memories, merely

Polish up your alien
techniques of observation,
while the city burns.

#7: Soap – Nissim Ezekiel

Some people are not having manners,
this I am always observing,
For example other day I find
I am needing soap
For ordinary washing myself purposes.
So I’m going to one small shop
nearby in my lane and I’m asking
for well-known brand soap.

That shopman he’s giving me soap
but I’m finding it defective version.
So I’m saying very politely — –
though in Hindi I’m saying it,
and my Hindi is not so good as my English,
Please to excuse me
but this is defective version of well-known brand soap.

That shopman is saying
and very rudely he is saying it,
What is wrong with soap?
Still I am keeping my temper
and repeating very smilingly
Please to note this defect in soap,
and still he is denying the truth.

So I’m getting very angry that time
and with loud voice I am saying
YOU ARE BLIND OR WHAT?
Now he is shouting
YOU ARE CALLING ME BLIND OR WHAT?
Come outside and I will show you
Then I am shouting
What you will show me
Which I haven’t got already?
It is vulgar thing to say
but I am saying it.

Now small crowd is collecting
and shopman is much bigger than me,
and I am not caring so much
for small defect in well-known brand soap.
So I’m saying
Alright OK Alright OK
this time I will take
but not next time.

#8: The Professor – Nissim Ezekiel

Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God’s grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won’t believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
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.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house’s backside.

#9: The Patriot – Nissim Ezekiel

I am standing for peace and non-violence.

Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting –
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming –
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers –
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

#10: Urban – Nissim Ezekiel

The hills are always far away.
He knows the broken roads, and moves
In circles tracked within his head.
Before he wakes and has his say,
The river which he claims he loves
Is dry, and all the winds lie dead.

At dawn he never sees the skies
Which, silently, are born again.
Nor feels the shadows of the night
Recline their fingers on his eyes.
He welcomes neither sun nor rain.
His landscape has no depth or height.

The city like a passion burns.
He dreams of morning walks, alone,
And floating on a wave of sand.
But still his mind its traffic turns
Away from beach and tree and stone
To kindred clamour close at hand.

Something is wrong.

Spoken English Prepositions

35 Prepositions that every English Learner must know how to use

We all use prepositions many times during each day.  Prepositions can be confusing to learn but need to be learnt.  The prepositions of, in and to are in the top ten of the most frequently words used in the English language.  A preposition connects a noun with a different word in the sentence.  Most prepositions contain six letters or less.  Many of these prepositions can have more than one meaning and here are 35 prepositions that every English learner must know how to use:

 

About

 

I read a book about the new president whilst I was on holiday.

Have you heard about the take-over of our firm?

The journey will take about three hours.

I am excited about going on holiday.

 

Across

 

We drove across the country from the east coast to the west coast.

There is a footbridge across the railway line.

The child ran across the road.

 

After

 

We went out to dinner after the meeting finished.

Let us talk again the day after tomorrow.

After we have lunch, we will start on the sales marketing for the firm.

 

Along/alongside

 

We walked along the beach last night.

The meeting room is along the corridor.

There are many trees alongside the path.

 

At

 

The train departs from the station at 11.30 am.

I will see you at the restaurant at 1 pm.

At night, you will be driving in the dark.

At the party, I met a friend of yours.

We all laughed at his jokes.

 

Around

 

We walked around the park.

It cost about 75 Euros.

We talked around the subject.

 

In

 

In the morning, we will go on holiday.

My birthday is in October.

He will arrive in one hour.

The meeting will be in the morning tomorrow.

You will find the shopping in the bags over there.

In three months’ time, we will have finished this project.

He will be in London next week.

Are you interested in going to see the new film?

 

For

 

For the moment, the job is going well.

I will have to wait for one month for the exam results.

Please can you ring for a taxi?

 

Before

 

I must leave before it gets dark.

I have much to prepare before the meeting starts.

I must speak to you before you leave.

 

Behind

 

The dog is hiding behind the chair.

I am behind with finishing the project as I have been very busy.

 

From

 

The train will depart from the station.

We will be away on holiday from the 5th May to the 1st June.

The letter is from my sister.

Which country are you from?

 

To

 

The time is five to 2 (1.55)

It will take us a long time to drive there as the traffic is bad.

You are tired so go to bed.

 

Of

 

I would like a cup of tea.

I met a friend of yours last week.

Of all the books I have read, this is my favourite.

 

Off

 

Get off the train at the next station.

Get off the bus at the next stop.

 

On

 

I will get on the train to London.

I will go there on foot.

The book is on the table.

On a sunny day, I like to go walking.

 

By

 

The book was written by William Shakespeare.

I visited Paris by myself.

I went there by plane.

I went to Scotland by train.

By the time I reach Edinburgh it will be midnight.

 

With

 

I will be going on holiday with my friends.

I like to eat chutney with my cheese and biscuits.

I will take my computer with me.

 

Through

 

We took the Eurotunnel through the Channel from England to France.

We are going on a tour through the wine regions in France.

Through the winter, we live in Spain as it is warmer there than living in England.

 

During

 

During the winter, it will snow heavily in the mountains.

They will discuss the future plans of the business during the meeting.

 

Until

 

Until now the weather has been hot and sunny.

Why have you waited until now to finish this work?

 

Under

 

The dog is lying down under the table.

The piece of paper fell under the chair.

 

Down

 

I will walk down the stairs.

Write down the important points we discussed in the meeting.

 

Up

 

I will walk up the stairs.

Up to now, I have not finished the project.

 

Over

 

He lived in a flat over the office.

The station is over there.

 

Near

 

We live near the school.

The train station is near the bus stop.

 

Since

 

I have not seen you since last year.

He has worked for the firm since 2015.

 

Outside

 

Go outside to play football.

The weather is hot outside today.

 

Inside

 

Go inside as it is raining.

You will find what you are looking for inside the box.

 

As

 

As it is raining, let us stay inside.

As we have work to do, we must stay late to finish this today.

 

Without

 

Without a job, I cannot move to London.

Without a car, I cannot get there.

 

Against

 

The racket is leaning against the fence.

We are racing against the clock to get this project finished in time for the meeting tomorrow morning.

 

Than

 

He earns more money than me.

It will take longer than you think to finish this piece of work.

 

Towards

 

We are walking towards the station.

He is driving towards the sun.

 

Ago

 

The event happened a long time ago.

We met three years ago.

 

Above

 

I walked along a path above the lake.

The trees are above the fields over there.

 

Try to learn these prepositions in the context of sentences which will help you remember their meanings and how they are used in sentence structure.  Start learning prepositions of movement and time which will help build up your confidence and knowledge.  Keep a notebook of how to use these prepositions and learn them as these prepositions are an essential part of learning English.  Once you have learned how to use these prepositions, you will speak more like a native English speaker and be able to converse fluently with others.


35 Prepositions that every English Learner must know how to use

We all use prepositions many times during each day.  Prepositions can be confusing to learn but need to be learnt.  The prepositions of, in and to are in the top ten of the most frequently words used in the English language.  A preposition connects a noun with a different word in the sentence.  Most prepositions contain six letters or less.  Many of these prepositions can have more than one meaning and here are 35 prepositions that every English learner must know how to use:

 

About

 

I read a book about the new president whilst I was on holiday.

Have you heard about the take-over of our firm?

The journey will take about three hours.

I am excited about going on holiday.

 

Across

 

We drove across the country from the east coast to the west coast.

There is a footbridge across the railway line.

The child ran across the road.

 

After

 

We went out to dinner after the meeting finished.

Let us talk again the day after tomorrow.

After we have lunch, we will start on the sales marketing for the firm.

 

Along/alongside

 

We walked along the beach last night.

The meeting room is along the corridor.

There are many trees alongside the path.

 

At

 

The train departs from the station at 11.30 am.

I will see you at the restaurant at 1 pm.

At night, you will be driving in the dark.

At the party, I met a friend of yours.

We all laughed at his jokes.

 

Around

 

We walked around the park.

It cost about 75 Euros.

We talked around the subject.

 

In

 

In the morning, we will go on holiday.

My birthday is in October.

He will arrive in one hour.

The meeting will be in the morning tomorrow.

You will find the shopping in the bags over there.

In three months’ time, we will have finished this project.

He will be in London next week.

Are you interested in going to see the new film?

 

For

 

For the moment, the job is going well.

I will have to wait for one month for the exam results.

Please can you ring for a taxi?

 

Before

 

I must leave before it gets dark.

I have much to prepare before the meeting starts.

I must speak to you before you leave.

 

Behind

 

The dog is hiding behind the chair.

I am behind with finishing the project as I have been very busy.

 

From

 

The train will depart from the station.

We will be away on holiday from the 5th May to the 1st June.

The letter is from my sister.

Which country are you from?

 

To

 

The time is five to 2 (1.55)

It will take us a long time to drive there as the traffic is bad.

You are tired so go to bed.

 

Of

 

I would like a cup of tea.

I met a friend of yours last week.

Of all the books I have read, this is my favourite.

 

Off

 

Get off the train at the next station.

Get off the bus at the next stop.

 

On

 

I will get on the train to London.

I will go there on foot.

The book is on the table.

On a sunny day, I like to go walking.

 

By

 

The book was written by William Shakespeare.

I visited Paris by myself.

I went there by plane.

I went to Scotland by train.

By the time I reach Edinburgh it will be midnight.

 

With

 

I will be going on holiday with my friends.

I like to eat chutney with my cheese and biscuits.

I will take my computer with me.

 

Through

 

We took the Eurotunnel through the Channel from England to France.

We are going on a tour through the wine regions in France.

Through the winter, we live in Spain as it is warmer there than living in England.

 

During

 

During the winter, it will snow heavily in the mountains.

They will discuss the future plans of the business during the meeting.

 

Until

 

Until now the weather has been hot and sunny.

Why have you waited until now to finish this work?

 

Under

 

The dog is lying down under the table.

The piece of paper fell under the chair.

 

Down

 

I will walk down the stairs.

Write down the important points we discussed in the meeting.

 

Up

 

I will walk up the stairs.

Up to now, I have not finished the project.

 

Over

 

He lived in a flat over the office.

The station is over there.

 

Near

 

We live near the school.

The train station is near the bus stop.

 

Since

 

I have not seen you since last year.

He has worked for the firm since 2015.

 

Outside

 

Go outside to play football.

The weather is hot outside today.

 

Inside

 

Go inside as it is raining.

You will find what you are looking for inside the box.

 

As

 

As it is raining, let us stay inside.

As we have work to do, we must stay late to finish this today.

 

Without

 

Without a job, I cannot move to London.

Without a car, I cannot get there.

 

Against

 

The racket is leaning against the fence.

We are racing against the clock to get this project finished in time for the meeting tomorrow morning.

 

Than

 

He earns more money than me.

It will take longer than you think to finish this piece of work.

 

Towards

 

We are walking towards the station.

He is driving towards the sun.

 

Ago

 

The event happened a long time ago.

We met three years ago.

 

Above

 

I walked along a path above the lake.

The trees are above the fields over there.

 

Try to learn these prepositions in the context of sentences which will help you remember their meanings and how they are used in sentence structure.  Start learning prepositions of movement and time which will help build up your confidence and knowledge.  Keep a notebook of how to use these prepositions and learn them as these prepositions are an essential part of learning English.  Once you have learned how to use these prepositions, you will speak more like a native English speaker and be able to converse fluently with others.

 

As You Like It Quick understanding

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