Sturdy lyrics encase complex themes to result in poetic faith... a welcome addition to Indo-Anglian literature.
Eunice De Souza's A Necklace of Skulls is a short anthology of seventy-five “lyrical poems with soft, sensuous and passionate lines” composed on different occasions spanning a period of nearly three decades. She has had the advantage of getting to know, rather intimately, her contemporaries, poets who helped shape her poems, offering suggestions and putting her on the right track.
Nissim Ezekiel who was a pathfinder for many of the younger generation brought her into contact with Gieve Patel, Kamala Das, Dom Moraes and others. Arun Kolatkar and Adil Jussawalla too had their bit of role in promoting her poems. More than all, the academic circle she grew up in afforded a lot of exposure to good and great poetry. In this sense, it is right to place her among the group of Indian academic poets of the post-independence era.
Her early ‘Catholic' poems from her collection Fix are autobiographical—if not confessional—in nature, helping us gain a peep into the nature of her later poetry.
The beliefs and disbeliefs of the Goan-Catholic community of Mumbaikars provide her with enough material for a conducted tour, as it were, of the inner lives of this group of people. “Catholic Mother” provides four biting — if not scornful — snapshots of her family. The father believes that God always provides for that big family of seven young children. According to the parish priest, he is the pillar of the church, and for Mother Superior, it is a lovely Catholic family. The last line that her mother ‘says nothing' is ambivalent. Profoundly intimate, yet aesthetically distant, is the poem an acceptance or a denial of father's role and presence? The poet stands outside in a distanced position from which she can apprehend the fallacies of both positions.
Institutionalised religious morality and subjective personal judgments can both fall outside the domain of true experience of human life.
Eunice De Souza's poems are narrative in style, simple and direct oftentimes but the ideas they explore are not as simple as all that. The poem “Mid Sentence” from her collection of “Recent Poems” is illustrative of this mode. There is no wailing, no sentimental cries. There is just the banal closing line; ‘It was thoughtless to vanish so suddenly,' referring to the sudden passing away of someone (Finis. Kaput. Dead.) whose identity is not revealed. There is a commingling of a joyous life full of hope and expectation with the sudden close with ‘neither harp nor halo.'
The lyric expands the metaphor of the opening line, “You left mid-sentence…” Death looms large in the anthology the title of which (“A Necklace of Skulls”) seems deliberate.
The influence of William Blake on Eunice De Souza is unmistakable: the two of the longest poems, “Songs of Survival” and “Songs of Innocence” bear an echo of Blake. But unlike Blake who portrays complementary and opposing views on the transcendent mystery of creation as in “The Lamb” and “The Tyger,” these two companion pieces present related views enquiring into the phenomena of innocence and survival.
Standing outside the two perceptions, the poet explores the limitations of being ‘happy with him forever/in this world and the next,' (innocence), while denouncing the self-deprecating attitudes, extols the philosophy of stoicism and the Schopenhauerean virtues of the will to live. The poems of De Souza are well-wrought lyrics, inflexible and firm, short in design. In fact the very economy of utterances helps her in arriving at such a delicately finished form.
Full of understatements, avoiding any external aid in the form of conceits, metaphors or symbols, Eunice De Souza's A Necklace of Skulls is a welcome addition to the Indo-Anglian shelf.
A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems; Eunice De Souza, Penguin Books; Rs 199.