Friends, family and sweethearts… Vikram Seth’s poetry has something for everyone

In 1999, I was delighted and relieved to go through The Collected Poems of Vikram Seth. I noticed he used the rhyme form in most of the poems. I wrote in rhymed form too but not too confidently,and here was a writer, a known name, who did the same! It was reassuring. But why was I surprised? After all, Vikram Seth had written an entire novel in the poetry form — The Golden Gate.

While it’s easy to call Seth a novelist — The Suitable Boy, all 1350 pages of it, has firmly established his reputation — his poetry isn’t as easy to define. Beastly Tales from Here and There is for children — though the adults would adore it too, Arion & The Dolphin is an opera libretto, Three Chinese Poets is a translation of the works of 8th Century Chinese poets. All these and three more volumes of poetry are included in The Collected Poems. Post this, Seth wrote The Rivered Earth (2011) which consists of four libretti and is a fascinating account of setting words to music.

My love and admiration for Seth’s poetry stems from the minimalism with which he conveys his thoughts and ideas. No big words, no stylistic acrobatics, no complicated reading-between-the-lines, if you don’t want to. Just pure, simple writing that you can connect with. Seth’s poetry has many themes but seems to stress on the importance of love, analysing it through the often complicated lenses of relationships among family members, friends and lovers. Love is seen in its many forms, messy and beautiful, longed for and attained.

In Interpretation he says, “Somewhere within your loving look I sense/ Without the least intention to deceive/Without suspicion, without evidence/Somewhere within your heart the heart to leave.” In his poem on Section 377, Through Love's Great Power, Seth ends the poem with “(…) To sneer at love, and wrench apart/The bonds of body, mind and heart/With specious reason and no rhyme:/This is the true unnatural crime.”

Rhyme isn’t the only way Seth expresses himself. There is half-rhyme, end-rhyme and a wonderful putting across of the most mundane of activities in the most poetic of ways. His words build atmosphere as good poems often do. In A Style of Loving, he writes, “Light now restricts itself/To the top half of trees;/The angled sun slants honey-coloured rays…” In The Humble Administrator’s Garden, “A plump gold carp nudges a lily pad/ And shakes the raindrops off like mercury.”

His mastery of the language and sense of fun is especially seen in the delightful Distressful Homonyms – Since for me now you have no warmth to spare/I sense I must adopt a sane and spare/Philosophy to ease a restless state/Fuelled by this uncaring. It will state/A very meagre truth: love like the rest/Of our emotions, sometimes needs a rest/Happiness, too, no doubt; and so, why even/Hope that ‘the course of true love’ could run even?”

Fifteen years after I first discovered it, the magic of Vikram Seth’s poetry still fills me with hope and exuberance. I only wish he would write more verse.

(Srividya is a poet. The Blue Note is her first solo collection of verse. Read more of her verse in her blogs, VodkaWaltz and Rumwrapt)