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Singing of trampled grass

Where are you, Other One? Pablo Picasso’s oil, Portrait of Poet Sabartés   | Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

There is a door in the heart of man which never opens. Or if it does sometimes, we are not aware of it. When it does, it goes on to reveal another world — a world where time falls away, and space opens up; perhaps the self fills with vastness and light. When one is a child, and the darkness of the world is real and tangible around him, perhaps he catches a glimpse of the opening of that door, and stares outward, blind. Lifted by an invisible gleam of light, the child is felt by it and lightened, as the instant carries him away to a place he had not known before, into a realm of freedom.

As a boy I remember one of those simple pleasures that seemed to provide me with a new beginning or give a new meaning to my days. This was when I would let my feet hang still in the waters of a flowing stream and feel the water flow past past me. Or, climbing up the old mango tree, lying on a low branch, I appeared to be in another world, perhaps giving me a glimpse of the world inside of me.

Faraway waves

But it was not merely the sweep of the water that I felt then that gave me the pleasure I am speaking of now; it was something else perhaps, something I was not conscious of at that time, something that had its roots in what I wanted to do and then did without any thought of the world that stood beside me, without being aware of the grass and the earth, and perhaps of the stars that swung pleasantly across the skies. What do I remember now of this simple moment of the past? What is it that sticks in my mind today? Did I have the slightest idea what it might be, not knowing for sure whether I was searching for something, or was I trying to get away from it all?

Today, years and years later, I have come to realise that this simple pleasure that could make me feel strange and sad and light at the same time was something I can call freedom. And in this ‘freedom’ rested the beginnings of faith, of an inexplicable lightness which was like the spreading glow from a lamp, moving away, carrying one away, as it were, from everything else, something which fails to measure the expanse of one’s life. For me, today, a good poem probably does just that.

And a poem I might call good is one that can get down to the essence of life through the pleasure of the arbitrary coherence of the poem’s words. What is remarkable is that poetry can prove this. For true poetry does have the ability to ‘liberate’ both poet and reader from their necessities and produce in their minds an effect beyond the ordinary. Could we refer to this liberation or freedom that a poem can create as the poem’s magic?

The poetic moment

What is the poet’s freedom? Is it the path through unknown places of the heart, a path that is both unreal and of a transcendent nature and yet is something that foresees the event of death? Is it like a moment when one hears faraway waves, falling breakers turn into some miraculous drug which can keep away the knowledge of death?

Whatever this freedom is, it cannot be denied that the process of the writing of poetry fulfils a certain inner need, which takes the poet past himself, as a part of him tries to fight the dominance of a world within him.

The act of writing itself gives birth to truth, for it helps to rid oneself of things in its mysterious manner even when one has no need to be cured of our human purpose.

And so, self-expression becomes one of the most important human activities, turning the poem which the poet makes into an unavoidable symbol of liberation and confinement. I say confinement because of the constraints of the words and sentences that hold the flight of the poem. Yet, despite these, the freedom in the poem becomes a very real one, making us human and benign, and never a myth as is sometimes thought of. To sum up, poetry matters when it becomes a way of living.

Broadly speaking, one tends to feel that there are two kinds of poetry being written today, almost all over the world — the one that caters more or less to the establishment, and which is relatively safe poetry because it carries no sort of risk or danger to the poet. The other, and this type of verse has been written in other times as well and in many places including our own, becomes a dangerous occupation — because, generally, such poetry is critical of the establishment and therefore is against the poet’s well-being.

Here, I am not talking of a deliberately written verse that can be labelled ‘political’, but of a poetry that the poet or writer should be responsible to, such a responsibility only becoming possible when the poet himself is responsible or answerable to his conscience. This is not to suggest that the poet should be taking up in some way the work of the philosopher or the man of religion — but of the poet experiencing all over again that voice from deep inside himself; may be doing just what he has always been under the necessity to do in the many lives facing him in the world where he exists.

A game with time

When I think of my own self, I feel much of the poetry I have written has always been asking questions of my life, so that one comes up suddenly somewhere and encounters an image of oneself one had not seen before or had merely glimpsed in some vague form sometime. Often such questionings have surfaced on the edge of answers. All this makes me realise how confused I am — a person very much like the nameless person I pass by every day on the street.

I try to understand what is happening with the poetry I write. And I suppose it would be right to assume that the same sort of process is defining poets everywhere. I look at the poem I have written, look closely into it, listen to it. And it makes a demand on me to make me ask myself: have I written the poem for my own sake, to show to myself and others how clever I am? Is it a mere game I have played, this poem of mine, a game with time and that absence which comes alive at the thought of death? Or is the poem there on the page facing me because something has been happening?

If there is any humility left in me, in this part of me where nothing really happens, then it is time I feel I should ask myself: Am I living my life as well as a human being who feels and cares for his fellow beings? If my answer is yes, and the poems I write make sense of life, then there is evidence enough that poetry becomes freedom, and the human spirit reaches toward fulfilment.

Even though the world today is constantly in a state of flux, and things aren’t what they were a decade ago, one has the feeling that very few poets are not responsible to the dictates of their consciences, for very few of us indeed have given up the purest of ties that exist between poetry and truth.

In this unending process of writing poetry, one is always trying to recognise oneself, finding out ultimately which part of oneself will finally outcast the other part.

Staring silence

Poetry is the stranger within oneself — the man inside one in unaware of, and the poet is almost always in the quest of finding this other one. Therefore, his questions: Who am I? Where have I come from and where is it I am going? How should I live? How can I see that other whom I had not seen before clearly? Where are you, Other One? Have I no right of my death?

Very simple questions indeed. Yet difficult to find the appropriate answers. Only silences stare back, like the sound of the waves beating against the wall of the sea. Our thought is a process, the poem itself is a process — and the process holds considerable amounts of freedom and energy.

And the poet, in his poetry, is trying to find something that will endure behind the many masks he encounters — in himself most of all perhaps — maybe something that would in the end help clarify his vision, and which he does through the very act of his writing.

So the freedom and energy in poetry, and the consequent healing that takes place as one goes on to discover and rediscover the many things connected with one’s life. Let us admit this quality of mystery that poetry holds in its making.

Sometimes, for hours together I sit through the night, watching despair — this blank sheet of paper in front of me. I experience the fearful pull of gravity that drags me down when words fail to appear on the paper.

Then, suddenly maybe, the language is there, flowing into rhythm, like the unseen wind moving the branches of the mango tree in my little courtyard. There is a flow of energy as the poem builds up, building up too the feeling of weightlessness, a sort of zero gravity one can call freedom. Towards the end of this piece, I ask myself: What am I made of?

Of hunger and earth and homesickness? Yet I realise I cannot help being affected by the world around me, by a sensitivity to issues that plague my country and the world.

And in order to understand who I am and who I will become, I shall go on writing my poems as the sun goes on shining — both on the carefully-tended roses in the President’s vast gardens and on the rat-riddled shacks in my town where starving children, children with tuberculosis and hunger, still pray to god. And weary, perhaps abandoned, surrounded by my own words which crowd me down, I try to escape, thinking of another kind of freedom.

Politican or poet

Who will cry the cry of the dropping leaf? Who will whisper the whisper of the summer breeze? The politician or the poet? Or the silent pain of the pebble kicked by a child? Or the sob of the rose plucked off its stem? Who will mourn the moan of the trampled grass? Only the poet.

Perhaps poetry shall always remain an attempt to remove the burden of time from this world, and poems will continue to do this through images, metaphors, symbols. Time, ever present, ever passing, making us wakeful while we are asleep, making us hear our pulse in the silence of the night. I quote a line from the Atharva Veda XIX: 53.

Time drives as a horse with seven reins,

thousand-eyed, unaging

possessing much seed;

him the inspired poets mount;

his wheels are all beings.

And one asks: Does a poet use time to get away from time? Does he surrender to this rite, capturing in time a fragile moment of meaning? Merely for the sake of the feeling of freedom?

Again and again, one returns from that closed door. Someone is there, standing over the shoulder. I don’t know what the one standing there wants. What, however, is amazing is that I can write a poem through my anguish and the awareness of my presence, and in the process reveal myself, perhaps going out of myself, leaping into blindness or light.

Call it freedom. For what we dream can well enter the realm of undream, causing something to come out of it, something like a quiet self-discovery or even prayer, that brings a joy in the recognition of ourselves against the fear of time. Call it freedom.

So maybe the need to be human is more important in a poet than in anyone else, worse in a poet because a poet’s business is to see — which he should do, listening to the voice of his inner self. Let the poet not bother about the conscience of the world — simply be the water that flows, finding its own level, even if it is soaked away by the earth, with no trace left behind. In this, in such a poetry of today, committed to the many worlds we live and believe in — the human, the historical and the moral — can one touch the heart of freedom.

Writing in both Odia and English, the author is one of India’s best-known poets and the first to win the Sahitya Akademi award for English poetry.


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 4:22:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/singing-of-trampled-grass/article19689961.ece

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