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Stephen Gill’s “The Flame”
by Prof. R. K. Bhushan
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- Poetry for Peace or for Propaganda and Self-Promotion

Since Stephen Gill has been decorated with multiple awards, we have to concede his greatness as a poet. With these awards, he has fully justified his deservingness for the benefits he has and has been receiving as Stephen Gill. He composes poems to express his soul-yearning for peace in a world torn-asunder by the terrorists, their outfits and their promoters in a highly organized manner leaving the might of the well-trained, well-motivated and well-equipped mightiest armies helpless and at the receiving end.

In his exposition and outright condemnation of the “maniac messiahs” and the “assassins of humanity”, Gill seems to have developed mania and we are loaded with the feeling that only lingering death is everybody’s life. In such a depressing and disgusting situation, life and living lose their sheen and glow. There is no purpose of living left; no meaning of life felt. Life everywhere is nothing but a naked dance of terrorists devoid of all shame, decency and humanity. They are the ruling gods in the theatre of human affairs.


The poet who has been shuttle-cocking between politics and faith for the realization of his sky-rocketing ambitions takes shelter in being a man of letters. And the glowing feathers are flying into his pompous cap one after the other and the cap appears crushed under the burden of feathers! The poor Cap!

Stephen Gill says, “Laps of mothers of these maniac messiahs must have disciplined them for this type of life.” Gill seems to be wearing pig-iron covers on his eyes on a cloudy day feeling the strain of unendurable agony to scare everybody out into a benumbing silence as if the world of ours were a smoldering, shriveled and stinking place surrounded day and night by all-consuming and engulfing flames of the abysmal inferno. And we begin to ask where is the Eternal Flame or is it the Eternal Flame so invested with epical dimensions, mythological sanctity and divine splendor?

Gill appears standing in a safe corner at one end of the human world towering above all, and, witnessing, watching and surveying all insane nonsensical mess created by the “maniac messiahs” where he sees that the total system of governance has paralyzed, come to a halt and collapsed at the wink of their eye or their call. Not only that, it has also left our daily world an all-time song or litany of pain, cry, scream, lament, and deluge of tears at the dreadful sight of heart-breaking ruins. Stephen Gill’s sick and sickening fancy introduces and awakens us to “the avatars of savagery”, “the giants of ferocity”, “the vultures of bloodshed”, “trotting swarms of savages”, “the sightless assassins of the innocents”, “the adherents of a wicked belief” and “the blindness of the brutes.” They all work under - “the canopy of derangement” to rock “the structure of tranquility” and create -

“the jungle
of deafening disorder”

from where stream out the wounded in tattered clothes “coughing and choking as ghosts” and also we hear their hysteric screams. Even the broken bodies are “discarded like hot-dog wrappers.”

All objects, animate and inanimate, exploded, imploded, fell apart, lay scattered. Gill’s imagination runs amuck and he observes the anarchy worsened as the communication is disrupted or it has collapsed. “Parking meters rent”, “metal doors twirled”, and there are “mangled chassis”, “cars crumpled”, or overturned and covered with rubble and their components filled the air like a tornado. These ruins and wrecks and debris presented a gloomy and dismal sight and created -

“a grave of unfathomable horror
by the avalanche of
the hate.”

These “grisly distortions” were larger than life. Even the media shall fail to capture “magnitude of the wounds” caused by “the repulsive rave”. Stephen Gill says -

“Distressed by the locusts from the hell
the abode
leaves a wrenching hole
in the fate of the future.”

In his Canto 27 also, Stephen Gill tells us about the

“agenda of carnage
on the mountain of emptiness.”

And -

“Of the monstrosity of their nefarious designs
to damage the smooth-sailing ark of freedoms.”

“Who can tell” constitutes the burden of this Canto and the poet’s depression on the verge of frustration when he sees “the virus of their fever’ and -

“the carcass of their rusted notions
under the rock of the blinding luster
of the gold of their creed
and how
they peered around your shrine
as hungry wolves
and tried to control
the crows of impatience ...”

He watches them “tormenting the bird of peace” and “unlocking a bottle to unleash a genie.” Here Gill imagines them untying “the knots of reason”

“to appease Beelzebub
with their offerings
at the altar of a seething cauldron
of wrath.”

Not only this, he watches the helpless governance of the Divine -

“The heavenly bodies
must have wept in disgrace
for their impotent rage to burst
the blisters of shocking atrocities
wrapped in a shroud of secrecy.”

He asks these “blood spillers” “from the cabaret of appalling barbarity” and from “the depth of obsessive depravity” if they hear “the silence of infants/ in the cradles of terror” “in their forts of infamy.” (Canto 26). The poet in Gill observes that these heartless, callous and worse than senseless stones, these avatars of inhumanity and savagery, equipped with the most accurate precision of details of outfit and execution and impeccably speaking His Master’s Voice, work their way marvelously without any regret. (Canto 28) These “blind brutes”

“doomed the rhythm
at the pyre of beasts.”

And –

“Here stood
the sanctuary of the lofty art
of tender awareness
where life veiled in ineffable sanctity
flourished.”

The rose of Gill’s passion will bloom with fresh vitality here amidst the stench of his horror show in the theatre of the bright broken bones and skeletons lying scattered and piled. This is the beauty of peace born beyond death and brought about by carnage. This may be a soothing solace in the metaphysical thoughts. “The wildest winds” and “indignant waves” “merge now to shame/ the patrons of carnage.” The poet tells us that the terrorist activities hamper the smooth flow of daily life causing grave inconveniences to the movement of general public. It involves additional funds to thwart the designs of the “maniac messiahs” which otherwise could have been pumped into the welfare schemes for the upliftment of the down-trodden and the storm-tossed. Gill says:

“Their relentless pursuit
to grab the crown of chaos
swim political pendulums ....”

Daily-go-round of life is jammed in a paralytic human activity.

“Lava flew
from the Mount Etna of their anger
because the media focused
on speculating about culprits,
rather than the emotional bruises
of the sufferers.”

All brothers-in-distress witnessed days filled with funerals and -

“It was a bewildering muddle
to identify a disordered array
of mutilated bodies.”

We feel that these are willfully confused and consciously confusing imagistic patterns woven by gill conscious only of preaching poetry for peace. And this poetry seems to be a helpless surrender to the forces of ferocity who are the supreme rulers, Gill has suggested. He has brought out the total helpless of “the mightiest armies” which cannot defend even the basic freedoms essential to the flow of daily existence. So the only help is “lament from the top of your shelters.” We are convinced the life has come to a halt and all our cities, capitals and cosmopolitan cities present a deadening sight and our skies are ranting with human screams and eerie sounds.

This is an obvious and liberal shoot-forth of Stephen Gill’s hysteria and phobia which have been deeply ingrained in his psyche since the days of his early childhood. In Author’s Preface to “The Flame”, Gill says, “Fear became an unwelcoming guest in my life from my early life. As a potent biological presence of unpleasant danger, it took away a considerable joy from my life. It often led me to the heightened perception of being persecuted that destroyed the delicate fabrics of my trust.” (Page27).

He continues in the same para: “To find hope, I traced riches, education, faiths and many other things. I tried to see the face of hope in political ideologies, including Marxism, Nazism and dictatorship.” And he has been searching for peace in such a state of instability and frustrating uncertainty here and there and everywhere. He couldn’t be stable, satisfied and happy anywhere.

Stephen Gill says in the same Preface: “Lack of security in the country of my birth was responsible for my search. I did not give up this hunt even in the countries where I was comfortably secure.”

The poet who has been shuttle-cocking between politics and faith for the realization of his sky-rocketing ambitions takes shelter in being a man of letters. And the glowing feathers are flying into his pompous cap one after the other and the cap appears crushed under the burden of feathers! The poor Cap!

Stephen Gill is eloquent in his emphasis on his industry consumed in the execution of his lofty conception of the design and style of “The Flame.” He says in Author’s Preface (Page-28): “I expect people of other traditions and heritage to view this bouquet from that angle, though the pseudo-critics are known for marring beauty by dissecting works of art into fragmented forms in an attempt to search for ugly spots.”

I don’t mind being a pseudo-critic for the out-rightly smart Gill! If this is his conscious appeal for total admiration for his poetic accomplishment for another heavy feather, I shall not tender an apology for what I see and feel in his much self-vaunted Flame.

Stephen seems to have failed in his best bets in life in spite of his best somersaults. He fed himself lavishly on his academic, literary, political and professional ambitions for long and is still doing his best with his disquiet soul to achieve the dazzling summits of Dante or Milton. But the dark clouds of his melancholy shadows have harshly obstructed his vision. He talks of the Holy Fire with all its flame and light, its mythological, literary, metaphorical and religious symbolism and significance as a divine gift and a blessing for mankind. This flame has been sung in scriptures and in the daily ceremonies and rites of worship in various religions. However, Gill’s flame appears burning in abysmal Hell where light is banned and devils alone can see that light. He says in Canto 11-

“I see
an abode of ghosts
looming in dismal dusk.”

And he sees “the blindness of the brutes” “tormenting the bird of peace.” The poet wants “to awake their conscience/ slumbering in the shambles of brutality.”(Canto 30) . Then in Canto 54, the poet tells us about -

“These deranged savages
who erupt the lava of devastation
from the depressive corridors
of their oddest mania.”

In Canto 39:

“Snakes of personal migraines
raise their strained necks
above the turfs of my nights
to jangle the nerves of my muse.”

And in Canto 40, we hear form him:

“I am a spark
that neither fully flares
nor fully blows out.”

We can’t help feeling that “The Flame” is the ravings of a maniac messiah and the images shooting forth from his depressed and frustrated mind babble to disturb the peace and tranquility that one sees around. It is not the poetry of courage or conviction; it is not the poetry of inspiration or enlightenment or delight. We long for an escape route from suffocation in the pitch dark even to lie unconscious on the open refreshing and cool soft grass in the morning light where the wetness of the night dews comforts and solaces us. Excessive sentimentalism weakens the strength of the message and fails to hold in appeal the sound reason and sensibility.

However, at times, optimism peeps through and the poet in Gill comes out with hope and faith. He looks upon flame as a source of light, peace and justice is sure that it will bring about rejuvenation and regeneration. In Canto 29, he says:

“Flame is still a pyramid of justice.
Hope carves niches of safety
around towers of peace
to lay eggs.
Denizens of ignorance
blow off the petals of flowers
of today
not knowing the doors of the future
remain open.”

Out of the badly bruised and bleeding heart of the poet, gushes forth some warmth and affection and the human and the natural intermingle and play with each other to ensure that the future is intact with the blossoms of promise. At certain times, the poet in Gill dives deep into the symbolic flashes to discover and bring out a fresh identity for man in despite of the “denizens of ignorance.” The caravan goes on singing amidst the tenderness, beauty and luxuriant regeneration oblivious of the carnage. Nature prevails in all her majesty and spreads the wings of the billions of butterflies to carry on untarnished and unimpeded the eternal process of creating, carving and shaping. In this cold, callous and cruel world of human beings, Gill invokes the Flame for “the softness of your light”, “the grace of your presence” and “the comfort of your warmth” to weed out evil, suffering, misery, agony, fanaticism, screams, sickness, brutality and restore the sanctity of the Flame in daily bonds of man to man, man to Nature and , man to God. (Canto 35). He again says:

“I hunger for the solacing vineyard
of your sight.”

The moods and fancies of Stephen Gill are uncertain. Perhaps, the reminiscences of and the living sights of the terror-infested beautiful world of man and nature refresh and reinvigorate his crest-fallen life. So the eternal powers of the goddess of poetry come to his rescue and we experience the rhythmic charms of some excellence and rarity. In Canto 44, Gill says:

“Birds of the non-ending thirst
fly across the widening horizon
of the morning ocean of my fancy
to stir its pulse
to beat in a new rhythm.”

And he begins to see “the reddest rubies” of his passion, undying daffodils and the “effervescent laces of my lyrics”, “hidden waterfalls of your splendor” which transport him “beyond the borders of knowledge.” His mood lifts him above this world of sighs and cries:

“When I talk to gypsy clouds
the sky vibrates my inner strings
with a soothing serenity.”

f course, we hear the remote echoes of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the stray pieces of Gill, their transcendentalism or their Pantheism remain conspicuous by their absence. Flame rekindles and rejuvenates and warms up the bonds and relationships frozen in the cold distrust and callous hate. He awaits:

“…..the dew of the truth
that blossoms the strength of freedoms.”

Only then, Stephen Gill will lose his being in this and this Flame! His “invincible beliefs”, which they are, only Gill knows, awaken fresh yearnings in his burnt out heart:

“White blooms
wave their withering branches
while under the ashes
of the departed hours
fragments of coal glow with heat.” (Canto 51)

Canto 52 is remarkable for its lyrical excellence and is reminiscent of Shelley’s lyric-cry in his great “Ode to the West Wind”. Stephen says:

“Receive me eagerly
I am a battle unending
I need support.

Caress me carefully  ...
Tend me delightedly ...
Hold me ardently ...
Play me wisely ...
Accept me readily
I am a lamb unclaimed
I need a good shepherd.”

Stephen Gill’s grief and gloom, his cynical view of the happenings around reveal his dull weariness with daily life and he can’t forget the pains and agonies brought about by his shattered hopes and dashed dreams. Still he feels it essential to be happy and must raise his spirits to come out of the mood of despondency:

“I shall not
let the arrows of despair
hurt me, if
the clouds, the hills
and the waterfalls
mock my attempts.”

Gill is terribly afraid of being laughed out of his sleeves and wishes and yearns:

“Sea waves
sing my songs
and the rainbow colors
my amorous tale.”

The unfulfilled seedling of his passion will be irrigated by his few drops. So he offers a supplication in the adytum of the Flame to carry on with the sublimating task of being the “binding force” of life and relations in their totality and soothe his derailed and deranged sensibilities and smoothen his path to achieve the level of integrity. He sees “a Moses” appearing to guide his fallen spirits “through the perils of the dark alleys” so that he taste Manna for “the ambrosia of my strength”. He reaches “the palace of peace” where:

“the litany of the rituals
unveils the hidden ugliness
of the inglorious advocates
of wicked designs.”

Gill’s vision is so badly bruised, blurred and blinded that even in his palace of peace, he sees the same disgusting horror show of his sick fancy -

“It is the ruin
where the swords of its pilgrims
twinkle
in the wrinkles of the religion
of self-glory.”

And he doesn’t want anyone to come near this palace! We meet Stephen Gill:

“As a mad prophet in painful ecstasy
I shall bathe
in the mystical falls of those regions
steeped in the melody
that sobs in the radiance
of your gentle warmth.”

Gill longs “to end the odyssey of my woes” and wishes to reach “the exalted heights of intensity” so that his “fondest hope” “to see the fruit of peace” is fulfilled. How ironical that everything man created for his care and comfort was playing Tsunami and the whole lay trembling, terrified, torn and tortured into the living testimony of the Eternal War of Heaven and Hell. We need not pray even for peace. The demoniac agents of Inferno would leave behind peace in the annihilated piece! And Gill’s propaganda piece will ring in the enduring message of peace.

“The Flame” is the result of Gill’s persistent efforts to overcome fear, insecurity and instability that lay deep-rooted in his psyche since the days of his early childhood. And these degrading feelings still haunt him in this work of humanistic concerns he has frequently declared and asserted to have pursued in his life and accomplishment, obviously to appease his ever-increasing desire to be the brightest of the bright stars bypassing the restraints and limitations fixed by destiny. This has not only defeated but also destroyed, may not be the meaning, but the purpose of life which is to delight and sublimate. It is partially a conscious effort of the poet; it is also something Gill couldn’t and can’t help. Otherwise the poet’s ability to do wonders in such depressing and dehumanizing situation to sustain life and its beauty would not have been impaired. Gill has been honest and direct in his confessions of fear ever-gripping his mind; it is not only a conspicuous but dominant passion. This puts at stake his poetic sincerity also. Poetic truth and poetic beauty are at their best when the poet has nothing to do with his poetic composition as a ladder to reach the top of the world. The end of all great poetry is to deal with the truth and delight the reader and enlighten, if not sublimate, with its thematic and stylistic sincerity. Here, restless Gill is using the wings of poetry for the enhancement of his wealth of awards and laurels. As a poet of the stature he claims and projects himself to be, he should curb his low passions and degrading obsessions.

In the fabric of the composition of “The Flame”, we frequently come across the complexity of irrational associations wherein we try hard, and often in vain, to associate rationality so that some ennobling thought or elevating feeling emerges. The net result of this teasing exercise is that we are left with simple meaning, fine message intentionally made labyrinthine. The strained spontaneity, exasperation and frustration, downy looks, fear-stricken mind and melancholy view of our every day world and life mar the grand design of the conception and its execution of Stephen Gill’s “extraordinary ambitious project” which artistically fathoms a subject for all the powers that be- political, social, religious, philanthropic , and, even for the philosophers, prophets and others that participate and perform in the governance of this show! It may be myopic to see this Flame without its light and also cold indifference to feel the warmth of its fire!

November 22, 2009

More by : Prof. R. K. Bhushan

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