Oct 03, 2023
Oct 03, 2023
by P C K Prem
Indian English poetry had its dark and bright areas of growth since the beginning of nineteenth century, a period of uncertain social and political conditions it was as observed earlier. If one recapitulates social, economic and political scenario and the measured but definite emergence of English domination, it would reveal new aspects of development of poetry. Poetry in initial years appears restrained and speaks of unequalled grace and chasteness in idiom.
Certain voices underline slow manifestation of not very healthy environment. English people had a definite plan to educate, placate, coerce, dominate and expand gradually but many Indians of substance and power did not know or perhaps ignored because they nursed knowingly or unconsciously certain ulterior designs. Indian poetry in English took birth in the eastern region of the country with expected hesitation, little patterned, imitated, leisured movement ahead, understated thoughts, and it rightly depicted not very favourably Indian life from different aspects. At times, artists of poetry were genially true and modestly emphatic.
Romance, adventure and love for legends and myths in lyrics beautified poetry. However, a sudden but subdued upsurge of patriotic and nationalistic sentiments excited people with thoughts of freedom and independence. Mutiny of 1857 taught Indians how to confront harsh and callous realities under foreign domination while religious, social and political movements targeted objective of attainment of ‘freedom’ for the country. In the realization of political goal, concerted efforts required restrain and steadiness. With the coming of Gandhi, scenario underwent tremendous changes. Congress took birth in mid nineties of 19th Century and later on, Muslim League also came into existence for various political reasons but the goal incidentally, was attainment of sovereignty for the people. Different social and religious groups adequately supported the movement, and India marched towards the attainment of Independence. It is history now.
Scenario in The Beginning of Twentieth Century
A little digression will make literary scene quite clear. After 1920, a different crop of writers infused spirit of patriotism and nationalism, and even a casual reader would notice an amazing cohesiveness notwithstanding certain contradictions. Some creative artists born between 1920 (or a little earlier) and 1940 were witness to a bitter and at times, violent struggle of patriots for the achievement of goal under the guidance of various political leaders while religious heads and social outfits did not lag behind, and many carried bitter and at times, exciting memories of a very trying period. It was period of Gandhi and an age of rejuvenation, reiteration and affirmation of ancient cultural heritage.
One also notices significant poetic voices that made memorable contribution to elegiac scene and spoke eloquently of love, romance, adventure, nature, patriotic sentiments and nationalistic thoughts. Solemn anxieties found emotive expression in the verses of Manmohan Ghose, Swamy Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Sarojini Naidu, Tagore, Joseph Furtado, Puran Singh, Swami Ram Tirtha, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya and many others with a slight shift of expression from the early poets after Henry Derozio, Ghose Kasiprasad, Toru Dutt and others. A cautious reader discerns contemporary anxieties troubling sensitive minds as machines slowly enter to make production easier with reduced labor force. However, it also led to varied issues relating to workforce and not very healthy and good functioning conditions.
Slow but determined growth of industrial focal points changed social fabric in the meantime. A few poets became conscious of the disturbingly pleasant but also worrying and tough impact of industrial expansion around the fourth quarter of nineteenth century. It led to migration of people from the rural to the rising industrial centers mostly influencing existing towns and cities, which began to enlarge with enormous speed, and consequently, burdened state apparatus and not very strong system with problems of education, health, sanitation, water, housing and unemployment. Civil amenities in cities provided comforts not to many, but persistent migration of rural people to find avenues of livelihood, created genuine human problems. Sensitive minds and intellects were onlookers to the human tribulations where choking environment, inadequate and difficult living conditions fuelled ambitions, and ensuing failure and defeat led to disillusionment, despair and depression, and such unsavoury and discouraging developments constituted focused theme of creative artists. Poets mostly located in urban areas, ventilated genuine agonies and anguish of rising metros amidst visible pleasure of life but oblique pains continued to upset intellects.
Comforts, pleasures and sufferings of metro’s life influenced hearts and intellects of perceptive minds. Impact of machinery, alien language, culture, lifestyle and charm was quite apparent, which carried subtle and at times, perceptible pressure of transmitted western lifestyle. Agonies and sufferings of industrial life felt in the Europe crept into Indian consciousness with faintly or at times, noticeable English sensibilities mixed with visible Indianness in feelings and thoughts. However, attitude and propensity made it secular but still religious sentiments, at times, guided man to certain esoteric areas as metaphysical wanderings explored unimagined areas of life beyond.
It is Good to Carry Traditions with a Religious Heart, Life and Life Beyond
Several motivated schemes took shape of development as rural areas and towns grew while life in cities assumed complexity inexplicable after Independence. Education ennobles a man and it instills a spirit of competition particularly when progress becomes integral to life. Town and urban life presents unique predicament. Saner elements get beating as ambitions become obvious. Struggle is not only for livelihood but also for material enrichment with vague inner craving for spiritual life, an unfathomable region. However, hunger for more comforts and wealth does not give peace and contentment.
Justifiable query and investigation into the multifaceted equations in human bonds occupy poets’ worries because aspirations and infinite materialistic demands come into existence one notices such features in verses of many. Now, even existence of relations faces slow threat as individualistic lifestyles enter. Immense growth and material progress allow little space to warmth in life and lead to insensitive and unsympathetic instinct in relations and therefore, human bonds suffer that later on, assumed grotesque proportions without exception.
Earlier poetry grew in a few cities among the elites and carried intellectual and linguistic hangover of the white man for apparent reasons and it demonstrated agony of materially and intellectually rich life in crowded and congested settings. At another level, people suffered. Only after freedom, people got rid of feelings of subjugation and slavery but in a liberated mental environment, a drift reflects unbiased interests of people that materialize in a baffling blending of Indianness and Western thought. If city poets are confessional or autobiographic in approach and treatment, it is because of subtle influence of English life-style.
However, one also ought to notice that multi-cultural influences amalgamate with the passage of time and take different shape and therefore, influence various wings of life and become indissoluble. If different streams of thoughts run parallel in a society, these carry a marginally distinct approach. Town and city poetry limited to defined regions at that time, took plunge outside the borders, spoke wistfully and lovingly of countryside and rural people but returned to its distinct forte. However, many poets took up varied issues and anxieties disturbing man, and moved even beyond life, and it is evident in many poets.
It is worthwhile to go back, look into the poetic thought and creed of poets of an earlier age, who made imprint on the poetic scene. To carry the spirit of culture and heritage is the religion of creative minds while carving out new paths without undermining literary heritage. As poets derive spirited inspiration from culture and traditions, it not only attracts but also excites. Sri Aurobindo (1872) was a genius of different caliber. A versatile man, a scholar, a critic, an authority on Vedas, a yogi and a prophet of Life Divine, a great nationalist, he was a man of revolutionary thoughts. He was an advocate of patriotic thoughts but was least interested in political activity. He was a poet, a mystic and a philosopher. Spiritual quests captivate and enchant for he reflects deeply on life and existence with a profound saintly and prophetic insight. Love for the country impresses, ‘Make iron of your souls /Yet if Bhavani wills, strength and the sword /Can stay our Nation’s future from o’er throw.’ Undoubtedly, he depicts love for life and eternal experience of celestial ecstasy, but also shows intense care for the aesthetic and adoring features of life and stirs spirit of patriotic fervour. He looks at life in totality when one goes through his creative writings. A divine experience it is that takes a man beyond earthly borders and fulfills intrinsic thirst, for ‘Existence a divine experiment/ And Cosmos the soul’s opportunity.’
Uniqueness in the poetry of Aurobindo lifts spirits of man and teaches the grand and timeless art of life and its supreme purpose –to unite with the eternal, to spread message of cosmic unity, and to love man and humankind. To the modern intellect, poet’s thoughts, spiritual inquests and mysticism look magical but deep down as he inquires, he finds that the poet passionately evokes through sublime verses the transcendental, restrained and cathartic impact of Indian cultural heritage. Born of cultural, spiritual and historic perspectives, he carries man to virtues of life where a man if adheres to truth and uprightness, makes it beautiful. Other poets of the period like Pannikar, J. Krishnamurthi, Sri Paramhansa Yogananda and Acharya also offer spiritual delight and satisfy man’s intrinsic thirst for the divine elegiacally. Lyrics offer glimpse of intensity in poetic thought and idiom saturated with mysticism and spirituality.
Sri Paramhansa Yoganand (1893) writes on a wide range of subjects but mostly, he exhibits interest in spiritual awakening and is prone to mystic vision, and it leads him to god realization. God and the thoughts of god permeate the entire body and soul, and going through the colossal poetic outpouring, gives a deep gratifying sense of devotion, mystical experience and spiritual illumination as if, and brightens up typically sluggish areas of man’s intellect and heart. Poet, an awesome religious heart and spiritually enlightened intellect, finds unity in diversity in the design of origin of creation and created beings and believes that nature is the image of god.
Poetry of this age carries firm conviction that humankind can live meaningfully if it discards sick propensities towards material and worldly aspirations and works for the uplift of soul of man, because ultimately, merger of soul with the Eternal Truth grants liberation he affirms. Looking within and listening to the inner voice grants perfect peace of mind, poets often aver.
One recalls name of H.N. Chattopadhyaya (1898), who is a little different. He demonstrates earthly awareness when he talks of life and not very comforting realities of life and delineates social conditions of people in right perspective as the poor and the deprived find it difficult to live happily. Religion is all right for ennobling influences but if man begins to evince interest in doctrines and superstitions, life can turn burdensome and exhausting and so, he indirectly suggests staying away from weary and unhealthy inclination. As social life of the age appears wearisome, excruciating and stressing in some of his beautiful and inspiring verses, he ventilates thoughts and emotional anguish on national issues, patriotism, human suffering born of foreign supremacy, slavery rich man cherish, ignorance, worn-out rituals and customs.
Humanitarian thoughts, respect for virtues and religious temperament continues to determine minds and intellects of many poets and one would discern this stream of noble thoughts and belief in humankind still governs lyrics of many poets with some affirmative and challenging deviation. Krishna Srinivas (1913) with a poetic horizon of astounding frontiers amazes. He goes beyond, and tries to fathom the mystery of life and existence. The world beyond constitutes area of deep inquiry for him. He is a voyager, who flies to areas beyond understanding of an ordinary man, rouses intense curiosity and vibrates impatiently in hearts. A questioning spirit about ‘the Invisible’ thrills. He talks of a great mind, a super intellect and a blissful mystery beyond. To understand Srinivas’s poetry one requires an entirely different frame of mind. A little of faith, a bit of inquisitiveness and a fraction of a moment is essential to look into Srinivas’s incredibly prophetic poetry and the dimensions and sweep of a mystical mind and that would offer glimpses of a great mind.
Like a torchbearer, he carries forward the soul’s spirit in the crucial period of Indian history after the latter half of the nineteenth Century with grace and dignity and many a time, looks at life ‘as a private tragedy and public anarchy.’ He is solemn, pure, upholds strongly ethical thoughts and chaste emotions, patriotic fervour with deep philosophic tenor and takes back to Tagore, Vivekanand and Naidu. If he speaks of the mystical beyond, he tells man to look beyond and within, and live in the inner abode of man where ‘time, space and consciousness’ get meaning and naturally, ‘self, faith and culture’ gain strength. In Earth (Poetical Works), a fantastic flow of images takes life’s reality to shores beyond human intelligence.
Earth is flesh of flames,
a bubble of blood
flung from flux of flood
in deeps of orgiastic
sewn and sheathed
in hurricane clasp,
gushing pyramids of fires,
pedigreed with reddened firmaments.
Time, space, and human consciousness break through the supernatural and the mystical beyond, an insightful man believes as he penetrates into the mystery of existence. One is startled as some stunning poetic expressions defy correct interpretation.
This rage of dusty Delirium
Gripping Paris, London, Manhattan
Racing to clash of fiery flesh
And drunken reel of aching art
Must crash with a bang
Whose pealing thunders
Will crush to dust the house of lust
And make man a man
And woman a woman’
He says in Dance of Dust.
Historical perspective and faith in man, disturbing times and nearly measured prophesy of what lies in the womb of future inspire to go deep what he says. Captivating metaphors and stunning phraseology baffle and take to entirely different lands of imagination but at the same time, it forgets not to tell man that he has to live on earth with a sacred objective to purify and elevate self and humanity. Poet is worried about the terrible crisis of identity, existence, faith and cultural uprooting because of scientific invasion without proper analysis and so life is awesome in contemporary times. One lives in age where enormity of anarchy is unbearable but if a man listens to the spirit, inner strength and faith help because sufferings of man are obvious.
And the Duel
Rages in swell –
Asserting their might
And the mute,
Crushed and fallen,
Prayer their only hope
If in ‘Earth and Beyond’, he is conscious of the frail and vulnerable, and inspires them to stand up and pray, he understands sufferings and anguish of existence but tells man to invoke inner strength, recognize ‘self’ and live in faith and that would make life meaningful. He also tells unequivocally in Great Beyond, ‘We must freeze /The wounds/ That come in mounds /And sieve us /Pore by pore. /Pains and scoffs /We must bypass /And remain aloof /Un-preyed by halts; And forge ahead /Forgetting pains we tread / the friends we had, /The past we left.’
Interestingly, he guides all to the journey of many religions, and symbolically drives the inner person to the world beyond and to the world of ‘inner self’ and if man wins, he not only leads uncontaminated worldly life through whirlpool of catharsis to purified land and existence but also facilitates and makes communion with the inner world, possible. At this moment, journey of life reaches its culmination, real purpose and significance. Death is just a happening as it takes the man to the Great Beyond.
A journey from birth to death
Just an exit
To myriad mirrored entries.
And voyaging endless wombs
And endless existence,
Beyond Primal Purity
Is never lost …
We all journey
As ordained pilgrims,
Progressing to Ends Unknown
And it is CALL
Of great beyond
That guides and steers.
If he is worried about worldly life, the life beyond is the major anxiety of poet and he genuinely wishes man to grow, improve and work for the wellbeing of not only ‘self’ but also humankind. A search for meaning of life and existence, when people struggled for identity before Independence, worries Srinivas and he goes beyond earthly realities and therefore, poetry impresses with its grandiose treatment and highly spiritualized intent but it never irritates. However, it provokes to cultivate virtues in life so that a man becomes an asset to the society, also the real obligation of man to man.
A chaste journey of life continues when one encounters lyrics of Dr. Maha Nand Sharma (1924), another eminent and prolific poet of this age. Interestingly, a prominent feature of Sharma’s lyrics is love for nature, innocent romance, adventure, love, patriotic feelings, nationalistic spirit, deep interest in spiritualism and metaphysical realities of life, and a very engaging interest in mysticism enthralls and attracts even as historical sense of poet surprises and such facts and truths of life determine the nature of poetry.
Social issues dominate many verses and that connects the poets to worldly life without self-conscious outlook. Sharma’s poetry is modest, magnificent, soul inspiring and edifying. Love strengthens man and relations in life he is emphatic. When he speaks of man-woman relationship, he appears enthused, ingenious, mystic, even as solemn influence of religious books like the Vedas, Upanishads etc. pervades poetry that purifies and elevates man to touch heights of spiritual glory not ignoring the material world. Love connects man and woman spiritually and takes them to divine land of experience and fulfillment. The poet often links love to practical aspects of life that teach difficult art of living and leads man to spiritual path and ultimate salvation. A deep and penetrative study of ancient literature adds majesty to the poetic world when he creates and retells legendary tale of Shiva and Paravati (A Rudraksha Rosary and Other Poems) where he gives it secular and cosmic dimensions and reveals fantastic wide-ranging outlook on life and existence. Look at the beautiful lines when Himalaya touches feet of the celestial couple.
And washed them with the sacred Ganges water.
Then holding bride by one hand, kush by other,
The Monarch offered both to Lord Mahesh,
And bowing down before him, folded hands.
The Pandit tied a point of Shiva’s shawl,
To Uma’s sari’s corner, chanting hymns.
The bridegroom leading, both with paces slow
And coy, completed seven rounds of fire,
The Sacred Witness which conformed their bond.
In another long lyric of epical magnitude (A Spiritual Warrior), he electrifies as a splendid artisan as he delineates the character of Bhisma, the great saint warrior of Mahabharata. He shows with immense intellectual prowess a struggle between the flesh and the spirit where flesh symbolizes power, sufferings, penitence, pelf and worldly glory whereas spirit metaphorically tells of mystic and spiritual power leading man to eternal reality.
Helpless actors, we
As reapers of the fruits of past, must bear
Whate’er the present life offers us.
To rightly act is all that we can do,
And that my son, you have done.
Wholesome Indian consciousness and love for cultural heritage allure the poet and therefore, he wishes to share deeply felt experiences poetically. His profundity is amazing, the idiom is rich, and it speaks of Indianness, resurgence and forceful awakening without inhibition. If one goes into the landscape of poetic creation, it is again Indian. He is graphic, vivid and magnificent in depiction and never for a moment permits one to go elsewhere, and thus, gives a comforting experience.
Poets of the age are modest and humble, and talk of cosmic, catholic and universal issues, and gradually move to spiritual realms and here, mystic (yes worldly also) bards speak of the metaphysical and the mystical and take a thinking man to another world of peace, harmony and divine beatitude. They do not exasperate but exercise solemn influence with the strength of virtues, and spiritual aura they create. As visionaries, they look at life beyond, and guide man to fields where tranquility and harmony prevail, and where in a subtle way, the great age of transformation and challenges exercises its solemn impact, none can refute. Nonetheless, as one moves further, it is interesting to observe an abrupt but fractional change in poetic thought, landscape, consciousness and sensibility and a different kind of poetry takes birth that concentrates largely, on city anguish, suffocation and suffering amidst opulence, comforts and joys of life.
More by : P C K Prem
|the analysis is both deep and wide |
our consciousness is wholesome and holistic
our heritage has been intact - no matter what the cataclysmic changes have been down the centuries
our poets are drashthas, visionaries
our epics, scriptures and writing stand testimony to our lasing tradition
your forthcoming book would be a revelation to the imaginative creativity and deep understanding.of our rachana and bhavana.