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The Philosophy of Nissim Ezekiel's 'Philosophy' Poem


There is a place to which I often go,
Not by planning to, but by a flow
Away from all existence, to a cold
Lucidity, whose will is uncontrolled.
Here, the mills of God are never slow.

The landscape in its geological prime
Dissolves to show its quintessential slime.
A million stars are blotted out. I think
Of each historic passion as a blink
That happened to the sad eye of Time.

But residues of meaning still remain,
As darkest myths meander through the pain
Towards a final formula of light.
I, too, reject this clarity of sight.
What cannot be explained, do not explain.

The mundane language of the senses sings
Its own interpretations. Common things
Become, by virtue of their commonness,
An argument against their nakedness
That dies of cold to find the truth it brings.
– Nissim Ezekiel

Philosophy is really one of those profound and deeper poems of Nissim Ezekiel which ordain and endow us otherwise with their note of myth, mysticism, thought, idea and content while deliberating upon what it is philosophy, how the substance of it, why the philosophical leanings so cozy and reflective confiding in meditation and contemplation, silence and quietude as one can recompose, reinvigorate in random reflections and visionary glides after seeking in for refuge and shelter to arrive at some truths of life led by meditative musings and speculations delving and dwelling it far. Such a time is also necessary in man’s life for private and personal reflection which but constitutes and contributes to. One who has not read Ezekiel’s Philosophy has not read him if one seeks to know his philosophy, what he takes it by philosophy. Nowhere can man find a beautiful definition of philosophy as it has been given by him. This is the philosophy of life and the philosophy of the world. But one should keep it in mind that his metaphysics is the metaphysics of the Elizabethan sonneteers and song-writers and the latter-day metaphysical writers. There is something of the modern poets too in him as for clarity of thought and expression. Apart from philosophy, there is something of poetry, metaphysics, psychology and modernity laced with manneristic, stylistic colloquialism. In the poem, Philosophy by Nissim, there lies in the philosophy of the modern poet as modern man taking to expression so explicitly, dealing with what it is philosophy, how the constituents and ingredients of it. The history of the world, nobody knows it. The history of time, none can say it. What has it happened in time? Just we imagine all that, just we try to comprehend them. Physics too does not remain unto the end, turns into metaphysics after exploring astronomy and the galaxy of stars and planets.

There is a place which he often goes to not because he has to, not by planning or compulsion, but by a flow instinctively and naturally and it is but to recompose and repose in for a calm composure and tranquility of mind and soul, good spirit and visionary glide to sustain and survive, nourish and nurture the innermost soul. Away from all existential things, he moves to confide and repose in silence, the silence of mind, soul, spirit and metaphysics wherein a cold lucidity pervades in to dwell and delve deeper into the mysteries of life and the world; thought, idea and reflection with the will lying uncontrolled. Philosophies often sweep off the feet. The mills of God the Creator are never slow, things are being created and re-created, shapes are re-shaped to metamorphose and transform into. The shapes of the things do not remain the same.

The landscape and its geology, how to ascertain the facts? What it taking place as per the diurnal course of the earth, how to tell about the geological changes and transformations? The geology of the earth keeps changing, what we see as a landscape is but mud and muck another day. A million stars twinkling, glittering and shining, sometimes blotted out, falling down, a saga unknown, how to take up and tell of? The mystery of the skies, the myth of the night lamps, we know it not the mystery of the night and creation. Each historic passion blinking has a sphere of its own which but the time can allude to. What has it happened in due course of time, none can tell it about. The sad eye of Time knows it all, the poor destiny of man and the state of things as everything is but in a flux. The state of convulsion too has a history of own. Here one may talk of the myth of Kalbhairava and Kalpurusha from the Indian point of view and Akshay Samay, Indestructible Time. The Wheel of Time keeps it rotating and moving and everything but in the hands of Time. In this context the Bergsonian time can be taken into consideration. Mechanical time has been contrasted with cosmic time.

A slumber did my spirit seal;
I had no human fears:
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years.

No motion has she now, no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks, and stones, and trees. 
– William Wordsworth in A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal

But the residues of meaning still remain as the darkest myths meander through pain towards a final formula of light. The poet too rejects this clarity of sight, what it cannot be explained, explain you not. The lines are so beautiful that these cannot be annotated, analyzed and paraphrased as the terms themselves are so mythical and metaphysical, as for example, the residues of meaning, darkest myths, meander through the pain, towards the final formula of light. What the residues? Whose residues? Residues of life and creation, residues of meaning, which is for what, how to say it? Where is meaning really? What is whose meaning and which is what? The myths of light will remain shrouded in mystery as Jayanta Mahapatra too feels it. The final formula of light is the mystical experience envisaged through modern idiomatic expression. The myths of light and darkness, let them be shrouded in mystery and if these cannot be explained, explain you not. Darkest myths meander through pain towards the final formula of light strikes us with the expression. The residues, as the remnants, remainders of meaning, tell of the darkest myths of the world. How has darkness struggled? How have pains been borne? And those myths we know it not, have forgotten them almost.

The mundane language of the senses sings of its own interpretations as the baser things will return to the base, common things common by virtue of their commonness. An argument against their nakedness will die of cold to find the truth it brings. To argue it that the things will not last long cannot be it all. The things will lose luster definitely if faced with cold logic and reason. Let poetry has its sway over. Let emotions and feelings have their realms unfolding the new vistas and avenues of thought. The mundane world is of mundane things and mundane meanings. The mortal fellows will definitely talk of mortal things. The interpretations too are common, be sure of. The common things will look common, appear to be commonly. If these are put to test, they will die, fade away.

To read this poem is to feel, what is poetry, what is philosophy, the poetry of life and the world, the philosophy of life and the world. What is it the philosophy of mind? What it the philosophy of the world? What is metaphysics? How the cruder and raw things of it? Which is what, how to understand it? What is poetry? What is philosophy? How are these interconnected? Which came it first, poetry or philosophy?

Without philosophy, man is nothing, without poetry and philosophy and the idiom of expression and in poetry one philosophizes, poetizes one’s own thoughts and ideas. Sometimes one takes to philosophical reckoning and brooding, to visionary glide. It has been said, silence gives consent.

If one takes to not the soul in confidence, what to say it? Poetry is a thing of mind, spirit, heart and soul and so are mass, matter and metaphysics.

‘There is a place to which I often go’, is the starting line with which the poem starts with to take its pathway to curve, chatter and flow to be seconded by ‘Not by planning to, but by a flow’. What is that place where he goes to? And for what is the point of our deliberation. The sweet flow of idea and thought bewitches us with its musicality and mysticism as for the things said in a poetic garb of colloquial diction, but in a modern idiom of expression which goes it in a parallel way. After tumult, commotion and clamour, the lull is necessary to repose in. Free thoughts come to in a free mind. Vacant hours are also needed for vacant reflections as the horizons, landscapes and vacuum matter it in Mahapatra’s poetry. What do the silences say in? What the quietude? Sometimes one needs to repose in reflection. One thought leads to another, one reflection to another, one deeper thinking to another and as thus the door of dreams keeps unfolding. Jayanta Mahapatrian doors of dreams are also alike for to lapse into broodings and dwell far. Mahapatra’s door poems open up new vistas and avenues of thought and idea and reflection in his prose-work, Door of Paper.

Who is a poet? Who a philosopher? Is the poet a philosopher? What is poetry? How the language of it? Is poetry metaphysics? We think about all that after reading this poem, after perusing to split it for meaning and explanation. The poem is just like the Yeatsian poems dealing with the myths and mythicism. What is the psychology of mind? What the metaphysics of matter? What the spirit of soul? What is this life? What is this world? Where to go? What it to give shantih to the soul? How to understand them? And in poetry, he discusses it heart, spirit and soul, mind, mass and matter, geology, metaphysics and psychology.

Let us see it differently with a poetic reference from Edmund Spenser wherefrom something can be extracted.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
"Vain man," said she, "that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise."
"Not so," (quod I) "let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name:
Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew."
– Edmund Spenser in One Day I Wrote Her Name

We do not know if there can be a poem like Philosophy which is but in a simple and lucid style of poetic expression, but the meaning is very deeper to be delved into unraveling the darkest myths of mankind and the world, the creational myths and truths of life and living which but we know it not nor aware of. How was the world created? How did life come out? What the history of man and earth? What about the history of time? Who to say about the myths of light and darkness?

The philosophy of Philosophy poem, how to put it, as the text is itself more lucid and lyrical, philosophical and metaphysical to discuss. A few of the people can interpret in such a way the poet has done. The metaphysics of the world, none can explain it, as the hidden truth lies it unrevealed. The myths of creation is but a mystery so are those tales of the world and life. That is why he too likes to reject that clarity of thought clearing the false perceptions. But where to go? This is the reality we all have to accept.

A man cannot live without philosophy as likes to confide in thinking sometimes and it really invigorates the self-enlightening with knowledge and wisdom, thought and idea. This is but one side of the picture while on the other there lie in the snares of the world to be engrossed in. Philosophical things are no doubt meaningful, but something also it teaches us the experience which man has learnt from time to time, in age to age. It is true that cold logic clears the things, un-layering the stuffs from their cover and coating, but the things will remain as they were, they will continue to be so in the future too hence there is no need of discussing them as all those discussions will come to naught. So, it is better to keep them, let them unexplained. What it cannot be explained, explain you not. Why to be engaged with?

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
– Matthew Arnold in Dover Beach


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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