VIEWS ON POETRY AROUND THE WORLD
I always believe and it is a reasoned belief, that poetry like every thing else is the same all over the world wherever there is human society. I agree with Archibald Macleish when he says; “poetry is poetry in all tongues… a poem in one language is comparable with a poem in another, for both are poems”. It is of interest to note that the Arabic writer Ibn Qutaiba in the 9th century AD says in his book of “poetry and poets” “god has not limited learning and poetry and eloquence to one age rather than another, not distinguished one people thereby above another, but has made it a joint heritage among his servant in every age…”
If we examine the poems of different languages of the world which everyman educated in poetry ought to, we find that a poem has universally more or less the same characteristics in every language. By and large the principle characteristics are common to all of them. The Indian scientific Literature on poetry, which is the only body of such Literature available in the world, agrees on one point regarding the technique of making a poem. That is –the language of poetry should be different from the common language and that it is should have suggestive power rather than limit itself to the ‘referential content’ of the language.
It is only in this context that Indian poetics used the words like ‘chamatkaar’ and ‘vakrokti’, for which it is difficult to find synonymous words in other languages to explain their meaning; they have been discussed at some length in the other pages of this notebook. This attitude or outlook on poetry, which the Indian poetics projects us surprisingly true in the case of the poetry of all the languages of the world. I would like to string here the statements of all possible authorities on the subject in different languages, to make the feeling of surprise more explicit.
Although as early as the 3rd century AD. In China Lu Chi attempted to explain the technique of writing poetry, I omitted him from the list of scientific literature on poetry because Lu Chi’s work, Wen Fu, approached the subject entirely poetically, dealing with what a poet’s mind does and what things a poet should choose to derive inspiration etc. The whole thing reads like almost beautiful poem in itself and distinctly lacking in that scientific approach which is seen in the Indian poetics and also in Aristotle to some extent. However Will Durant places before us informed scholarly opinion on the subject in his ‘The story of civilisation’. Referring to language of poetry he says:
“Since abstractions multiply with civilisation, the Chinese language in its written form has become a secret code of subtle suggestion with concentration, and aims to reveal, through the picture it draws, some deeper things invisible. It does not discuss, it intimates; it leaves out more than it says; and only an oriental can fill it in”.
The last sentence brings to my mind A.B.Keith heckling the Indian Dhwani in his history of Sanskrit Literature. Durant continues, “The men of old, say the Chinese, reckoned it the highest excellence in poetry that the meaning should be beyond the words, and that the reader should have to think it out for himself.”
Discussing about the soul of Japanese poetry, Geoffrey Bowanas who seems to have done considerable scholarly work on the subject, informs us as follows, “ To Japanese poet, it has always seemed preferable to suggest in vague terms, to symbolise rather than to express fully and plainly.” In another context he points out… “ The form was clearly one in which the less saintly poet was below his best”.
I will now turn to Arabia. As far back as 908 AD Iban Ul Mu’tazz said, in his book of poetics, “Real eloquence consists of the expression of ideas with the fewest words”. How exactly similar is this view to those mentioned before. Abu Hilal al-Askari, another Arabic author of poetics opines, “little if anything new can be originated in poetry, and that the only difference between one poet and another lies in his manner of expression”. This is the same as Vamana’s theory, which I was discussing elsewhere in this diary.
The origin of poetry, according to one of the highly intellectualised concepts of Indian poetics is explained by the theory, that a poem is seen and not made, for which a poet is to be a seer. “ Naan rishih kavi rityuktham, rishischa kila darsanaath.”(One who is not a seer cannot be said to be a poet; a seer is one who has vision). Much of the best of poetry in the Vedic literature and the subsequent epics comes exactly under this category. At this point, that profound mind of Jung knocks at my doors, his voice calling out. Jung considers symbols as primordial angels, first things. How true he is, is known only to the Indian mind which is bathed in the Vedic waters of Ganges and all that goes with it. In the blue skies of my inner world rises like a full moon, that “Riq” “deveem vaacha majannayanatha devaah.” the hymns of Mandookya Upanishad and the entire world of Tantras in which sounds, colours and symbols float with mixed faces. Jung says, these primordial angels cannot be contrived by poets because they are evolved out of racial memory. They can’t be manipulated in art because they are artefacts in their own right; cores of ultimate meaning about which, as about bits of ancient metal dropped into castle wells, crystals of immeasurable meaning have gathered. They are magnets of the soul fallen like meteors out of eternity.” African poetry had its commencements exactly in the same way. Frances Herskovite who did appreciable work on African poetry informs us of the African conviction that poetry comes in the form of songs into the heads of those initiates in a state of possession, and are interpreted as the voice of the deity himself. Leopard Sedar Senghor explaining the concept of Negritude in poetry says, “In the field of arts the values of Negritude can be essentially summed up in the rhythm and the symbolic image. I generally define the Negro-African work of Art.. As an image or a set of rhythmical images. Symbolic image did I say. In Negritia, every work of art is an image-with-a- sign, with a signification.. Thus Negro-African poem is a network of ‘metaphors’. The meaning of the analogical image, however, is efficiently expressed-I was tempted to say elucidated-only by the rhythm,”
3 great French minds express views on poetry, which are like echoes of the theories of Indian poetics. Andre Maurois says “ A line of poetry is not a group of words having a set number of feet, but a group of words forming an entity and separated from the following group by an empty space in thought, as well as on paper. We think in successive leaps and the quantum thiery is true for thought. Writing prose, on the other hand is to attempt to cement a structure of thought, to fill in the empty spaces and to bind the whole together with a layer of logic. A line poetry, composed of a line and a n empty space, is the twofold action, that respiration by which man absorbs life and gives back intelligible words”.
Paul Claudel says as follows:
“The words that I use, they are the words of every day. And they are not the same… they are your very own sentences. They are none of your sentences, which I do not know how to make use of again. ……. And these feet are your feet, but see how I walk on the sea and how I trample, in triumph, the waters of the sea;”
This recalls to the informed mind the words of Jagannatha; “putraste jaataha,dhanam te daasyaami ithi vaakyaartha dhijanya ahlaadasya na lokottarathvam, ataha na tasmin vaakye kaavyatva prasakhtihi… chamatkaarathavathvameva vaa kaavyathvam.”(Sentece like a son is born to you, money is given to you, though are sources of pleasure, there is no uniqueness in that pleasure. That is why there is no poetry in those sentences. Poetry comes when you give a special twist to them by you genius.)
In the “Vritti” of Dhwanyaaloka of Anandavardhana, the stalwart of Indian poetics, the same view is expressed, “vyangya vyanjana kaabhyaam eva suprayukthaabhyaam mahakavitvalabhaha mahaakavinaam; na vaachya vaachaka rachanaa maatrena” (For great poets, great poetry comes by the skilled use of the suggestive expressions of language, but not by using its literal meanings, which is in other words the common language.)
And here is Paul Valery, another great French mind, poet and critic. He says. “ the writer must be master of various notes in the scale of expression so as to produce multiple effects. He is no longer the dishevelled madman who writes a whole poem in the course of one feverish night; he is cool scientist almost an Algebraist in the service of a subtle dream… he will take care not to hurl on to the paper everything whispered to him in fortunate moments by muse. On the contrary everything he imagined, felt, dreamed, and planned will be passed through a sieve, weighed, filtered, subjected to form and condensed as much as possible so as to gain in power what it loses in length….”.
T.S.Eliot says in his essay on Dante, “The greatest poetry can be written with the greatest economy of words…”(Chapter-2) Then Dylan Thomas who is a rage among the Telugu poets has similar view in the matter. He says: “ The best craftsmanship always leaves wholes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in.”
-Seshendra Sharma (--1927---)
Seshendra, I was most impressed by Paul Valery's summation of the job of poet:
He says. “ the writer must be master of various notes in the scale of expression so as to produce multiple effects. He is no longer the dishevelled madman who writes a whole poem in the course of one feverish night; he is cool scientist almost an Algebraist in the service of a subtle dream… he will take care not to hurl on to the paper everything whispered to him in fortunate moments by muse. On the contrary everything he imagined, felt, dreamed, and planned will be passed through a sieve, weighed, filtered, subjected to form and condensed as much as possible so as to gain in power what it loses in length….”.
What do you think of my own ideas that the poet must possess these three qualities: Insight, empathy, and the ability to communicate?
Dear Les! Hearty greetngs
It all depends on how one reads and understands a given text. One may agree or other wise. The calibre of the text is objectivley infallible.
this applies to paul vallery in toto. when you read the same text at a different point of time you may see something different and new in the same writing.
You are right. one of the vital vessels of blood of poetry is empathy.
It is oneness that a person develops with a situation or object that stirrs
strings of poetic feelings in him or her.
I think this is enough.
warm personal regards
Fate, give me any other ill you please:
I'll bear it gladly. But I live among
Men who are Philistines: do not mark me then
To be a poet, do not mark me, do not mark me.
(from the Sanskrit)
Thanks for the translations of the non-english,
I appreciate it. I like what you have to say. I like your
gathering together the strands of the world's poetry.
It's easy to miss the world view. The great Indian poet
above, seems to understand that a poet lives alone and
unread, in the company of Philistines (self interested people).
I wonder if it's that way throughout the world.
I treasure this forum. This sharing of our efforts with
those of common interests. Thank you for your efforts.