Any active reader must have come across the classification of a literary work in terms of its narrative, i.e. 1st person, 2nd person, so on and so forth. I believe this classification is an attempt from the readers’ side to categorize the text in terms of the writers’ chosen style for the narrative. A bold and noble attempt no doubt, the method falls short in two ways. Firstly, it is an attempt of the reader; of course any attempt to interpret a literary work will always be done by readers. So it is not an issue in itself, however the second shortcoming hinders the readers’ effort and leave a very thin chance (if any at all) of successfully interpreting the text, ever. It is the folly of classifying a text in terms of its narrative, which is analogous to classifying people in a party in terms of their attires.
The result of such a classification can at best be satisfactory for the superfluous and superficial eyes but to the inquisitions of an eager mind it provides no food for either the intellect or emotions, which I prefer to call thoughts and feelings, respectively. So I would like to humbly propose a similar classification of literary works (poems for now) in terms of the narrative but neither from the readers’ side nor from the narrative’s attire but its content. Just like in a party an individual can choose to wear eastern tops with western bottoms, a literary work can also be a mixture of the three categories proposed below. Unfortunately, I am merely a poet (that is why I am limiting the scope of the classification to poems for now, until extended with active help from writers of other genres), no grand academician. So, my theory (if it can be called one) will surely lack the finesse of diction and haughtiness of a pedantic air. But I leave the judgment of its validity to the audience.
The first of these types can be called ‘a collective narrative’, which is meant for the ‘occupied’ readers. An ‘occupied’ reader is someone scheming through the text without any effort to feel or be related. It is the text’s duty as much as it is the readers’ to motivate themselves to reach the next level of understanding. If and when a literary work does that, it is of the second type, ‘an individual narrative’. In this level the readers become ‘focused’ from their previous state of being occupied (elsewhere); for these readers the same narrative, which was collective for the occupied ones become an individual one. They are lured into a mutual sense of relation with the text. All ‘occupied’ readers can upgrade themselves (either by self motivation or from the words of the text) to become ‘focused’ readers. One key thing to note here is that an individual narrative is also a collective one. However a collective narrative might not succeed in becoming an individual one, occasionally in want of ‘focused’ readers but mostly for the lack of literary depth in the work itself.
This brings me to the third and final kind of narrative, which I call ‘a poetic narrative’. It is the rarest kind of poetry written by any poet but all great poets have left copious amount of such poems for the world to muse upon for centuries and millenniums. However, even ‘focused’ readers will not be able to enhance themselves to the level required for a reader to interpret these texts at their entirety. These narratives are for the contemporary and future poets. I believe it is the dream of every poet to produce at least one ‘poetic narrative’ that would withstand the test of time and be timeless. Of course a ‘poetic narrative’ will have multiple ‘individual’ narratives and numerous ‘collective’ ones. In brief, it’s like 1 ‘poetic’ expression can bear the meaning of 3 ‘individual’ expressions and perhaps as many as 30 ‘collective’ ones.
I know the discussion so far felt oddly barren in lack of any examples to support my proposal. Well, I wanted to conclude with one example, which I hope would exemplify all the arguments I have proposed here. The last phrase of one of my favorite poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley is this,
“… If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
An ‘occupied’ reader will see the portrayal of a natural phenomenon (that of one season’s following another) into a beautiful expression of wit. They will also revel at the juxtaposition of a barren season with one signifying plenty and perhaps wonder at the poet’s insight which enabled him to come up with such an expression. But that’s the most an ‘occupied’ reader can do. On the other hand for the ‘focused’ reader the same lines will be a reminder of their own winters and seek the attributes of Spring in times that followed such dry, barren and chilling phases, perhaps even encourage them to face the next onset of winter! However, for the poets the same expression will be the spark and as Shelley himself prophesized in the poem, will be a clarion call to ignite the poetic fire they have inside and become each a burning pyre of their own feelings and thoughts.
Thanks a lot for bearing with me!