Perspectives in Literature

Perspectives in Literature

So, what is a poem? Many renowned poets have provided us with equally varied qualitative definitions of poetry but quantitatively a poem (or any work of literature for that matter) is a collection of words. However, this view hurls back the question, what makes a journal entry of travelling and dining expenses or a to-do list different from a literary work, both being collections of words? The answer is as apparent as it is confounding; the difference lies in the meaning the collection of words conveys.
 

For example, we are all more or less familiar with a to-do list but consider the following one,

Replace Anton Drexler as the chairman.
Attempt the Beer Hall Putsch.
Become the Chancellor.
Enact the Reichstag Fire Decree.

It becomes immediately obvious that the above is anything but an average person’s to-do list. Now under the title, “Adolf’s To-Do” the above collection of words can be called a poem, for not only the set of words paint a staunch picture of Hitler’s initial rise to power, it also predicts the outbreak of fascism in the later years, that culminated in the diabolic blitzkrieg and heart wrenching holocaust.
 

Now, if a poem is a collection or set of words, what does it mean! It is apparent that an image made out of millions of tiny red, blue and green light emitting diodes on the television screen, means more than those lights mean, either individually or combined. The same is true for any work of literature as well; the collection of words ought to mean something greater than the words in the set can mean. Accordingly the above list means more than being the chairman of a political party or the chancellor of a country or the enactment of an oppressive law. In retrospection, it presages the onset of the Second World War.
 

At the same time, just like a single word has connotations along with what it may denotes, a set of words also has a sensual meaning and an intellectual one. The difference between these two meanings has been aptly explored by Charles Lamb in his article on the tragedies of Shakespeare, through contrasting the former one, as conveyed by a performer on the stage with the latter, as imagined by an avid reader, going through the text of the play. For my future arguments’ sake, I shall term these meanings as a. sensual perspective and b. intellectual perspective. I hope the synonymous nature of “meaning” and “perspective” requires no explanation, for what something means to someone is in the end what that something was perceived by that person.

 

The above discourse makes us curious because the creation and interpretation of both these perspectives happen in the conscious part of a human mind. So we are left with the question, what was the subconscious part of a poet doing when the conscious part was busy composing the poem. This article proposes a hypothesis that tries to provide a satisfactory answer to the question posed above but not before issuing a general note of caution to the esteemed reader. It goes without saying that the author of this article is not an academician. He is more akin to an illiterate poet than to a man of letters. What I propose here is what I have observed while reading poems and inferred by the dint of my less than adequate reasoning faculties.
 

What I have observed, both in the works of my contemporary poets and the old masters, is that the subconscious part of the poet’s mind is also highly active during composition. Like an ethereal bird it unfolds its wings from the dark crevices of the mind and rises up. Without being too obvious to the composer, it rises up and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs in the poem being composed, for other poets to find and explore.  I say for other poets because I believe these breadcrumbs remain hidden from any occupied or focused readers’ views. For an elaborate explanation of these different kinds of readers please see one of my earlier posts, “A New Classification for Poetry
 

For an example let us consider the word ‘Autumn’. What does it signify – Ripeness and completion or decadence and degeneration? So, whether the poet has associated the word with the former or the latter is a possible breadcrumb for other poets to investigate. If sincerely explored, these breadcrumbs will furbish the poem with yet another perspective along with its sensual and intellectual ones. Let us call this the psychoanalytical perspective.
 

Now, before concluding I would like to point out one of the key features of this perspective. Generally speaking, the trail of breadcrumbs in a poem remains invisible to the composer, unless reviewed in retrospection at least 5 to 6 years after the poem was composed. However, to an observer, free from the subjectivity of the composer, having glimpses of the trail happens to be lot easier. This is one of the reasons why a great work of literature is interpreted in myriad ways and also a prerequisite for any work of literature to outshine the stamp of time in order to achieve the classic status.

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A New Classification for Poetry

A New Classification for Poetry

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!

A Sad Tale of Love

Dedicated to Aashita Wason, a friend and fellow writer

Does life have a purpose, a meaning, hidden beneath the surface, just waiting to be unearthed? If there is such a thing, how can we know about it? Do we have the means to discover what we are supposed to do with our life or does the purpose reveal itself as we tread on the sinuous path of life, shedding our divine innocence along the way? So often I have seen, what seemed to be the only reason for living at the previous turn has become grossly undesired and insignificant too, before the next turn even appears on the horizon…

As I stroll down the ravished, bruised and swelled stretch of my past, I can see her face adorned with those wild, melancholic eyes that sparkled whenever they used to meet with mine. It feels so real that I have an overwhelming urge to reach out with my fingertips and touch the familiar softness of her skin. Sadly though, she cannot be here I know, for she has not only left my place but also the country and even the continent as well. The fact that once even an hour’s separation was unheard of, let alone imagined, seems nothing but a fairytale.

I have often wondered, why! Why do I still love her with all my heart and existence? I have no doubt that she loved me too, unless her eyes were lying for all those years. Still, why I could not be with her for the rest of my life with these words, avowed – “Do us part till my final breath!”? I wonder, what, in fact, went wrong!

Perhaps an overabundance of Love itself was the greatest folly of our love! The way human hearts tend to feel and express those emotions, vary from person to person and the spell from Cupid’s arrow is no exception, either. This inherent subjectivity of Love, I think, infused her heart with a shadow of indifference, as she repeatedly complained about her feelings not being reciprocated, accordingly. I knew it was not so but could not convince her because the ways of my love were different than hers, as they should have been and would ever be. I guess she chose to depart, unconvinced, in the end.

I had so often sworn that my life would cease to be without her presence beside me but then she was gone and I am still alive. I wonder, if I should be embarrassed for not dying when she left but then I think, perhaps what transpired since then has not been a life at all, for me!

From Her to the Heavens

As I see her wreathing like a serpent
beneath the heat of my venomous breath,
I can feel, at last, God has given me
my precious wings back, so now I shall fly
and I will not come down until my wings
can no longer carry the burden of my soul…

I’m waiting for the breeze to take away
the sweat brewed on my forehead as I
stabbed at her with protrusions from my heart,
eyes, ears, nose and skin that burned with a silent glow…

Now I’m dry and ready to spread my wings
to soar the transfinite depths of the sky,
so let me pledge my humble adieu to worldly things
and then towards the heaven I can start to fly!