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Jul 27, 2015

Poetry, What Is Poetry?

Poetry, What Is Poetry?
Bijay Kant Dubey


Poetry Written By The Song Writers, Metaphysicals, Augustans, Romantics, Romantics, Victorians, Decadents, Georgians, Moderns, Modernists, Post-moderns/
Poetry imagistic, symbolical, urban and contemporary, eco-centric and digital/
Poetry of the hollow man

Poetry, what is poetry, how the elements of it, what the sources  and how the expressions, who can but ever determine it? Various scholars and critics from time to time have expressed their opinions and thoughts, views and ideas in their own way as for to delve in and to define it, but it is not within their reach to conclude with regard to poetry and its origin. What is poetry? How to define it? Where does it originate from? Whatever say you, we are not going to contradict it as because there is nothing as that to be said with certainty, which but know you, know we. Poetry is poetry simply, the emotions and feelings almost the same. The opinions will keep varying from man to man. What a romantic believes that a realist may not take to, what a realist believes that a humorist may not as the perception varies from man to man as per their taste and liking. Poetry is the criticism of life or for aesthetic pleasure, how to conform to it? For some, poetry is songs and lyrics and for some, poetry is religious psalms and hymns. For the first the lyrists are required while for the latter the devotional hearts will suffice to do it. Under the caption songs and lyrics, lyricality, spontaneity, natural expression, beauty, charm, rhyme and rhythm are taken into consideration to be a successful writer. As for religious poetry, devotion and dedication, divinity and piety are quintessential. To be a man of divinity and virtues is to be a man of a different sort. The heart is like a temple and the beauty we perceive is pied beauty. Such a feeling does not come to all the time and for it the heart has to be pure, free from all that maligns it. If one is not godly and virtuous, one cannot think in such a way.

Thoughts and ideas do not remain the same as human feelings and emotions keep changing.  It is also true taste and tenor changes when the stereotype bores one or the trend continues for so long. Similar had been the case with the Elizabethan sonneteers and lyric-writers who gave way to religious and divine verses and from the amorous and the metaphysical, poetry swung to classical poetry and the satires.  The metaphysical will take poetry in their own way to indulge in the amorous and the divine. But the neo-classicists take to poetry differently. Perhaps the change in taste sometimes takes to a different domain of delving and that is why in the negation of the prevalent theological and divine discourses, the poets of such a period take to satire, humour and criticism. The other thing may be it that the standard too might have fallen.  So, in the absence of devout and divine poets, religious from within, sacred to the core of heart, they turn to skepticism looking in askance. Why religion all the times? What is God? Where is He? Human ugliness, vice and sins tempt man and gets committed to sinning. The inns do not remain the inns; the pilgrimages turn into farce.  The empty stomach too cannot take the name of the Lord for so long. The word-play with terse and Latinized diction, artificial and ornamental takes the stage from the metaphysical and the poetry f the age turns neo-classical. The third thing is this that all are not metaphysical, many like it not, as they understand it not, what it is in metaphysics. The fourth is this that too much of metaphysics, theology, cosmology and religion and divinity bores us too as because we are the creatures of this world and we have live here.

It is natural that one trend and tenor does not last for long and it keeps changing. So are the times of man; the ages showing the time-spirit and the time-span. After a long engagement with satire and humour as their chief properties, jokes, funs, puns, humours, satires, jibes, caricatures, scathing attacks, double-speaks and ironies fail to restrict human mind. The practitioners  turn to romance, romancing with fancy and imagination, paint and brush and colour.  A return back to Nature imprints the mind of man otherwise as the fresh breeze blowing and refreshing it all seconded by the slogan of democracy, equality and fraternity, appreciation of simple life and living, the shepherd girl and the country in the aftermath of the industrial revolution preceding it or in succession.

When romanticism as a movement too appeared to be on the wane, the Victorians too came up with their ghettos and taboos, conventions and modalities. Already annihilated by scientific and sociological thoughts and ideas, seemed to be depressed with and the personality split between faith and doubt inflicted them too much and they felt the crisis within. The diseased self bewildered mechanically and technically talked of making the machine, giving life to exasperated man and promised of creating new, lengthening the expectancy of life which was but a sign of discovery and exploration rather than vexation. Again decadence started in with poor presentation and they lost the way failing to keep track of, but they can never be ignored. The Georgians tried their best to rescue the scene with their efforts and attempts and as thus heralding the advent of modernism afresh, emboldening the stance into the field of poetry. Whatever people say about Walter de la Mare and John Masefield, but they were no less than and were great, great poets. 

Modern poetry full of modern tendencies so varied and wide in its spectrum and dimension tells of an age and time so complicated and complex in thought, idea, image and reflection that it cannot be fixed at all what the norms and fixtures around which the modern poetry will revolve. The modern age is an age of comfort and luxury; science and technology; development and growth; expansion and addition; economic stability and solidity. The modern age is an age of discovery and invention, widening of avenues, sociological, economic, financial, adventuresome and constructive. Well-connected by road, rail and airline, the modern thought of conquering time and distance and conquered too, but the world wars frustrated the efforts and man felt miserable before the fusion and fission of the atoms, human loss and casualties, collateral damage and destruction. Today we read the war poems in the history of English poetry, but the soldiers never thought of dying and they expressed through the lines of the hope for living rather than, not intended for poetry at all, but for life and this living which is so precious more than poetry. What poetry cannot give science and technology can. First, life is important and then poetry.

As the modern age covers the whole millennium,  the whole of the twentieth century with its start from 1850 and onwards so it is very difficult to assess it in stricter terms and it is confirmed that there are so many isms and tendencies into the realm of modern English poetry with so many exponents and originators of poetic styles and clich├ęs, trends and tenors doing the rounds.  After the world wars, the horror and terror almost spent, trauma and tribulation could not be dispensed with. Hence, the poetry of the thirties, the forties, the fifties continue to take the space and come to us decade wise. Poetry changes in writing written before and after 1950; poetry written before the world war, during the inter-war period and in the post-war scenario will definitely vary from. The atom bombs were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima and those two Japanese cities slumped to swirling heat and dust exposure, smoke billowing and suffocating, almost turning into the mounds of earth, which but America could not understand it then. Wailing sirens and shrieks deafened it all and it finished what it was good in them. It was not merely Japanese imperialism, Nazi or Fascist dictatorship or autocracy, but British colonialism which but brought the world to such a brink of disaster and tragedy. American diplomacy too appeared to be shrewd and cleverly rather than helpful in bailing out. What could the French Revolution give to? The Reign of Terror is the answer with the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife. Similar was the consequence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Revolution. The Czar and the Czarina were executed painfully. None could feel about the diasporan Jews and their sufferings. Such a pain one felt it again in the caravans of refugees coming and going in the aftermath of India’s partition. Kashmir was partitioned, so was Bengal as were Korea and Germany and Yugoslavia.

Modernism linguistically strides along the modern, the modernist and post-modern lines. The modern poetry is simply modern from the start phase of modernism or what it is that makes it so in content and expression. The modernist actually refers to the imagists in the early years of the twentieth century and it is intriguing indeed.

In the aftermath of the spent force and the defusing of the cold war impact, the stars’ war programme and the nuclear stockpiles, Mikhail Gorbachev’s declaration of glasnost and perestroika helped us irrespective of blatant and radical Leninism, the world changed from polarization, the notion of being with or not to be with the axis or allied forces and in a liberalized world of globalization, liberalization and privatization, roamed and breathed we like the free birds under the open spaces accessing it all without any restriction or binding.     

The modern age had been an age of power, electricity, speed, building and construction; medicine, engineering, science and technology. Initially, it had been of the radio, the telephone, the cycle and the watch. Had the scientists not solved the food, housing and health problems, had we been modern? Had small pox, plague, cholera and typhoid been not checked and diagnosed? Had the Caesarean operations been not carried our successfully, what would it have happened? The pregnancy deaths used to humiliate the feminine race and cut across life frequently. Had the textile, dairy, agricultural and other problems been not solved, could we have been? Modernism and modernity is not a matter of poetry simply, it refers to the whole of our living. Had the stainless steel and the plastic things and the polythene, resin and other items been not discovered, could we have been? Polyester yarn has added to the longevity, durability of clothing.

But today in the age of telecommunications and video-conferencing, the television and the audio-visual contact, the mobile and the computer application, things have changed drastically and shrunken to a mere globe in hand. Saat samudras does not matter it; travel and tour destinations seem to be welcoming us. The telegram and the type-writer have gone out of use.

In the age of internet posting and website opening, putting up of blogs and computer prints, how will be poetry, is the question perplexing us from our end? Will the manuscripts go out of use? Perhaps the writers will upload and post them instantly without revising them. The analytics will tell about the visitors, the statistics of the readers. Who reads poems now-a-days? None, but the poets read it themselves. They write as well as read the poems of others; they themselves are the readers and the writers and those who are not read them not without any purpose.

Sometimes think we that life on this earth will come to a stop abruptly and everything will be annihilated hereon. Global warming, climate change, environmental pollution, ecological disaster and so on are threatening our existence seconded by acid rain, atomic summer, population explosion, deforestation and radio active material. Nuclear moratorium, we have not thought about that so far as how to bury the nuclear wastes? The Chernoyl nuclear tragedy narrates it woefully how did the people vacate it the long stretch of land with the winds bolting and opening the doors themselves, the school children affected with coming out of the schools at noon with the bleeding noses and mouths? How to save life on earth is the alarming question which perhaps has no answer to offer? Are we so close to extinction? So, keeping it in view, we need to be eco-friendly rather than poetry-friendly? Many a flora and fauna is on the brink of extinction. Genetic cloning is the last hope which can at least save them. But if the poets think it that they are more valuable than the cloning and fertility scientists, it can never be acceptable to us. Science or poetry is the case of debate? Only poets are not creative, but the mathematicians, scientists, biologists, engineers and technologists too are equally.          

Nuclear holocaust does not frighten us today, nor the stockpiles, arms and ammunition, but the terrorists triggering unmindful attacks, bombarding and exploding mindlessly. The fanatical suicide bombers they will detonate the live bombs to blow themselves away and others too keeping in view the targeted killing. They generally strike the public gatherings as for a collateral damage. The world today has greatest fears from the fanatics and terrorists, fundamentalists and the religiously blind people. Religious fanaticism is a type of blindness which blocks from clear reasoning and we fail to distinguish light from darkness. Terrorists are misogynists; man-haters. Communal harmony, peaceful co-existence, human love and bonding and amity they cannot think of liberally with the cool and calm, the peace of mind.

Poetry of the hollow men talk we, re-live we, the hollow men as the poets and critics of our society, modern man as the hollow man. The abnormal people of the abnormal times are they living and writing in their own way. The urban and city-bred people, they have nothing to think about and brood over; they are the people of the modern age and times. From the lifts they go up and come down to their flats high on the square buildings. The cemented periphery their own circle from which they cannot move about as they are dependent on men and machines. The air-conditioned rooms, things of luxury and comfort, tours and travels, outings and parties are the tidbits of their talks. The shopping malls, plazas, parks, cyber cafes, picnic spots, five star hotels, flats and skyscrapers the talks of theirs and they cannot without please, thank you, goodbye, see you and other forms of etiquette.  Life spends too much on the gesture of on saying please and this is what makes us sophisticated and polite.

There are different ways of writing poems. As far as modern poetry is concerned, many take to broken lines  and statements as for poetic expression. Half-said, half-expressed words are taken to be as poetic statements. The poet as a Marxist rebel not, the Maoist prototype too not, shooting the Tiananmen Square student movement not, but crushing them brutally instead of quelling peacefully, which ultimately led to the ouster of the sympathetic Zhao Ziyang who was demoted and purged for the atonement. The poet may be a myth-maker or music-maker; an image-maker or portrait-maker and poems can be images, photos, paintings or portraits; thoughts, ideas and reflections.  

What is poetry? Poetry is images, ideas, thoughts, opinions, views, pictures presented lyrically in stanza patterns with the content or context of delving; side by side poetry is broken lines and broken statements presented meaninglessly, evoking the rhythms of life, gasping and panting for breath in busy cities and towns, metros and mega cities. What is poetry? Poetry is music and idea mixed together with, image and reflection, thought-content mixed with word-music. He range and dimension of poetry is vaster than as it is all-encompassing. A mythic man will write mythical poems while a singer of heart will keep singing the songs of life. A Nature lover has the ingredients of his own, the blue skies, meadows, wilds, forest-tracts, flowers, rivers, lakes, mountains, hills, cattle and solitary landscapes. A book of poems can be an autobiography in verse or the story of life. A poem can be a memoir, a souvenir, a memento.   

Today we like to talk about the Partition poetry, Dalit literature and diaspora literature, but one should keep it in mind that there is nothing more tragic than this painful Partition ad poetry can be no match to it, but instead of we love to paint and portray the scenes. Can someone’s tragedy of living and personal loss be used for getting name and fame? For example, the books on Bhopal gas tragedy have just benefitted the authors, not the victims. Dalit literature is like American literature, the Black and White counterpart. Though literature ahs nothing to do with Dalit or un-Dalit stuffs, but instead of human indiscrimination in any form be condemned. Tagore’s Chandalika is one such one-act play taking the matter under its perusal.   

Poetry of life, poetry of the world, talk we, discuss we to clutch along many a tidbit, chit-chat, the metaphysical, cosmological, theological, religious and divine; sociological, histriographical, musicological and archival; archaeological, sculptural, archaeological and architectural; economic, financial and societal; social, abstract, artistic and aesthetic to cover up the all, science and technology without which modernity could not have been achieved, leaving it not behind even any spectre or leaf of thought, idea and reflection.

Poetry, the range and dimension of it is very vast. Gandhi going attend the Round Table conference in London, the half-naked India fakir, in dhoti, kurta and specs, will it not interest you? Poetry about Abraham Lincoln, will it not? One can definitely paint and portray a picture of his in words. A poem can be about the injustice meted out to Eklavya, the forest boy by cruel and callous Dronacharya just for favouring the royal Arjuna, blackening all the gurus, teachers. Karna’s pains, the world could not feel it? Kabir’s pains, who has but?

Poetry is photography; poetry is imagery and you making images in the studio of art. Poetry is pantomime and you trying to mimic man and his manners. Poetry is, when seriousness bores us or classicism puts pressure on, humour and satire regale us to keep in the right spirit. Poetry is in the art of humorist; poetry is in humour, the art of satire. One may caricature to regale us. The comic too has the importance of own. But ironies keep cutting across and the doublespeak inculcates wit and conceit. The goggleswalli a Bombayan heroine in the making is the case in hand.  

Poetry normal not, abnormal, delving deep into he layers of consciousness, psychic and psychological, talk we, discuss we; this abnormal living of ours, mechanical and technical, devoid of healthy ways and standards, living abnormally, growing abnormally under impoverished and improvised situations and circumstances of life. The poetry of the maniac man, the hysteric, talk we, discuss we, the modern as a mad man babbling under the tree in rags and tattered clothes. It is malnutrition of the underdeveloped countries, the poor child lies it with the big bulging belly or sucking the breast of the poor sickling mother whose skeleton one can see it easily. The poor child sucking the breast of Poverty the Mother, already a sick and poor mother, both of them suffering from malnutrition, is but an oft-seen scene of life poor countries. The maniac man locking and re-locking the door to check it whether it is locked or not is  the other example.  

Man-woman relationship is the other spectrum to be explored, to delve deep into the dark layers of consciousness. It is a story of attraction and repulsion, give and take, flesh and blood relationship. The yogi not, but the bhogi is the things of perusal. Sambhoga to Samadhi, sex to bliss, is the theory of Acharya Rajneesh and the sadhu with the sadhvi, the sadhu not, but the bhogi is there in the ashram piping in ganja. Yoga is yoga, make it not bhoga, as some yoga gurus are defaming it in America. The frescoes carved in stone on the walls of Khajuraho and Konark themselves are the best to express erotic love-loving, sensual and sensuous enough, flesh and blood attachment and affinity carved in stone. Poetry can be Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra in terracotta figurines or sculptures carved in stone. Confessional poetry contains the bits of it and it van be seen in Sylvia Plath and Kamala Das. Maybe it that dissatisfied love is there in Kamala Das and she a dissatisfied Lawrentine heroine. Thomas Hardy too is a hard drinker and a seller of the woman as he narrates in The Mayor of Casterbridge and he himself married a teenaged girl at the age of seventy plus.

The ships and the sails are the topics of John Masefield as William Wordsworth was of Tintern Abbey and The Westminster Bridge and W.H.Auden of the island imagery as it is also there in Dylan Thomas’ Poem in October. The Sea Fever of John Masefield is better than that of Coromandel Fishers of Sarojini Naidu. Such a thing it is there in Tennyson’s Ulysses and Joseph Conrad.

Jul 22, 2015

Modern Indian English Poetry And Its Exponents

     Modern Indian English Poetry And Its Exponents
                                                   ----Bijay Kant Dubey

Modernism in Indian English poetry has not started all of a sudden as because it has taken time in developing and branching out not in the aftermath of India’s independence, as the kernels of it lie in previously written in the pre-1947 period. Had the Western impact factor been not, could we have been? If this be so, why could we not discover the countries of the world as Walt Whitman sings of invention and discoveries in his poetry? Tagore had been here; Aurobindo with Savitri was working on the books of transcendental meditation and love divine conquering death mythically under the influence of Mirra Alfassa. Sarojini and Harindranath all were on the Western track of modernism. Nissim Ezekiel, Purshottam Lal, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki N.Daruwalla, Shiv K.Kumar, Adil Jussawalla, Kamala Das, Shiv K.Kumar, Dom Moraes, Pritish Nandy, Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, etc. are the poets of the new age who are put forth as the harbingers of modernism in the history of Indian English poetry, but the modernism we talk of is not of India, but of England and Europe. The editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India C.R.Mandy too had not been satisfied with the quality of verses put forward by the so-called modern poets of ours then. Before talking modernism in Indian English poetry, several things need to be taken into consideration. Had the electricity been not discovered, the time and distance won, utensils and accessories been not developed, we would not have been modern. Let us mark at the inventions of day-to-day use without which we shall regress into the dark age. The watch, the radio, the cycle, the telephone, the telegram, are the things to have ushered in. Had there been slates, chalk pencils, note-books not, what would it have happened? Had fact and fiction, logic and reason not contradicted, intercepted and interfered with blind faith, what would it have happened? People would have gone mad religiously, fanaticism would have taken over them and they would have lost the power of reasoning. This modernism has not come to India all of a sudden and we have taken time in to be modern obviously. Only Indian English poetry has not given the base of it. It has come to through inter-action, intra-continental relationship, observation and comprehension. V.K.Gokak and K.R.S. Iyengar as the critics or the poets too were present then watching it all. But apart from something remained left out and the India of a vaster range, dimension and spectrum they could not. But there is something to be said with reservations. Shiv K.Kumar’s fame is on the wane. As a poet he is concerned with the body; flesh and blood. A poet of mundane values, he is neither metaphysical nor religious from his core. Had Shiv K.Kumar written the biography of David Daiches, it would have been greater than his poetry work. Kumar is intellectual and pontifical. His Ph.D. from overseas cannot help him in adding to his poetic verve and warmth. Kamala Das is not the Radha, but the Draupadi of modern Indian English poetry. Pritish Nandy is a romantic; a poet of love, mature or immature. We do not know it if he is a false romantic or true. Arun Kolatkar is a Marathi artist going on a pilgrimage to Jejuri, not Geoffrey Chaucer.  Arun Koltkar, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Adil Jussawalla and Dilip Chitre are the birds of the same feather, appearing from Clearing House jointly. C.D.Narasimhaiah too struts as a literary theorist, but is not of the rank of B.Ifor Evans,W.H.Hudson and James Reeves. Nissim too had not been so famous as he is now when Indian English poetry got a booster in the Honours level from the eighties onwards. Before that none knew him as an Indian English poet and there existed something like modern Indian English poetry. We started taking it seriously the U.G.C. made it mandatory the career advancement scheme and the Ph.D. a must for promotion and the peer teams suggested to include in portions from Indian literature in English. Virtually, Indian English poetry is of the twentieth century and old Indian English poetry a study in dusty racks and wooden alamirahs of olden books rarely used in and appreciated. Frankly speaking, habitual reading and compulsion to read has endeared them otherwise the trivial verses of the Indian English poetasters please us not and we take it not too in good sense. From this reading sense, Indian English poetry is but a study in derivative, parodied and copied stuffs. There is nothing as original; everything but imitated, copied, borrowed, derived, drawn from, parodied and recycled. It is better had we translated our good texts and treatises of vernaculars and modern Indian languages. As for Indian English poetry section, books of poems are not prescribed, but the poems and that too from the anthology of ten poets written by R.Parthasarathy. But our question is, will there be no poets after them? Perhaps from the mute silence one can perceive it  ‘no’. There may be, but they will be the media-propped and cropped images, Vikram Seth, Tabish Khair and so on.

It is our mistake that we have not studied Adi K.Sett so far who comes before Nissim. For this we shall have to dust the racks of national libraries, would have to visit the old book shops, the stalls of second-hand, used and resold books. It was also a notion then that English is of the English and the second-language cannot as the mother-tongue speakers can. The other was, where will recognition come from, India or England? Even we not at all interested in reading Sarojini and Aurobindo. Many of the so-called modern Indian English poets are not still modern as they speak in vernaculars at their homes and their wives are rustic Indian wives rather than the English women who understand it not English.

Nissim Ezekiel (1924-2004) is one of those poets who are credited with the advent of modernism in Indian English poetry which but we are not sure of as because then there had been no takers or buyers of such a theory. Even Nissim copied, parodied and imitated the Elizabethan sonneteers and lyric-writers to model his love poems adding the metaphysical tinge as seen in Marvell and Donne. A modern poet, he was of the post-1947 period, the post-fifties, the post-independence period, as he started writing from then, a Bombayan city dweller of cosmopolitan Bombay. A Time To Change (1952), Sixty Poems (1953), The Third(1958), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Name (1965), Hymns in Darkness (1976), Latter-Day Psalms(1982), etc. are the books of poems. Nissim is on the overall a poet of irony, joke and humour. To caricature and humour is his job. But is a minority boy. A minority community persona and protagonist, he knows it not ancient India, the glorious past of it, the heritage and culture, historicity of tradition and ethics. Indian thought and culture he could not comprehend it.  He is a modern poet of modern culture, city-dwelling life and etiquettes, manners and ways. A.G.Gardiner’s ‘On Saying Please’ is the thing of Nissim Ezekiel.  Nissim is in the best a picnicker; a honeymooner; a cinema-goer. To visit the theatre and the art exhibitions; to see cabaret dances pleases him most. He is a goodbye man bidding ta-ta, bye-bye, see you again, waving the hands. A poet of handshake, but shaking not warmly, is Nissim, a modern hollow man grinning and chuckling within, an ironist using doublespeak, criticism and humour. Poetry to Nissim is bird-watching; love-making.

Purshottam Lal (28 August 1929 – 3 November 2010) is not only a professor who used to teach at St.Xavier’s College, Calcutta, but is also the founder of Writers Workshop, Calcutta in 1958 which introduced many a poet into the realm of Indian English poetry. As a poet, even though he negates the influence of Aurobindo, he is a romantic and that too a faded one and apart from being a promoter, he is an apt translator of the Mahabharata in English and this is really an astounding achievement of his creativity. Lal’s poems do not give satisfaction, but instead of, there is something in them to relish upon. His smaller poems finally tend to metaphysics which he wanted to keep away from citing Aurobindo and his shadows.     

As for Jayanta Mahapatra (1928-), his books have come big and small press, as such Close the sky, Ten by Ten, Dialogue Publication, Calcutta, 1971, Svayamvara and Other Poems, Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1971, A Father’s Hours, United Writers, Calcutta, 1976,  A Rain of Rites, University of Georgia Press, Athens (USA), 1976, Waiting, Samkaleen Prakashan, New Delhi, 1979, The False Start, Clearing House, Bombay, 1980,Relationship, Greenfield Review Press, Greenfield, New York 1980, Life Signs, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1983, Dispossessed Nests, Nirala Publications, Jaipur,1986, Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1987, Burden of Waves and Fruit, Three Continents Press, Washington, 1988, Temple, Dangaroo Press, Sydney, 1989, A Whiteness of Bone, Viking Penguin, New Delhi, 1992, The Best of Jayanta Mahapatra, Bodhi Publications, Calicut, 1995, Shadow Space, D.C. Books, Kottayam, 1997, Bare Face, D.C. Books, Kottayam, 2000, Random Descent, Third Eye Communications, Bhubaneswar, 2005, The Lie of Dawns: Poems 1974-2008, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2009, Land, Authorspress, New Delhi, 2013. While reading Mahapatra it seems to us as if we were reading physics and its chapters on light. Though he has come of age, his poetry is a study in images which continue to shift and pass on. Poetry to Mahapatra is a look into the Oriya landscapes; the Orissan view of life, cartography and mapping; poetry to Mahapatra is blank sheets upon which impressions keep generating automatically and deciphering. A poet of Jagannath Puri and Rath-yatra festival, he tells the tales of Orissa, its temples, gods, sacred spots, art and artisans; the Olive Ridley turtles, crocodiles, water bodies and herons; the fishermen, fisher girls and the seacoasts. The poor fisher girl as a persona strikes us deeply in one poem of his where he brings out a pathetic story of hunger, how human hunger can be? We appreciate this picture of poor India. This is his Christian point of view. It is also a fact that once hunger and scarcity of food, drought and famine maligned the soul of India while on the other cholera the other time which but find an express in Jayanta and Daruwalla respectively. To read Mahapatra is to be reminded of sun-burnt solitary muddy villages where hunger did the naked dance and to be reminded of the hearths burnt from dry leaves, wooden logs or cow dung cakes. Poverty, un-employment, illiteracy, backwardness, unculture, superstition and underdevelopment are the things of the far-flung countryside. The veiled and nameless wife telling not the name of her husband also has to say a lot in this connection. The Konark Sun-temple in all its architectural splendor and magnificence with the  sculptures carved upon displaying an intrinsic stonework tells of our heritage and culture, thought and tradition which the poet uses as a motif in his poetry. Jayanta Mahapatra is first all an imagist and his poetry a study in imagery and image-making, this is what forms the first-hand image of his. A physicist by training who learnt physics, read and taught in the classrooms, he could never think of poetry until and unless he turned forty. But there is not an aspect of his poetry. His poetry is multi-dimensional and of a wider spectrum of delving. He is a dreamer and a visionary. An Oriya he is first of Orissa then an Indian, of anywhere else, a poet regional, national and international at the same time as were D.H.Lawrence in his description of Nottinghamshire and Thomas Hardy of Wessex. A romantic, he romances with the solitude doing the rounds in the country; the space hanging over. He is so abstract that meaning is not there in between the lines; means it not what he means to say. At the same time he is terse, difficult and complex. Existentialism, nothingness and agnosticism draw him close to and his verses border on the fringe, edge of nothingness to bewilder and distract. He is called a poet of Orissa as for the Orissaan images and references, as such the rivers, lakes, hills, cities, tourist spots, picnic places and others. Sometimes hunger strikes him, sometimes sexuality twitches him. He is also a poet of mornings, noondays, twilights, dusks, evenings, night-times and midnights.  The history of Orissa he has not forgotten it; the defeat of Kalinga. When will it rise again? He keeps thinking about. A poet of silence, he sometimes conspires with. The summertime loneliness and the coastal silence provoke us otherwise. As a poet, Jayanta is eco-friendly and feministic, sometimes barely realistic.

Daruwalla (1937-) has Apparition in April,1971, Crossing of Rivers, 1976, Winter Poems, 1980, The Keeper of the Dead, 1982, Landscapes, 1987, A Summer of Tigers, 1995, Night River, 2000, The Map-maker, 2002, The Scarecrow and the Ghost, 2004, etc. as his collections of poems. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his book named The Keeper of the Dead in 1984. Collected Poems (1970-2005) has appeared from Penguin, India in 2006; Two Decades of Indian Poetry (1960-1980), published in 1980, is his edited volume. Daruwalla is hard and tough. He  does the tougher talks in his poetry and is very hard of heart. The poet as sentimental being is not the thing of his, but the most unsentimental one. The revolver speaks the language of poetry in; the fire and the shot. Poems going off as the shots of fire from the revolver of Ted Hughes is the thing of Daruwalla.  He is first a Parsi man. Secondly, he is a policewallah, a policeman, an IPS, that too of the DIG rank and the Additional Director of the RAW. Thirdly, an M.A. in English with which starts the journey from. As a poet he is a craftsman; verbose and bombastic, to pick up obsolete and hard words is the job of Daruwalla. Tragedy is his love; international relations the passion to absorb and his is a myth from foreign lands. The Jacobian dramas, the Greek tragedies, Shakespearean plays are perhaps the first love of Daruwalla as he keeps reverting to Aristotle’s Poetics. The dramatic monologues of Robert Browning can specially be mentioned in this context as he keeps track of dramatic talks. The curfew-clamped towns is the scene of the poem, vengeance, anger, malice and revenge burning within, the moments tense, rumours flaming the fire and as for irate mobs to be controlled, police patrolling the affected areas so that it escalates not, tension lessens down, brews it not more and the military men parading the lonely streets with the street dogs passing through and the windows and doors shut down. Daruwalla likes this; loves it more. The other scenery of being the flood-affected areas, flood waters rising and rising and swirling, taking the areas under its cover, inundating it, flowing dangerously above the danger level, low lands lying under water, everywhere water, water, water, drowned and submerged, villages in the midst of, some livestock swept away and after the waters receding, the sight is different, the stench coming from, a trail of death and destruction to be marked. The third is that of the Kahar caste people, palanquin-carriers taking the palanquin not with the newly-wed girl wife, but the cholera patient to a distant health centre. Daruwalla is a poet of the wolf, the tiger and the hawk. 

The missing man of Indian English poetry has produced so far four books of poems, as such,  Land’s End(1962), Missing Person (1976), Trying to Say Goodbye (2012) and The Right Kind of Dog and he is none, but the same Adil Jussawalla. The poet wants to say goodbye to poetry, but has failed to bid. A poet of the stitched partition people, he tells a saga in verse, full of painful parting and separation. Jussawalla is a partition man writing bout the partition people; the caravans of refugees in camps bearing so many pains. Jussawalla is a poet of Eklavya as his heart bats for this forester boy. The great royal Mahabharatan guru Dronacharya cannot win the admiration of his. The island activity with the breeze blowing over recomposes him too as well as tells the histories of the land otherwise.    

We know it that Summer in Calcutta is the representative collection of Kamala Das (31 March 1934 – 31 May 2009), but the summer she describes, what summer is it? The poem has nothing to do with summer. Maybe it an orange squashed into a glass tumbler taken into; a glass of cold sherbet to cool down and to rejuvenate and this is not enough to say it. But in reality she is a protagonist of summer siestas and sweating relationships. Kamala is but a nautanki girl and her poetry a study in nautanki. We doubt it if she is a disciple of Acharya Rajneesh? Or, maybe it she is a modern lady reading Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra. If this be not, she is a dissatisfied woman character of D.H.Lawrence. Sex is the joy; pleasure of Kamala. She is only for love, bodily love. She is a desperate woman desperately after sex. Her picture is just like a modern woman in rosary and devotion, appearing to be a yogan, but is not, an ashramite of the Rajneesh ashrama. Summers and gulmohars are the two sides of her poetry. Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967), The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973), etc. are the books of poems which have come down to us from Kamala. As a poetess, she is feminine and confessional no doubt. But the charge of sexuality levelled against her cannot be shrugged off and she is Lawrentine, Freudian, Rajneeshite, Vatsyayanite, Plathian and Hardyian. Maybe she is the heroine of The Mayor of Casterbridge of Thomas Hardy and if this is not, she is obviously Clara of Sons and Lovers of D.H.Lawrence. Hers is a trauma and living of man-woman relationship, obsession with the beaten body, possession the boredom.  My Story, who hears her story? Poetry to her is an Alphabet of Lust. Her voice is one of feminine angst and bewilderment, pain and pathos, tragedy of living, but how to get rid of, as this is a perennial process of the Divine? We can understand, feel it the voice of protest, anger, but what to do with? The tears of the woman’s life none has come to understand it when the night frightens with the howls of stray dogs and foxes, even the shadows moving with. The ghost of possession leaves her not behind. The guru too is not a guru, but a dhongi babaji. The yogi too is not a yogi, but a bhogi. Kamala too appears as a yogan, but is not, a modern-day lady in the rudraksha rosary.

Gieve Patel(1940-) with his publications Mirrored, Mirroring (Poetry in English), Oxford University Press , 1991,How Do You Withstand, Body,  (Poetry in English), Clearing House, 1976, Poems (Poetry in English), Brought out by Nissim Ezekiel, 1966, has come a long way, but the fact is this that he is a poet not for poetry’s sake, but different allied interests. As a poet, he has not so many in his credit and even when he had not, he was famous as a poet. Why are some famous and why some not? We cannot answer it. Just on the basis of two books he got a place in M.K.Naik’s history while many of the pre-independence time poets remain unbibliographed. A poet he is of the physique; of the body, doing a clinical surgery and also the post-mortem, exhuming too for a forensic report. A practicing doctor, he is a Parsi by faith. Human body for dissection and anatomy is the thing of his poetry.

Arun Kolatkar (1 November 1932 – 25 September 2004), isn’t he himself the kala ghoda of modern Indian English poetry? Humour and irony are the things of his poetry and he says all that with a pinch a salt. With a Marathi heart and soul, he sings of Tukaram and Chaitanya. His visit to Jejuri is all about the pilgrimage to a sacred shrine but in the light of scepticism. A graphic artist, he is at his best a visualizer and he visualizes in his poetry. A study of it annihilates faith rather than emboldening it and this no doubt forms the basis of his poetry. Bare realism is the greatest truth of his poetry. He is a Marathi poet crowding the pages of English poetry with his pictures, images, ideas and symbols. Faith and doubt form the basic crux of his poetry. Arun is not a poet scholarly, but mundane and doubtful, skeptical and ironical. Even if he visits a temple, he will with suspense and doubt within. As a man, he is not a good man, but a critical fellow. Having taken eggs, Kolatkar is thinking, should he worship in the temple of Jejuri or not? Jejuri is a dharamshala poem, all about staying and passing time in an inn on the way to pilgrimage, but his heart is not pure from his within? His failures and divorces have turned him into a sceptic. Arun is but a ragpicker of thoughts and ideas.

Arvind Krishna  Mehrotra (1947)  has  Middle earth, 1984, Three crowns books. Delhi: Oxford University Press,Nine enclosures, 1976, Bombay: Clearing House, Distance in statute miles, 1982,Bombay: Clearing House, The transfiguring places: poems, 1998, Delhi: Ravi Dayal Publisher, Collected Poems 1969-2014, 2014, Delhi: Penguin India. Mehrotra with his white long beards does not make out too much though fame comes to him knocking at the doorstep. A Lahorian, he heads the English Deptt. of English of Allahabad University. Critics say he is surreal, works at the consciousness level, marking the external and the internal, trying to corroborate language and experience, but the things are not clear-cut. What is surrealism? Why to call him post-modern? Is it that he fails as a poet for his propaganda of surrealism and post-modernism? Actually chit-chats, tidbits of the conversationalist take the poetic space of these poets calling unconventional and modern. His white and long silvery beards and the silver plate of the balding head and the looks given from the spectacles are more surreal than his poetry. What connection and continuity does he talk about afresh?

A woman-lover, a drinker, a chain-smoker Dom Moraes (19 July 1938 – 2 June 2004) is not an English poet from England, but a Goan Christian from India whatever be his perception with regard to it. None made him aware of it, everyone went on praising for all that. Instead of being an Indian, he posed like an Englishman in India. He lived in England, but returned back to; married and divorced rather than being a good father and a husband.  A Beginning, his first book of poems published in 1958,  Poems, his second book of poems, John Nobody, his third book of poems, 1965, Beldam & Others, a pamphlet of verse, 1967, Absences, book of poems, 1983, Collected Poems: 1957-1987, 1987, (Penguin). The influence of the insane Catholic mother of Dom too has devastated his career and he got misled in life.

Pritish Nandy (15 January 1951-) is a multi-dimensional personality of multiple choices and interests now. Success is on the footsteps of his. Lady Luck smiled upon when he was in Calcutta and he came into the touch of P.Lal and he groomed him. Born in Bihar’s Bhagalpur in a Bengali Christian family, he came to Calcutta to take his education from La Martiniere and Presidency College. A poet, a media personality, he is an artist, an animal activist, a film producer, a journalist, a critic, an editor, a translator  and what not. Apart from all these, he is also a member of the Rajya Sabha as he knows how to do politics, the politics of the poets, to be into the corridors of power, how to come into the media limelight, stealing the shows from politicians. Pritish Nandy as a poet is a lyric-writer and that too of an independent temperament and his poems are lyrics, the lyrics of life, pouring from the heart, taking their forms with a movement of own. Whatever it comes to, he writes, puts down on a piece of paper. But there is something to be said with reservations that his collections are very thinner presentations. A few pages give the picture of one book, how can it be?  Of Gods & Olives (Calcutta/ Mexico City, 1967) 32pp, Writers Workshop, On Either Side of Arrogance (Calcutta, 1968) 32pp, Writers Workshop, I Hand You in Turn My Nebbuk Wreath (Calcutta, 1968) 16pp, Dialogue/ Writers Workshop, From the Outer Bank of the Brahmaputra (New York, 1969) 38pp, New Rivers Press, Masks to be Interpreted in Terms of Messages (Calcutta, 1971) 48pp, Writers Workshop, Madness is the Second Stroke (Calcutta, 1972) 56pp, Dialogue, The Poetry of Pritish Nandy: Collected Poems (New Delhi, 1973), Riding the Midnight River: Selected Poems (New Delhi/ London, 1974) 144pp, Arnold Heinemann,Dhritarashtra Downtown: Zero (Calcutta, 1974), Lonesong Street (Calcutta, 1975) 32pp, Poets Press, In Secret Anarchy (Calcutta, 1976) 38pp, United Writers, The Nowhere Man (Calcutta, 1976) 32pp, Arnold Heinemann,A Stranger Called I (Calcutta, 1976), 48pp, Kavita/Arnold Heinemann, Tonight, This Savage Rite/ With Kamala Das (New Delhi, 1977) 55pp, Arnold Heinemann, Anywhere is Another Place (Calcutta, 1979) 48pp, Arnold Heinemann, Pritish Nandy 30 (Calcutta, 1980) 30pp, Kavita/Arnold Heinemann, The Rainbow Last Night (New Delhi, 1981) 48pp, Arnold Heinemann, Again (New Delhi, 2010) 104pp, Rupa Publications, Stuck on 1/Forty(New Delhi, 2012) 124pp, Amaryllis. The launch of the new book Stuck on 1/Forty is a talk of the return of the poet after a two-decade hiatus. Keeping literary pursuits at bay, he moved away to journalism, holding parleys with television and media as did Jussawalla and Moraes for to be a journo. A writer of the best-sellers and music-makers, Pritish plays with emotions, the emotions of life, with passions, the passions of life. The beats, pulsations of heart go catching the rhythms of life, the heartthrob of life stuck into the city centres and he strives for impressions, the impressions of life. of Love, sensual and sensuous, is the thing of his poetry; the scent of the fair sex, jasmines stuck into the hair, the face with a make-up, cosmetics applied on and he smelling the princess in love. Pritish can always be seen in the search of his heroine the girl with a golden voice striding along, Premkumari (Miss Love), Roopkumari (Miss Face) by his side inspiring him to write the poetry full of love, romance and lyricism. He uses in a special typography, breaking the prose passages into stanzas of poesy resonant with sound and meaning, image and idea. Though he takes to the pains of Mira as his own, but his is a media baron’s heart.

Shiv K.Kumar (16 August 1921-) as a poet is a late bloomer, an academician turning to poetry-writing late in his life, that too on the threshold of almost fifty intellectually, laboriously, how can it be, we think about? But his too has happened and he is a poet of mark, whatever be our assessment of his poetry. A modern poet, he has various collections brought out from time to time from different types of press. He too is an associate of P.Lal’s Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Articulate Silences,Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1970, Cobwebs in the Sun, Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi, 1974,  Subterfuges, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1976, Woodpeckers,  Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1979, Trapfalls in the SkyMacmillan, Madras, 1986, Woolgathering, Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1995,  Thus Spake the Buddha, UBSPD, New Delhi, 2001, Losing My Way, Peacock Books, New Delhi, 2008, Voice of Buddha: A Poetic Transcreation of The Dhammapada, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2008. ‘Where Have the Dead Gone? And Other Poems’is the latest collection of the poet in which he reflects over death and the passage of time which leaves none.

A.K.Ramanujan (16 March 1929 – 13 July 1993) published The Striders in the year 1966, Interior Landscapes: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology in 1967, Relations in 1971, Selected Poems of 1976, Hymns for the Drowning in 1981, Poems of Love and War published in the year 1985 and a lot more. A.K.Ramanujan as a poet is a sociologist, a folklorist, a Dravidian man, a South Indian, a Kanadiga, a genealogist and what not. An ironist, he ironies it all, using in doublespeak, overtone, undertone, sweet pinch, pun, fun and humour critically. He will say something and it will mean the other. To criticize and comment ironically is the job of the poet. Ramanujan is such a poet in whom the horoscope-maker, the pundit, the astrologer, the fortune-teller, all have their says. Ramanujan is a poet of master strokes and the sweet punches. To send ripples of laughter is the chuckle of Ramanujan and he tends to with his trickery and tactics; to twist and turn the statements. The family album with the old and new photographs is the property of the poet and he recreates the images with his cutting jokes. The father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, servant, dog, cow and even goat crowd the pages of his for a poetic penetration. Even if he makes a portrait of himself he will with the convex mirror.

R.Parthasarathy (1934-) who hails from Tamil Nadu, South India is a poet not of exile and alienation, separated from one’s own ethos, history, thought and culture, but of the return journey as did they come back from London, Nissim Ezekiel and Adil Jussawalla and lastly Dom Moraes one by one with the retreating steps of their own. A poet with his roots lying strongly in the south takes to poetry in his own way. Before joining the Oxford University Press as its Regional Editor based in Chennai he taught for a few years in Bombay as Lecturer in English. He also worked R. Parthasarathy has translated the old Tamil epic, The Tale of an Anklet: An Epic of South India (Columbia University Press, 1993). He has taught Indian literature at Skidmore College. A poet of Tamil identity and entity, he tells of his ethnicity, roots, myths, motifs and beliefs. Rough Passage is the single work which has given fame to him and he recounts his journey back home from Leeds where he had gone to study and the things of his attachment taking him to the search of the self and native roots. His linkage with Delhi, Bombay and Chennai he cannot discern it. Parthasarathy can say the story of his life in verve.

Keshav Malik (5 November 1924 – 11 June 2014) too is no less than Arun Kolatkar, an art critic, an artist and a poet, he sees the things with his artistic vision and penetration.  The Lake Surface and Other Poems, Rippled Shadow, Poems C, Negatives, Shapes in Peeling Plaster, Cut-off Points, Storm Warning, Between Nobodies and Stars, etc. are the works of the poet. Poetry comes to Keshav through the artistic vision and aesthetic sense. We have fear that he will turn poetry into some art.                                                                       

Had somebody translated Suryakant Tripathy Nirala, Jayshankar Prasad, Maithilisharan Gupta, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and others, it would have been great. Had we Raskhan, Mirabai, Kabirdas, Tulsidas, Vidyapati, Jayasi and other medieval time poets, it would have endowed us with the wealth of its own. Even in so-called modern Indian English poetry, we just read down the evolving poets and poetesses, who have actually grown from the beginning made in the anthology and credo of P.Lal.  But Lal’s work of that sort is just a beginner’s book and here we can see how had they been the moderns of today. They were just in their initial stage; beginning to write.

Even today there are three to four types of poets and poetesses into the realm of Indian English poetry, one is of the independently-published poets, another of the small press brought out, another come through prizes, contests, competitions, draws, another category of journal-appearing ones. Some have got the favour of the critics, some have not. Frankly speaking, Indian English poetry is a study in minor voices and slender anthologies; a one-book Ph.D. matter. Here the books are not analysed, but poems are picked and paraphrased. Many of which mean they not at all. Most of the modern Indian English poets and poetesses whom we read them today were not what they are now. There were no takers of them then. Most of them are but self-styled poets and poetesses.

Jul 15, 2015

Anglo-Indian Poetry


Anglo-Indian Poetry, Indo-English Poetry, Indo-Anglian Poetry, Indian Poetry in English BY
Bijay Kant Dubey
They debated it long ago, still it is, put forth and countered as well simultaneously, what is it in essence, Anglo-Indian poetry, Indo-English poetry, Indo-Anglian poetry, Indian poetry in English or Indian English poetry, which but a few have questioned, known it and tried to answer it correctly, as because what it seems to be is not. Leave it Macaulay’s minutes and lectures, what did he say or remark about the Indian vernaculars or the national language of importance as they were colonial people serving for a purpose as the agents of the trading companies and the British Empire? Anglo-Indian entity starts with the seldom settlement of the English in India, barring colonial purpose, but they could not keep in their identity as they did in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Caste, creed, society and class appeared to be an aberration, embarrassment and the medievalism hung it so heavy over that turned they superstitious, backward and uncultured as for poverty and misrule, living in fear, darkness, fear and suspense during those days of the raid, loot, plunder and invasion of India by the foreigners. Secondly, the heat and dust could not make them settle, the varied and variegated dimension and spectrum of the every-place varying Indian climate and the domains exotic and alien and impregnable even for the natives. The inhabitants and natives of one region never could they dare to know others or go beyond. The dietary habit too hindered from as the upper class desisted from taking beef and pork. India had not been India as we see it today, but a sub-continental syndrome. A bundle of contradictions, contraries and aligning somehow, misinterpreted and taken to comprehension was it. Indo-English connection refers to an exchange of thoughts and ideas as it seems to be a mutual relationship. Indo-Anglian is actually a term used by K.R.S.Iyengar. P.Lal who had been a mediocre too turned it into a common man’s agenda; commoners’ poetry and his Writers Workshop a factory of poets and poetesses. Great poets did not come out definitely from his press. Only the poetasters, rhymers, non-poets and the commoners writing trivial verses and perfecting it; the so-called latter-day masters and managers of trivia.What it marvels us is this that only his friends are the modern established poets and poetesses of today who have but come of age and have evolved in due course of time. They kept searching the lane of every capital, with the words, supposed to be, is there a man writing in English, is there anybody who knows English? But never did they give a chance to those dwelling in far-flung cities and villages of India; the Indian villagerly maniacs wanting to be Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth imitatively.

Before calling them poets and poetesses, practicing writers of Indian English poesy, we would to seek to draw to the fact that without reading or going through the texts, we mean the English classics and works, how can they be called poets? How could they have? One should keep it in mind that Derozio too was under Scott, Byron and others. Toru too is no exception to it. She too suffers from Anglo mania.Tagore himself has not stated it whose influence is it that hangs over him? How has he drawn from? Tagore’s works are studies in translations. Had Tagore not gone through the Bible and the poems by Browning, could he have? Another charge against Tagore is this that he shakes of the influence of Kadambari Devi as Pt.Ravi Shankar did to Annapurna Devi. W.B.Yeats admired Tagore’s Gitanjali, wrote an introduction to it, but never could he the criticism of Yeats’ poetry. Aurobind’s Savitri seems to be a Miltonic version of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained apart from Vedism, Upanishadism and Puranic studies lurking around. Aurobndo too is a self-published poet as his works have arrived from his Pondicherry Ashrama and he has written in imitation to them. The theme may be Indian, but the style is alien. Many of his poems appear to be Latin and Greek texts. Whatever be that, his is a Latinized diction intermixing to a sublime hybridity, sometimes fails in coming to a nicer fusion.

What is Indian in Indian English poetry? How the base of it? Who the poets? How the poetical themes employed in? Indian English poetry if there is anything like it is but an off-shoot of English poetry; world literature in English, a part of Commonwealth matter. Had it been so, there would have been the dialects of its own to nourish and nurture the branch language as the colonial hang-over naturalized with the settlements of own, but there is nothing like that. The English never did take it as their home and chose not to settle in. Even if they, came to propagate Christianity in the tribal belts, attracting the weaker sections of society. English is neither spoken in any home or village of India. Even in the towns and cities it is not. But the English strove in connecting India; in chartering the course of it through the schools, colleges, offices, bridges, dams and so on. Let us think had the train been not, the bus or any method of transportation, what would it have? Had the hospital been not, what would we have? Malaria, plague, cholera, small pox and typhoid would have wiped Indian villages and faith would not have cured them all. The Christian doctors really served them. Had the post-office, the telegram and the telephone been not, what would it have? Electricity and modern appliances helped us. Our mud houses could not let us to be modern. Villagerly India, exotic and inaccessible, definitely benefited from modern usage and modules.

What is Indian English? There is nothing as Indian English. King’s or Queen’s speech is not our language. It depends on the native speakers how they use the language learnt laboriously. There are so many dialects and languages in India and the speakers of those use the language in their own way. Bihari English, Bengali English, Oriya English, Assamese English, Punjabi English, Haryanvi English, Cchatishgarhi English, Gujarati English, Marathi English, Sindhi English, Kashmiri English, Himachali English, Tamil English, Telugu English, Malyalam English, Kannada English, how to do with such a variety of speakers using the language for communication and linkage? The people from the north-east too use it for an exchange of thoughts and ideas. In the past the Indians used to apply in grammatical English, written English as for hesitant communication. But today in the age of the television and the mobile phone handset, they are using in spoken English. Bhojpurian English reminds us of Nissim Ezekiel’s Gandhian patriot speaking in broken English, but Bihari Bhojpurian English more blunt and rough and tough. A few of the Bhojpurian English knowing are placed as rustic professors of linguistics and phonetics in not the undergrad, but the post-grad departments of English. They speak English putting Indian paan into their mouth with a hypocrisy and ego of their own. These are not the varieties of the English language, but to show it how the people of the linguistic groups such as Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Chinese, Dravidic and Austro-Asiatic use it under the shadow of the speech defect of the native source. It is also a fact many know English well, but fail to speak in English and those who fluent in, many of them not so well up in writing.

If you sit to read Indian English poetry, poetry not, verse, you will be hurt to mark it that there is nothing as standard in it. Everything is but derivative, substandard, copious, imitative and puerile. We call them great moderns? Are they really? In comparison to modern English poets and poetesses, they are not at all what hey seem to be. Is there any work like that of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems? Is there anything like Tennyson’s In Memoriam? We do not know it. Even by Jayanta, Daruwalla, Nissim, Kamala, Arun, these have not come down to us. Arun Kolatkar’s poems too are not good and standard poems. P.Lal too is not a standard poet, but his publicity is too much.  We do not know it if Lal, Ezekiel, Mahapatra, Mehrotra and others are Ph.Ds. though they may be creative writers. The birds of a feather flock together is the case with the band of P.Lal and his orchestra. Even the first-poem writers too have got place in the first anthology of Lal brought out as a collective venture and edited by him and a political science professor named Raghavendra Rao who too has turned into a poet.

The modern Indian English poets are the hollow men writing poems in English. Jayanta Mahapatra’s base too is one of physics, not of literature. Sometimes he blurs us with his images and word-play. Light and darkness chapters of physics endow him with the flashes of poetry and he evaluates in the light of this all. The words lure us magically, but repetition and meaninglessness disturb us too at the same and we claw for meaning, which is but immaterial in him, bordering on the theme of nothingness. We search for meaning and paraphrase, but it comes to naught. A poet of the sea and silence, he enlightens us. The earlier verses of his had been weaker quantitatively. A poet of Oriya space, he clutches along regionalism, nationalism and internationalism. Sometimes we feel it within that his poetry is for the foreigners to enjoy as he tells the tales of hunger and poverty in a flimsy style of writing. Nissim too is one from the minority community and that too a Maharashtrian Ben-Israeli. So, it is natural Indian karma and dharma will not cast an impact of its own on him. Bereft of Indian thought, culture and philosophy, spirituality, religion and ethics, theology, metaphysics and cosmology, morality and didacticism, myth and mysticism, he will tell of something different from these. The Vedas, the Upanishadas, the Puranas and others are not the things of his studies. He is a poet of Bombay and the Bombyans; the urban space and urban values, tea parties, love marriages, cinema-hall meets, outings and goodbyes.  Why is Vikram Seth so famous? What is it new in him? We do not know it. A student of economics, he is conventional in his format. His first book too saw the light of the day from Writers Workshop, Calcutta.

Actually the theme of Indianness bails it out, the question, what is Indian in Indian English poetry? At the hint of the Englishman which Edmund Gosse suggested to Sarojini, the theme of Indianness has come to its rescue otherwise nothing would have bailed it out. This very question also saves Nissim though questions him in the right perspective as for what is Indian in his very Indian English poetry? To read Kamala’s poetry is to get the foul smell of a billy-goat. It is better to observe the sculptures in love and relationship carved out on the temple walls of the rock-built temples of Konark and Khajuraho rather than reading her verses; it is better to go through Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra.

Indian English poetry is short of classical texts and treatises. Can Kamala’s texts be called classics? Kamala’s are not a study in classicism, but amorous and erotic romanticism bordering on the fringe of sexuality and sexual dreams. A poetess of thin matters, slender poetical texts, hers is a study in sensuality and love and sex and its dreams. She is not well-read as well as scholarly, but a trite fiction or thriller writer. The body is the canvas of her writings. To do nautanki for the media glare is the job of her.  Kamala seems to be a disciple of Freud, Lawrence and Rajneesh. We not know if she has read Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra or not. We do not know it if she has visited the Konark Sun-temple and Khajuraho or not. Shiv K.Kumar too is sexual and bodily rather than endowed otherwise. Kolatkar is no writer of The Canterbury Tales though we have heaped praises over him. Mehrotra too has not come through. Most of the modern poets and poetesses are but the minor voices swapping their places and positions. Modern Indian English poetry does not represent the whole of India; it is just a study of P.Lal and his company. After becoming famous the modern poets are writing their swan songs and masterpieces just to save their prestige.

Indian English poetry is a study in poems, not in poetry books as because we get the poems of the authors in anthologies of poems rather than books. The books of the self-published poets remain out of reach once these are published as personal venture. R.Parthasarathy’s single anthology of ten poets cannot be the example of our long-time repeated research. His fame too as a poet rests on merely one book of verse named Rough Passage. When will he write his second? Perhaps he may not as because has become famous writing many urgently required for any standard recognition. What it is deplorable is this that we have abandoned many of the neglected poets of the per-independence period who at least tried to write and add to such a nondescript realm of writing. The problem with Indian English poetry criticism is this that the Indian English poet too is a no-man and the critic too a no-man, a no-man writing about another no-man whose whereabouts unknown and thereafter the poet goes missing. Even now one may not find the books of the modern established poets in the market as these are out of print

If one turns to Indian English poetry with a view to reading classics, one may not as because there is a dearth of classics and classical scholars. Classical scholarship is something different, not easily found and is rare now-a-days as because scholars like not to show and express loosely. The aroma of classical scholarship Thomas Gray and Matthew Arnold themselves can say about in An Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard and The Scholar Gipsy while T.S.Eliot see it in The Hollow Men and W.H.Auden in The Unknown Citizen .

The old-timers used to take it in a bad light. Never did they like and love to turn it over whatever be the praise of Sarojini Naidu who too was a shrewd lady drawing and deriving from British literature. Mahatma Gandhi was mistaken in calling her the nightingale of India. She is not a nightingale, but one of the cuckoos of India. One who has read and appreciated Wordsworth’s Upon The Westminster Bridge, Lost Love, Auden’s Look, Stranger!, John Masefield’s Sea Fever, Walter de la Mare’s Martha and others will not admire her so easily. Had she been not to England, what would it have happened? The poetry of Mira hangs heavy over her. Her love for Naidu can also be marked as she had been mad after him and married too finally barring societal taboos and constraints. Adolescence love is one of the strongest points of her poetry.

One thing one cannot deny it from accepting, modern Indian English poetry though not exactly modern, modernistic and post-modn as the English are is meaningless poetry and this cannot be called poetry, but verses if we pick the right word to express it. Today in this age of connectivity and linking, the mobile phone handset and the television, people are getting modern in villages. Still many are below the poverty line and are unable to take food and sleep on cots. If this be the state of things then how to call us modern?

Indian English poetry is a study in minor voices and slender anthologies. All and sundry, Jack and Jill, Tom, Dick and Harry, all are poets here. A crowd of so many, here lies the fear of being lost and to identity properly. The critical studies of it too are histories rather than something different. The historiography too is as such that Indian English poetry has flowed as a thin trickle of poesy down the ages. To cross over the “saat samudras” (seven seas) then was a social boycott and many of those who used to return used to get the head tonsured and a dip into the Ganges taken as for a cleansing, but the same as the diaspora poets are admired today. It is a matter of prestige to go to England or America or elsewhere and to return back home. Indian superstitions too wreaked havoc in destroying the sublime culture and tradition of it which were but a type of madness and mania.


Today the situation has worsened it all. All are after poesy, the lines of it, which but come to them not so naturally and spontaneously. These city-bred people just like their predecessors like to indulge in versifying and they write rhymed doggerels. Many of them edit literary journals just to highlight their poems and paper-publications rather than serving literature selflessly. One editor of a small journal praises the poetry of another editor in the exchange journals so that they can be highlighted mutually. Many small poets as university heads like to get Ph.Ds. on their poetry or the poetry of their friends registered personally or through the god efforts of their colleague supervisors. How can it be? Does morality not prick their conscience? Have they become so much moralless? Can they go to such an extent of degradation and fall in standard? Sometimes it has also be seen one editor writes an article on one’s poetry oneself and after writing it, attributes it to another subscribing candidate hailing from the other part of India so that one cannot doubt it that it is not by him and the guts lie in the fact to be shown that really someone has taken up his poetry for his paper-writing and promotion.

Jul 11, 2015

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner


MST-246: HEMINGWAY, FITZGERALD, FAULKNER

Lecture 17 - Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part II [October 27, 2011]
Chapter 1: Distant Home vs. On-Site Environment [00:00:00]

Professor Wai Chee Dimock: We're going to move on now and follow up on what we talked about last time, which is the sevenfold permutation.  It sounds kind of intimidating. But it's actually what we'll be talking about in the four classes devoted to For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Last time we talked a lot about voluntary versus involuntary association, including the idea of the involuntary foreigners -- that both Americans and the Spanish actually can be involuntary foreigners. The Americans – because of the simple fact that they don't have perfect command of the language, and also that they are recognizable as foreigners, as outsiders in their community.  But the Spanish can also be outsiders in their own community because of two things, because of print illiteracy, and also because of technological illiteracy.  In these two ways, both of them are stuck with some kind of involuntary association.

Today we'll move on to the next way to map the contents of For Whom the Bell Tolls. I’d like to think of it as an extended structure. Hemingway is a writer who not only starts out with a pattern, but keeps elaborating on that pattern.  In many ways, it really is a kind of a musical structure, theme and variation. And the paradigm of distant home versus on-site environment -- that actually is a structure running almost throughout the entire For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Plugged into that is a kind of play between the comic and the tragic. But really the main theme today, would be the relation between distant homes and on-site environment.  I have seven candidates for distant homes. One is inParis, which is very odd because already we're inSpain, a foreign country to American readers, yet there’s still another foreign country,France, which makes a cameo appearance.  And then there are five locations, both spatial locations and temporal locations in the United States that are the distant homes for Robert Jordan.

We'll talk about why each of them is involved, and the relation between that distant home and the immediate Spanish setting. But first of all,Paris.Pariscomes up in the context of Robert drinking the absinthe that he carries with him.  Right before that, he has asked for wine and there's not a lot of wine left.  Maria wants to give him wine, but Pablo says there's not much left.  He doesn't get to have the wine from the locals.  Instead he pulls out this bottle of absinthe.  Nobody there has seen this, so he tells us them that this is medicine.  The gypsy wants to taste what this medicine tastes like.

Chapter 2: Paris as a Distant Home [00:03:14]

"Robert Jordan pushed the cup toward him. It was a milky yellow now with the water and he hoped the gypsy would not take more than a swallow. There was very little of it left and one cup of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafes, of all the chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month, of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards, of bookshops, of kiosks, and of galleries, of the Parc Montsouris, of the Stade Buffalo, of the Butte Chaumont, of the Guarantee Trust Company and the Ile de la Cite, of Foyot's old hotel, and of being able to read and relax in the evening; of all the things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea changing liquid alchemy."

This is as beautiful a praise song to Paris as I've seen. But what is odd about this praise song of Paris is that it actually is not pointing to all the monumental tourist attractions of Paris, no Eiffel Tower in there, no Arc de Triomphe. Instead it is the chestnut trees-- actually they're horse chestnuts in this picture. But chestnut trees, all overParis, a common sight.  Kiosks, again, very common.  Parc Montsouris is actually kind of out of the way, and it's not very spectacular.   It's just a park.  This Stade Buffalo, I have to look it up, it might not even be there now.   It's a cycling track.

Then, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, it's also not-- I mean it's a nice park, but I don't think it's that famous.  It's more of a neighborhood park. It's on a hill.  There's this hilly structure. This is the butte that gives the park the name. And the Ile de la Cite is the island in the middle of the Seine. It's a very beautiful place. But once again, it is a neighborhood, rather than a major tourist attraction.  The Notre Dame cathedral is not there.   Finally, the Hotel Foyot, legendary, maybe, but it's also a place that you might walk by every day without paying much attention.

And that's really the main point: that all those names-- I don't even think it is Hemingway name-dropping, because those names actually are not recognizable to most of us --these are just the neighborhood features, the local features, of various Parisneighborhoods.  These are the things that people would walk by every day and just take them for granted.  That is what Parismeans for Hemingway. He did spend-- well, for Hemingway and also for Robert Jordan-- Hemingway did spend several years in Paris. He wrote about it in A Moveable Feast.

And he wrote very well in Paris. He said that he could actually write about Michigan best when he was in Paris. He said this in A Moveable Feast.  It was Hemingway's home in a sense that it's a place where a writer could write.  There really is no better definition of home. Home is a place where you can work without self-consciousness, where you have a work routine. And you can count on being able to produce something every day.  So it's kind of a minor variation on Hemingway's kind of total obsession with writing. You don't have to think about it. It's just there every day, and you can just do the same thing every day. So that is the security and the everyday-ness ofParis that is contrasted with the on-site environment, which is violent and unpredictable, and where he's so obviously a foreigner. Even though Hemingway was a foreigner in Paris, the fact that he was able to write so well in Paris meant that that, actually, the foreignness was bracketed by his very productive relation to his own craft. Here in Spain, it's a totally different relation.

We'll look at what comes after that invocation in his own mind ofParisthat is brought on by the absinthe. "The gypsy made a face and handed the cup back. 'It smells of anis but it is bitter as gall,' he said. 'It is better to be sick than have that medicine.' 'That's the wormwood,' Robert Jordan told them. 'In this, the real absinthe, there is wormwood. It's supposed to rot your brain out but I don't believe it. It only changes the ideas. You should pour water into it very slowly, a few drops at the time. But I poured it into the water.' 'What are you saying?' Pablo said angrily, feeling the mockery. 'Explaining the medicine,' Robert Jordan told him and grinned. 'I bought it in Madrid. It was the last bottle and it's lasted me three weeks.' He took a big swallow of it and felt it coasting over his tongue in delicate anesthesia. He looked at Pablo and grinned again."

We've seen how aggressive the locals can be when it comes to harping on Kashkin. This is a foreigner just like Robert, rare name, dead, who works the explosives. The questions from the locals is very well matched by what I would say is sort of the good-natured aggression, but nonetheless aggression on the part of Robert. These people know nothing about Paris. They've never been outside of Spain. They've never been outside of the local community.  It seems that some of them, many of them, have never been toMadrideven because these are the local guerrillas. They stay put in their own small community.

Even Madrid is in many ways a foreign country to them.  Robert Jordan, the American, knowsParis, he knows the capital ofSpain, he knows this liquor that they've never tasted.  He's fooling them into thinking that it's medicine. And he's drunk the last bottle of absinthe inMadrid.  A lot of this, just like the print illiteracy that he comes upon, that he just discovers without meaning to, this is his actively highlighting the fact that he is much more a man of the world than they are, and there's no competition. This is a very well traveled man just by the nature of what he's doing, he's well traveled.  These people are completely rooted in their own environment. Although -- I should also say that it is an entirely open question by the end of the novel, which is the better fate?  Whether it's the well traveled person who has a better future, or whether it's actually people who are rooted in their environments who have a better future?   I think it's very much an open question by the end of the novel.

At this moment though, this is the moment when Robert has his little victory over the locals. He's able to show them all the things-- highlight, dramatize to them-- all the things that he knows that they don't know. So the first invocation of a distant home has the effect actually of bringing out an edge to say the least. And Pablo certainly recognizes that-- an edge, a tension between Robert and the locals who are otherwise his comrades. They're on the same side of the war. It has a funny effect on both sides. It does something to Robert. It does something to the locals.

Chapter 3: America as a Distant Home [00:12:12]

And that's not even America.  Parisreally doesn't have any kind of special connotation, I don't think, to the locals, in the sense that Robert is not really never considered a Frenchman. But when it comes to invocation of the United States, it's a different story. They all know that that's something that he has a relation to.  In this sequence, we're starting out with the most benign, at least the most innocuous invocation of theUnited States.  This isMissoula,Montana, where Robert Jordan is from, and where he's thinking that he will go back to after war and that maybe he'll take Maria with him. And this is actually a good moment to think about exactly the nature of that romance between Robert Jordan and Maria.

"Why not marry her? Sure, he thought. I will marry her. Then we'll be Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jordan of Sun Valley, Idaho. OrCorpus Christi,Texas, orButte,Montana. Spanish girls make wonderful wives. I've never had one so I know. And when I get my job back at the university she can be an instructor's wife and when undergraduates who take Spanish IV come in to smoke pipes in the evening and have those so valuable informal discussions about Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Galdos and the other always admirable dead, Maria can tell them about how some of the blue-shirted crusaders for the true faith sat on her head while others twisted her arms and pulled her skirts up and stuffed them in her mouth."

I began by saying that this is relatively benign, but in fact there's no such thing as the benign invocation of the distant home in Hemingway. Even from beginning to end, there's something very odd about the tone of that invocation. The first part of it is-- the first little bit of it about going back to all the cities that were kind of the heartland of America, and then the particular job that he had. He was a professor at the university teaching Spanish. And kind of the joke about people coming in, informal discussions, I would say that actually is kind of a benign irony in the sense that we all tend to be ironic about things actually that we are quite attached to.

I noticed yesterday. I was talking about a writer that I love who writes about food. And I said, she's cornered-- she has two books out on food-- and I said she's cornered the market on food writing. And the person who I was talking to really looked at me. But I actually love this author. But that's just my way of not being too attached, showing some critical distance. So the first part of that is just the kinds of the typical professional irony towards something that you really actually do want to go back to and have some yearning for.

But in the midst of that, Robert just can't stop himself from importing something else to that otherwise benign environment.  So we’re made aware, ahead of time, that Maria was once raped. We have no idea when that happened. This is Hemingway's way of telling the story, giving bits and pieces of the story one at a time. This particular importation of something that happens inSpaininto an otherwise innocent American environment has the weight not only of darkening the textures of that otherwise innocent college town, but also completely changes his relation to the local setting. It's not even just a place where he's having trouble with Pablo. That's the least of the problem. They're much more deeply rooted problems.

This is another spin on the idea of being rooted in your community. Usually when we think of being rooted in our community, we just think of having stayed there for a long time, maybe having been there for generations or at least within the life of a person, many, many years. And usually it's a good thing. But there's another way in which being rooted in your environment means that all the dark episodes from the past are visited upon you, or all the feuds, or the old angers, old hatreds, are constantly being reactivated. Sometimes just in memory, and sometimes reenacted in the bodies of people who are otherwise young. Maria is a very young girl.

What is being visited upon her is not personal. It really has nothing to do with her. They don't mean to rape Maria. They make raping her as a symbol of something else.  This is the other-- this is the hazard of spending all your life and being rooted in one particular community. It's that ancient angers can be inherited by people who are relatively young.

I would say this is the basic dynamics of the relation between theUnited StatesandSpain. It's that there's a kind of a spill over in both directions, something very violent spilling over into the American context. And then we'll see another way in which the violence of the American context will spill over into the Spanish setting. And this is still a relatively benign instance. But, once again something not quite right.

Chapter 4: Gypsies and Moors in the On-Site Environment [00:18:41]

"Yes"-- and talking about gypsies. And I should say that Hemingway actually is surprisingly far-sighted about the problem of the gypsies. They're now called Roma, and it's a huge problem in the sense that the European Union is recognizing the fact that the Romas actually have always been oppressed by various national governments.  It's quite an issue now in Europe.  Hemingway back when he was writing about Spanish Civil War already seemed to have caught on.

"'Yes,' Anselmo said. 'The gypsies believe the bear to be a brother of man.' 'So also believe the Indians in America,' Robert Jordan said. 'And when they kill a bear, they apologize to him and ask his pardon...' 'Do you have any gypsy blood?' 'No. But I have seen much of them and clearly, since the movement, more. There are many in the hills. To them it is not a sin to kill outside the tribe. They deny this but it is true.' 'Like the Moors.'"

It is not a sin to kill outside a tribe. Usually, I mean for most of us, the injunction is against killing, period. So there's just no qualifying after that. But according to Anselmo, it is completely OK for the gypsies to kill anyone outside of the immediate tribe. So it's a straight ethnic divide. Within your own tribe, you don't kill anyone, or you don't kill anyone unless you're under serious provocation. Outside of your tribe, you're free to kill anyone. So that's an incredible charge to level against the gypsies.

What is weird is that Robert then comes up with this analogy. It's that the gypsies are just like the Moors.  This might not make any sense to us right now. But it turns out that this is actually one result of the deep cultural roots in Spain– gypsies and Moors both with long histories. This is a beautiful instance of the Moorish architecture inSpain. You guys know that the Moors from Africa, from North Africa, actually were the rulers in Spain for 800 years. It was in 1492 -- the same year thatColumbusdiscovered the New World – that was the year the Moors were expelled fromSpainalong with Jews. The Moors and the Jews were the two persecuted ethnic groups in Spain.

When Isabella of Castile expelled the Moors fromGrenada, there was this policy throughoutSpainto try to erase Islamic book learning.Cordobawas a huge center of learning throughout the Middle Ages. And people from all over Europe would go to Cordoba to study. Arabic science was very, very advanced. Arabic Moorish architecture was beautiful.Cordobahad bath houses, more public baths than any other city inEurope. It was basically a beacon of enlightenment in Spain, in all of Europe. And when they were destroyed by the Catholic forces, by the Catholic monarchs, there was much of an attempt to try to erase all of that. It wasn't successful. So we still today, if we were to go to Cordoba or Toledo, we would still see lots of Moorish architecture. So there's one sore point in Spanish history. It's that they really have done this to a very glorious civilization.

There's another sore point that is more immediate to the Spanish Civil War.  This is reported by the American poet Langston Hughes who was there along with Hemingway. And Langston Hughes was really struck by the presence of the Moors in the Spanish Civil War.  He wrote several pieces about the Moors, after sometimes seeing them in the hospitals and actually having this very uneasy kinship between himself and the Moors. This is from his essay General Franco's Moors.

"The Moorish troops were colonial conscripts, or men from the Moroccan villages enticed into the army by offers of what seemed to them very good pay. Franco's personal body guard consisted of Moorish soldiers, tall picturesque fellows in flowing robes and winding turbans. Before I left home, American papers that carried photographs of turbaned, Mohammadan troops marching in the streets of Burgos, Seville, and Malaga. And the United Press dispatch from Gibraltar that summer said "Arabs had been crossing the Straits of Gibraltar from Spanish Morocco to Algeciras and Malaga at the rate of 300 to 400 a day... General Franco intends to mass 50,000 new Arab troops in Spain."

Given the past history, given the uneasy relation between the Spanish and Moorish population ofNorth Africa, for General Franco actually to use the Moorish troops as very active combat units against the Spanish Republican side, that is about the worst he could have done. It was successful actually. He won the war. But it was about the worst case of being tone-deaf. He was probably about as tone-deaf as anyone could be who won at the end. But that's what happened.

There were indeed many pictures of the Moors crossing over from Africa just paid to fight theSpanishRepublic. Here are his Moorish body guards, and they're engaged in more active combat.  Still, I don't know what motivates Robert to make that analogy between the gypsies and the Moors. It couldn't really be just blindness or just callousness. I think there's some intentionality in there. But it's hard to know why he would want to bring up this very sensitive issue for the Spanish.

All we can say is that it seems that it's very easy for an involuntary foreigner to say something that is wounding to the locals, maybe without intending it to have the extent of the insult, the extent of the injury that is actually the actual outcome of saying something like that. Robert probably had no idea that mentioning the Moors would create those kinds of connotations, those kind of just edginess on the part of the Spanish here is, but that's what he's doing.

Once again, the kind of a spilling over, thinking about Native Americans with their own very uneasy history in the United States. Think about Native Americans, thinking about gypsies in Europe, and thinking about the Moors. Three ethnic groups all with uneasy histories behind them. And it is the invocation of all three of them in the same breath that makes that particular exchange especially uncomfortable, if not downright hurtful.

Chapter 5: Lynching in the Distant Home [00:26:56]

Let's just look at a more serious instance of this kind of distant home being a kind of irritation to the immediate environment. So all of a sudden out of nowhere, Robert Jordan suddenly starts talking about lynching in Ohio. This is completely uncalled for. This is in the context of talking about the execution of the fascists. And out of the blue, Robert just mentions this lynching that he was a witness to, and about the effect of drunkenness on people in general.

"'It is so,' Robert Jordan said. 'When I was seven years old and going with my mother to attend a wedding in the state of Ohio at which I was to be the boy of a pair of boy and girl who carry flowers.' 'Did you do that?' Said Maria. 'How nice.' 'In this town a Negro was hanged to a lamp post and later burned. It was an arc light. A light which lowered from the post to the pavement. And he was hoisted, first by the mechanism which was used to hoist the arc light but this broke.'

This is a bizarre description of lynching to say the least. It's stuck in the middle of this long story about execution of the fascists. And not only that, but it seems that much of the focus is on the mechanism of hoisting this person up who's about to be lynched, and on how unreliable this mechanism is. It breaks once and then he has to be done over again. So what we can say is that there's a slightly out of focus nature to the invocation of the United States. The proper focus really ought to be on the act of lynching itself. Anyone telling the story-- it would have been on the act of lynching. And instead, it is out of focus so that it somehow is just focused on the mechanism of hoisting the person up. There is a deliberate blurriness that suggests that this is really how theUnited Stateslooks to the Spanish locals, that they can't get the focus right. It's somehow off.

That off focus is dramatized by Maria's response which is completely inappropriate, showing the highest degree of ignorance -- just to say "how nice." She has no idea. She's completely out of it. She doesn't get any of it.  And, even to us, the reference to the lynching might seem out of the blue while reading For Whom the Bell Tolls right now.

But lynching actually was a big issue all through the 1930s. Even though the actual number of lynching had declined at that point. It was highlighted, it was brought to the public consciousness for a number of reasons. One is this very famous song that I think that you guys probably have heard, Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, 1939. It's a collaboration between a black singer and actually the songwriter was Jewish, Abel Meeropol.  This is one of the first instances of a black-Jewish collaboration resulting in this classic song in the jazz repertoire.  These are the lyrics of Strange Fruit. And you can see why that image would lead to those lyrics. "Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves, blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the tops of the trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant South, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. The scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh. Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck. For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop. Here is a strange and bitter crop."

The lyrics-- Billie Holiday is the one who made the song famous, but really it was Abel Meeropol who composed them in the first place.  The power of the song really just comes from the contrast, the alternate rhythm, between the kind of cliche image of the South, you know the pastoral South, the magnolia, the smell of magnolia, and then the smell of the burning flesh. It's that alternate rhythm that generates the peculiar power of this song.

That's partly why lynching was such an issue on everyone's consciousness in the '30s. But there were also other issues. And in fact, the song is a great song, but it's also slightly misleading in a sense that it's suggesting that lynching was strictly a Southern phenomenon, which actually wasn't the case. And so all we have to do is to look at this New Yorker cover on March 19, 1938.  Very late for this to be on the New Yorker's cover, this racist-- just the Northern population being flabbergasted at how lazy and drunken blacks are, because they were migrating in large numbers to the North.

A relatively new phenomenon in the twentieth century actually was the substantial number of lynchings both in the Northeast and also in theMidwest. So this is a kind of very famous double lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith inIndianain 1930.  Again, very late for that.  And it's because of these very sensational lynchings in the North that the NAACP actually had this regular practice of just hanging out a flag in theNew York Cityoffice announcing that a man was lynched yesterday. And that was also in the 1930s.

It was something that was an ongoing problem and very much kind of a hot button issue in the 1930s.  As a consequence of that, there was an anti-lynching bill that was trying to make its way through Congress and the Senate. And it passed in the House, but because of a filibuster in the Senate, it led to the withdrawal of the bill in February of 1938.  It was just something that just never went away. It was an unresolved issue all the way through the 1930s.

Chapter 6: Lynching and the Moors in the On-Site Environment [00:34:31]

Hemingway actually was very much plugged into the politics of theUnited Stateswhen all of a sudden he would make Robert Jordan suddenly make a reference to lynching. But just to move away from that history of lynching in the United States, back to its impact on the Spanish environment. The response of Maria and Pilar to lynching in theUnited Statesis once again entirely off.

"'As I said, when they lifted the Negro up for the second time, my mother pulled me away from the window, so I saw no more,' Robert Jordan said. 'But since I have had experiences which demonstrate that drunkenness is the same in my country. It is ugly and brutal.' 'You were too young at seven,' Maria said. 'You were too young for such things. I have never seen a Negro except in a circus. Unless the Moors are Negroes.' 'Some are Negroes and some are not," Pilar said. 'I can talk to you of the Moors.'"

It is mind-boggling -- that this should be the response to lynching in theUnited States. We can't even say that-- it would be reassuring to say that it's just cultural ignorance or the impossibility of cross-cultural understanding that is resulting in the responses from Maria and Pilar.  It would be reassuring to be able just to say, it's because they don't know anything about theUnited States. But I really don't think that that is the case. So I would invite you to think about. Why do Spanish always have such weird-- and that's putting it mildly-- weird responses to violence in theUnited States? The response is never the right response. It's always so off-key that it's not even the wrong response. It's just hard to believe that anyone would respond like that.

What we see right there is that this once again weird invocation of the Moors in conjunction with violence in the United States.  All we know is that when they try to make sense of something they don't understand, when the Spanish try to make sense of something they don't understand, the Moors are the people who come to their minds. It's a moment where any kind of communion between Robert and Maria and Pilar, any previous communion between them is completely breaking down.

Chapter 7: Tragedy and Comedy in the Republican Misunderstanding [00:37:11]

I want to talk about another episode that has exactly the same kind of construction of incomprehension, ignorance, and incomprehension on the part of the Spanish.  This has to do with the Republican party. You guys remember that the leftwing Loyalists inSpainwere the Republicans. They are defending the Spanish Republic. So to be a Republican inSpainmeans that you are on the left. And this is the context for that conversation.

"'My father was a Republican all his life,' Maria said. 'It was for that that they shot him.' 'My father was also a Republican all his life. Also my grandfather,' Robert Jordan said. 'In what country?' 'The United States.' 'Did they shoot them?' the woman asked. 'Que va,' Maria said. 'The United States is a country of Republicans. They don't shoot you for being a Republican there.' 'All the same, it is a good thing to have a grandfather who was a Republican,' the woman said. 'It shows a good blood.' 'My grandfather was on the Republican national committee,' Robert Jordan said. That impressed even Maria. 'And is thy father still active in the Republic?' Pilar asked. 'No. He is dead.' 'Can one ask how he died?' 'He shot himself.' 'For avoiding being tortured?' The woman asked. 'Yes,' Robert Jordan said. 'To avoid being tortured.'"

This is where we get that mix of the comic and the tragic. It is a comedy of errors so far. For a good part of that passage, it is a comedy of cross-cultural error. Just not being able to wrap your mind around the fact that to be a Republican in the United States is a very different thing than being a Republican in Spain. So just not being able to-- this is just kind of permanent blinders in the minds of Maria and Pilar.

If that were just the case, it would go no further. That would just be a moment of comic relief in For Whom the Bell Tolls.  But as is always the case with Hemingway in this particular novel, the comic suddenly morphs into something else without any warning. So all of a sudden we get the detail about Robert Jordan's father shooting himself to avoid being tortured. And that can have only one meaning for the Spanish. It fits completely into the personal history of Maria. It fits completely into Pilar's understanding of political history in Spain.

Chapter 8: The Civil War as a Distant Home [00:39:56]

Right now we don't know why his father killed himself and what kind of torture he is talking about.  We have to wait a little longer to have that mystery cleared up for us. And to have that mystery cleared up, we actually have to go further into the past.   I've been talking about distant homes in times just of spatial locations. But there's also a distant temporal home. In turns out that the nineteenth century is also a necessary home for Robert Jordan, especially the Civil War. It's almost the equivalent of Paris in terms of psychological need for that home. And it's not just any Civil War, but his grandfather's Civil War. And this is his moment of homecoming. This is the home that will receive him and shelter him. "Remember something concrete and practical. Remember Grandfather's saber, bright and well oiled in its dented scabbard and Grandfather showed you how the blade had been thinned from the many times it had been to the grinder's. Remember Grandfather's Smith and Wesson. It was a single action, officer's model .32 caliber and there was no trigger guard. It had the softest, sweetest trigger pull you had ever felt and it was always well oiled and the bore was clean although the finish was all worn off and the brown metal of the barrel and the cylinder was worn smooth from the leather of the holster."

This is -- like Hemingway's description of the trout fishing in In Our Time -- very clean, the smoothness, cleanness of their operation.  In this particular context the smoothness and the cleanness and the worn-out-ness of that pistol suggests that this is a well-used weapon. Robert Johnson's grandfather was a hero of the Civil War. His saber had been to the grinder's numerous times because the blade had been so well used. So without saying anything, without using the word “glory” or “heroic” or any comparable adjective, Hemingway gives us the sense that the Civil War was the heroic moment, was the high point, in the history of Robert's family. And it was very much vested in his grandfather.

At this point, it has receded. It has to recede, it has to be receded into the past. It belongs to the nineteeth century. But Robert Jordan wants to activate it over and over again, bring it up to the twentieth century because he needs that. And we know why he needs to bring the nineteenth century back on the next page when we know what happens to that pistol.

"Then after you father had shot himself with the pistol, and you had come home from school and they'd had the funeral, the coroner had returned it after the inquest saying, "Bob, I guess you might want to keep the gun." OK, I should just stop and clarify that this is something we'll be talking about, actually the narrative switches from second person pronoun, Robert Jordan addressing himself as “you.”  That “you” is Robert Jordan, and then it switches back to the third person. “He climbed out on a rock and leaned over and saw his face in the still water, and saw himself holding the gun, and then he dropped it, holding it by the muzzle and saw it go down making bubbles until it was just as big as a watch charm in the clear water and then it was out of sight."  This passage that comes just on the opposite page from the previous invocation of the Civil War weapons of the grandfather tell us exactly why the nineteenth century and the Civil War is a necessary emotional shelter for Robert. He's just so ashamed of his father. He wants to clean up that entire episode, drop it into the clear water so that it will be completely out of sight. He can do that to the pistol. He can't do it to the actual history itself, but that's as close as he can get to wiping out that history.

In this particular moment, there is no Spanish environment that is invoked. This is no mention of the immediate Spanish setting.  I think that that is suggestive as well, in a sense that really the home is for Robert, I think, and it's a very pessimistic reading of the novel. There are basically just two homes for Robert. One is the Paris of the evening papers and the chestnut trees. And the other home for him is a home that never was a home in his lifetime, but a home that he can inherit vicariously through his grandfather. And that is the American Civil War as his spiritual home. Because this is the one place where he has affirmation of himself, that he's not ashamed of himself, not ashamed of his family history. And so those are impossible homes for him at this point.


[end of transcript]
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