W.H Auden, in his dirge for Yeats, declared that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’, giving to sensitive poets a line with which to design verse.
If poetry is ineffectual, why did Auden himself lament for Yeats in poetic nuances? And what about Shelley who, deeply moved by the circumstances of Keats’s death, wrote the magnificent pastoral elegy Adonais—one of the greatest tributes ever paid by one poet to another.
And what about Shelley who, deeply moved by the circumstances of Keats’s death, wrote the magnificent pastoral elegy “Adonais”—one of the greatest tributes ever paid by one poet to another.
It seems that Auden perhaps did not really agree with himself. Held up in humdrum world, brewing with mocking monotony and a tender grief, he appears to be cynically oblivious of the loss of a creative genius who believed that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
Similarly, another critic of poetry and famous American novelist Paul Rudnick believes that poems are, “Small and fey…simply poor punctuation, a thought unworthy of a paragraph, random words tossed on the page, literary lint. They possess none of the time-honored virtues of fine literature”.
May be political rhetoric or the calculus of science does breed stasis but so far as poetry is concerned, it does have a faculty to send ripples into the human soul through its thought process. In a fewer words, poetry says more than prose. When poetry talks of the life that poet actually lives, it becomes more than a piece of prattle. Verses should not mean but be—this is the secret of readable poetry, which is nothing but a slice of life.
John Keats lived only 25 years, yet in a short life-span he enriched the English language with some of its greatest poems. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is an unforgettable classic. He once wrote—“We read five things but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same steps as the Author”. Displaying myriad literary influences, speaking in many voices, the poet always tries to, with the needle of irony and ecstasy, weave his way through the warp of the past and present. The power of his message is gauged by its tendency to generate catharsis among readers. The more the people attach themselves with every twist of his written word, the more consequential it possibly can prove.
It is not always true that poetry is something that the poet creates outside of his own personality. It is not also always something related to alter ego. Usually, personal experiences and experiments creep in, insomuch that at times all poems seem identical. If one skims two lines of any poem, one shudders and comes to know the truth; they all mention ‘Love’s fragrant bower’. And ‘silvery snowflakes’, ‘ruined hearts’, ‘autumn’s grief’, ‘beauty darts’, ‘deep eyes’, ‘ocean of sorrows’, ‘echoing silence’, ‘unmet rendezvous’ blah, blah., render them utterly redundant. But in readable poetry, the spontaneous flux of feelings and emotions amalgamate with subtle realities and moving truths of life. And the poet gives all such intangible impressions the wings of words and makes them fly where we could not. From cataclysmic social reforms to the tumultuous transformation of conquerors into footnotes—poetry all along has been a great exponent.
Whether it is Allama’s indomitable ‘Shaheen’ (falcon), Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ or Wordsworth’s ‘Lucy’or Agha Shahid’s ‘Rizwan’—every poet has invented characters to put emotion into measure. Emotion, certainly, has come by nature, and the measure has been acquired by art: The art of sophistication, naiveté and sublimity to distil the essential meanings of both secular and sacred emotion in individual and general life, beyond the narrowness of catchphrases and capsule philosophies.
So, what Auden decreed can’t be entertained entirely till poetry is not reduced to prattling but continues to be tasted, swallowed, and digested for something highly consequential and purposive. Besides, what Auden asserted can be equally true for every printed word, poetry or prose. Unless people don’t read, nothing can actually happen. Writers may churn out their ideas, poets may craft out their feelings, and thinkers may turn out their thoughts. But for whom? This is the moot point.
The impact factor or otherwise of any communication is a secondary subject unless the recipient reacts. Every communication requires a recipient, a user, and that too the one who can reflect and respond. Or else communication cannot qualify to be called ‘communication’.
They say we become the books we read. Ironically, how many of us around first read? Then how do several of us reflect? And finally, how do few of us react? Some just add to the number of books they read without even a word drenching them! They glance over each page, but they don’t live the books.
The percentage is dismal and discouraging for any intellectual discourse or growth in any society. The mental inertia and sickness has got so embedded that many of us have forgotten that we can think, speak up and counter.
The all-prevailing culture of mediocrity and manipulation has been so overbearing and bossy that we have left believing that there is also something called ‘Good’ that has an immense value and meaning. We wonder what use to think when people around us present the worst examples of hypocrisy; and what use to question when majority of them display the nastiest traits of duplicity!