Sunday, October 03, 2010

A poem, revisited

I was recently asked to explain a poem featured on this blog. After hunting down the poem, I realised I had no clue about it. Then I read through the comments with Parvati-ji's comments helping me a bit (and making me blush with the generosity of compliments). So I wrote back to this gent with whatever I could make of that poem. In case, any of the then commenters or present ones feel/see something different, please do respond with your thought.

Here is the poem:

And here is a snippet of the email I wrote, explaining what I understood from this:

The reason why I sent you the link is two-fold; one you can get some hints and two, I don't have a clue why I wrote that poem. Frankly, I usually do not remember why I write anything. Apart from articles which present a perspective about human life and living (aka nonfiction), I have no clue what made me write any story or poem. It gets worse, sometimes I don't even remember having written them. I have had some embarrassing episodes on the blog too when someone actually quoted my own lines and I complimented the commenter for writing them! :-o
So any expectation about my recalling why I wrote it (or any other poem) is quashed. I am going to re-read it and give you what I think and hope that that doesn't influence your mind's eye.
Ok! Done. Here goes. I think the protagonist is a loner and finds solace in words and penning them. He (has to be a "he" because there is a "she" who speaks about marriage) is not merely an assembler of words but someone who connects to them at various levels. He actually specifies the colour of the ink to use for specific words! Interesting chap! And the reason is perhaps this, when the ink is still wet, turquoise can generate various colours when seen in different coloured lights. This is unlike with black or blue or red ink. He seems to use the image of drying both for the actual ink (and the beauty in that) as well as the entire world and emotion that surrounds a word. What I found amazing is that he seems to simultaneously and individually admire and appreciate the ink as a physical entity and the word as a representation of what he feels. Each is given its due, because he doesn't merely mention the quality of ink or paper and then move on to words. Am I making sense? He is able to simultaneously enjoy both. To simultaneously hold two emotions at two different levels is the quality of mad men and I envy them. It is like being able to hate a woman but still appreciate her form and seductiveness, equally truly. Enough on that!
He picks words like "betrayal", "longing" all of which take long to be created (you can never feel betrayed by someone you met an hour ago) and equally long to subside. Another point to note is that these words only make sense when sufficient time has elapsed before or after the realisation of the feeling (of longing or betrayal). Am I making sense? See, if you didn't feeling the longing for a year or so, it doesn't stoke the emotional cauldron of the audience. Try telling a gathering that you longed for success for the past 2 days. They will just return to their gossip. Both of these need time to be spent marinating these feelings.
But then he picks a word - "trickle" which is always a quick phenomenon. A trickle is always short and quick. Ganga doesn't trickle nor the Yang-tse-qiang. Here you see him return to appreciating the ink and the slow drying for a word in itself and for any grand philosophical meaning it brings. Hence, he also takes the liberty of shaping it like a trickle. Playful, alternating and enjoys beauty, both of the ironic kinds and the mundane kinds.
In the second stanza he describes the entire process of ink drying on paper. You would have surely noted that too. When a blob of ink is observed under a magnifying glass it does seem to slowly settle down and runs its length through the fibres of the paper. He does lend it a touch of melodrama when he says "heave and breathe" as if that ink is dying (which it is, if you consider wetness to be the indicator of life). "Desiccated earth" brings us back to the world of human beings where the wetness of genuine emotions and feeling struggle hard and eventually die only to become patterns that others admire (like a love story but not the love in it).
The 3rd stanza is dizzying. He weaves back and forth from words to real world human emotions and back. He seems to be referring to the import of the word "love" when he tells us how he knows that it lives on - because it got wet again and smudged on the paper when he ran a wet finger (clearly, he has been crying) over it! So we start the stanza thinking that he means that emotions like "love" live on but then he returns to the physical word on the paper which seems to be alive because it got wet. But how did it get wet? Because he was recalling a love interest of his which made him shed tears. So the feeling also lives on and not just the physical word on the paper. Back and forth and back and forth...
In the 4th stanza he introduces the woman - (cherchez la femme). Someone who seems to be practical (and hence, boring to him) and who also seems to have tried to bring him out of his affair with words, but has clearly failed. The first line is quite a philosophical truth. It is also the opening line in the Tao Te Ching. She proceeds to elaborate - half in what they portray and half in what they wish to convey. No word (even when entirely read, written or spoken) is the completeness of what was felt. A cow is sufficient to describe a cow, but never complete in conveying the image of the real cow that was seen. She (or he) gives an example of "joy" which can never ever describe the completeness of what a person feels when they confess to being joyous. The last line there is interesting. Need is not put in quotes. Joy was written as "joy" but need was not written as "need" but as need. Hence, the protagonist seems to be giving a rebuttal ( which might imply that "joy" was her example). He seems to be retorting that her needs are always half in their enumeration. Today there is one, and one thinks that that is it, but tomorrow gives you another. But is that need or want? For the person wanting it, it does seem to be need, and hence, the perfect word for rebuttal to her retort that words are just half good. And he replies, "Well, so is all your practicality which seems to only create needs and wants, which are in half too". Husband wife quarrels!!
She then gets personal in the penultimate stanza. She accuses him of not wanting the real thing but being satisfied with words that represent them (lexical porn!?). And she gives examples, but look at how he ties them together to "a cold Autumn night" which seems to represent the state of his soul in spite of having a physical woman by his side. A strange mind it must have been which had something but still couldn't experience. Like walking away from a burning house looking for a warm place.
The last stanza is eerie. How could he know what people said once he was dead? Either that is a technical error on the part of the poet or the protagonist is again playing with words referring to the loss of "life" and not life. It could very well be that, because he "licked to oblivion" the very words he loved, thus ending what he thought was life - the presence of wet words. Not sure. Makes sense?
This is the best I could think. If you ask me again a year from now (and please re-send me the link so that I know what poem you are talking about) I might give you a different story, but isn't that the fun of all literature - Having many stories in one and then many lives to live them! :-)
Since, this was written back in 2007 I can't imagine what made me write it. I don't think I ever felt like the protagonist (2007 or any other year) so this is surely not candidate for "Oh! you must have gone through something like that and hence, your sub-conscious mind wrote it" or any such Freudian crap. 

Boy! Actually quite a long email. I realised that only after pasting it in here!

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