Thursday, April 30, 2015

Goodbye to the cruellest month. So, ... shanti, shanti, shantihi

I have often mentioned in this blog about how the high school curriculum in the old country didn't give me a real taste for poetry.  Of course, when the English teacher slapped me around for no fault of mine, the last thing I wanted to do was to pay attention even to the little bit of poetry that we had.  And thus a prosaic life it has been.

I could read poems on my own, yes.  After all, we live in the modern world where practically every poem that is worth reading is only a mouse-click away.

But, there are two hassles with this approach.  One, I have come to believe that poems are for the ear than for the eye.  I recall attending Frank Bidart's poetry reading a few years ago and sitting there transfixed listening him. The same poem on paper was not even half impressive.

Second, poets write one thing and mean something else that I am supposed to decipher.  Poems, that way, are like women where we men are left smashing our heads into concrete walls yelling, "why couldn't you have said that in the first place?" ;)

Take the much quoted T.S. Eliot line, "April is the cruellest month."  In order to understand this line, I will then have to read the whole damn long coded stuff the guy wrote decades ago.  At least if a poet read that out, I can pay attention and enjoy the rhyme and the reason. On my own, everything is without rhyme or reason!

And when I tried reading that once, it was a Ulysses experience--as in I barely got started and I shut it off and went to play a round of bridge!  But, as I scanned through, I came across the Sanskrit word of shanti.  I wonder what the whole damn thing is about.  I will never know; I blame it all on the big fat slapper.

Whether or not April is the cruellest month, it is coming to an end in this part of the world.  In the old country, it has already ended and the real cruelty will begin, with the heat and dust of the Indian summer.  So, as a bridge between the old and the new country, with the segue provided by shanti via Eliot, perhaps I can close out this poetry month with a couplet from the old country.

The rhythmic and mellifluous chant of this couplet is a sheer joy to listen to in a real world setting:
puranam adah, purnam idam, purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate.
which translates to:
That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite
Of course, the infinite that is referred to here is way more than mathematical concept, and if often interpreted through hours and hour of lectures that are devoted to each and every word in the couplet.  But, hey, it is poetry where words mean way more than what we think they are!

May peace be with you!


Anne in Salem said...

Bad experiences with poetry and English class as youth may be universal. As a young student, I had to read and interpret poetry. HATED it. I could rarely decipher the deeper meaning; nor could I interpret it correctly (at least as far as my teachers were concerned). I left school with an antipathy toward poetry that took decades and a special friend to thaw.

As I have gotten older (wiser?), I see that some poems express thoughts much better than I can. There are some that have grabbed me, have touched me enough that I remember them. Most are quite literal, or at least I choose to read them that way. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas is speaking to me in my life now.

I can't say honestly that I seek out poetry, but at least I have learned not to avoid it and occasionally to appreciate and even enjoy it.

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, at least your English teacher didn't slap you silly!
Of course, Ramesh thinks that the English teacher was the best ever; maybe unlike me Ramesh was every teacher's darling ;) Where's he anyway? Maybe he has gone to report to the teacher that I am complaining about him ;)

I do seek out poetry ... but, I almost always have a tough time relating to the free-verse contemporary poetry.

Ramesh said...

I'm back I'm back.

There's more than one article I have read in the last few days with the title April is the cruelest month. Why have lots of people rediscovered TS Elliot suddenly ??

May peace be with you too.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh, I suppose lots of us were ending the month of April with the TSE quote. We great minds think alike, you know ;)

Ahem, nothing about your "favorite" teacher, I see ... ;)