Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Saturday Poem: Miracle by Seamus Heaney

In Poetry on June 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

If ever Yeats’ admonition to cast a cold eye on life, on death, was obeyed, then the series of essays the late Christopher Hitchens wrote for Vanity Fair after the diagnosis of his cancer, is its most admirable literary exemplar. The first of this series of meditations, describes his “deportation from the domicile of the well to the land of malady”.

Today a poem about the kind sentries who man this boundary between the two lands and offer the first welcome upon ones resettlement into the land of the sick. I should say here that I’ve thought often about this poem, having been ill and in-and-out-and-back-in to the hospital several times over the past year. Unlike Hitchens, however, my illness is not of much consequence to the rest of the world, and more importantly, hardly as dangerous for me or my loved ones. However, a protracted encounter with paramedics, nurses, medical technicians does fill me with enormous respect for them. There is no dearth of expressions of admiration for doctors or for the forbearance shown by brave family members, but what of the nurses and the hospital staff who, forever as the supporting cast in all the drama of suffering and/or recovery, carry on most unselfishly? Whether in the delirium of an unusually resilient fever and hostage to a potentially-deadly infection or half-crippled with anesthesia, their lifting me to lower me for healing, dressing my wounds, changing my clothes or offering to bathe and cleanse me, were no minor benefactions. For the sick, this familiarity, this “having known him all along” is the first touch of healing.

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Saturday Poem: हँसती रहने देना by “Agyeya” ( अज्ञेय )

In Poetry on April 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayana “Agyeya” or simply Agyeya, was one of the towering figures of 20th century Hindi literature …. and I am not really sure why? What I mean is that most people I know always talk of Agyeya ji in tones reserved solely for the grand patriarch of a family. And yet when it came to actually reciting his verses or discussing his prose or even criticism, most are at a loss for words. I suspect, a writer and poet much more widely known than actually read. (I am also reminded of someone who probably shares the same fate: Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan)Anyway, I caught this 5-part documentary on Agyeya ji  (an assortment of interviews mostly laced with reminiscences) called Sannate ka Chhand. Among other things, he discusses the origins of his nom de plume, “Agyeya” and mentions Binsar (someone else’s favourite place on earth). Check it out. Oh! and here’s a poem …

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Saturday Poem: Poem by Simon Armitage

In Poetry on February 13, 2010 at 2:02 pm

And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night.
And slippered her the one time that she lied.

And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn’t spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.

And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went form bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.

Here’s how they rated him when they looked back:
sometime he did this, sometime he did that.

(from Kid, faber and faber 1992)

Saturday Poem: तोड़ती पत्‍थर by Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’

In Poetry on November 7, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Back to blogging after a prolonged hiatus. A combination of summer break, travels, conferences and the ensuing “catching-up” kept me away.

Today a well-known poem by a well-known poet. I grew up listening to anecdotes about Nirala and his antics in Allahabad from my father who studied there. A recurrent aspect was his excessive random altruism, especially remarkable given that he himself was supposedly penniless and bore a famously mercurial temperament. How many of these fables are true, I don’t know. But the dearth of serious biographical research and writing in India is a grouse for another time.

“तोड़ती पत्‍थर” and Nirala were almost always mentioned in the same breath. Its not hard to see why. Its perhaps his most well known poem in the popular imagination – accessible compared to his other work, deals with a scene that is familiar to most Indians, and evokes tremendous empathy while avoiding pity – not an easy thing to do. For me personally, the lines, “देखा मुझे उस दृष्टि से/जो मार खा रोई नहीं,” are among the best poetic lines ever penned. These lines sting in the deepest wells of our empathy, and the sting lingers just long enough till the wells overflow.

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Saturday Poem: बनारस by Kedarnath Singh

In Poetry on July 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Dashashwamedh_99 (Early morning at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Benares, Jan 2003)

pt_sep3Writing poems specifically for an occasion, an historical event or place is a tremendous challenge all by itself, but to attempt a poem on a city like Benares, is to invite outright failure. Any description of this vast, ancient, holy city (there ! I’ve said it) can only begin by a descent into a mire of cliches. It is unimaginable that any poem on this city will not have the word “ghat” in it, and yet, it’s impossible to come up with a more cliched association to this city! This predicament is simply inescapable.

And though Kedarnath Singh’s, “Benares” fails – very early, infact, the use of महान पुराने शहर is so irksome precisely because it is so unnecessary – it does begin to get inside the skin of the city as it progresses. The many rythms in the poem feed off the polyrythms of the city itself, from the early invocation of धूल का एक बवंडर, to madhya-laya of “शाम धीरे-धीरे होती है” and finally the eternal stillness of, “कि वहीं पर बँधी है नाँव/ कि वहीं पर रखी है तुलसीदास की खड़ाऊँ/ सैकड़ों बरस से”. There is perhaps no other way to poeticise this city, but to grapple with the many rythms, sounds, sights and smells and, – here is the difference – the mysterious way in which they all merge into one singularity, a coalescence of truth and beauty, to make Benares what it is.  All of this is enveloped in an extreme unselfconsciousness in the city, that is captured so beautifully in the closing lines, “अपनी एक टाँग पर खड़ा है यह शहर/ अपनी दूसरी टाँग से/ बिलकुल बेखबर!” And yet no poem can truly convey the totality of essence of this city –  not because we reach the limits of language in such a monumental exercise, but rather because what the city offers is at the very limits of what can be experienced. Read the rest of this entry »

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney

In Poetry on July 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm

As of last week, I am a proud owner of a wonderful, thick, hard-bound copy of “Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney” by Dennis O’Driscoll (published by Faber and Faber).  As the subtitle says, the book is a collection of interviews conducted by O’Driscoll, himself an Irish poet, essayist and critic, over a period of 6 years (2001-2007), mostly done “in writing and by post.


Tracing out the long arc of his progression, the book is divided into two main sections: Bearings – which deals with his early childhood in Mossbawn and his early forays into poetry – and “On the Books” – which, using each of his published volumes as a framework, discuss the circumstances and influences that went into their composition. Along the way is abundant anecdotal information about Heaney’s personal and public life, his friendships, influences, challenges, all interspersed with pictures.

In the words of O’Driscoll, “[..] But Seamus Heaney- as anyone who has heard him Read the rest of this entry »

Saturday Poem: Digging by Seamus Heaney

In Poetry on June 28, 2009 at 4:04 am

I love and admire the poetry of Seamus Heaney. What more need I say? Over the years his poems have nourished the heart, lifted and steadied the spirit unlike any other poet in the English language. I can vividly recall the spring of 2004 when I first bought a copy of “Poems: 1965-1975”, and how deeply enchanted I was from the very first page. The ensuing summer was a heady time – Heaney summer, as I think of it, when I devoured almost all his work, poems and prose, I could lay hands on. There will be plenty to say later on.

To be sure, his work is rooted in the “local” – the landscape and memories of his native Ireland (which itself is fascinating to someone who grew up in the dry, dusty plains of India), and yet it is open to everyone. “Digging” is a perfect example of this: anyone familiar with the rythms of rural life – the work on and of the land – will feel its tug and pull, and so also, as the poem closes, all who have thought about what it means to follow in the footsteps of one’s forbears.

What a blessing to be alive at a time when this immortal giant of letters is still writing and publishing!

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Saturday Poem: Two poems by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

In Poetry on June 6, 2009 at 1:26 am

The Visit

When I looked up from my blank page
there was an angel in the room.

A rather commonplace angel,
presumably of lower rank.

You cannot imagine, he said,
the degree to which you’re dispensable.

Of the fifteen thousand hues of blue,
he said, each one makes more of a difference

Than anything you may do
or refrain from doing,

Not to mention the feldspar
or the Great Magellanic Cloud.

Even the most comm. Plantain, unassuming
as it is, would leave a gap. Not you.

I could tell from his bright eyes –
he hoped for an argument, for a long fight.

I did not move. I waited in silence
until he had gone away.


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Saturday Poem: दिनचर्या by Shrikant Verma

In Poetry on May 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm



एक अदृश्य टाइपराइटर पर साफ सुथरे
चढ़ता हुआ दिन,
तेज़ी से छपते मकान,
घर, मनुष्य

और पूछ हिला
गली के बाहर आता
कोई कुत्ता |

एक टाइपराइटर पृथ्वी पर
छापता है,
दिल्ली, बम्बई, कलकत्ता |

कहीं पर एक पेड़
अकस्मात छप,
करता है सारा दिन
स्याही में
न घुलने का तप | Read the rest of this entry »

Two poems by Shrikant Verma

In Poetry on May 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm


युद्ध के बाद एक-एक शव के सिरहाने
बैठी है शान्ति,
सभी शान्ति-प्रिय थे|

एक और ढंग

भागकर अकेलेपन से
तुम में, मैं गया |
सुविधा के कई वर्ष
तुममें व्यतीत किए
कैसे ?
कुछ स्मरण नहीं |

मैं और तुम ! अपनी दिनचर्या के
पृष्ठ पर
अंकित थे
एक संयुक्ताक्षर !

क्या कहूँ ! लिपि की नियती
केवल लिपि की नियती
थी –
तुममें से होकर भी
बसकर भी,
संग-संग रहकर भी.
बिल्कुल असंग हूँ |

सच है तुम्हारे बिना जीवन अपंग है |
– लेकिन क्यों लगता है मुझे
अकेले होने का ही
एक और ढंग है |