As the inaugural, I have chosen a poem I wrote sometime in 2015, my most prolific year as a poet. There are a few reasons for my choice.
The primary reason is the nature of the poem’s birth. I seem to remember that the first line “came to me”, followed shortly by the next two lines. Not wanting to lose them, I quickly noted them down on a nearby tissue. (I often used to keep a couple of these “grooved” tissues with me, just to be able to feel the wonderfully wavy passage of the pen upon their surface.) The rest of the poem came to me in stages, as I sought to expand upon the emerging theme.
A second reason is the rhythm and rhyme the poem possesses. While rhyme was often eschewed in blank verse, (metrical) rhythm was the staple of almost all lyric poetry until the modernist movements of the 20th-century. Having begun writing poetry under the influence of Yeats (who called himself “the last romantic”), I have always leaned towards a lyric poetry that lends itself to recitation, perhaps even incantation. The discovery of Bendre’s magically euphonious Kannada poetry only heightened my predilection. (Indeed, it is my opinion that the lyric at its best is a felicitous melding of sound, euphony, rhythm, imagery, thought and music.)
The third reason is, of course, the poem’s recitability. Since this poem, whatever its merits, was forged not simply by the pen but the tongue too – I have taken this opportunity to recite it out loud, something I greatly enjoy.
The last reason is, to some extent, my judgement of this poem as a kind of a “middle-period poem”, one that (loosely) points back towards the style of my early poetry while also pointing forward towards the style of my recent poetry.
A Passage Through Millenia
‘What prayers once echoed through the trees,
What heavens once opened to the breeze,
What sages once sat here at ease
Meditating on that perfect form?
What birds once sang from night to day,
What artless animals once played,
What berry-drenched vines once swayed
Above the butterflies?
What ripened fields once filled with grain,
What wooded paths once were green-stained,
What forests once flooded with rain
Below the swāti star?
What holy flames once flicked their tongues,
What bells of brassy-bronze once rung,
What sapta-swaras once were sung
In honour of the only one?
What whirling waters once advanced,
What waves of wind once wildly danced,
What lively luminous light once lanced
Through thickly twisting trees?
What mystic melodies once lilted,
What grace-filled limbs once tilted,
What swarga’s touch once melted
Some terrestrial heart?’
“Who cares who cares for all that’s passed?
Such beauty was never meant to last,
The winds of change blow strong and fast.
Look close, instead, at that glass tower;
Notice how elegantly it flowers
Forth, look upon mankind’s new bower.”
1. swāti (swaa-thī): One of the 27 nakshatra-s (stars, star-clusters) identified in Hindu astrology and cosmology. It is a traditional belief that those raindrops that enter an oyster under the swāti star will certainly become pearls.
2. sapta-swara (sup-thuh swuh-raah): The seven major notes of the Indic musical scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. A rāga in either in the Carnatic or Hindustani classical style that uses every one of these seven swara-s is called a sampūrṇa rāga (a full rāga).
3. swarga (swurr-gaah): The dwelling of the gods.