i have been sad before i will be sad again the ocean of the world is large we rise and drown and rise and drown again
i have felt joy before i will feel joy again the human heart is meant for joy we drown and rise and drown and rise again
I’m fond of this poem. I’d say it was simple, straightforward, and short. (Wouldn’t you?) On the other hand, the image of the “ocean of the world” comes from ಸಂಸಾರ ಸಾಗರ (saṃsāra sāgara), a conceit in Hindu philosophy with pretty profound philosophical underpinnings. Here is some background for the interested…
In the Hindu tradition, saṃsāra refers to this world that we human beings live in, or rather, are trapped in through the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. To escape this saṃsāra is the highest form of mōksha or liberation. In this liberation lies a union with the brāhmaṇ: the source of the universe, the ultimate truth and reality, the forever-fount of bliss. Given the vast and magnificent incomprehensibility of the sāgara or the ocean, I should think ಸಂಸಾರ ಸಾಗರ (saṃsāra sāgara) was used to illustrate the difficulty of a pursuit towards the brāhmaṇ.
NOTA BENE: Hereafter, I will publish a post every other Thursday (rather then every Thursday).
Let death be like the chocolàte
That fálling bitter on the tongue
Swèetens into jaggery.
Let death be like the spreading light
That fáding in the windy storm
Flòwers up into the sky.
Let death be like the lotused lake
That wílting in the dusty drought
Retúrns in a flood of rain.
Let death be like the paddy field
That drówning in a tidal high
Ríses as the hárvest’s grain.
In the “Yaksha Prashna” episode of the Mahabharata – one of its more famous episodes – Yama in the guise of a Yaksha (spirit) subjects Yudhisthira to a series of intricate questions. At stake are the lives of Yudhisthira’s four brothers who lie lifeless nearby, having disobeyed the Yaksha’s orders to not drink the water of his lake. The situation, in itself, is a piquant one (even if Yudhisthira’s ultimate success is unsurprising); more piquant, however, are the Yaksha’s questions, one of which is a timeless classic.
“Yaksha: Tell me, Yudhisthira, what is the most wonderful thing in the universe?
Yudhisthira: The most wonderful thing, O Yaksha, is how men, in spite of seeing their fellows around them dying every day, believe themselves exempt, immortal.”
Yudhisthira’s answer strikes at the heart of the “experience” of death – and the awesome mystery that surrounds it. Both unknown and essentially unknowable to the ordinary human being (the rishis of the Upanishads searched both deeply and penetratingly for an answer), death is the Rubicon of the human experience, a “point of no return.” As a consequence, it is (at any time) an experience that divides the human race into two – the living and the dead.
Practically (and perhaps paradoxically), the situation of a death has the greatest effect on those who live, on those who are left behind. Not wonder, not philosophizing, not the idea of “a better place”, not even the recognition of their own mortality is what possesses them then – rather it is a great, personal, sometimes overwhelming grief. “Why?” is their silent scream – whose reverberations shake the earth for an instant.
I saw a grief of this sort when a close relative of mine died (in 2015; which year I wrote the poem). Here is something I created as I wondered how to provide succour.
I fell asleep upon the earth Lighted by the morning sun; When I awoke, it was evening, The horses of the sun were gone. I rubbed sleep from my sleepy eyes That I might watch the colouring light; Then suddenly it was upon me, The blue, the black, the sacred night. It spread itself across the sky Like the bird that is always free; It moved like a ghostly whisper From autumned tree to tree. The ripened leaves were giving back Their burnished-twilight-flare And the fires of the evening stars Had lit the aqueous air. I remember as I slept again The fragrance of the furlèd flower; Above the earth, beneath the sky, Rejoicing in the magic hour. The sun came up next morning As on unnumbered days before; But I awoke with a shiver As though on a cold, cold shore.
This is a poem from my “early period”. I believe I wrote it ca. early 2010, before returning to it a few years later and revising some parts of it. This period was a time when I was both transfixed and inspired by the lyricism of Yeats’s poetry.
The poem itself is a somewhat fanciful and exaggerated retelling of taking a nap (and waking up) on the lawn – the Bald Spot – of my college in the US.
Sometimes there comes over me (In response to known or unknown stimuli) A certain, restless joy That makes me want to unbody My soul and set it free So that it may jump and skip and see (In tandem with other souls, maybe) The wildness Of a wordless ecstasy.
A poem from sometime in 2016.
A feeling of this kind is perhaps one of the pinnacles of the human experience. But sometimes – only sometimes – and, usually, oh-so-fleeting.
Note: The use of the word ecstasy – instead of rhapsody, say, or some other word – is deliberate and refers to its very origins.
1. late 14c., extasie “elation,” from Old French estaise “ecstasy, rapture,” from Late Latin extasis, from Greek ekstasis “entrancement, astonishment, insanity; any displacement or removal from the proper place,” in New Testament “a trance,” from existanai “displace, put out of place,” also “drive out of one’s mind” (existanai phrenon), from ek “out” (see ex-) + histanai “to place, cause to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand, make or be firm.”
2. Late Middle English (in ecstasy (sense 2)): from Old French extasie, via late Latin from Greek ekstasis ‘standing outside oneself’, based on ek- ‘out’ + histanai ‘to place’.
The fláme – and it was no còmmon Fláme, but rather Agni incarnáte – Rose róse as the music fell From the sínger’s sweltering lips. Insìde, the furnàce of his throat Was alchemizing air to góld- Mùsic of dìvíne degree; And stìll the fire róse and róse Around the singer’s blazing throat And limb by limb encovered him In whose one eye was couchèd death And in the other rhapsody.
Raag Mēgh Malhār
Fall fall fall fall and falling fall And falling fall again. Drink all the seven seas and fáll For my fáther’s filled with flame. Fall for my song, fall to my plea, Fáll for my father’s life Depends on me And I depend on you. Fall waterfall and flood this fire, Fall fight and fill the flame. Fall fall fall fall until my father’s full And the flame no more remains.
1. Agni (ug-nee): The deva associated with fire in Hindu mythology. The Sanskrit word also simply means ‘fire’.
2. Rāga (raah-gaah): Roughly, a sequence of swara-s that together form a melody. Raag is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.
3. Mēgha (may-ghuh): One of several words for ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit. Mēgh is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.
4. Swara (swuh-raah): One of the seven notes of the Indic musical scale: SaReGaMaPaDhaNi.
5. Jugalbandi (jugal-bun-thee): Used to describe a Hindustani classical music duet. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental. Accurately, this does not so much begin as a jugalbandi as it becomes one.
Raag Deepak and Raag Mēgh Malhār:
An (apocryphal) story tells of how the medieval Mughal emperor, Akbar was tricked into ordering Tānsēn – a legendary Hindustani Classical musician – to sing Raag Deepak, a raga capable of producing fire. A sublime singer, Tansen knows that doing so will mean setting himself aflame; so he asks for a month’s time and teaches his daughter to sing Raag Mēgh Malhār, a raga capable of bringing rain.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, Tansen begins his rendition of Raag Deepak and, as he loses himself in the music, conjures up the expected fire – that begins to circle and engulf him.
On cue, his daughter – nervous and quavering – begins her rendition of Raag Megh Malhar. For a time it seems as though Tansen has not taught her well enough, but just as the flames begin to singe him, she breaks through, the skies open and down pours life-giving water.
In this pair of poems (written in 2015), I have attempted to describe Tansen’s state of musical ecstasy as also the urgency of his daughter’s musical plea. (I must admit, however, that I am unfamiliar with the melodic progression of either raga.)
The evening spreads across the sky, The sovereign sun secedes, The jamboree of day recedes Into a symphony Of warbling, squabbling, burbling birds.
The ether’s yellow light is lost, The coloured flowers fade Into a thickening twilight shade Pregnant with a hóst Of secret, soundless mystery.
And soon the night will gather up All mortal and immortal life Into her dárk and lovely lap, From where again will rise the sap Of day, and stréaming sunlight say: ‘Drink deep, drink deep of my golden cup.’
There is something ethereal about the mellow light of the evening, especially when it is filtered through the green of the trees. Fading slowly away as the night falls (rises?), to catch a glimpse of this magical light has always been one of the happinesses of my evening runs through the IISc campus. The poem itself may have grown old (it’s from mid-2015) but this quotidian wonder remains undimmed.
I suspect the idea of the sun’s “golden cup” may have been inspired by a Yeats poem, “Those Dancing Days Are Gone”, with its lines “I carry the sun in a golden cup.|The moon in a silver bag.” What’s more, if I’m not mistaken, I believe Yeats himself credited another poet for the image.
Note: The opening stanza may be the best one I’ve written. It’s certainly one of my very favourites. I remember being on the NIAS campus at the time line 3 struck; sitting outside in a chair with a book in my hand as I enjoyed the blue of the early evening sky and a sense of well-being brought on by the rays of the mellowing light. Just behind me, to my left, were bougainvillea bracts the colour of faded pink – which contrasted starkly with the deep magenta of the bracts found on other parts of the well-maintained campus. To this day, I remain partial to that wonderfully deep magenta colour.
What do I think of damp and soggy days When all the mud there is begins to squelch And squeak like frogs wòunded by a Plunging branch, when every fallen leaf Looks just the same, as if each one had fallen From some giant water-tree, and when the clouds Simply cannot decide on how to fall: like this, Like that? Like here or there? Like big or small?
I suppose I liked all this when I was young and free And when the only sky I knew was hid among the Puddles on the ground, or when I browned my Friday- Dress in mud that squelched and squealed and sang Beneath the green-grooved canvas of my trusty shoe.
But I do not like to think that I have aged, oh no, Much rather would I think the rain is not as young.
The idea of this poem came to me as I cycled through the Tata Institute on a chilly wet evening, some three and a half years ago. It remains a favourite poem of mine.