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The Poet and the Art of Poetry

A TRANSLATION OF THE ESSAY ‘KABI AMASOONG KABYA’ BY KHWAIRAKPAM CHAOBA, FROM THE BOOK OF PROSE ‘WARENG AKHOMBA’, COMPILED AND PUBLISHED BY THE MANIPURI SAHITYA PARISHAD; FIRST EDITION 1965; SECOND EDITION 1973; PRICE: RS 3.75/- (LUPA AHOOM SOOPNA PEISA HOOMDHRAMANGA)


The Poet and the Art of Poetry
Whom do we call a poet? On a theme, from an emotional appeal of hope and happiness, we pick up our pen to express ourselves. Yet it is beyond our comprehension, from a poet’s perspective, to see how much we can write and how clearly we can put down the feelings and impressions in black and white. We always try to emphasise on the mellifluous sound and well-timed rhythm, by adding, subtracting and tweaking the pieces of our voice that should be easy on our and the readers’ ear — all’s well if we succeed in our penning endeavour. The ear is irrefutably the only tool, which measures the quality and the originality of the poet and the nicety of his/her art. The poet croons and creates the sound and rhythm, much to the delight of the body and the soul of the readers, who jumps with joy, whose emotion dances to the tune of the delightful words. It is apparent from one of our experiences, when a melody enters the gate of our heart the first impression mostly finds it hard to please our soul. Can you reach the heaven; howsoever when you are pleased, when you hear about the wonders of heaven? The beauty of poetry lies in the art of the possible, if not in reaching the heaven. A scentless flower cannot capture our attention for a long time. That’s why people who appreciate the art of poetry have to stand on a raised platform to relish the delicacy of this art form. Attention to detail is the hallmark of the connoisseurs, who read the nuances of carefully chosen words — whether the words can penetrate the several folds of heart and produce an entirely new sensation, if the words can recreate a fresh image of beauty in the heart; and if not, the work cannot be accepted as an art of poetry if the strings of the heart produce merely a tuneless sound but not a new melody.

The Poet and the Art of Poetry
We don’t know till now, the meaning of a poet. The poet is, some people say, someone who is trying to make our universe beautiful, someone who sees the universe beautiful and someone who makes the universe beautiful. If that is so, Kalidasa is a great poet. What is the difference between Kalidasa and other poets? We would say when he was creating his works of beauty, he saw the world beautiful and made us see the world beautiful. He gathered all the beauty of the universe which the Universal Creator has made, and presented before us such boundless beauty inherent in our world. However, we have to note that our sense of beauty depends on our desire. Our universe is essentially a colourless mirror, though a China rose makes it red and a butterfly pea makes it blue. Our universe, in fact, has no colour, no identity, no ugliness, and no beauty. A person colours it, beautifies it and uglifies it according to his/her likes and dislikes. These likes and dislikes vary from one person to another. There is also a variation even if there is a similar taste. But is there anyone without his/her likes? We hear about people without desires, only in the stories of seers, mystics and prophets; but their stories are different from us, the normal human beings. We observe the vast world through the eyeglasses of different colours, which accordingly shapes our views and perceptions. As mentioned earlier too, the beauty and ugliness of the universe depend on a person’s views and perceptions. So I believe the bees suck the nectar out of the several flowers while you believe the bees are dispersing the sweet liquid to the flowers. In this way, those people — with desires and who are like the bees — are making the universe beautiful. Kalidasa is like the bee that can be analysed subjectively, yet with our mortal failing we cannot search where other such people like him could be.

The Poet and the Art of Poetry
Like Kalidasa we have been observing the world day in and day out, but where? We see no beauty. We see an object like him — but where do we see the beauty which he does so clearly and describes it so intricately? He saw the endless beads of beauty in the ugliest necklace that we would discard without even thinking twice. To be frank, people who can produce and spread beauty are rare. Through an eyeglass that Kalidasa created from his views and perceptions, he shows us what beauty means to him and what beauty is in essence. People crave for this eyeglass and needless to say, with this object for observation, the universe becomes beautiful on its own. In this regard, Kalidasa is different. The difference is in him; it is not in us. He is superior to us and we cannot deny it. Consequently we don’t want to say that every form of writing is an art of poetry and that every writer is a poet. Now the problem is to identify the true poet and the genuine art of poetry. Nowadays in the market we can find a copy or a duplicate for anything. The same case is with the poet, for we cannot rule out the emergence of ‘duplicate’ poets. Because if you desires, you can please the people with your pen — there is the full moon in the autumn season, and with other heavenly bodies it adorns the fascinating sky; the swift currents of the river make the dancing and bouncing waves; the soft breeze has carried the sweet scents of countless flowers with it and has calmed down the blazing heart; and so on. These kinds of poetry can be written even by those who study them, literally by anyone. In a sense, writing is easy — the full moon is smiling in the sky, however it is hard, how many hearts can laugh heartily on seeing the beauty of the full moon and the wonder of the nature when these are put together. The waves dance in the river; it is true but how many hearts have the waves of the river dance onto? It is our belief: it does not depend merely on our desire to become a poet and polish the art of poetry. Our desire might guide us, it might encourage us, but it cannot be equated with intelligence and natural ability.

The Poet and the Art of Poetry
It is only in our difference on the perception of beauty; the fact is all of us can feel it. We love beauty. Our heart, without any prompting, lusts for beauty. Kalidasa staggered and proceeded, with the tears of love, towards the direction of beauty and he saw it. An ignorant mortal, without the knowledge of real beauty, I’m excited about beauty unknowingly. If not for the whole, I have been able to see a part of beauty. Through the eyeglasses that we are fitted with, some of us see it big, some see it small, some see it white, some see it green — all of us want beauty, want to see it. Yet again, there is a difference in our views and perceptions. The degree of beauty varies from the lowest superlatives to the highest. We are drowned in the ocean of beauty; when the sun sets in the striking spring sky; when the mountains slowly swallow the sun in the west; when we see the brownish heaven in the eventide light and the vast verdant paddy fields that are spread far and wide; and when the breeze from the south sweeps across the landscape and drags us across the boundless spheres of inexplicable beauty. As a captive, as seized by the gods, our eyes freeze at the moment or else, we get out of control and sing out loud about love in the loveliest voice and about beauty with a beautiful melody. In that instant, are we not a poet, our song the art of poetry? The answer is in affirmative. S/he is a poet, who has seen in our world its raw nature and refines it; who lose herself/himself in the nuances of all the tiny things that form this world; and who can laugh and cry with every living and non-living things. It is such a wonder! Whenever the nature manifests itself in its artlessness, there is an urge to bury ourselves in that moment while leaving all the other things on their own devices as we turn into a statue, the world silences as quiet as the still of the night. It is again in this moment we become a poet for a while and our thoughts the stream of poetry. Unfortunately, there are no words or languages that are fully developed in this world. If there were adequate words and the great works of the poets thereof, the world would have been a living paradise. This is the age of science and technology; and we are living in a progressive era. However, if there were cameras that can develop the ideas of a poet like it does for an image, this world would have been a peaceful and advanced planet. Most of the time, the joys and sorrows are tangled in a mare’s nest, alas all the beauty becomes the first casualty. This is why we have been what we are and the world is what it has been.
The Poet and the Art of Poetry

Realists would refute this statement. Their idea is to paint the world as it is. The realistic poet wants no magnification and holds that our poetic imagination should not deceive us. Yet if we have to see the world as it is, then we have different views and perceptions, which will imply the impossibility of knowing the true nature of the world. So there is no other way for the poet than to use his/her imagination to recreate the true nature of the world in its most basic state. S/he has to show and express what s/he sees in his/her image of the universe. The advantage is that we can see through his/her eyes the images that we might not see ourselves. Precisely the poet presents the pictures, clears the clutters, and helps us to broaden our perspectives. This deliberation throws some light on the identity of a poet and his/her art, though it is still open to question the role of words in dealing with our world. Our impression is of the appreciation of those gifted and talented poets and their inimitable works of art. Our words depend on our thought. People who follow Sanskrit poetry would rebut this idea; yet we feel the poet is freer than those hornbills that soar above the clouds; s/he never confines himself/herself by the chains of grammar. We would make the rules and restrictions of using the language; however, this might not appeal to the emotion of the readers. The true poet is someone who is related to no one, is someone who has travelled to another universe. Simply put, a poet can never be bound by the rules of grammar. The poet comes first, then follow the rules that form the art of poetry. A true poet, in fact, frames the rules. Though it will be wrong to state that the person who writes is a poet and what he writes creates the art of poetry. Again, intelligence is independent of mere desires. There are no enough words for those who have mastered this art. Happiness is a universal desire. For a poet the imagination offers this happiness and s/he expresses it succinctly. The expression of such imagination, to a realist, reduces the power of poetry.

Footnote

I appreciate Khwairakpam Chaoba for only one thing: his idea that he had to kick in for the Manipuri literature that was almost non-existent, except for the Sanskrit translations and literary works in other languages like Bengali, during his time. He was a torchbearer along with a few littérateurs such as Hijam Anganghal and Dr Lamabam Kamal, who resurrected our literature from its deathbed. It calls for further reading into the mindset that writing in Manipuri was also considered a low-quality art for more than two centuries after the imposition of Hinduism as a state religion and the mandatory practise of using only Bengali scripts. This is quite hideous for an indigenous race with a population of less than two millions.

However, I have a different taste when it comes to the form of art. Khwairakpam Chaoba, as is evident in this essay, is a die-hard romantic poet. I don’t blame him for stressing on romantic ideologies, for it is his personal choice and he was following only what was in trend during his lifetime. Please refer to the last paragraph of the above translation. He spoke out that only romanticism holds the key to know the essence of our universe. But first, our universe is subjective and is guided by different ideas and thoughts, well, it will be another story if we know the origin of the universe and the purpose of our existence. Secondly, realists do use creative imagination and poets like Laishram Samarendra and Thangjam Ibopishak have proved it in the most elegant and convincing ways. In times of conflict and tragedy, like in our present state, the romantic muse is too light and contrasts the general mindset. SNAFU! For an instance, velvet and flowers will never correspond to the barrage of grenades and Kalashnikovs that are synonymous with our life today.

Image from clker.com


Further Reading

On Reading in Bengali, Thinking in Manipuri As a Major Indian Language study in our high school we had read Manipuri literature in Bengali script. This education deprived us from the opportunity to learn Meitei Mayek in a formal way, but had given us ample time to understand the conflicts of our society. Though understanding is not enough in as much as photography cannot be substituted for motion pictures, it does provide us insights into how history and culture has shaped our contemporary social structure. >>> Read the full article

At a Meeting of the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Assam A couple of weeks ago, a press release in one of the previous day’s newspaper made me so curious to go and see what the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Assam (MSP) is all about in this part of the world. I saw only their announcement about the gathering in one corner of Dispur district, but the next day I found as it happened, an annual district committee meeting and an election of the office bearers were to be convened as adverted in the news report. But that was no issue, as I saw it was in other matters rather than the meeting and election, where I found the usual hollowness in us when we talk about our relationship with the society and vice versa. The meeting place is situated hardly ten kilometres from where I’m putting up right now, and it is easy to commute through two bus routes. But the exact location is a place where I have to enquire a lot, because it is far from any known landmark and is in one of the interior parts of the town, where I have to take another rickshaw to enter from the main road in an uphill street. >>> Read the full article

Howling for a Radical Literary Landscape We are what when nobody is watching. We become more genuine, not when we are alone, but when we see ourselves in literature in our private moments. The works of art offer a space to turn around and sideways to watch and see ourselves. Our actual vanity and arrogance, and the raw reality are absent in the literally, fictitious world. We are a self-conceited animal even when we are alone; we hardly know our own faults. However, a figment of imagination in black and white can uncover the falsities, which hopefully allows us to become more humane. >>> Read the full article

Words: Action and Perception A word is but its meaning. There are words we have to do an action to perceive their meaning, though how we do an action and how perceive the meaning are quite another thing. It is also an entirely different issue with a complex psychoneurological process, plus other lingual and sematic perspectives on how we are/become aware of the meaning. >>> Read the full article

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