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On Poetry

On Poetry

Teaching poetry is one of the most difficult and yet one of the most enjoyable occupations that one can have in one's life. For poetry is an avenue through which one can experience truth, beauty and goodness in a manner which is at once mobile and yet penetrating. Like all art, poetry expresses and evokes experience, it suggests and imprints a vision of the truth, and it imparts and sublimates inexpressible joy and delight. To teach poetry is like sailing with students in a boat on a holiday where the aim is simply to explore, to watch, to stare, to converse and to enjoy freshness of breeze and delight of journey.

Poetry should not be taught as a lesson or as a task. Poetry should never be made a subject of homework. The teacher should read aloud poems with right accent and the right rhythm. Words should be heard as sounds with all their evocative magic, and students be happy participants of this world of magic. The experience that the poet has expressed should be allowed to glide into the deep recesses of the heart, and the words and phrases that shine with experience should come to the students as general and effective whispers. Poetry is to be recited and it is to be heard, and student should gain the experience that is not taught but which is learnt on the wings of sounds. The tongue should be trained, and the ear should be trained.

Rhythmic word is the basic unit of the poetry. The very recitations should convey to the students the delight of the rhythm, and this delight is a special gift of the art of the poetry, similar to the delight of the rhythm that is required in footsteps and movements of the limbs in the art of dance. Rhythmic word and song have intimate connection with each other, and even the magic of the music is rooted in the rhythmic word of poetry. Hence, poetry, song, music and dance are all related to each other and all of them are expressions of joy, which surpasses the boundaries of the visible and the audible and which provides to the student a gate of entry into the inner layers of the soul.

Teaching poetry is thus a journey into sacredness.

The poems which are given in the book are first to be recited and recited rhythmically; if possible, they should be accompanied by the approximate music or in accompaniment of a selected piece of music. Let the sounds and rhythms vibrate in the body, life and mind of the students, and it will be found that it is the soul of the students that will experience an inner awakening.

On Poetry

On Poetry

Next to rhythm, what is important to explore with the students is the experience which has been expressed by the poet. Experience is a living vibration of the individual with oneself and the world around, and this vibration brings to the individual some kind of identity with the object that has been experienced.

The teacher should therefore ask questions that will explore what is conveyed by the poet in terms of experience. The nature of the experience should be identified, kind of experience should be identified, and depth of the experience should be elicited.

But this is not enough, every experience is a process of awakening, it is a process or disclosure. Experience imparts perception, and perception grows into a vision and in the vision truth is apprehended or comprehended. The teacher should therefore explore with the students the layers of the experience and ask what truth has been portrayed by the poet in the poem.

We need to go further. An essential characteristic of poetry is the image through which experience is expressed. Poetry is essentially a study of images, a study of symbols, a study of forms. Every good poem aims at conveying an object through an image, and the quality of poetry is determined by the aptness of the image and concreteness of the experience the image provides to the listener. A poetic image brings out more clearly the truth of the object than what a scientific description can bring out. When a face is imaged as a moon, the poet does not convey the physiological contours or composition of the face but brings out concretely and vividly the brightness of the face, the charm of the face and the joy that the face evokes in the viewer, − since all these are vividly captured in the image of the moon. Images are pen portraits, and like a painter, the poet portrays the object through words, composition of the words and the colour and the atmosphere that can emerge from the sounds and their rhythms.

Images are closely related to figures of speech, and a good teacher of poetry has to communicate to the students the mystery and joy of the varieties of figures of speech. Often words create images merely by alliteration or simply by words which are onomatopoeic. Rhythms too can create images. Similes and metaphors are constantly used by poets and some poets like Kalidasa are masters of similes and metaphors. A good teacher of poetry explores with the student the images drawn by the poet and stimulates students to discover newer and more apt images. This is how a good teacher of poetry fosters among students the power of imagination.

On Poetry

On Poetry

Imagination is not fiction; it is not an artificial construction; it is not a mere fantasy and a flight in the clouds. Imagination is a search for the truth, but a truth which is a more true than what physical form can convey to us. A superficial image which gives the truth of the physical is the real gift of the power of imagination. The truth which cannot be grasped in mere physical terms is sought to be captured and expressed by the poet ‒ through an image which only a living artist can give us, if he is keen to convey the truth in terms of vividity, concreteness and deeper depth.

At the next higher stage of the study of the poetry, we look for style. All style is the manifestation of the manner in which the expression corresponds to the mood of the experience. A serious mood expressed in humourous style will be found to be a mismatch. Fear and wonder cannot be mixed up; ornaments in descriptions do not jell well with descriptions of actions. Expression of heroism requires heroic style,
expression of harmony requires a style that is gentle, melodious and warm. For each mood, the poet should be able to vary his style so that the style and the substance harmonize. Great poetry can ultimately become a symphony, if the poet can rise to different modes and different shades of sentiment and different modes of experience through images and portraits and through styles that can so intermingle that the ultimate effect of the entire poem is that of a well constructed architecture and a well coordinated festival of orchestra. Right from childhood, even simple poems can be so taught that children begin to weave in their consciousness patterns and forms of harmony and beauty and right correspondence between substance and style. Finally, poetry must be a voyage of delight. Every poem has a suggestion, every poem has a certain depth and every poem opens a gate to the depth of experience, the essence of which is called in Indian aesthetics rasa. Rasa is the sap, the crushed juice that even in a drop fills our being with inexpressible joy and delight. Even sorrow has behind it a depth at the end of which the soul of the listener collects in his being that honey which provides nourishment to the inner soul. An essential mark of this delight is the power of alchemy that a poem provides to the individual to harmonize his inner being and even to be transformed. Essentially to read poetry, to listen to poetry, and teach poetry is to participate in the process of transformation.

None can remain unchanged, if a poem is rightly recited, rightly heard and rightly taught.

On Poetry

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