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​How to Experience a Poem

Mohini Pitke

Translated by Saee Pawar





The word ‘Kavita’ (Poem/Poetry) itself is reminiscent of a mesmerising experience. Reading a poem then becomes something more than a mere linguistic experience, it becomes a guide to numerous approaching moments. However, before reaching this stage all readers should try to subjectively understand what a poem essentially is. Do you really think that poetry is considered to be the greatest literary genre without any substantial reason? A poem comes from the poet's heart, it emerges suddenly, without warning, like a revelation. It appears in the form of a beautiful exclamation. That which expresses the sorrow of all humankind is the true poem. That which covers the mood of the entire region is the true poem. Poet Lowell says,

“And I believed the poets;

it is they

Who utter wisdom from the central deep

And, listening to the inner

flow of the things

speak to the age out of

eternity.” (Lowell, 1896)

This articulation is applicable to all sorts of creative artists. A good poem is one that seeks the depths of the mind. It makes us happy and at the same time leaves a lingering sense of melancholy. A poem contains observations of one’s surroundings, a narration of experiences, the depiction of events, and even mysteries. Some poems also underline the inevitable despair of human life. For example,

“अमुचा प्याला दुःखाचा।

डोळे मिटुनी प्यायाचा।

पिता बुडाशी गाळ दिसे

ज्याअनुभव हे नाव असे” (Keshavsut)

(Rough Translation: Ours is a glass of sorrow, to drink with closed eyes. Waiting for us at the bottom is a sludge called experience.)

Or

“देवे दिलेल्या जमिनीत

आम्ही सरणार्थ आलो”(Khanolkar)

(Rough Translation: In a land given by god, we came to be buried)

The inner music of the poet's mind turns into words. With the strength of their imagination, a poet gives their experiences and observations a celebratory, aesthetic form, gives a quality of poeticity. Readers should be aware of such things to a certain extent. Rather than semantic beauty, the reader tends to be typically drawn to words and smooth images filled with hollow meanings. Additionally, one invariably finds monotony in poems about love and nature. The outward appearance of a poem becomes fashionable. It gets a huge response from the audience and poems like these turn into a trend.

We never think about what state of mind the poet was when they wrote a poem. A poem emerges from the restlessness of mind. It is often indicative. Indirectness is a mark of a good poem. It doesn’t say it all. Something is reserved for the reader to understand on their own. This is what they call ‘reading between the lines.’ This practice of reading between the lines is the first step of enjoyment.

“दुःख तुझे दुःख तुझे

वेदनेस काय कमी?

सुटकेचा भास पुरा

जाईल ते जाईन मी”

(Rough Translation: Your sorrow, your sorrow is never lacking of pain. Imagining relief is enough; the pain will go and I will go)

This is what Indirabai's lines (Pāṭaṇakar, 2002) tell us!

Every poem has a face of its own. It is only with practice that we might be able to unravel the inner meaning by merely looking at the surface. The process of composing poetry is quite complicated. However, we must remember that we are well-versed readers, not critics; and try to understand it. Well-known poet Asavaritai Kakade says that a poem is a duality. It is first born in the mind of the poet, and it is born again as the meaning that unfolds in the minds of the readers. The poem unfolds on paper, through form and style. Its lines, its length, dots, pauses, etc. are so very important. Asavaritai calls them ‘gestures’ of a poem. They need to be understood. A poem has a multitude of meanings. That is why Asavari Kakade writes,

“शब्दांचे बोट धरून निघालेल्या

प्रत्येकाला

लागू नये एकाच अर्थाचे गाव

कवितेला तर नाहीच

कवितेखालीही नसावे कुणाचे नाव”

(Rough Translation: To everyone starting a journey hand in hand with words, I hope you all don't reach the same destination of meaning. Not only the poem, but the space under the poem also should not hold anybody's name.)

Even though the poem bears the name of the poet for practical purposes, the meaning of it does not belong solely to the poet. It becomes eternal, omnipresent. Even the poet does not realize the moment when a true great poem crosses the boundary of individuality. Then the poet simply exclaims, “मळ्यास माझ्या कुंपण पडणे अगदी न मला साहे” or “ I cannot bear having a fence to my garden” (Keshavsut). The same is expected from the reader. For this, the reader needs to have compassion. They should be able to relate to the thoughts, feelings and experiences expressed in the poem.

Many poems depict various phenomena of nature. A theme like ‘rain’ invariably reminds us of certain famous lyrics about rain. There is nothing wrong with remembering simple poems. But remembering poems like ‘सरीवर सरी आल्या ग’ (Sarivar sari alya ga) or ‘गडद निळे गडद निळे’ (Gadad nile gadad nile) (Borkar) or ‘पाऊस कधीचा पडतो’ (Paus kadhicha padato) or ‘नको नको रे पावसा’ (Nakonako re pavasa)(Indira Sant) along with those is a sign of our understanding of poetry becoming more complex. ‘निसर्गभानाच्या कविता अनुभवणे’ (Nisargabhanachya kavita anubhavane) by Nalesh Patil is a rare source of bliss. Numerous poets have written poems on topics like the sea, morning and evening, trees and birds. An avid reader should learn to do a comparative study so that they can understand what contemporary contemplative poetry is. When a poet writes, along with their experience they bring with them the influence of previous culture, contemplation and study. In fact, who is the master of poetry? God, society, culture? Or genius/talent? What can we call this driving force? I remember a line from Padgaonkar,

“सोहळ्यात सौंदर्याच्या

तुला पाहु दे रे.”

(Rough Translation: In the festival of beauty, let me see you)

Here, does the poet associate beauty with the Supreme God who created everything? Should beauty be associated with such a philosophy, with spirituality? After all, how should the concept of beauty in poetry be interpreted and extended? Beautiful here does not mean shallow or outwardly beautiful! John Keats calls it ‘Beauty truth, Truth beauty’ (Strachan, 2003) in the same sense. A true poet goes from beauty to truth. The search for truth never ends. It goes on and on. An excellent but overlooked poet M. M. Deshpande's very meaningful lines come to mind,

“सारा अंधारच प्यावा

अशी लागावी तहान

एका सध्या सत्यासाठी

देता यावे पंचप्राण” (Deshpande, 1965)

(Rough Translation: May I be so thirsty that I can drink the Darkness itself. May I be able to give my life and soul for one simple Truth.)

Therefore, it is necessary for the reader to unravel the interrelationship between self-awareness, awareness of the world and philosophy in poetry.

We can all recall many poems describing feminine beauty. A notable one by Borkar goes like -

“केशी तुझिया फुले उगवतील

तुला कशाला वेणी!

चांदण्यास शिणगार कशाला

बसशील तेथे लेणी” (Borkar, 1982)

(Rough Translation: Flowers will bloom on your head, you have no need for a braid. Why do we need the decor of stars, there will be monuments wherever you sit.)

And at the same time, we remember Vinda's mischievous 'Sathicha Ghazal'’. External description captivates an ordinary writer as well as an ordinary reader! But if we wish to make our journey from words to emotion and then to contemplation emerging from those emotions, the doors of the reader's conscience must be opened. For example, many poets have written poems on a simple subject like 'tree'. It is up to the reader to decide which poem has more profound meaning!

Shanta Shelke's poem 'Zaad (Tree)' says,

“हे एक झाड आहे: ह्याचे माझे नाते

वाऱ्याची एकच झुळूक दोघांवरून जाते

मला आवडतो याच्या फुलांचा वास

वासामधून उमटणारे जाणीव ओले भास

कधीतरी एक दिवशी मीच झाड होईन

पानांमधून ओळखीचे जुने गाणे गाईन” (Shelake, 1988)

(Rough Translation: This is a tree: the relationship between us is the same gentle breeze touches us both . I like the scent of its flowers and the feelings I experience through the illusions the scent creates.

………………………………………………....

One day I will myself become a tree

And will sing a familiar old song through my leaves)

Then look at Borkar’s poem ‘Tree’,

“झाड माझे वेडेपिसे, उन्ही जळताना हसे

रुसे धो धो पावसात, चांदण्यात मुसमुसे”

(Rough Translation: This mad tree of mine laughs whilst burning in sunlight, hurts in the heavy rain, cries under starlight)

P. S. Rege’s Tree is priceless! His Genius -

“एक आहे झाड माझे

राठ ज्याच्या जीर्ण शाखा

साठिषण्मासी परंतू

लाख येती ज्या शलाका.

झाड माझे लाखमोली

लाल ज्याला फक्त पाने,

नेणता ये एक त्याला

शुभ्र काही जीवघेणे.” (Rege, 1975)

(Rough Translation: I have a tree, which has old branches,.. But thousands of new sprouts will grow on it,...., My tree is priceless, it only has red leaves, ..but the one thing it does is the most pure...)

The phrase ‘शुभ्र काही जीवघेणे’ (shubhra kahi jeevaghene) hypnotizes the mind of the admirer. The worldly realm is forgotten. And a different sentiment is experienced/realized.

Love is the eternal feeling in the heart of a human. Always alive. Many love songs have been sung by us, but I especially remember Anil's ‘आणीबाणी’ (Emergency) (Pāṭaṇakara, 2002), and P. S. Rege's ‘अर्थ' (meaning),

“आणि बसल्यावर । तिचा हात हातात घेताना

अंतर कधी मोजू नकोस.

काळाची एक भलतीच

सवय आहे

पुन्हा मागे फिरण्याची

केवळ दूर मावळतीकडे पाहा

ढगांच्या सावल्याही रंगीत झालेल्या

दिसतील

काही विचारू नकोस, सांगू नकोस

खाली किसलेली वाळू आहे

तिच्यातूनही बोटे फिरू देत

इथून आता साऱ्या प्रश्नांना

अर्थ आहे.”

(Rough Translation: And when you sit and hold her hand, never count the distance between the two of you. Time has a weird habit of running backwards. Just look at the sunset far away, you will see shadows of clouds getting colourful. Don't ask anything, don't say anything. There's thin sand below, let your fingers run through it. From now on, all questions are meaningful.)

All these examples tell us that the true meaning of beauty is not external. A proficient poet like Wordsworth is mesmerized by golden ‘daffodils’. Those beautiful flowers also occupy a place in his memory. Not only does it bring pleasure to his eyes, but it also gives him an indescribable spiritual joy—

“They flash upon the

inward eye

which is the bliss

of solitude.” (Wordsworth, 2013)

Only after more and more reading can we find such nooks and crannies in a poem. Comprehending poems has its stages. Here, we must keep developing ourselves. Sometimes we can't even put into words why we like or dislike a particular poem. Yet we applaud part of a song unknowingly! Same goes for spaces in poems. After all, literature is not just observations or experiences, it also needs to be coupled with contemplation. Poet's vision of life needs to be formed. All of that is reflected in his writings over time. However poetry is not philosophy, but a metaphorical expression of meaning of life. Poets share the exposed truth with the readers. They speak freely of the attraction they feel towards nature and this world, their fascination with the miraculous/supernatural. Because a poet is a dweller of two worlds. Padma Gole's poem 'Akashvedi' should be significant in this context.

“किती उंच जाईन पोचेन किंवा

संपेल हे आयु अर्ध्यावरी

आकाशयात्रीस न खेद त्याचा

निळी जाहली जी सबाह्यंतरी!” (Gole, 1968)

(Rough Translation: How long and high will I fly or will life end halfway; the traveller of sky doesn't care, the blue of the sky has engulfed them inside out….)

Or Indira Sant’s poem titles ‘Zoka’ (Swing)

“झोका चढतो उंच उंच

पाय पोचती मेघावरती

इंद्राच्या डोहावरती

लाल पाखरे पाण्या येती

झोका चढतो उंच उंच

मला थांबता थांबवेना,

गुंजेएवढे माझे घर

त्याची ओळख आवडेना” (1990)

(Rough Translation: The swing goes higher and higher, my feet reach the clouds, red birds come for a drink at Indra's pond. The swing goes higher and higher, I don't want to stop it. My home seems tiny like gunja/Rosary peas, I don't like the look of it.)

Even an epoch-making poet like Mardhekar who reveals the ugliness, headlessness, inferiority of modern life, and contradictions and inconsistencies in the individual life - all in clear words through images, yet he writes, “अजून येतो वास फुलांना!” (The flowers are still fragrant) (Rajadhyaksha, 1991)

In this way the poet expresses his unwavering faith in life!

“अजूनही कोणी निळ्या डफावर

विजेची थाप हणून उद्गारतो,

तू जगशील, तुम्ही जगाल!”

(Rough Translation: Still someone speaks, banging on the blue drum like thunder, saying-- You will live, You all will live!)

As readers we should turn to such poems. Some experimental poets attempt new things. We should enjoy that as well. Along with Keshavsut, Tambe, Borkar, Vinda, Indira Sant, we should also turn to the poems of Khanolkar and Grace who take a different path. Finding meaning in their poems is a daunting yet invigorating task. Khanolkar writes in the poem 'दोन मी’',

“मैफिलीला तो नि मी दोघेही जातो धावुनी;

ऐकतो मी सूर, तो अन् दूरचे घंटाध्वनी”

(Rough Translation: He and I, we both run to the music concert; He listens to the notes and I hear the sound of bells ringing far away)

Or

“संपूर्ण मी तरु की आहे नगण्य पर्ण

सांगेल राख माझी गेल्यावरी जळून” (Khānolakar, 1992)

(Rough Translation: Am I a whole tree or a negligible leaf; only my ashes will tell after it burns)

A substantial poem is like this. It is the life-blood of a master spirit. Readers must always remember this. So that their prowess will advance consequently.

‘कविता अशी असावी। जी वाचता कळावी’ (A poem should be understood upon reading) cannot be the universal truth. The journey of a poet who strolls from sky to earth and from earth to sky with the wings of genius is as difficult as it is beautiful. Remember the classic poems like ‘Satariche Bol’ which proved to be a yardstick for quality. To the common man falling into the pit of depression, the notes of a Satar initially sound annoying. But those magical tunes change his mood and his mind moves towards vastness. ‘तो मज गमले विभूति माझी। स्फुरत पसरली विश्वामाजि’ - This is the strength of great poetry. Borkar, who writes erotic, sensual poems like ‘जपानी रमलाची रात्र’, finally says,

“आलिंगन - चुंबनाविना हे मीलन अपुले झाले ग

पहा, पाहा, परसात हरीच्या रुमडाला सुम आले ग” (Borakar, 1972)

(Rough Translation: Without kisses and embrace,our meeting remains incomplete, look look in the garden of god,......)

Understanding feelings and thoughts behind words is a sign of excellent taste. A poem which originates from an individual ends up belonging to the entire population. That is true poetry! Some poems, however, have several layers of meanings. Poems of poets like Anil, N. D. Deshpande, M. M. Deshpande, Poet B, and B. R. Tambe seem to be working on the concept of ‘Seven types of ambiguity’ (2016) proposed by William Empson.

Things like recitation, theatrical adaptations, poetry reading programs with the addition of music make poetry easier to enjoy. Veterans like Vinda, Padgaonkar, Bapat, P. L. Deshpande and Sunitabai have done an amazing job in this regard. Theatrical adaptations of some poems have been performed on the stage.

Great poetry deals with contemporary issues. But at the same time it is timeless. One should always keep this in mind while enjoying poetry. That is to say, the abundance of prose and reactionary poetry that is emerging in current time can only be judged by an extraordinary reader. We must stop cheering this.

A Poet needs talent, dedication and research. If the reader also nurtures their interest in good, succinct literature, they will thoughtfully appreciate it. Knowing the importance of poetic qualities, the reader should tirelessly try to make others understand. So that the interest in Marathi poetry will rise and so will the quality of poetry written. I suspect that the practice of poetry writing is becoming more and more mechanical. Knowledgeable readers and great poetry are interdependent.

One must mention the poems written by poets addressing their own prowess. Khanolkar's

“ती येते आणिक जाते

येताना कधी कळ्या आणते

आणि जाताना फुले मागते”

(Rough Translation: She comes and goes, brings buds when she comes, asks for flowers when she goes)

A number of great poems like Vinda’s मनाच्या मनोऱ्यात शुभ्र कबुतर (Manachya manoryat shubhra kabutar), Indirabai’s निळा पारवा (Nila parva), N. G. Deshpande’s 'बकुळफुला कधीची तुला धुंडतें वनात' (Bakulphula kadhichi tula dhundate vanaat), B. R. Tambe’s 'मधुघट' (Madhughat) are waiting for your response.

Even in modern times, the poems of Saumitra, Dasu Vaidya, Nalesh Patil, Arun Mhatre, Anuradha Patil are excellent and profound in both form and content. Many poets of the new generations like Kalpana Dudhal, Pooja Bhadange who are connected to the grassroots, Sanjay Chaudhary, who wonders whether ‘a drop of Kabir and Meera seep out of his writing?', Santosh Vatpade who writes content-rich and well-informed poems, Namdev Koli who tells us that even darkness has its own poetry and Raosaheb Kumar are composing admirable poetry. We must appreciate that.

Khanolkar (Aarti Prabhu) writes

“ही निकामी आढ्यता का

दाद द्या अन् शुद्ध व्हा

सूर आम्ही चोरतो का

चोरता का वाहवा

चांदणे पाण्यातले की वेचता येईल ही

आणि काळोखात पारा ये धरू चिमटीतही

ना परंतू सूर कोणा लाविता ये दीपसा

सूर नोहे तीर कंठी लागलेला शापसा”

(Rough Translation: Why this worthless pride, show appreciation and get over it, we don't steal the tunes, why do you steal the applause....

One can catch stars in the from the water and grasp mercury in the darkness,

but no one can render the notes because they aren't notes, but a curse from the throat )

Is genius a blessing or a curse? Dwelling with genius is life threatening! It takes a lifetime. Readers should also compose their sensibilities with passion and thoughtful contemplation. Then you will see how the world within any given poem lights up. And as our inner sensibilities grow rich, profound admiration gives birth to more and more meaningful and contemplative poetry. Words are not mere words. They are a multifaceted force that creates varied layers of meaning and enriches one's taste along with poetry.

"शब्दस्वरपुष्पांचे अक्षर झुबके

क्रौंच मिथुनाच्या वेळेचे आर्त

तुमच्या वृंदावनात आणून टाकणारी पाखरं” (Sadananda Rege)

(Rough translation: Art is a journey with aesthetic pleasure as its destination.)

Bibliography

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  • Strachan, John R., ed. A Routledge literary sourcebook on the poems of John Keats. Psychology Press, 2003.

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  • Khānolakara, Cintāmaṇi Tryambaka, and Ghavī, Ravīndra. Nivaḍaka Cĩ. Tryã. Khānolakara. India, Sahitya Akademi, 1992.

  • Borakara, Bālakr̥shṇa Bhagavanta. Ānandabhairavī. India, Kônṭinenṭala Prakāśana, 1973.

  • Empson, William. Seven Types Of Ambiguity. United Kingdom, Read Books Limited, 2016.

  • Pāṭaṇakara, Vasanta. Svātantryottara Maraṭhī kavitā, 1945 te 1960. India, Sāhitya Akādemī, 2002.

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Mohini Pitke has worked as a college professor for more than 30 years. Her subject of study is English but she is fond of Marathi, Sanskrit and Urdu. She writes in several newspapers and magazines, and organizes and participates in literary activities. She has written poetry in Marathi and Urdu. She is also interested in translation of poems. She is the founder and admin of E-Lit-E, a group dedicated to reviewing old and new English literature on Facebook.

Endnote: All rough translations of poetry quoted in this essay have been done by Bilori Journal and are not copyrighted translations belonging to anybody else.