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December 9, 2011

TILAK – A TRUE POET

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Written by: అతిథి
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By C. S. RAO

(This article is taken from the book “Talks and Articles“. We thank Mr. C.S. Rao profusely for granting us permission to reproduce this article. – pustakam.net)

It is truly said that people are slaves of their age, and we are so much influenced by the utilitarian outlook of our age that we scarcely leave anything unvitiated by its impact. Every medium of communication has been so corrupted by propagandist overtones. Much worse, poetry has been most prosaically and painfully stretched out of its shape to serve some ideological needs. I think we have been very unfair to poetry in this regard.

It doesn’t imply at all that the poet shouldn’t have any ideological bias. In fact, it is impossible not to have one such bias. But the chief function of poetry is not to be didactic, and the intellectuality of ideas expressed in a poem is not its chief merit, though it may add to its prestige. Didacticism dilutes poetry and no one reads poetry for philosophical or ideological enlightenment. But that doesn’t mean that the poet can’t give a message in his poetry. He can surely give one but that is to be in the most poetic way, that in the most beautiful way.

In these days of fads Tilak appears as a delightful solace on the poetic horizon. He keeps his mind open to all fresh winds of thought, and his keener perception is ever alive to sensuousness of things and the intellectual beauty of ideas alike. He is one of the most sincere poets of our times, and is as clear-headed as bold.

Tilak, as I understand, is by temperament, a humanist and poet. His first poem “Naa Kavitvam” (“My Poetry”), in the collection “Amrutamkurisina Raatri”, is a fine poem, a bold statement of the nature of his poetry. Poetry in his hands becomes the effective means of the exploitation of beauty. The sharp-edged beauty of his poetry is not blunted by any ideological abstractions for he is not committed to any – dogma political or stylistic. He boldly says that his poetry is not for any ideology or psychology, is neither for capitalism nor for socialism. But the creed of his poetry is humanism and aestheticism. Beauty, physical as well as that which pertains to feelings, is what inspires him into a lyrical utterance. All nobler feelings and things and movements stir him and he is under no ideological shackles.

Beauty, pity, love, peace and sacrifice are what he sings of and evokes. His poetry is soaked in pity and kindness, and it ever aids the noble endeavours of the people far and near. It is as graceful as beautiful little maidens playing in the moonlight. This poem is, so to say, the manifesto of his poetry, and he is so true to it.

I don’t at all think that whatever Tilak has written is among the best of poetry, but I do feel that his best pieces are among the finest of poetry by any standard. In modern Telugu prose-poetry no one else has ever achieved such a rare stylistic beauty as Tilak has done. In the collection “Amrutamkurisina Raatri” (“The Night when Nectar Rained”) there are sixty-four pieces in all, written on a variety of themes. But there arc more than a dozen pieces which stand out as pre-eminent poetic outpourings. It is in these pieces that one discovers Tilak as a poet in his manifold glory. When we read these pieces, we are swept off our feet by the intensity and spontaneity of his feeling. The power and beauty of his words in their collocation, the mellifluousness of his rhythm, the evocativeness of his symbols and images, and the happy expansiveness of his sentence patterns work magically on our artistic responses. The effect of these poems on the reader is so overpowering that the dualism between the poet and the reader vanishes like thin mist at the sunrise, and they go hand in hand exploring worlds of beauty one after the other.

Tilak’s nature is predominantly aesthetic, and aestheticism is a creed and psychology characterized by an obsession with, and an adoration of beauty. The beauty he explores and presents is both sensuous and affective. For a man with aesthetic sensitivity and zest for life and nature, nectar rains all the time. Most people with humdrum habits turn a blind eye on things of beauty, actually present everywhere. They are like those who lie asleep as nectar rains. If one is not animated by the beauteous spectacle of nature, one is as bad as dead. We get a highly sensuous and refreshingly original description of a woman’s beauty in “Amrutamkurisina Raatri”:

“There was a procession of celestial nymphs

pacing fast gracefully,

full-breasted and broad-seated

and bent like tight-stringed bows

of youthfulness.”

Here is the ecstasy of a highly aesthetic nature absorbed in a vision of beauty. And the language used here has all the softness of a graceful measure.

Romanticism in poetry has unfortunately become a term of opprobrium. Romanticists in poetry have been subject to a lot of wrong-headed criticism. A poet has got to be romantic because poetry itself is romantic; prose is realistic, but poetry is romantic. Realistic poetry is only a contradiction in terms. If there is any “such poetry,” it is nothing but the corruption of poetry because it is not poetry at all. I don’t at all suggest that a poet should escape from the problems of the day to create a world of beauty. It is true that a poet should sensitively react to the problems that plague the society. What I mean is that a poet can deal with a social problem or an economic problem and fight for justice and equality in his poetry, but he should remember that he is writing poetry, and that it is not his business to harangue like a dull arm-chair politician. “Aarta Geetam” (“The Cry of Anguish”) is a superb example to the point. The whole poem pulsates with the poet’s deep anguish at the wretchedness and misery of an old man, a woman, an orphan, a peon and a poor clerk who represent the toiling and yet starving millions in the country. The poet is disgusted with the set-up which has treated them in such an abominable and beastly manner. He hangs his head ashamed at the injustice meted out to innumerable countrymen of his. The whole poem is full of “progressive ideas” and he is surely pleading for justice-economic, social and political. But it is not the ideas that count in a poem; it is the romanticization or poetization of the feeling that sustains the pieces, that matters. Here is a cascade of poetry healthy with anguish tumbling down from the heart of the poet. He says that in the midst of such misery he can’t sing of his country, and the eloquence of his anguish mounts up from line to line, and he expresses his passionate aversion for all those fine things of an easy life-luxury couch decked with flowers, aestheticism, even fine arts including poetry, philosophy, the warm embrace of beautiful women, the historical glory of the country, heroism of the ancient times. He says that at the sight of the misery of his countrymen, he is like a poem melted down to tears. This is the first part of the poem which expresses the deep impact on him of his experiences graphically shown in pathetic word-pictures in the second part. The third part of the poem expresses the poet’s vision of the ideal world of the future in an indirect way. The whole poem is artistically designed, and all the parts beautifully harmonized. From the poem:

“I am song melted down to tears,

a bamboo split out of shame into two,

mere ash burnt through and through.”

He asks point blank:

“I have seen misery and helplessness

incarnate in human flesh and blood,

seas of tears in a convulsion of sorrow,

scarecrows of men, ugly and moving like corpses.

Of what culture is this the result?

Of what science, the expression?

What proud remembrance for the land of the Buddha?

And he goes on:

“As long as a poor man remains,

Salty tears of sorrow sadly trickle,

entrails of a starving man hunger,

a baby hungry and lean cries in vain

for milk near breasts withered and sunk,

no peace for me, friend,

I am bereft of pride as a man,

I can’t show my shameless face,

my heart is convulsed

eyes have flowed out, flooded,

dreams shattered are falling down

like scraps of paper.”

Kundurti in his Foreword to “Amrutamkurisina Raatri” is a little critical of the style or rather the language used, by Tilak in the first part of the poem. He says that the language is rather literary. The appropriateness of the language used is to be seen in the quality and intensity of the emotion being expressed. I think Tilak has rightly chosen the literary language here. The enormity of his disgust can be effectively and beautifully expressed only in such language. The poet’s impatience with all that high-sounding stuff, and his pooh-poohing is marvelously suggested by the kind of literary language he has chosen. He is actually expressing the antithesis of experiences. Further, I don’t know why “literary language” should be avoided as a matter of principle. If it is alleged that such literary language is difficult for common people to understand, I ask whether there are not “poems” written in the simplest language but whose total meaning is simply incomprehensible even to reasonably-educated men and women. No words need be fanatically avoided as a matter of dogma so long as they are appropriate to the feeling sought to be expressed, and so long as they are alive with a rich suggestion of their own.

Tilak is an adept at delineating a mood or an atmosphere through haunting word-pictures which achieve a graphic solidity. “Adrusthadhwagamanam” is one of the finest poems in the collection. It moves on with a crescendo of eloquence in ever-widening expansiveness of sub-sentences and sentences, and presents, in the most moving terms, the social imbalance, a frightening disorder frustrating the aspirations and dreams of the less fortunate ones, the utter indifference of tile society to the pathetic plight of the struggling individuals.

“Listen, you are lucky, you have everything

hearth and home, status and fame

fast going up the sliver ladder.

But see me, I shudder as I see

a frightening disorder frustrating sincere endeavour,

I see it in the frightened stare of a starving hare,

in the faint glimmering in the dust-ladden eyes

of the hungry children playing on the fringes of the village,

in the burning cinders of the western sky

visible through the branches of a misshaped crab tree.”

The dominant mood of the piece or of the poet is not one of rebellious anger or of jealous restlessness but one of bold acceptance of the unavoidable obstacles and bitter experiences in the present set-up. It is also one of absolute commitment to a chosen ideal, or more appropriately, to his own inner dictates. But the poet does not give himself up to despair, and be has infinite confidence in himself and the future. He says:

“Even now I am not tired of dreaming

as I lie in spring under the trees.

My Muse will still implant young ones

of conical trees of hopes and aspirations

in the minds eroded by tears.

Even now for me singing in darkness

comes the brown cobra that has newly cast its skin

from the caldera bush, and dances

with its hood raised full and dangling in the air.

The Eastern nymph smiles with the grace

of moon radiance on her cheeks,

and perches a gentle ray

from Venus sweet on my heart.”

Also in “The Deathless Song” the poet celebrates the ineradicable optimism of man, and the mysterious charm of life that never exhausts itself. Despite the setbacks, man moves on with hope, holding his own invincible spirit aloft. He says:

“Albeit the hundred cracks,

music is still rising in my heart;

I gained confidence I wouldn’t die,

I want to shout I don’t have death.

Listen, even before I wipe out blood

trickling down my lips hammered hard,

from under jasmine canopy

beckons my dreamworld angel,

with her happy smile,

and wipes out the sweaty dew

off my face with her fine silken skirt

resembling a cloud.

Tilak expresses his pacifism in “Go Away. Go Away.” He builds up the pathetic atmosphere of the disaster of war, not so much in the actual loss of human lives but in the eternal lamentation of the dear ones of those that are killed in the war. He accosts a host of bereaved women, distracted and moving about in the burial ground vainly looking for their loved ones. The leaders of the world owe an explanation to them for having ruined their happiness. The language he uses is at once evocative, suggestive and graphic; his words evoke a scene with all its graphic solidity over which descends slowly but heavily an atmosphere of pathos and lamentation like the shadow caused by a dart cloud. He asks them:

“Oh my God, don’t look like that

with eyes dried up, and teeth fixed;

I can’t bear, don’t show your horrid

desert – like breasts with lamentation sunk.”

Everyone of his best pieces has an ever-new effect. “Vaanalo Neetho” (“With You in the Rain”) is addressed to his beloved. It is a fine piece of “landscape writing.” We have scenes of haunting beauty here. Tilak achieves a marvelous reciprocative effect by which I mean that every scene suggests and intensifies the mood of love just as the mood of love heightens the sensuous beauty of each scene. Further, it is not merely the personal love of the poet or any individual but the universal fact of love which is the animating source of life. The poet says:

“The canal has slantingly turned round

the waist of the plantain garden

Beyond the coconut groves flashes

the lightning like a radium rendezvous.

My mind is enveloped in the soft sandal fragrance

emanating from your body;

my life has newly blossomed with restless desire.”

How picturesque is the description of a canal gently flowing round a plantain garden suggesting an embrace! How beautifully does it suggest and intensify the mood of love! The poem proceeds to achieve the culmination of effect at the end.

“In the rain, and in the forests

do I feel a mystic agelessness.

In the shades of the Babylonian and the Egyptian

splendid structures of civilization

my love, haven’t we had

draughts of wine together.”

We feel a gentle tug at our obscure race memories and vague consciousness as we read the last two lines of the poem. We feel some transcendental being or consciousness in us suddenly irradiating areas of forgotten dusks of experience. We wonder whether we have not mysteriously existed in some form of consciousness since the beginning of creation. In “Modernity and Poetry” the poet himself says that the true function of poetry, among other things, is to extend the areas of consciousness. That is what he truly does here.

It is very difficult to think of a poem comparable to “Thou art not, but Thy Song Remains” for the evocative beauty of its symbolism. The poem is addressed to his beloved who is now no more, but whose song has become part and parcel of the warp and woof of the poet’s whole being. The poem has to embody a complexity of feelings; the ever-haunting thoughts of his beloved, the ecstasy of love, the rapture of companionship, the present pathos and the nostalgia mingled with tears. It expresses all these feelings beautifully through suggestion and atmosphere. Only the memory of those happy days with her sustains the poet for whom, but for that, life would have been unbearable. It is one of the longest poems in the collection, fifty-six lines, but it contains just three or four sentences. Each sentence moves on and on eloquently at an unimpeded pace with the whirligig of nostalgic passion through metaphor after metaphor, from symbol to symbol. There is absolutely no obscurity about the poem in spite of its inordinately long sentences. Even the very first few lines set the trend and the tempo of the poem:

“Thou art not, but thy song remains;

curling round the jasmine creepers in front of the house,

spreading over the lantern light,

encircling my heart,

hiding in the air, in the sky

and in the twinkle of a remote star,

It is there faint and clear;

it sounds pathetic and pleasant,

and brings to the mind

the difference between winter and spring.”

The song goes up the jasmine creepers in front of which the poet and his beloved must have sat and sat for a number of years, and thus they possess enthralling but now melancholy associations for the poet. It spreads over the lantern light whose faintness suggests the melancholy and forsaken loneliness of the poet. It encircles his heart ever yearning for those blessed bygone days. And then he goes on as if in a trance having it all once again:

“Sitting face to face amid

the encircling rosebay flowers

that blossomed fresh in front of the doors

of radiant health of sweet adolescence

fragrant like the ripe caldera flower,

simply looking absorbed at each other,

writing a radium letter on a slate

of darkness light,

holding time without letting it move,

rambling in the flower gardens

of happy dreams and desires,

skating on the snowy mountains of daring

raising tents of hopes and desires in the skies above,

with the pure radiant youth, strength and innocence…”

The poem moves on and on majestically, pathetically and beautifully like this, and proceeds to achieve a culmination of effect in the repetition of the first stanza at the end.

Whether Tilak delineates the romantic love sickness of a woman in “Waiting for Her Beloved”, or whether he pours biting sarcasm at the painful incongruities and contradictions and the suicidal tendencies by which our civilization is characterized in “The Bitter Upanishad”, or when he tells us how human endeavour has all along been through ages a search for truth and beauty, though through trial and error in “Ascent of a Peak”, or when he sings, like a bird on its happy flight across the blues infinite, of internationalism, pacifism and humanism in “The Song of the One Word”, or when he suggests the whole deserted, dilapidated look of a little place in “The Deserted Village” by a single line (Here carries the wind, the coldness of the corpses / of people that died long ago), we have the same haunting element about his poetry. As he himself puts it in “Modernity and Poetry”, each word has its own power and sharpness, and each representation or picturization its own meaning and propriety. Tilak is a sensitive artist in words and images, and he knows well how to exploit them to the fullest artistic advantage.

The irrepressible joy of life, the undying optimism of man, the sustaining power of art, the charm of beauty, a profound sympathy for the suffering men, the inevitable anguish of human experience, the poignant nostalgia, the universal predicament of separation and death are the motive springs of his poetry. Of course, poetry has a purpose: it should uplift our spirits and ennoble our character, but it can’t perform this function if it doesn’t cause us a thrill or give us a rapture. Tilak’s poetry thrills us, makes a haunting impression on us, and it recurs to our mind again and again like a dear one for whom we long day and night. Every time it recurs, it brings with it a new meaning, a new awareness, a new insight, and offers us a fresh experience. How so this? In Tilak’s themes and art, we have a happy blend of the particular and the universal, the contemporary and the eternal. Mere contemporaneity in theme and treatment will have only an ephemeral appeal. A great poet takes up a contemporary theme and lends it a universal or eternal dimension through his treatment, and raises his work to the level of a classic. And Tilak precisely does this.

(The translations of Tilak’s poems are by the author)

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About the Author(s)

అతిథి

పుస్తకం.నెట్ కు సభ్యులు కాని వారు పంపే వ్యాసాలు అతిథి గా ప్రచురింపబడతాయి.



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