Sunday, 9 May 2010
EXPLORING DEATH THROUGH POETRY
The aim of the paper is to shed free the fear of death and live life to the full. Undoubtedly death is a forbidden zone and we would not like to ponder over it as it casts a ghastly spell with its superpower.
DEATH HAS GOT SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR IT,
WHEREVER YOU MAY BE......................................
THEY BRING TO YOU FREE
My area of research is death. We all know it is the ultimate truth of our existence yet we are unable to accept it. Sometimes this fear gets into our way of living and we die a hundred times before we can actually make our peace.
WHAT ARE DAYS FOR?
DAYS ARE WHERE WE LIVE.
THEY COME, THEY WAKE US,
TIME AND OVER THEY ARE HAPPY TO BE IN;
WHERE CAN WE LIVE, BUT DAYS?
I have chosen poetry as a medium to advocate because poetry can reach out to us and stir our souls. It creates an impact wherein we learn, unravel, rediscover and most importantly poetry heals. I wish to explain this through an anecdote.
I have included Mary Frye in my paper only to assure you that poetry can create wonders. Mary Frye was a simple Baltimore housewife. She was no poet but tried her creativity to only ease out the numbing pain of death. Mary Frye had a friend as a guest at her place who hailed from Germany. While her friend was at Mary’s place back in Germany her mother took ill. Her friend could not visit her dear mother because of the political unrest in Germany then. Eventually her mother passed away and the girl suffered from pangs of guilt for not being able to attend her funeral. A depression set in which none could cure. It was then that Mary Frye wrote a poem that made her friend realise that through death her mother was omnipresent. Mary Frye was so pleased to have healed her friend through her poetic lines that she made handouts of her poem and sent it to every mourner in the vicinity who was coping with the loss of a dear one. Glancing through few lines from the poem, we can evaluate how feelings and emotions can sink in through poetry, thereby influencing and educating us.
DO NOT STAND AT MY GRAVE AND WEEP
I AM NOT THERE, I DO NOT SLEEP.
I AM A THOUSAND WINDS THAT BLOW
I AM THE DIAMOND GLINT ON SNOW.
I AM THE SUNLIGHT ON RIPENED GRAIN
I AM THE GENTLE AUTUMN RAIN.
DO NOT STAND AT MY GRAVE AND CRY
I AM NOT THERE, I DID NOT DIE.
The spirit of my paper revolves primarily around Rabindranath Tagore and his magnanimous concept of death.
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, was born in the city of Calcutta at Jorasanko Mansion on 7th May 1861 to Saroda Devi and Debendranath Tagore [leader of the Brahmo Samaj]. Although he was a sheltered child of an elite family his mind wandered to the land of freedom. He declined class room education and only at the age of 17 went ahead for formal schooling to England. However he returned not having acquired any degree, yet amazingly he shot to fame for his dynamic writings that reflect strength, courage and challenges. As a poet, novelist, musician and playwright, he reshaped Bengali Literature and music. He was a Bengali polymath and was known as ‘Gurudev’. Tagore was a mesmerizing representative of Indian culture whose popularity internationally perhaps could only be compared to Gandhiji. He was awarded the nobel prize for Geetanjali [song of offerings]. His Gitabitan [book of songs] is like a vast resource of strength for every Bengali household. His educational institute Shantiniketan( University –VISHWABHARATI) is known for its essence of freedom in education. He was conferred Knighthood which he returned after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. Tagore died on 7th august 1941 leaving behind a legacy of his dynamic thoughts through his works. However, ‘death’ wasn’t powerful enough to wipe out his existence as even today, year 2010 that marks Tagore’s 150th Birth anniversary, we find his life and works coming alive. Eastern railway has organised for an Exhibition Train’ named “SANSKRITI EXPRESS” which will travel all over the country to unfold his multi faceted creations and dynamic views beyond the boundaries of conventional ideas.
Tagore says that death is life’s last fulfilment. In his ‘Death from Gitanjali’ he believes death is our guest and will knock at our door someday. We should be prepared for this guest and as we honour a guest we must honour death by setting before it our life.
I WILL NEVER LET HIM GO EMPTY HAND,
AND THE SWEET VINTAGE OF ALL MY AUTUMN DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS
ALL THE EARNINGS AND GLEANINGS OF MY BUSY LIFE WILL I PLACE,
BEFORE HIM AT THE CLOSE OF MY DAYS,
WHEN DEATH WILL KNOCK AT MY DOOR.
Tagore shows an eager acceptance of the much hyped ‘fearful death’. His readiness is commendable and makes us wonder how one can be calm and poised over a turmoil like death, which makes us lose our dear ones. Well, Tagore himself wasn’t born with this acumen of being able to overcome the fear of death. There are lines that he wrote when he was just 24, and strangely we find him lamenting there.
ALAS WHERE WILL YOU GO!
IN THAT ENDLESS UNKNOWN LAND…………………..
AND YOU ALONE, ALL ALONE,
HOW WILL YOU FIND YOUR WAY?
ALAS WHERE WILL YOU GO!
NONE OF US WILL BE THERE FOR YOU,
NONE OF US TO CHAT AND TALK TO YOU,
WE SHALL SIT HERE AND WEEP.
It was written for his sister in law Kadambari Devi [his elder brother’s wife] with whom he was exceptionally close. Kadambari Devi committed suicide within four month’s of Tagore’s marriage and Tagore was heartbroken. These lines depict his weakness, his despair over death. However he manages to overcome this weak attitude over death and moves on in his life to realize that death settles the unrest in our existence. He says that all the tears turn into smiles with death. He realizes he had faltered, wept only because her death was his first encounter with grief. Over the years his poems conquered the weakness and depicted death as a part of life.
I WAS WALKING ALONG A PATH OVERCOME WITH GRASS
WHEN SUDDENLY I HEARD FROM SOMEONE BEHIND
‘SEE IF YOU KNOW ME?’
I TURNED AROUND AND LOOKED AT HER AND SAID,
‘I CANNOT REMEMBER YOUR NAME’
SHE SAID ‘I AM THE FIRST GREAT SORROW WHOM YOU MET WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG’
-( From The First Sorrow )
The above lines tell us that Rabindranath Tagore cannot remember the fearful vision of death as he had learnt to accept it as a reality one cannot evade.
Tagore’s idea of death was romantic. He treated death as a lover.
DAY AFTER DAY I HAVE KEPT WATCH FOR THEE
FOR THEE I HAVE BORNE THE JOYS AND PANGS OF LIFE.
ALL THAT I AM, THAT I HAVE, THAT I HOPE,
AND ALL LOVE HAVE EVER FLOWED
TOWARDS THEE IN DEPTHS OF SECRECY.
ONE FINAL GLANCE FROM THINE EYES AND MY LIFE WILL BE THINE OWN.
His poem projects the agony of a lover, his restlessness till he unites with his beloved and here death has been compared to a lover.
Tagore has a mature outlook and feels death is the only truth of life. Since it is the inevitable nothing is more powerful than death. So death should lay its hand on us in a bold manner and not sneak into our lives. Tagore shows exemplary courage when his wife Mrinalini Devi was in her sick bed. Tagore prepared himself for her untimely death as it would free her from her sufferings. He wanted death to ease out her agonies and reprimanded death in his poem DEATH WEDDING [Maran Milan]
According to Tagore death is like a bridegroom who should come with an undaunting spirit to wed his lover, to be crazily wishing to be one. In his poem Death Wedding, he questions death why he has to set in slowly causing unending pains when he can walk in ceremoniously. He says death is the only happening that one cannot avoid and so death should be pompous of this fact and not behave like a thief. Through these lines he gives us an overview of our existence. We should realize that we need to surrender to death willingly. He manages to invoke through the lines unflinching courage and strength to embrace the inevitable and says that we need to overcome our paranoid ideas of death. He encourages us to thrust aside our unreadiness and accept death gracefully. The poem has an emotional sequence that makes us come to terms with death.
(ORIGINALLY ‘MARAN MILAN’ IN BENGALI)
Translated by William Radice who was a poet , writer, translator. He was a senior lecturer in Bengali in the school of Oriental and African studies, University of London
WHY DO YOU SPEAK SO SOFTLY DEATH, DEATH
CREEP UPON ME, WATCH ME SO STEALTHILY?
THIS IS NOT HOW A LOVER SHOULD BEHAVE…..
I DO NOT KNOW WHY YOU THUS COME AND GO
TELL ME IS THIS THE WAY YOU WED, DEATH,
DEATH! UNCEREMONIOUSLY WITH NO WEIGHT OF SACRAMENT OR BLESSING OR PRAYER?
WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS COME LIKE A THIEF DEATH, DEATH
ALWAYS SILENTLY AT NIGHT’S END LEAVING ONLY TEARS?
COME TO ME FESTIVELY. MAKE THE WHOLE NIGHT RING WITH A TRIUMPH,
BLOW YOUR VICTORY CONCH, DRESS ME IN BLOOD ROBES
GRASP ME BY THE HAND AND SWAY ME AWAY.
PAY NO HEED TO WHAT OTHERS MAY THINK, DEATH, DEATH
FOR I SHALL OF MY OWN FREE WILL
RESORT TO YOU BUT IF YOU TAKE ME GLORIOUSLY.
- Excerpts from Death Wedding by Tagore
In his Gitabitan [book of songs], Tagore spurned the frigid attitude towards death. His songs reflect a deeply relevant thinker who says through the melodies of his song that death is like a music that flows from the other end of the stream enchanting us towards it. It comes as a fresh breeze in our lives and further compares our lives to a fair where we are only selling and buying each other, accusing each other. So here comes death as a respite. It takes us into the vast expanse of the skies to mingle in the oblivion and thereby make us glow in the freedom earned through death. He says with death we have to give up our happiness and sorrows. If life is the promise of the lord, death is his assurance.
In one of his songs he expresses that the lamp of our life will extinguish only to welcome the greatest joy that a new dawn is setting in wherein we will meet the Lord - our beloved, our greatest treasure.
He advocates through his works that death cannot be detrimental.
LIFE IS GIVEN TO US
WE CAN EARN IT B Y GIVING IT.
LET THE DEAD HAVE THE IMMORTALITY OF FAME,
BUT THE LIVING THE IMMORTALITY OF LOVE.
Let me conclude this discussion on death with glimpses of a beautiful poem by G.K. Chesterton. I have included him in my space of research because he gives us plenty of reasons to live. G.K.Chesterton sports a positive outlook towards life through his work “A Ballad of Suicide” to eventually embrace death FEARLESSLY when the maker is ready to accept us.
THE GALLOWS IN MY GARDEN, PEOPLE SAY,
IS NEW AND NEAT AND ADEQUATELY TALL;
I TIE THE NOOSE ON IN A KNOWING WAY
AS ONE THAT KNOTS HIS NECKTIE FOR A BALL;
BUT JUST AS ALL THE NEIGHBOURS ON THE WALL
ARE DRAWING A LONG BREATH TO SHOUT "HURRAY!“
THE STRANGEST WHIM HAS SEIZED ME. . . AFTER ALL
I THINK I WILL NOT HANG MYSELF TO-DAY.
TO-MORROW IS THE TIME I GET MY PAY
MY UNCLE'S SWORD IS HANGING IN THE HALL
I SEE A LITTLE CLOUD ALL PINK AND GREY
PERHAPS THE RECTOR'S MOTHER WILL NOT CALL
I FANCY THAT I HEARD FROM MR. GALL
THAT MUSHROOMS COULD BE COOKED ANOTHER WAY
I NEVER READ THE WORKS OF JUVENAL
I THINK I WILL NOT HANG MYSELF TO-DAY.
Death is not the end, our mind thinks of death, our heart thinks of life, our soul thinks of immortality. …………..Life is worth living.
Coming back to Tagore’s concept of death we are reassured of the fact that life and death are one and so we cannot possibly distance ourselves from death. According to him life merges with death and it is our fearless heart that encourage us to embrace death gracefully. Gradually we learn to accept the loss of our dear ones by realising that they do exist but with spaces in the togetherness. Tagore projects through his works a mature self and generates this spirit in his ardent readers. He paves a path for us and a realization dawns on us that there can never be a last day for anyone if he has lived his life to his capacities blended with integrity and honesty. We should look forward to death as a continuation of life for it is the curtain raiser to everlasting joy. We should be gallant and be ready to unite with our MAKER .
“WHERE THE MIND IS WITHOUT FEAR AND THE HEAD IS HELD HIGH”