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Saraswati Mela

In awe of poetry- This is a poem that heals fish

A poem is when you have the sky in your mouth..
A poem ...is when words beat their wings..

...

Poetry always leaves things unsaid, so that new meanings can sprout from the crevices that are left. It is for me no coincidence that the Irish Godddess of medicine and healing, Brigid is also the Goddess of poetry. She carries a cauldron which signify her transformative powers. Mythology dealt with symbols and the image of Brigid is a beautiful homage to understanding  the healing and transformative power of poetry.

The awe and wonders which lie in the recesses of poetry are combined with childhood innocence and curiousty and explored in an enchanting illustrated book- This is a Poem that Heals Fish.

The book begins with the frenzied cried of little Arthur as he says-

Mommy! My fish is going to die!

Come quickly! Leon is going to die of boredom!

As an antidote to the unbearable prosaic and mundane struggles of day-to-day living, Arthur’s Mom prescribes the most primitive and powerful drug for Arthur’s fish-

Hurry , give him a poem!

And she leaves for her tuba Lesson.

Arthur is bewildered , as he doesn’t know what a poem is. He searches in his kitchen, in his cabinets, among the cleaning supplies, even under his bed but nowhere can he find his poem.

Thus , he goes in search to know what exactly is poem and this is where we , along with Arthur embark on a magical journey.

Determined , Arthur continues his search.

He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.

Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time. and is always in love.

Lolo-Illustrations from the book

Arthur  asks everyone of his dilemma and gets vastly different answers from all of them.

A poem , Arthur,is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth…

Oh! Okay…

Arthur’s friend Mrs. Round the baker has the following answer-

A poem ?

I don’t know much about that .

But I know one and it is hot like fresh bread.

When you eat it, a little is always left over..

Oh! Okay.

Poetry as bread-Illustrations from the book

Mahmoud from the deserts has his own answer to the question.

A poem is when you hear the heartbeat of a stone.

Oh! All Right.

Mahmoud and stones-Illustrations from the book

On the mention of a heartbeat Arthur is startled and rushes to his fish . He finds that his colourless existence has lulled him to sleep. As poetry crosses all the barriers of the possible and impossible, Arthur then heads to his pet canary Aristophanes to seek his answer. The bird obliges –

Puffing himself up, Aristophane chirps:

A poem is when words beat their wings.

But perhaps the most endearing and deceivingly simple reply comes from Arthur’s Grandma.

When you put your old sweater on backwards or inside out, dear Arthur, You might say that it is new again. A poem turns words around, upside down..

Grandma’s Upside down -Illustrations from the book

 

Then she tells her little grand-kid to visit his Grandpa as he often writes poem instead of repairing pipes. Grandpa has no doubts as he says-

A poem is what poets make..

Even if the poets do not know it themselves.

Poets and Poems-Illustrations from the book

After this Arthur goes to his beloved fish and apologizes that he hasn’t found a poem. But he does tell what he has come to know-

A poem is

when you have the sky in your mouth

It is hot like fresh bread,

when you eat it,

a little is always left over.

A poem

is when you hear

the heartbeat of a stone,

when words beat their wings .

It is a song sung in a cage.

A poem

is words turned upside down

and suddenly!

the world is new.

 

As he understood what a poem is , the world turned a lot more magical for Arthur and his little fish .With poetry Arthur could talk to his fish.

Leon opens one eye , then the other,

and for the first time in his life he speaks.

-Then I am a poet Arthur.

Oh…?

and my poem is my silence……….

Arthur flying away with his fish -Illustrations from the book

Poetry healed the fish and Arthur went on riding on the back of his little Leon, on the wings of his new found imagination.

For a truly heartwarming experience please go through this book which combines innocence, art and poetry to create magic.

 

BP

Kahlil Gibran on love and freedom – His ideal of a Marriage

Love one another, but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

...

To love and to be free is one of the life’s greatest ideals and victories.  To love freely and fully yet letting the recipient of the love be free is one of love’s greatest triumphs.  This is when love shines in all its resplendent glory. This is a true form of love and if I daresay the only form of true love that exists.

Love deals with the reality as well  the potential- what we are and what we can blossom into, what all we can be. Kahlil Gibran , the masterful poet and philosopher writes on this delicate balance of love, distance and space in his book The Prophet. This is a book which features dialogues between the residents of a village and their Prophet Almustafa. Kahlil Gibran provides deep philosophical insights into the nature of things which are a part of the fabric of our daily lives.

Lebanese American Poet- Kahlil Gibran

It calls to mind the Porcupine Theory which states that in winters, the porcupines come closer to share warmth and intimacy. However the moment they come very close , their spines start hurting their partners and they are in turn hurt by the sharp spines of others. So they once again move away. Yet the problem persists as they are no longer sharing heat. So they again seek to come close and yet again steer away when the pain of spines becomes unbearable.

This dilemma captures succinctly the dilemma of Human Intimacy. To truly enjoy and bask in warmth of human relations we need to have  spaces in our togetherness.

Kahlil Gibran inspires and moves our souls with his eloquent piece on love, intimacy,distance and everything in between.

Excerpt from the beauteous The Prophet , this is something that we must read and understand if we ever hope to do justice to the word love.

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Illustration by Ramya Sriram at The Tap

 

 

BP

A poetic ode to the essence of science and womanhood

A charming poem dedicated to the primeval scientists and the simplistic wonder, curiosity and observation which motivate us to pursue science

I have never been a believer in exclusion. For me awe and wonder often overlap and therein spring out various avenues of human genius. Science and art are both efforts to chronicle the wonder that we experience in our everyday lives. Poetry and science are therefore more similar than different. Both are present at the threshold of awe and find their way on the paths of curiosity.

A beautiful illustration uniting science and art

As civilization ensued we homo-sapiens could only make it in a harsh and ruthless world because of our underlying curiosity, acute observation and the deductions we made from them. Science is everywhere, and these basic scientific methods have not changed in the centuries that have passed.

Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing different avenues overlapping in their full glories; giving ,receiving, borrowing and lending meaning , expression and stimulation from each other.

The Mushroom Hunters is an ode to the originators of science. In its simplistic clarity it takes back science from congested , dusty, academic laboratories and libraries and returns it to its rightful place – the lives of common men and women . It is also a lovely and profound tale of the women who contributed to the growth of civilization and whose efforts often remain unacknowledged and unappreciated.

This is a beautiful tale told by Neil Gaiman which captures the essence of science and womanhood and how they evolved together.

THE MUSHROOM HUNTERS

Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.

In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.

The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.

Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.

And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.

Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.
Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. Observe.

Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.

Observe everything.

And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe. Formulate.

The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.

And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.

The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.

The men go running on after beasts.

The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.

Painting by Jaimini Roy

 

BP

Rilke on how to deal with grief and change

How could we be capable of forgetting the old myths that stand at the threshold of all mankind, myths of dragons transforming themselves at the last moment into princesses? Perhaps all dragons in our lives are really princesses just waiting to see us just once being beautiful and courageous.

...

Grief is one of the profoundest emotions that we can encounter in our lives. Yet when faced by it we are engulfed and lost by the sudden magnitude and reality of it. It can drown out our selves and we end up with a disorienting and distorted sense of the world and oursleves. It is often that grief is preceded , succeeded or accompanied by change. These result in our facing something for which we are utterly unprepared .

Rainer Maria Rilke was a great poet and a man of great beauty and generosity of spirit.  He was forcefully enrolled in a Military Academy in his adolescent years . A young man of great sensitivity he was tormented by the rigorous and restrictive environment of the school. Frail and soft , Rilke was also  subjected to many cruelties by his classmates and teachers alike. However he nourished and preserved his spirit by the magnificent and beautiful shield and blossoms of his verse. So, after two decades when he received a letter from an aspiring poet, trapped and suffocating in the same environment, in the same Academy he could not stop himself from reaching out.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Franz Xaver Kappus was enrolled  in the same Military Academy. He too aspired to be a poet and was sent there against his choice.On the chance and extremely fortuitous mention of his Professor , Franz Kappus learnt that the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke was an alumnus of the same Academy where he was suffering. Kappus decided to write to Rilke and ask for his judgement on his poetic endeavours. It was more of an attempt to reach out for comfort and understanding. Thus began  a correspondence spanning five years and having a total of ten letters written by Rilke. They are deeply insightful coming from a master poet who saw in the young man Kappus his previous struggles and pain.

A letter deals with the topic of grief, how it is necessary to embrace and overcome it to live life truthfully. At the start of the letter Rilke admits that he knows nothing useful which only tells us of his deep psychological insight in human nature.Writing of how grief fundamentally changes us Rilke speaks in infinite wisdom-

I want to talk to you again for a little while, dear Mr. Kappus even though I have hardly anything helpful to say-hardly anything useful.  You have encountered many very sad experiences, which by now have passed. You say that even their passing was difficult and depressing. Please, dear friend think about this : Did not this great sadness rather pass through you ? Did not much within you change? Did you not, somehow at some place in your being , change while you were sad?

Like an insightful psychologist Rilke counsels that nothing in life, especially the difficult experiences and emotions must be shunned.

The only sad experiences which are dangerous and bad are those that one reveals to people in order to drown them out . Like illnesses treated superficially and incompetently , they retreat and after  short pause break out even more intensely . they gather together within the self and are life . They are life unlived, ridiculed and scorned.

In the letter, Rilke talks about the beauty of becoming that is often embedded in times engulfed by grief. The time when we fundamentally change and become who we are, times when we grow and mature. The Human Metamorphosis .

Were it possible, we might look beyond the reach of our knowing and yet a bit further into the past across the farmsteads of our ancestors. Then perhaps we would endure our griefs with even more trust than our joys . For they are the moments when something new has entered into us , something unfamiliar. Our feelings become mute in timid shyness . Everything within us steps back; a silence ensues , and the something new known to no one , stands in the center and is silent .

I believe that nearly all our griefs are moments of tension. We perceive them as crippling because we no longer hear signs of life from our estranged emotions. We are alone with the strange thing that has stepped into our presence. For a moment everything intimate and familiar has been taken from us. We stand in midst of a transition , where we cannot remain standing.

Change. The outwardly changes are fine with us as long as we have a semblance of control over our reality. As long as we are not changing inwardly. Grief however, works differently. It changes us inwardly and then manifests outwardly and thus it is more difficult to understand it.

And this is the reason that sadness passes:the something new within us , the thing that has joined us, has entered our heart , has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer there either – it is already in the blood. And we do not find out what it was. One could easily make us believe that nothing happened; and yet we have changed as a house changes when a guest has entered it ……But many signals affirm that the future has stepped into us in such a way as to change itself into us, and that long before it manifests outwardly.

Rilke continues on being open to sadness and receptive to our emotions, something that is counselled nowadays by grief therapists and counselors alike, to ease the passage of change in our lives. It is important because we are fundamentally altered and there is no way of going back.

Therefore, it is important to be alone and observant when one is sad….The quieter and more patient , the more open we are when we are sad , the more resolutely does that something enter into us , the deeper it is absorbed into us, the more certain we are to secure it and the more certain it is to become our personal destiny. When it ‘happens’ at a later time – when it becomes obvious to others – then w feel an intimate kinship with it .

And that is necessary. It is needed , and our evolvement will gradually go in that direction: nothing strange shall befall us , but rather that which has for a long time belonged to us . ….Surely it is possible that we shall gradually learn to recognize that what we call fate emerges from human beings.

What Rilke has so eloquently expressed is the simple truth that we must understand our emotions, our fears and the changes in them. Once we do that, then nothing in the external world could perturb us.

In this age when we live in a culture of faux positivity, embracing sadness is seen as a social crime , however psychologically damaging it may be . Rilke, however expounds poetically and wisely on the necessity of embracing all that is happening within us and how it opens and enlarges our heart and capabilities to experience and understand.

We must accept our existence to the greatest extent possible : everything, the unprecedented also, needs to be accepted. That is basically the only case of courage required of us : to be courageous in the face of the strangest , the most whimsical and unexplainable thing that we could encounter.

The fact that people have been cowards in that regard has caused infinite harm to life.

..The fear of unexplainable not only impoverished the existence of the individual , but also caused the relationship of one person to another to be limited.  It is as though fear has caused something to be lifted out of the riverbed of limitless possibilities to a fallow stretch of shore where nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that causes the unspeakably monotonous and unrenewed human condition to repeat itself again and again. It is the aversion to anything new, any unpredictable experience , which is believed to be untenable.

He goes on imploring us to explore and understand, to understand and accept the myriad experiences we sum up as life.

Only he who can expect anything , who does not exclude the mysterious will have a relationship greater to life than just being alive : he wll exhaust his own well spring of being. If we liken the existence of the individual to a room of larger or smaller size , it is evident that most people are familiar with only a corner of their room, perhaps a window seat or space where they pace to and fro. In that way they have a sense of security. Yet every uncertainty fraught with danger is so much more human.

….But we are not prisoners . There are no traps or snares set for us , and there is nothing that should frighten or torture us . . ..We hav no reason to mistrust our worlds ,for it is not against us. If it has terrors , they are our own terrors. If it has precipices , they belong to us. If dangers are present , we must try to love them.

As Rilke attempts to guide us through the forest of grief, we see that a light of hope reaches to us through the space between his words. With this he guides us towards courage and acceptance.

How could we be capable of forgetting the old myths that stand at the threshold of all mankind, myths of dragons transforming themselves at the last moment into princesses? Perhaps all dragons in our lives are really princesses just waiting to see us just once being beautiful and courageous.Perhaps everything fearful is just helplessness that seeks our help.

You must not be frightened , Dear Mr. KAppus, when a sadness arises within you of such magnitude as you have never experienced, or when a restlessness overshadows all you do , like light and the shadow of cloud gliding over your hand . You must believe that something is happning to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand. It shall not let you fall.

This brings to our minds the beautifully self assuring words of Baal Shem Tov – Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become will catch me. Rilke again returns to the question of grief and the evolution we go through with it.

Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief , any melancholy from your life , since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where everything comes from and where it is headed?

You do know that you are in a period of transition and wish for nothing as much as to transform yourself . If some aspect of your life is not well then consider the illness to be the means for an organism to free itself from something foreign to it. In that case you must help it to be ill and to have its whole illness, to let it break out. That is the course of its progress.

Poetry is grand and necessary . Pragmatism is human and necessary. Rilke delivers both as he places a hand of loving care upon young Kappus’s shoulder. Nowhere does this love and care weakens the spirit, but rather strengthens it to take its destiny and its course in its own hands.

So much is happening within you at present dear Mr. Kappus. You need to be as patient as someone ill and as optimistic as one recuperating, for perhaps you are both. And more: You are also the physician who must watch over yourself. But in the course of many every illness there are many days in which the physician can do nothing but wait . And that , above all, to the extent that you are your physician you must do now.

Do not scrutinize yourself too closely. Do not draw conclusions too quickly from that which is happening to you . Just allow it to happen. Otherwise you might easily begin to look with blame ( that is, morally speaking) upon your past . which, of course , is very much a part of every thing that you encounter now. The influences of the vagaries, the wishes and the longings of your boyhood upon your present life you pass judgment on.

As Kappus had a very lonely childhood, similar like Rilke, the poet consoles him with his words which are reminiscent in the soul of what Kahlil Gibran says and helps us cut the shackles of guilt which we have wrongly chosen for ourselves. Though Rilke says this for childhood, I believe it to be true for life in general.

The unusual condition of a lonely and helpless childhood are so difficult , so complicated , vulnerable to so many influences , and at the same time so distant from all real connections with life , that, whenever a vice may have entered , one may not simply call it a vice. One must , in any case , be very careful with the nomenclature. It is often the name of the crime upon which a life shatters, not the nameless and personal act itself at all. It might have been a definite necessity of this person’s life, of which he may have simply availed himself.

Growth and grief, difficulty and upheaval and the quest for greatness is understood and summed up poetically thus-

Do you recall, from your childhood on, how very much this life of yours has longed for greatness? I see it now , how from the vantage point of greatness it longs for even greater greatness. That is why it does not let up being difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.

This letter is a beautiful document speaking to us from its time that though the times may change, the eternal questions of grief, courage , acceptance of life and the enlargement of human spirit will always be the same.

Lest we forget,  Naomi Shihab Nye said –Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. To be as kind as Rilke one must have to brave the sorrows of life. The last paragraph tells us this and also makes us believe that all things said of courage and metamorphosis in the letter are not mere words, but experiences burnt and etched on the skin and soul. And it is true that a  person blossoms, after encountering a sorrow if she chooses and embraces it with enough large -heartedness.

  If I were to tell you one more thing, it would be this: Do not believe that the one who seeks to comfort you lives without difficulty the simple and humble words that sometimes help you . His life contains much grief and sadness and he remains far behind you. Were it not so , he would not have found those words.

Yours

Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to a Young Pet is a beautiful treasure which answers many questions that we face in our lives.

BP