Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Friday, July 3, 2009

The Future of Poetry

The future of poetry is immense? One is not so sure in these days, since it has felt the fatal irritant of Modernism. Too much is demanded by the critic, attempted by the poet. For just as long as poetry means accommodation between the inner thought and the objective pattern to which the poet has committed himself, it will be impossible to conduct that thought as freely as though there were no other end in view; and on the basis of thought alone, between poetry and prose as two rival exhibitions of free cerebration, the palm must invariably go to prose. And if the critics will insist on drawing the comparison, they will have to seek profit for their souls from the real excitement of prose, while they reduce poetry to the role of a harmless inducer of sleep; and the poets will have to content themselves with an office that is useful but, as measured by their expectations, ignominious.

Poetry, form of literature, spoken or written, that emphasizes rhythm, other intricate patterns of sound and imagery, and the many possible ways that words can suggest meaning. Poetry in its simplest definition is organized in units called lines as well as in sentences, and often in stanzas, which are the paragraphs of poetry. The way a line of poetry is structured can be considered a kind of garment that shapes and clothes the thought within it. The oldest and most longstanding genres for classifying poetry are epic, a long narrative poem centered around a national hero, and lyric, a short poem expressing intense emotion.

Poets throughout the ages have defined their art, devised rules for its creation, and written manifestos announcing their radical changes, only to have another poet alter their definition, if not declare just the opposite.

One characteristic that makes poetry different from ordinary language is that it uses many kinds of repetition. One kind, called poetic meter, is essentially the repetition of a regular pattern of beats. In poems organized by lines of syllabic meters—in which each syllable has a beat—the number of beats and the number of syllables are both repeated. Accentual poetry refers to poems organized by the recurrence of a set number of accents or stronger beats per line. In poetry written in accentual-syllabic meters, both the number of beats and number of syllables recur in a set pattern. The most commonly used accentual-syllabic meter in English language poetry is iambic pentameter, in which unaccented and accented syllables alternate in lines of ten syllables. Other kinds of repetition in poetry include rhyme, the recurrence of sound clusters; assonance, the echoing of vowels; and consonance, the echoing of consonants.

The ghazal, a popular form of poetry dominating South Asia, has its origins in 12th-century Persia. It evolved from a longer, more complicated verse-form, the qasida. The qasida, which came to Persia from Arabia, was a poem of praise for performance at public festivals and functions. Similar to the movement from hokku to haiku in Japanese literature, the opening portion of the qasida, a kind of introductory love note, eventually achieved an independent form as the ghazal. Unlike the public-oriented qasida, the ghazal is for intimate communications. The word translates from the Arabic as “talking to women,” and not surprisingly the common subject matters are love, longing, and unrequited passion.

Ghazals are written in couplets (two-line stanzas) bound by a recurrent sound pattern that is part rhyme and part refrain. While there is no prescribed length for ghazals, they tend to be brief, rarely exceeding ten stanzas. The opening couplet introduces a rhyme that is repeated in the second line of the following stanzas, aa ba ca da ea, through to the end of the poem. Following the rhyme comes a brief refrain of one to three words. In the poem's final line, the poet “signs” the poem by including his name. Unlike most Western couplets, the couplets of the ghazal do not follow the same line of thought. Each couplet is a self-contained moment, and could almost stand as a short poem in itself. Some critics assert that this aspect of the form, declaring that the ghazal resembled the unstrung beads of a necklace. In fact, this disconnected quality, because it allows gaps and jumps in thought and experience.

Ghazal was spread to India along with Islamic influences in the 13th century. One of the first Indian practitioners was Amir Khosrow, who wrote in both Persian and Urdu. Mirza Ghalib was one of the most outstanding practitioners whose ghazals reflected the upheavals and uncertainty of a culture threatened by encroaching colonialism. In the 20th century, Faiz Ahmed Faiz added a new strain of longing in poems written during a long imprisonment as a political dissident.

The poets of the present and the future must re-define, through their work, the true function of poetry. For, though it has become partly, and will become wholly, intellectualized; in spite of innumerable experiments in subject, rhythm and form, straining of meter, novelties in cadence, in spite of fluency, technique, originality, it still must be said that modern poetry is devoid of any real function or aim.

In the future, when poetry has become natural and keen, life will become greater than literature, and days than verses. In its final majestic simplicity, memorable poetry will be passed from man to man, like the song of primitive peoples, and there will be rhapsodists to speak it without declamation or mannerism. Sentimentalism will be understood no more, realism will not be tolerated; and poetry, springing from the roots of life, will flower into natural and perfect language, bright with dreams and tense with meaning. Meter will serve substance; form will be one with expression, metaphor with thought; poetry will be the call of spirit to spirit, the very throb of the heart of Nature, as expressed in her ultimate manifestation — man.