UNESCO celebrates the 21st of March as the World Poetry day to promote poetry across the world.
Poetry is perhaps the most beautiful expression of one’s feelings, emotions and intent. It also is a way to reflect systemic undercurrents at the societal level and has been used to convey messages in appealing words that flow as smooth as a gentle breeze.
Poetry exists since the day man learned to write, not just as a necessity to communicate but rather to express what humans felt. Some wrote it as way to ease their thoughts and kept it tucked under pages of a notebook, others wrote it to be read by a friend or a lover. Poetry can be traced back to the 2nd millennium as some argue, but the Epic of Gilgamesh is registered as the earliest of works in poetry. Interestingly, but quite obviously, poetry has been part of every language ever existed, and each that will ever exist
This explains why to date, poetry continues to be an integral part of literature around the world. Be it a few lines, a prose, an ode, a sonnet or a ballad, every piece carries a distinct touch of the poet. Of course, great poetry comes with a great mind, as Plato said, “Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.”
Thief Of Fire
Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet with great influence on modern poetry once wrote that “the poet, therefore, is truly the thief of fire. He is responsible for humanity, for animals even; he will have to make sure his visions can be smelled, fondled, listened to; if what he brings back from beyond has form, he gives it form; if it has none, he gives it none. A language must be found…of the soul, for the soul and will include everything: perfumes, sounds colors, thought grappling with thought”.
It stands true; poets, like writers and painters, have often been the misfits or the rebels who defy the odds of living what others would deem as a normal life. With an unfathomable observation of life via hours of solitude and isolation, a great poet’s work will seem as fresh today as it did 300 years ago.
Translation plays an important part in the expansion of poetry from one corner of the world to the other. Major chunk of great poetry has been translated in different languages not only to preserve the work but also to make it accessible to a larger audience and students of literature. This exchange is how Rumi still lives on and how Iqbal remains the undisputed king of poetry in the subcontinent. Anyone who is an avid reader of poetry has come across Ghalib and Mir. Religion and spirituality have both dominated poetry as underlying subjects of these famous poets. Iqbal’s work is a philosophy, but perhaps the only one with a living manifestation in the shape of Pakistan.
Society And Poets
This is the magnitude to which all poets can affect the time and people around them. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a famous English romantic poet, sums up the argument of how poetry affects the society exquisitely in his essay “The Defence of Poetry”. He says that in the “infancy of the world, neither poets themselves nor their auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry: for it acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond and above consciousness; and it is reserved for future generations to contemplate and measure the mighty cause and effect in all the strength and splendour of their union”.
Athar Tahir, director of International Centre for Pakistani Writing in English, says every poet has something revolutionary about him and not necessarily in the political sense. “Poets are revolutionary because they challenge the system by looking at the human condition in their own unique way. It is the art of seeing. And the art is honed by the craft.
So is the revolution still on and classic poetry still produced? Yasmeen Hameed, a poet herself, was of the view that poetry of today’s age could be considered classical poetry in the future. “Classics, as I see them are timeless. They could be ancient or contemporary. All art, poetry or creative prose is not classic, but that which is, is not bound by time. Austen’s and Dostoevsky’s works are classics and so are those of Garcia Marquez. Iqbal’s and Tagore’s works were classics during their lifetime. So were the works of Beauvoir and Quratulain Haider. There are some works however, that emerge after the test of time. So there is no one simple answer to the question.”
Some say that great poetry comes in difficult times, but Dr Ambreen Salahuddin differs. “I think this is kind of a sweeping statement, with reference to difficult time as well as dearth of good poetry. Every time is difficult and simple; for one or another. Greater events of chaos have passed over us. We have witnessed partition, Fall of Dhaka and wars that were forced on us. I believe it is the force of an event and connectedness that we have with the event that culminates into a good piece of literature. We saw great works of literature; poetry and fiction woven around partition and the theme of migration is present in our poetry and prose throughout. But it doesn’t mean that good work of art or piece of literature cannot be produced during peaceful times. “
To commemorate this day, here are a few lines from Shakespeare to conclude
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. Brevity is the soul of wit.
The course of true love never did run smooth.
If music be the food of love, play on.