The subtitle of this blog is: Let alone write it.
Disclaimer first: This is no derision or discounting of the poets. Nor am I pouring cold water on the enthusiasm of aspiring poets or those who believe they are poetry connoisseurs. But as I was reading an old guide for poets, I realized that poetry needs to be savored at so many levels, and this ancient guide may come in handy. But, before you read on think of your favorite poem.
The modernists everywhere would love to to tear down the last bastions of everything, but not everything not-modern needs to be torn down. May be it appears that bastions make some spaces less inclusive, but simplification and overcrowding spaces does not necessarily bring in excellence.
Today I share these guiding principles from the first chapter by Mammata (मम्मट). He began his treatise on the science of poetry thus:
नियतिकृतनियमरहितां ह्लादेकमयीमनन्यपरतन्त्राम ।
नवरसरुचिरां निर्मितिमादधती भारतीकवेर्जयति ॥
Meaning, glorious is the poet’s language that is unrestrained even by the Nature’s laws, that is soaked in joy alone as it rejoices in nine Rasas, and depends on none as it grasps the Creation.
So, even before we go on to the why and how of the poetry, there is an eye opener. The language of a poet (or why not a writer, too?) is not supposed to be bound by the nature’s laws – let alone the social laws and norms. It may use any of the nine Rasas as the poet wishes, and need not be mindful of what is or isn’t acceptable to powers that be. This language is meant only for joy. If you can’t find your joy in it, leave it. for the writer, too – if the ultimate outcome of poetry is not joy, don’t try it at home. Poetry is never meant to be a seed of battles and blackenings.
Okay, coming back to the point.
The first chapter is short. And Mammata talks about why people write and read poetry, what is at the source of poetry and what kind of poetry is excellent, fair and poor. Here’s what he says:
काव्यं यशसेSर्थकृते व्यवहारविदे शिवेतरक्षतये ।
सध्य: परनिर्वृतये कान्तासम्म्तिलयोपदेशयुजे ॥
Meaning, people write poetry for fame, wealth. People read poetry so that they can know the ways of the world and can find relief from the evil. People read and write poetry for ridding their minds of all other things and for lessons (giving and taking) in the same gentle, loving and persuasive ways that a loving wife does.
Where is the genesis of poetry?
शक्तिर्निपुणता लोकशास्त्रकाव्याध्यवेक्षणात ।
काव्यज्ञशिक्षाभ्यास इति हेतुस्तदुद्भवे ॥
There is only one ingredient, and that is a combination. None alone works, and a few strong ones do not elbow others out. A poet should have a combination of (1) poetic ability (2) skill (3) study of the evolution of society,science, and poetry, and (4) practice under someone who knows how to write poetry (Chanakya would take no.4 a step further and say that the teacher should be an expert par excellence).
So – if one has this one ingredient, how should one know that the creation is good? HEre it goes:
तददोषौ शब्दार्थौ सगुणावनलंकृती क्वापि ।
इदमुत्तममतिशयिनि व्यङ्ग्ये वाच्याद्ध्वनिर्बुधै: कथित: ॥
Poetry should have words and sense (meaning), be free from faults, and be endowed with merits and excellence of style, which may at times be un-bejewelled by figures of speech. It is excellent, so the wise say, if the implied or suggested meaning is superior to the expressed or primary meaning.
If the suggested/secondary/implied meaning is weaker than the expressed or primary meaning, then the poetry is medium, or fair in quality.
Finally, however flawless, however ornamented, but if the described meaning is there only meaning there is on the verse, then it is the worst kind.
I can’t even recall without straining my memory when I last read something with deeper, only slightly veiled, second layer of meaning – of sense. Mammata says that when you savor that poetry, the subtle meaning bursts (Sphot in Sanskrit) upon you and covers you in delight.
I have tried to indulge myself in writing poetry in the past. But I do not remember if I wrote anything with deeper, secondary meaning that is different from the flat description that the text provides. May be it is not for all of us – to make poetry flawless, full of merits, ornamental and laden with layers of meaning.
Now recall the poem you thought of a while ago. What layers of meaning does it have? Or, as a reader, you just got your belly full by reading the apparent meaning? Is subtlety there? Would you want to look for deeper meaning?
If we do not have high benchmarks – not just for poetry, then we succumb to something similar to what is a traffic-jungle in Ahmedabad.
I was telling a friend that there should be traffic signals at every intersection in Ahmedabad. The friend said that there was no point of doing so because no one would follow that in Ahmedabad. But I believe if you don’t install signals assuming no one would look at them, no one actually would. If you have the signals, some day, someone would.
I am not saying poetry today is a lawless jungle, but it can surely be a source of more (challenge) and joy.