Why poetry? Why art? Why, a poem a day.
Today’s post is, in some sense, a full circle in my exploration of language, love, and of life. I present to you today the work of a guru (with all the baggage that the word carries).
Do you know what it feels like to be taken to the very peak of experience? and then to be brought down in an instant? to a reality as layered, a path as possessed, and as grounded as the high? to find the highest note in the octave, to know the meaning of crescendo and then slide down to a dreary sullen baritone, and to bask in that broken hearth of sound? to be deeply involved in a thing of beauty, and then, in a moment to turn it around with an air of distance. to laugh at love, and at oneself? with abandon. and the recklessness of unfinished desire?
That is what Shakespeare is to me. a journey from an unfettered excavation of language and meaning, to the bare bones of the craft.
I would write sonnets when I was 12. My writing had the excess of Elizabethan bombast, but none of its substance. When you are young everything is special. every heartbreak, every smile or gesture, every plaything is phantasmagoria. In time you learn the “quintessence of life”, the dramatic irony of “not one word more, not one word less”.
This sonnet is Shakespeare’s critique of traditions of abundance and unnecessary artifice. the stuff of bad bollywood songs. His characters displayed this kind of expression, at times, but always, with irony. In this sonnet he invokes the sublime, and then punctures each metaphor with realism. Yet, impossibly, inevitably, in the last couplet he leaves you breathless. Even though you know it is coming you do not expect to be surprised by his “rare” love.
From Shakespeare, I learnt metaphor. rhythm. I learnt tempo, and the joy of the final couplet that burns without really revealing everything. I learnt to take poetry and love seriously. but not so seriously. I think, I learnt everything. I do not know why I am sharing this with you. I’m overcompensating, because I fear that I may not be doing justice. I’m saying more, because I want you to feel as I have felt. i want you to know why even a Bombay boy would unflinchingly compare the first love of his life to a 'summer's day' . what it must have meant, those words, that narrative, those ideas - that they made me suspend my own reality, and live the dream of a romancer from a different time, a different place, and in a different language.
I present to you, William Shakespeare.
transcript My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips' red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damasked, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.