Friday, 23 May 2014

Poetry as Prayer

A Critique of our Mushaira Culture
I think it can be safely asserted that much of poetry today bombarded in mushairas is second rate if not third rate.  One of the biggest scandals of modern day literary criticism is that it is not qualified for the job as it doesn’t take due note of God or Transcendence. Without proper understanding and orientation towards First Principles, poetry and its criticism are hardly worth attention. Much of what is published in the form of ever growing corpus of poetical collections by new poets largely constitutes a scandal. This poetry is anything but not poetry as understood by the best minds of all traditions, all ages. This poetry is narcissist, expresses rather than transcends personality, and fails in requisite moral qualifications  that are a condition for true poetry. We can’t just, for formality’s sake, begin poetic collections with Hamd and Na’t. All poetry is prayer. Let us see how.
As Dante has said about the Commedia: "The purpose of the whole work is to remove those who are living in this life from the state of wretchedness and to lead them to the state of blessedness.” Coomaraswamy, the greatest art critic that our modern critics don’t care to read, mentions Aśvaghoṣa’s colophon to the Saundarānanda: “This poem, pregnant with the burden of Liberation, has been composed by me in the poetic manner, not for the sake of giving pleasure, but for the sake of giving peace.” While reminding us that traditional authorities warn  us  to  expect  not  figures  of  speech but  figures of thought (let us ask our modern critics the connection between the two)  Coomaraswamy has no problem in flatly dismissing such opinion as  Housman  (“Poetry  is  not  the  thing  said, but  a  way  of  saying  it”)  or  Geoffrey  Keynes  (who  expressed regret  that Blake had ideas to express in his otherwise charming compositions) or those who know only form or advocate art for art’s sake. Frithjof Schuon thus explains criteria of genuine art:
"Perfect art can be recognized by three main criteria: nobility of content – this being a spiritual condition apart from which art has no right to exist – then exactness of symbolism or at least, in case of profane works of art, harmony of composition, and finally purity of style or elegance of line and colour."  We can discern with the help of these criteria the qualities and defects of any work of art whether sacred or not.

M A Lakhani expresses the traditional theory of poetry in these words:"What the poet perceives is the Creative Presence of God—the inner Beauty present within the seer’s own inner being, radiating into a symbolic apprehension of the divine theophany—of God at work in all things". Perceiving things in the light of their symbolic nature, the poet apprehends that “Everything that lives is holy” (Blake). The poetic vision penetrates through to the sacred core of reality. It perceives how “God is incarnate in every human life” (Raine), and how God “plays in ten thousand places” (Hopkins), recognizing the trace of His Presence as “the dearest freshness deep down things” (Hopkins).
Poetic discernment is a form of “recollection”—it is a remembrance of who we really are and of what truly is. We might now define poetry as the vision of Creative Presence...Merton remarks: “All really valid poetry (poetry that is fully alive and asserts its reality by its power to generate imaginative life) is a kind of recovery of paradise.” Poetry can therefore be understood as expressing a nostalgia for the Spirit in the midst of ordinary things.

Poetry “is “remembrance”, both as cognitive receptivity that enables us to “see” and to “feel” the soul of things, and as the invocatory expression that “re-members” or makes whole the fragments of ordinary perception.

Poetry is, as Heaney calls it, a “revelation of the self to the self”. The poet’s “knowing” ...seeks what lies beyond merely phenomenal reality.
The poet’s “escape from personality” is simultaneously an opening into the grace of transcendence.
Poetry requires Imagination which is “the Intellect’s transcendent and translucent vision of participative Presence.” It is not given to profane people, to those who write poetry for either name or fame or money. In short: Those who truly understand poetry have tasted something of God. All great poetry is a form of Hamd or Na’t. A great poet can’t be a disbeliever. This is the judgment of all great ancient and medieval art critics and some great moderns.
 If this is the rationale or ground or warrant of poetry how would we classify much of mushaira poetry for which tax payer’s money is spent? It may fulfill the requirements of rhyme and rhythm or fayilatun fayilaat but is largely ignorant of its doctrinal counterpart – the Divine Measure, the Reference o First Principle, precise usage of symbols, moral and spiritual dimensions of life that are integrally related to artistic dimension. Sufi poets were perfectly aware of this higher calculus or fayilaatun fayilaat of Spirit to which their poetic form conformed. Many modern poets are not. They say poetry is expression of their self or personality, of emotions rather instincts. They want to exhibit their work and that too often for fame or recognition and sometimes with an eye on awards. And the huge army of modern poets express fears, complaints, frustrations, desires, passions, fragmentary views, pathological narcissism. They don’t show the path of gods as Heidegger requires. The Quran condemns poets for the reasons Plato exiles them – failure to uphold moral and intellectual ideal, expressing lower self and ignorant of higher self, lost in wild valleys of desires.  If there is only a small fraction of genuine poetry as defined above and the bulk of it is simply worth not writing or listening and ignorant of the Spirit and true beauty that poetry seeks, the question is: Are our critics keeping a watchful eye on popular poetry recitations and whether they are fully cognizant of spiritual function of poetry? Without necessarily rejecting humourous versification or romantic or sad songs or poems about secular themes – they have a place of their own – we need  to patronize great poetry and clarify what it is. We need to understand the sacred that grounds great poetry or that is sought or invoked or at least echoed in it. A sacred centric criticism of mushaira culture is called for.

No comments:

Post a Comment