An entrepreneur and professional doodler talks about his stumble and fall into the world of poetry...
Back in the uniformed life of school, I still remember the first time I was chosen to recite a poem for an elocution competition. The English teacher handpicked me from her ‘average-Joe’ club to fill in the vacancy of the chosen five, probably because I could blankly stare at the chalkboard without a blink for a long duration, lost in my own world, while she thought I was ardently paying attention to her. Or maybe it was just my seemingly irresistible charm! I was to join the five class toppers, for only those who topped the class, the high rankers, were showered with prospects such as these. The moment he had learnt of his son’s undeserved opportunity, my father was more excited than me. He slid open a steel trunk from under the bed which belonged to the days of his bachelor life and pulled out a dusty book. He placed the palm sized book onto my hands, carefully turned the flaky pages and said, “Here you go Son, my favorite, Wordsworth's The Rainbow. If you recite this you shall be remembered forever."
You have to realize I was just a little boy of 8 years who enjoyed capturing dragonflies and tying their abdomens with long threads to the tips of my fingers, telling tall tales to gullible friends about how I spotted superman and how he knew me by name, doodling everywhere, stealing guavas and love apples from neighboring trees, spitting competitions of bora berry seeds the furthest, being the gutter-keeper when the big-boys played cricket (12th position in street-cricket, a special position, that’s what they told me, I had to protect the ball from going in the open gutters and I took the position seriously) and watching Sunday morning cartoons on Doordarshan (the only nation-wide broadcasting channel in India). That was my philosophical paradigm, and that’s all I wanted out of life.
For a boy of my outlook, I couldn’t gauge the worth of words of William Wordsworth’s Rainbow. And after memorizing the poem a lot many times, I went on stage and rambled it out.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
To an audience, used to limericks and rhymes, a yawn was all I heard, and followed by some giggles. My ears had turned red and warm. Of course I did not win; I did not care about winning. A topper and his mother who had cleverly devised a mouth gargling, stomach churning poem about the Principal, a priest, titled "MySecond Father" won the prize and the favor of the self-absorbed judge, the priest himself.
I forgot about William Wordsworth and the event, though he occasionally did cameo in our English text books among other note-worthy poets.
English as a subject, taught in school was a rudimentary proposition of comprehension and composition and poetry was unglamorous, taught only to be devoured and excreted during exams for marks. It was not taught as an art that has to be loved, admired, cherished, respected and held onto dearly to justify our existence. It was distasteful.
But as I grew, debating philosophies and beliefs, searching for my purpose and still searching, I read, and I fell in love with poetry. At this juncture, rainbows took the form of poetry and my heart leaped as a boy once again – only this time I was a man, who saw a rainbow as if it were his first. It was comforting.
At the risk of being sophomoric with the above display of my poetry knowledge, and not to appear as a patron to the over dramatic film called Dead Poets Society with it tragic end to one of the protagonists – poetry is for the living and those in love with life - poetry is lucid, free flowing and devoid of mechanisms. Rhyme schemes, alliterations, personifications and onomatopoeias are just figures of speech and tools employed, but words and thoughts are exclusive. Whenever two or more words are placed, profound, emphatic or somber, rhyme or no rhyme, reason or no reason, a story, love, earthly or divine, simple, creative or musically inclined, stanzas or plain lines. If I could hear you and feel your thoughts through...for me its poetry.
I will leave you to interpret the poem that had profound influence on me. I had chanced upon John Donne’s work. It struck a chord. The poem was revisited, when the American novelist Ernest Hemingway used the words from the poem as the title of his book on the Spanish civil war, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Donne, the 16th Century poet, wrote the poem as his meditation while he was being treated for continuous malaria attacks in a hospital run by monks. He helplessly listened to the monks toll the bell, whenever a patient had given in to death. Donne had carefully stitched together two themes, of how one man's death diminishes all of mankind and the fact that all mankind is connected, no one is an island.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
I wish upon myself that if I have to leave this world abruptly, I hope I could leave it with a stack of my own written poems in a steel trunk under my bed.... an ode to the poets who taught me how to love - from rainbows to island bells, maybe one day to be slid open for another lad to recite and have his ears turn red and warm.
Hans Albert Lewis is a prolific doodler of words and author/artist of a web comic which showcases his short-stories, paintings and poems.