Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dom Moraes

I have been snooping around the house a bit and happened to chance upon my sister-in-law's stash. Thanks Aps! I was able to lay my hands on quite a few good books and have displaced these from their intended location to my room, I promise I'll put them back :).

Have been fond of poetry for a long long time now and so I picked the Collected Poems by Dom Moraes first. I must admit that I have not read the poet before and don't even recall his name as being even remotely familiar. And since Vish had atleast heard of the poet (he couldn't recall the poems, thank god!), I had to swallow his snide remark that expressed his concern on the kind of literature I have been into. Hmmm. Okay. Everyone has their moments of enlightenment. I owe him one now :)

Back to Dom Moraes. Born in Bombay, educated in Oxford, Moraes is one of the select few celebrated English poets that India has ever produced. This particular collection comprises select verses from his large body of work over a period of almost five decades. I read through almost all in no particular order (obviously can't read poetry like a novel - beginning to end).

Maybe I didn't give him too much time and thought but my first reaction was wow, the poems are technically sound, beautifully crafted, characterized with apt and unique imagery and interconnection of themes, but very few poems left the deep impression a good composition leaves on you. Some poems, especially, used loud images rather than subtle cues, the focus seemed on the physical power and enthrallment rather than on discerning emotional involvement. Maybe, I am being a little hasty in writing him off and I need to read him atleast once more and with greater care. After all, everybody deserves a second chance.

However, like I said, Moraes does come across as an elegant craftsman, an experienced artist who commands the readers' interest. Here are some verses that I particularly liked:

Aspects of a City
On a defensible hill, by a river,
The foot rested, the bronze hammer
Tested for the fault in the rock.
Tapped up by one concise stroke,
Shape detached itself, visible,
Chisels scraped, details clarified.
Brushes made colours separate.
The blind man, an unnecessary lamp
Raised, commanded the camp to see.
Women's whispers, imprints of war,
Deathmasks, the prescience of blood.
In the living rock, the first shape.
From the first shape the final form.
In the storm's eye the city stood.

All languages is its own history,
Scarred with eponymous heroes,
Heartsick dictators, martyred tribes,
Gods desecrated on their altars.
The sound of an ancient trumpet,
Summons to war, in the vowels.
The clashed consonants echo
Hammer on rock, blade on blade.
All language is its own landscape.
Where single cities can be made.
If it is reductible to a word,
Each one must find his own.
It is the destiny of a dynasty
To form a language from a language.

It happens to you once and only once.
You stare into yourself for many years,
a childhood habit, followed ever since,
and then by accident the face appears
you recognize but have not ever known.

Delicate features of an ancient race,
a classic beauty chiselled from dark stone,
call back the memory of another place
you were acquainted with in other times.

From your exhausted mind the memory climbs
as after a thrown stone the water clears:
the world made flesh, her body of deep bronze
held in your arms after too many years.
It happens to you once and only once.

Typed with One Finger
Travel with me on the long road
into loneliness, where the hours
offer pardons to those still afraid.
Bursts of white and blue flowers
will surprise you in summer, with
denials of what is called death.
When I am not there in the maze
where the long road ends, think
of the clumsy stutter of my limp
behind you always, hindering you,
trying to help you all my days.

Every word that I wrote was true
this way or that, meant to praise
whatever was worth it on earth.
When my thumb, slowly flexed,
erased vexed lines from your brow,
it did more than my typing finger
achieved in those seasons, for that,
over the endless miles of paper,
scratched in marks like crowfeet.
As so there were always reasons
how are lives became complete.
For me the main one was I loved you.

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