Friday, December 16, 2016

The Wild Swans at Coole - Poem by William Butler Yeats

The Wild Swans at Coole - Poem by William Butler Yeats


With the trees “in their autumn beauty,” the speaker walks down the dry woodland paths to the water, which mirrors the still October twilight of the sky. Upon the water float “nine-and-fifty swans.” The speaker says that nineteen years have passed since he first came to the water and counted the swans; that first time, before he had “well finished,” he saw the swans mount up into the sky and scatter, “whelling in great broken rings / Upon their clamorous wings.” The speaker says that his heart is sore, for after nineteen autumns of watching and being cheered by the swans, he finds that everything in his life has changed. The swans, though, are still unwearied, and they paddle by in the water or fly by in the air in pairs, “lover by lover.” Their hearts, the speaker says, “have not grown cold,” and wherever they go they are attended by “passion or conquest.” But now, as they drift over the still water, they are “Mysterious, beautiful,” and the speaker wonders where they will build their nests, and by what lake’s edge or pool they will “delight men’s eyes,” when he awakes one morning to find that they have flown away.


One of the most unusual features of Yeats’s poetic career is the fact that the poet came into his greatest powers only as he neared old age; whereas many poets fade after the first burst of youth, Yeats continued to grow more confident and more innovative with his writing until almost the day he died. Though he was a famous and successful writer in his youth, his poetic reputation today is founded almost solely on poems written after he was fifty. He is thus the great poet of old age, writing honestly and with astonishing force about the pain of time’s passage and feeling that the ageless heart was “fastened to a dying animal,” as he wrote in “Sailing to Byzantium.” The great struggle that enlivens many of Yeats’s best poems is the struggle to uphold the integrity of the soul, and to preserve the mind’s connection to the “deep heart’s core,” despite physical decay and the pain of memory.

“The Wild Swans at Coole,” part of the 1919 collection of the same name, is one of Yeats’s earliest and most moving testaments to the heart-ache of living in a time when “all’s changed.” (And when Yeats says “All’s changed, changed utterly” in the fifteen years since he first saw the swans, he means it—the First World War and the Irish civil war both occurred during these years.) The simple narrative of the poem, recounting the poet’s trips to the lake at Augusta Gregory’s Coole Park residence to count the swans on the water, is given its solemn serenity by the beautiful nature imagery of the early stanzas, the plaintive tone of the poet, and the carefully constructed poetic stanza—the two trimeter lines, which give the poet an opportunity to utter short, heartfelt statements before a long silence ensured by the short line (“Their hearts have not grown old...”). The speaker, caught up in the gentle pain of personal memory, contrasts sharply with the swans, which are treated as symbols of the essential: their hearts have not grown old; they are still attended by passion and conquest.




Much has been written about Tagore’s play, Chandalika which is based on a Buddhist legend Tagore came across while studying Ranjendra Lal Mitra’s The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature. According to the story Ananda, the famous disciple of the Buddha, approaches towards a well to ask for water from a Chandalini, a young untouchable girl. Prakriti, the Chandalini, serves him water from her pitcher and falls in love with him at the first sight. Her passion to possess Ananda compels her mother to cast a magic spell on Ananda and to drag him to her house. The spell proves stronger and Ananda is dragged to the couch spread for him by the Chandalini. Ananda prays to the Buddha to save himself from this shame and remorse. Consequently, Buddha breaks the magic spell and frees Ananda, who walks away from the Chandalini, as pure as he came. The play, for many, has been either a play of spiritual conflict or a psychological drama. Such readings of us however obliterate the most social concerns of the play like casteism and sexuality which make the play more as a social document than a mere stage show of entertainment and aesthetics. Though Subaltern Studies as a critical theory was unheard of in Tagore’s time, it is interesting to revisit and reintrospect Tagore’s Chandalika from the Postcolonial perspective .My paper will try to look at Tagore from the Subaltern standpoint, especially with reference to Gramsci’s notion of the ‘subaltern’ and the postcolonial issues of subjectivity and identity-formation .

Tagore’s Chandalika is a powerful critique of Indian society that ignores and deprives a large community of its fundamental rights and dignity, labelling them as subhuman untouchables. The dominant social groups of the high caste Hindus are much to be blamed for the dastardly acts of inhumanity and cruelty. The narrative of Chandalika is an evidence of the subaltern protest against Brahmanical hegemony and it explores possible ways of redemption. The story parallels powerfully the anti-caste movements associated with Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar. But Tagore does not lose sight of the fact that the Subaltern is held in subjection through its internal weakness and through its acceptance, as evident in the slavish mentality of Prakiti’s mother, Maya, of the moral, social and political ideologies of the ruling class. Maya internalizes and consents to her subordination as ordained. This subjectivity is not just externally imposed but is ingrained in the subaltern culture and consciousness. The mother considers Prakiti’s new birth following the awakening of her consciousness as madness. She chastises Prakiti’s newly gained enthusiasm after her.




has one set – a TV studio – but a multi-layered theme. It weaves in issues as far apart as the hegemony of English over Indian languages and the hollowness of a media which bestows greatness on a work that lay unnoticed in its original language but when translated into English becomes the toast of the global literary world.  It also deals with psychological repression of an inverted kind.  The central character Manjula, the now successful, Kannada-turned-English writer has a handicapped, wheelchair bound sister, Malini.  But it is the disabled Malini who turns out to be the really healthy and whole person.  It is Malini who not only wins the love of Manjula’s husband, Pramod, but is far more centered and happy than her caretaker sister, Manjula.Not just that.  After her death, it is Manjula whose loveless married life ends by Pramod walking out and moving to Los Angeles and the phenomenal success that she has wrested from Malini by stealing Malini’s unpublished MSS tasting like poison.  

The metaphor of Manjula aka Shabana talking about her heroic exploits with the book on a live television show ends with her finding that her image just does not leave the monitor. It is not her, of course.  It looks like her but it is Malini and the conflict between the self and the image,  between delusion and reality, between the outer mask and the inner truth that emerges in the tussle between the sisters and is the very stuff of the drama. 
Broken Images takes many a side swipe at all those writers in English who are constantly in the news, for fat advances from foreign publishers, for works that are many years away to seeing the light of day, for invitations to foreign colleges, lecture tours and autograph signing sprees. There are also the questions that stare in the face: are the Indian English  cut off from the "smell of the soil," have they sold out to a market-driven economy, have they struck a trade-off with their conscience by not writing in their native language, etc. etc. 
In appropriating the stolen novel, one in which her sister has caricatured her and made her out to be a pushy, conniving, duplicitous relative, a defiant Manjula shouts: "I wrote the novel in English because it burst out in English....What baffles me - actually, hurts me - is why our intellectuals can't grasp this simple fact." We see Manjula Nayak subjected to an interrogation that teases, taunts and finally strips the secrets from her soul.  The TV image reveals the sordid truth about Manjula's marriage, her far from easy relationship with her dead sister Malini and the mysterious circumstances in which the best-selling novel that was written by Malini (with the help of Pramod who, too, was always at home) and now published by Manjula, finds her conceits punctured and her deceptions gradually unravelled. 

Finally she is forced into anger or emotional collapse. The 55-minute play progresses towards a tight and stirring finish as Manjula seems to morph into Malini as "differences of ink and blood and language" are obliterated in a Babel of voices and a jumble of television images.  

Talking about the technical facet of the play, director Alyque said, "There are two Shabanas in the play, it is Shabana speaking to Shabana. With the aid of technology, there are two Shabanas on the stage at the same time!" Meanwhile, the equally excited Shabana says, "The minute I finished reading the script, I said I was on! The play is so dramatic and challenging. It is a technical nightmare; I have to react to my own televised image on the screen. The image is shot as a single one hour shot, so the timing is crucial, there is no room for mistake." 

It is in these climactic moments that Shabana Azmi proves her dramatic worth and for just a few seconds, like the computer image breaking into a million shards, she captures the trauma of the two sisters’ existence.  As for Padamsee’s direction, it is nothing to write home about. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Argumentative Indian - Amartya Sen

Notes on 'The Argumentative Indian' - Amartya Sen


The Argumentative Indian is a book written by Nobel Prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen. It is a collection of essays that discuss India's history and identity, focusing on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism. Martha Nussbaum says the book "demonstrates the importance of public debate in Indian traditions generally."

The Argumentative Indian has brought together a selection of writings from Sen that outline the need to understand contemporary India in the light of its long argumentative tradition. The understanding and use of this argumentative tradition are critically important, Sen argues, for the success of India's democracy, the defence of its secular politics, the removal of inequalities related to class, caste, gender and community, and the pursuit of sub-continental peace.

The book takes the form of four sections containing linked essays: "Voice and Heterodoxy", "Culture and Communication", "Politics and Protest", "Reason and Identity". The first section looks at the general culture of pluralistic debate within India, dating back to Buddha and kings such as Ashoka. The second section seeks to restore the reputation of Rabindranath Tagore as an intellectual polymath, combining spiritual and political ideas, and explores India's relationship to other cultures, including the West and China, especially the peaceful and intellectually rewarding cross-fertilising relationship between the two great Asian cultures. The third section looks at conflicts of class and criticises inequalities in Indian society and arguments that have been used to justify them. Finally, the book explores modern cultures of secularism and liberalism in an Indian context.

Amartya Sen's own political agenda is clear for all to see and is wholly admirable. Given the virtue of Sen's position, to which nearly all of us would subscribe, it is hard to have to say that "The Argumentative Indian" proves on close reading to be a flawed book. This is because Sen does not go beyond stating self-evident truths. Although nicely written, and with many points of interest, there is a thinness and superficiality about the whole that displeases. [...] My greatest disappointment with this book is that its use of history is as unscrupulous and trivialising as that of those Sen wishes to bring down. "The Argumentative Indian" is not sufficiently thoughtful and serves as a forceful reminder that history is constantly being used in a dangerously naive way.



D. H. Lawrence, 1929

D.H. Lawrence introduces his views of the novel to the readers by referring to the common thinking among people that they are a body with a spirit or a soul or a mind in it. A proverb to this effect, namely, “A sound body in a sound mind” has been framed. According to D.H. Lawrence, this idea of ourselves as a body with a spirit or a soul or a mind in it is a funny superstition.
D.H. Lawrence asks why we should make a difference between the hand that writes and the mind that directs the hand to write. He feels that the hand is as full of life, and that it learns and knows as many things as the mind is and does. Our hand is alive upto the finger tips but the pen with which we write is not alive.

D.H. Lawrence argues that every bit of our body, like the hand or the hair, or the skin is alive. As he says, ‘whatever is me alive is me’. We are completely wrong in comparing any part of our body with a bottle or a jug or a tin can, or a vessel of clay because while each tiny part of our body is full of life as the whole body, a bottle or a jug is inanimate.
That every bit of our body is alive is what we know when one is a novelist. This idea is liable to become unknown, to us if we are a philosopher, or a scientist, or a stupid person.
A person speaks about souls in heaven. But a novelist talks about paradise in the palm of our hand, or at the end of our nose because he feels the existence of life during his life time undisturbed by what happens to him after life.

According to Lawrence, life is the most important aspect of life. Anything that is living is certainly more amazing than a dead thing. A living dog is better than a dead lion though a living lion is better than a living dog.
D.H. Lawrence says that he is not simply a soul or a body or mind, or intelligence, or glands. He is the sum total of all these and greater than all these. Since, possesses them within himself. He as a man alive, is a novelist. So as a novelist he is greater than and superior to the scientist, the philosopher and the poet, since they deal with only a part of man’s body, whereas the novelist deals with the whole body.
Even the Bible is a great confused novel. It is not about one man alive but a long list of men alive. Even God is another man alive. Since, he throws the tablets of stone at Mose’s head.
D.H. Lawrence desires to stimulate people in all possible directions. All things change but even change is not absolute the whole or complete nature is a ‘strong assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping part one another.
Man constantly undergoes changes and a man today is not exactly what he was yesterday and he will also be entirely different tomorrow. Even the woman loved by a man constantly undergoes changes and he continues to love her because of the change.
In this novel, the characters do nothing but live. They have to live but not according to any pattern, good or bad or volatile, because once they shape themselves into a pattern, they cease to live and novel falls dead. Similarly, in life we have got to live or we are nothing.
The exact meaning of living is like the meaning of being. People go into the desert to seek God, or money, or wine, or woman, or song, or water or political reform or votes. One can never predict one’s choices in life. It is as sudden as rain in summer and none can say when it will come. In this great confusion, disorder and unpredictability we need a guide.
The novel tells us what a man alive does and when a man becomes a dead man in life. It tells us, for instance, how a man alive loves a woman, and how a dead man in life courts her; how a man alive eats his dinner and how a dead man in life munches it. It tells us how a man alive shoots his enemy and how dead man in life throws bombs mercilessly at men, who are neither his enemies nor friends, and therefore becomes a criminal.
The novel is the best guide which helps us to live, without getting ourselves unnecessarily disturbed by the theory of right and wrong, good or bad, which are always there. Right and wrong are not constant but relative. Since what is right in one case becomes wrong in another. In the novel, we see a man dying because of his goodness and another person dying because of his wickedness. The idea of right and wrong is an instinct generating from the consciousness of man affecting his body, mind and spirit.
The existence of anything, namely, body or mind, or spirit separately does not make life, but the wholeness of man alive and a woman alive constitutes life. Only the novel explains the dead man and dead woman in life, the novel is the one bright book of life and surpasses all other books, such as philosophy, science and poetry.


In the essay "Why the Novel Matters , Lawrence explores in his own way the Romantic concept of the relativity of parts and wholes to construct a doctrinal statement celebrating the novel over other fields of thought. Unlike philosophy, science, and religion, which only address "part  of us, he says, the novel reaches us "whole hog . Incorporated into this argument is a diatribe against moral "absolutes . " Once and for all and for ever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute. There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right,  the writer asserts. Here Lawrence's hatred of absolutes is made supplemental to a larger theory on the relativity of parts and wholes. In the essay, he contends that "man alive  is as much or more the physical body than it is the mind or spirit, and he supports his thesis by disassembling the old cliche that the body is merely a vessel for the soul.
             Then he goes on saying that like "a bottle or a jug, or a tin can, or a vessel of clay  our body bleeds when it is cut. But the difference that sets it apart is the life in the skin, vein, bone or blood this is inside. But in case of other inanimate objects the entities inside are as dead as the outer. "And that's what you learn, when you're a novelist  quips Lawrence to define the people in this field. So the superficial "logic" of this passage is conspicuously off: to refute the notion that the body is merely a vessel for the soul, he "proves" that skin and bone are as important as anything else.

Monday, December 5, 2016




This poem is written as a dramatic monologue and is told from the point of view of a hawk. The hawk details all in nature that is available to him. He perches in the tall trees, sleeping and looking for his prey. He believes all that is around him exists for him and only him. He revels in his predatory nature, fearing nothing and staking his claim on everything. He sees himself as almost god-like; all that is around him is the way it is because he deems it to be that way.


The hawk serves as the speaker of this poem; his tone is confident and almost haughty at times, although his belief in his superiority appears to be more steeped in honesty than it does in false bravado. The hawk continuously uses the pronoun “I” throughout the course of the work. Another interesting fact to note about the poem is that Hughes has written it entirely in the present tense, which adds to the sense that the hawk has always been, and will always be, at the top of the food chain.
The poem consists of six stanzas, each containing four lines. There is no set rhyme scheme to the poem, and Hughes relies on free verse in order to convey his themes to his readers.
The first stanza reads:

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed,
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

Here, the hawk seems to be deep in meditation. He does not feel threatened by anything in the wild, and therefore, he can easily close his eyes and not worry about his surroundings. He is perched in a tree where he can easily look down on the forest he inhabits. Hughes uses interesting diction in this stanza in order to create imagery. He writes, “Between my hooked head and hooked feet…” which emphasizes the dangerous and sharp beak and claws of the bird. In line four, the hawk tells the reader that he is able to perform the perfect kill even in his sleep.
In the second stanza, the hawk conveys to his reader how easy and convenient his life is. Everything in nature, it seems, has been made for the sake of his pleasure and ease. Hughes writes:

The convenience of the high trees! 
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray 
Are of advantage to me; 
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

In line five, the hawk seems to be marveling at how much nature has given him; he is so emphatic that he even uses an exclamation point to convey his feelings. The trees are high for him; the air is buoyant, making it easy for him to glide; the sun’s ray gives him warmth. He claims that all of these aspects of nature make his life more convenient. Hughes also creates a parallel between up and down. All is below the hawk; the earth sits below him so that he can inspect it from his perch. This dichotomy reflects the superiority of the hawk.
In the third stanza, Hughes writes, 

My feet are locked upon the rough bark. 
It took the whole of Creation 
To produce my foot, my each feather: 
Now I hold Creation in my foot

In this stanza, the hawk is announcing his perfection to his reader. Again, he draws attention to his sharp claws, stabbing into the tree limb as he perches. He explains that it took Creation—probably capitalized here in order to represent God—everything He possessed in order to produce just one of the hawk’s feet, and each and every feather on his body. This stanza gives an image of a higher power hard at work, slaving over how to create such a great and powerful being. Now, the hawk proclaims, he, himself, is God, more powerful than any being on both Earth and in Heaven.
The fourth stanza is a continuation of the third. It reads,

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads –

The hawk is essentially saying that he can do whatever he pleases. He can fly slowly through the air, taking in all of the sights beneath him. He can kill wherever he pleases because all of the world belongs to him. There is no need to lie or pretend otherwise because the hawk can prove his power by tearing off the heads of his victims.
The fourth stanza does not end neatly; again, Hughes carries the thoughts of the hawk into the fifth stanza, which reads:

The allotment of death. 
For the one path of my flight is direct 
Through the bones of the living. 
No arguments assert my right:

The hawk is so god-like in this stanza that he says he chooses who lives and dies. The one flight he makes is the one he takes to kill his prey. There are no arguments necessary because he is all-powerful.
The sixth and final stanza closes the poem in an absolute way:

The sun is behind me. 
Nothing has changed since I began. 
My eye has permitted no change. 
I am going to keep things like this.

The hawk claims that the world has not changed since he was created. Since then, it has been perfect and permanent. He says it has not changed because he has not allowed it to do so.


Angrily, the speaker accuses the modern age of having lost its connection to nature and to everything meaningful: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” He says that even when the sea “bares her bosom to the moon” and the winds howl, humanity is still out of tune, and looks on uncaringly at the spectacle of the storm. The speaker wishes that he were a pagan raised according to a different vision of the world, so that, “standing on this pleasant lea,” he might see images of ancient gods rising from the waves, a sight that would cheer him greatly. He imagines “Proteus rising from the sea,” and Triton “blowing his wreathed horn.”
This poem is one of the many excellent sonnets Wordsworth wrote in the early 1800s. Sonnets are fourteen-line poetic inventions written in iambic pentameter. There are several varieties of sonnets; “The world is too much with us” takes the form of a Petrarchan sonnet, modeled after the work of Petrarch, an Italian poet of the early Renaissance. A Petrarchan sonnet is divided into two parts, an octave (the first eight lines of the poem) and a sestet (the final six lines). The rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet is somewhat variable; in this case, the octave follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA, and the sestet follows a rhyme scheme of CDCDCD. In most Petrarchan sonnets, the octave proposes a question or an idea that the sestet answers, comments upon, or criticizes.
“The world is too much with us” falls in line with a number of sonnets written by Wordsworth in the early 1800s that criticize or admonish what Wordsworth saw as the decadent material cynicism of the time. This relatively simple poem angrily states that human beings are too preoccupied with the material (“The world...getting and spending”) and have lost touch with the spiritual and with nature. In the sestet, the speaker dramatically proposes an impossible personal solution to his problem—he wishes he could have been raised as a pagan, so he could still see ancient gods in the actions of nature and thereby gain spiritual solace. His thunderous “Great God!” indicates the extremity of his wish—in Christian England, one did not often wish to be a pagan.

On the whole, this sonnet offers an angry summation of the familiar Wordsworthian theme of communion with nature, and states precisely how far the early nineteenth century was from living out the Wordsworthian ideal. The sonnet is important for its rhetorical force (it shows Wordsworth’s increasing confidence with language as an implement of dramatic power, sweeping the wind and the sea up like flowers in a bouquet), and for being representative of other poems in the Wordsworth canon—notably “London, 1802,” in which the speaker dreams of bringing back the dead poet John Milton to save his decadent era.