“The Fly”- By William Blake

Little Fly
Thy summer’s play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

Teeny weenie like the subject fly, the poem is bigger than what it seems.It is not just about a fly but also about three characters from the image in which Blake had set the poem as a text in the trees. The poem is set as a blurb in the trees with a nurse and a toddler in the foreground and a shuttle cock playing girl in the background.Do we need to understand the background to the poem? Not necessary but it does help a better understanding.

The fly is also a man whose wing is casually brushed by a blind hand,probably a recall of the girl’s racquet brushing the feathered shuttle cock .The poet seems looking at the girl playing as he is thoughtlessly brushing the fly and plunges into thought about how thoughtless he has been.Man brushes the fly casually and is himself a fly subject to a similar brushing by a higher power.Fly is man and man is fly ,the way both get brushed with a casualness shocking to the thoughtful man.

There is a lot common between fly and man-both have life .Thought for man makes for life and thoughtlessness is brain death .The fly is helpless against the forces of life and death and so is man who drinks and sings ,till a blind hand brushes his wing.He is a happy fly, if he lives by thought and if thought stops he dies like the fly .The hand that brushes is a random(blind) event ,whether for the fly or for man.

The toddler ,the girl and the nurse associated with man’s birth and his growing are activities that go on like the summer play of a fly till his wing is brushed by some blind hand.

“You are”-A poem by Sylvia Plath

Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Of course everyone knows Sylvia’s poem is addressed to the child in her womb: “You are”-this, this . All in two stanzas of nine lines each.Nine refers to nine months of her pregnancy .The first stanza probably narrates the first phase of the fetal development and the second one relates to the next phase.

The plethora of metaphors do not connect within themselves but only expand the narrative giving it a visual feel. They are no extended metaphors but a series of metaphors all supplementing each other. Thus in the first nine lines ,the fetus is described in its likeness to a clown, a fish,a thumbsdown , a dodo ,a spool,a trawler,an owl,a turnip,a loaf.

Clown : A clown uses body language to elicit laughs.
Fish : The fetus floats in the embryonic fluid
Thumbsdown : The fetus appears in a hunched up position
On dodo’s mode : Dodos are supposed to be clumsy looking birds.
like a spool : The fetus is all tied up in the umbilical cord
Owl : Trawling darkness of the womb like an owl in the night
Trawling : A fishing metaphor to describe negotiating darkness
Mute as turnip : Fetus is conceived and grows from July to April
My little loaf : Delicious as a loaf and shaped like one.

In the second nine lines, the metaphors become more dynamic almost reflecting the growth of the fetus to the definite shape of a full-grown child. It now looks like a bent-back Atlas with an entire world on its shoulders.It is now vague as fog and looked for like mail. Farther than Australia. A travelled prawn,no longer a mute turnip. But snug as a bud waiting for a morning of blooming. Snug arises from a feeling of comfort within the womb.But it is now like a sprat(again a fish) in a pickle jar. A creel of eeels jumping about. Throwing around ripples. Jumpy like a Mexican bean, that jumps on frying. But it is now right, like an arithmetic sum whose answer comes right. Everything has worked out fine and the fetus is healthily kicking about against the walls of the womb. A clean slate , the baby has now a face of its own, apart from the mother’s. Clean slate because it is starting out in the world afresh with no history. The face has now a distinct formation of a persona.Now no longer moon-skulled with feet to the stars . A new actor on the world’s stage .

I love “moon-skulled ” to suggest a still forming mass of head, that will grow to a distinct face, a face of a new persona. I love “the feet to the stars” suggesting a head down and the feet up , the typical fetal position in the first few months. Gilled like a fish because being in aqua the embryo has to wear its lungs outside like fish. Everthing is fish till it comes out wearing a face to the world.

I love “trawling your dark” a fishing metaphor used to describe the fetus coping to exist in the darkest depths of the womb. The fourth of July is America’s independence but it is only on the All Fools day the baby will become independent,( nine months later) .That works a right arithmetic for a clown to appear with a face of his own.

“Warning”-A poem by Jenny Joseph


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

I love this poem not for the beauty of its imagery or the music of its singsong lines, that have a strange lyrical beauty. The young woman imagines herself in a situation she will find herself in decades later.In imagining herself as an old woman she gives herself all the attributes one associates with an old woman,in common perception. But not out of self-pity but from a sheer sense of release, freedom from what a young person is supposed to be.

Conformance to a social type is tyranny of the hive mind .A young person experiences its oppressiveness throughout the younger years and it is only the old age that gives them freedom to express and be their own selves the way they want to,not like how the peers look and behave.

1) When you are old you do not need to wear clothes that make a statement.Nor do you have to wear outlandish clothes because everybody else wears them and together you all make a statement.

2)When you are old you need not have to carry the stigma of not paying rent ,of wearing shabby clothes,of setting examples to children etc. You do not even invite friends to dinner and read the papers.

3) The biggest adavantage is that you can squat on the footpath if you are tired, go out in slippers in rain, spit anywhere to to your heart’s content.

4) You can buy brandy and eat sausages , exhausting your meager pension, and with the least worry about getting fat.

The old woman has little stake in life and it does not really matter to her what everybody thinks of her.But remember this is how the young person imagines what an old woman’s life would be like. Is it correct to think that an old person feels she has no further stake in life? That it does not really matter how she behaves and whether she is a subject of ridicule?

But that is not what the poet seems to say but rather that you feel stifled to be a young person with all those stereotyping that goes with it. A young person who thinks she has a greater stake in life is forced to conform to the stereotype, the shackles of which leave nothing for individual improvisation. You have to be either a conformist with all its boring traits or are a rebel with equally mind-numbing protocols.

All this is preparation to old age, that is a long way off. Does old age come so suddenly and one starts wearing purple? Surely , for the sake of other people, one has to practise a little at being old right now so that they will not be shocked to see her suddenly in purple clothes.She has the tongue in her cheek.Dont they start wearing purple too?

If music be the food of love

“If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough; no more.
’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.”

-Twelfth Night : William Shakespeare

The opening lines of the play contain some of the finest imagery used by Shakespeare. But the imagery is used merely to construct hyperbole intended to make fun of a romance pursued by Orsino for its own sake. Here is an entire drama of Elizabethan romance with all its trappings ,notably music. Music may be the food of love. Love does not happen by itself but is nurtured carefully by its staple food of music , by creating an ambiance for such romance to flourish. Love needs the food of music and so music should be played on to its excess. But music should not become the central passion but merely be played to an excess so that it quickly sickens and dies.

Apparently Orsino is not a music afficionado. If played continuously it becomes a surfeit and sickens to its death. Music is but a tool for romance and should not be allowed to become the leitmotif of the story. Orsino is merely building up his romance and has to follow the prevailing conventions for it . That strain again! Thank God, it has a dying fall. And beautiful like the sweet sound that breaths upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor. Music is but a soft sound breathing on a bank of violets, desired not for the melody of such a sound but for the odor it gives to and takes from the violets. Love is what the Duke pursues, the fragrance of a romance, the giving and the taking.

Orsino now gets into love proper.He addresses the spirit of love , quick and fresh ,that receiveth like the sea ,notwithstanding the joiner’s capacity. Nothing enters there without losing its form and shape. Like the sea that goes on ,irrespective of the countless streams and rivers that enter it,losing their shapes and their price.

“so full of shapes is fancy/that it alone is high fantastical” -Love receives within itself so many forms and is itself a fancy that is so high fantastical. Orsino’s love is mere fancy with no solid base and he is himself not sure about it. That is why he needs props like music.

If music be the food of love play on. If. But not too long .. Just that much which makes you sick of it and you go on to other things. Just the thing for a love novice .

(also found on the Shakespeare page)

“Siren Song”- By Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Most of the metaphors used here have a certain tongue-in-cheek quality as if they are used to merely laugh at the subject, the poem’s theme and in the manner of presenting it- a sort of the poet enjoying herself. The sirens are Greek mythological allusions, deliberately introduced to get a laugh about the so called feminine power derived from attractive helplessness. The allure the sirens have for the sailors is derived from their song everyone would like to learn that is so irresistible but the song is not heard by anybody because everybody who has heard it is dead and if anybody alive has heard it he does not remember it. Which means we have no verifiable evidence of the existence of such a song.

May be the song never existed or the sirens. it is the same song that made sailors fling themselves overboard in droves(squadrons) in pursuit of the sirens , while fully aware of the beached skulls that were the earlier sailors who attempted a similar misadventure. Such is the fatal charm of the three sirens whose song pulls the wary sailors to the islands only to turn them into beached skulls.

“beached skulls” is erstwhile sailors drowned in the sea pulled by the sirens song and have landed on the beach. But was the song so captivating that men died by it? Actually, that is not true, between the two of us, says one of the sirens.It is just a cry for help.It does not the exemplify the power of female charms or the melody of its song . And the song is such a boring one! Somehow it seems to work all the time.

But female charms do endure.They make you feel you are unique and only the one who can deliver the sirens from their situation.The damsels in distress do need valiant souls to come to their rescue.

The whole situation of the sirens is not all that picturesque as we may imagine. The three sirens have to squat in the islands, far from the picture of an idyllic situation. They “squat” between them , the three feathery creatures singing their boring song .In addition, they have to wear that stupid bird costume all the time. All for the pleasure of looking picturesque and mythical.

The poet makes fun of the traditional female allure that is supposed to exercise power over the male by fatal attraction. It takes a lot of effort to keep up the myth of female power over men.In the whole process she debunks the archtype of female desirability cultivated from apparent helplessness.

“The Brook” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

* * *

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

* * *

And here and there a foamy lake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Apart from the delightful simpilcity of this nature poem by Tennyson,we may look at the sensory images he creates about the brook’s journey notably the auditory and visual ones.

I make a sudden sally
and sparkle out among the fern
to bicker down a valley

The start of the brook’s journey is described in just three lines, so full of detail compressed in sixteen words. The detail is amazing:

A sudden sally : The brook starts at the haunt of the coot and hern.Just picture a calm starting point with coots and herns flying about in peace. Suddenly the brook starts its sally , a military metaphor for an attack by the defenders of a town under seige. The brook starts flowing among the fern sparkling in the sun against their green .And then it bickers down a valley, continuing its aggression. To bicker is to quarrel loudly.To bicker down a valley suggests an abrupt noisy fall. Repeat “s” in suden sally/sparkle out” suggest softness of flow followed by abrupt “down a valley”.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

The numbers thirty, twenty, half a hundred are meant to convey the enormous speed the brook picks up as it passes the hills, thorps, ridges,a town, half a hundred bridges.

The brook is personified with two human attributes :running and babbling. The running is a continuous activity that goes on ,now fast on the ridges and now slow in the plains.The running never stops unlike of men who come and go:

…men may come ,men may go
But I go on for ever

Men come only to go but not the brook that goes on for ever.Its chatter in the woods will never stop.It goes on for ever.

The simple musical lines in monosyllables are so much like the babble of a brook

Men may come/ men may go
But I go on /for ever

Men merely come and they go. But the brook goes on and on.

The poet achieves a rare kind of musical density in each stanza by repetition of a single sound ;

“b” in

I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles
.
,
“y” in

And here and there a foamy lake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

“f” in

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow

And “ow” in

fallow,willow,mallow

Of course,the dominant sense employed is the auditory one:

bubble , babble, chatter ,bicker, fret.

The Waste Land By T.S.Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

In these opening lines of Eliot’s The Waste Land we may look at the way time and space are interwoven,both within themselves as well as between individual chunks of time and space :

First let us talk of time:

April , spring,winter, summer,hour, when,night,winter

Space:

Dead land,roots,earth,Starnbergersee,colonnade,Hofgarten,the arch-duke’s,down,in the mountains

Time and space fused together:

I read much of the night and go south in the winter

Shorter time fused with longer time:
I read much of the night(shorter time)
Go south in the winter (longer time)
Space fused with time:
I read much of the time( A temporal frame :much of the night)
Go south in the winter (A spatial frame : Go south )

Conjunction between short term activity and long term activity, without an apparent logical connection:

I read much of the time and go south in the winter

The linkage between the first and the second is neither one of chronology nor of cause-and -effect.

A similar linkage will be found later in the poem about Madam Sosostris

“Madam Sosostris had a bad cold
Nevertheless is known to be the wisest woman in Europe”
(non sequitor)

Summer surprised us coming over the Starnbergersee/with a shower of rain

The music of the line is in a soft repetition of the “s” sound as if it is enacting the rain
falling on the lake Starnbergersee.

The summer is not the summer of every year but a summer that surprises with a shower of rain. Actually summer is coming over the Starnbergersee,not a harsh dry summer on the lake but a soft out-of-the season rainfall that stirs dull roots.

April is the cruellest month,linked to a spatial framework of dead land (space)
The cruelty is in the mixture of memory and desire, sparked off by the lilacs bursting from the dead land.
Spring stirs dull roots (spatial ): spring is dynamic,roots are static.Spring stirs them to motion.
Winter kept us warm, covering earth(space) in forgetful snow.Winter keeping us warm is paradoxical .But winter(time) covers our earth (space) in forgetful snow, making us forget our condition.Note the lazy roots springing to motion in April but now the dried tubers are fed a little life by winter’s snow.

And when we were children (longer time frame)
staying at the arch-duke’s (medium time frame)
he took me out on a sled (narrative- short time frame)
and I was frightened (narrative-recall of feeling)
he said,Mary, Mary,hold on tight (Direct speech-narrative)
and down we went (onomatopoeic ,speech with gesture)
In the mountains there you feel free (universalization of personal experience)
I read much of the night/ Juxtaposing the present with the past
go south in the winter .

The other interesting things are the music of the words and a fine lyricism achieved by clever use of syntax:

In the mountains ( universal for the mountains in general )
there you feel free (particularizing the location :there)

I read much of the night and go south in the winter :The verbs “read” and “go” are balanced to convey that they are sequential activities, which they are not.

The music of words : Mary, Mary, hold on tight /And down we went.

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”- By S.T.Coleridge

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

The nine stanzas are from the longer poem of Coleridge and are widely known for their imagery- a collection of some of the finest images used in Romantic poetry. The ship entered a silent sea after a spell of a fine wind .The mariner killed the albatross that brought the good fortune of the wind and has now to wear the dead albatross around his neck as if it is the cross. The wind no longer carries the sail.

The deathly silence of the sea is beautifully captured in the four lines:

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

The silence of the sea is conveyed by the preponderance of monosyllables (except the word “silence” itself which is di-syllabic).

“Down dropt the breeze,the sails dropped down” is almost onamatopaeic, a repeated “d” sound that forebodes a deathly silence. The silence is accentuated by the repetition of the soft “s” sound:

’twas sad as sad could be
and we did speak only to break
the silence of the sea

The sky is equally hostile ,with a bloody sun just above the ship’s mast:

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

“Hot and copper” sky with a bloody sun is an evocative image. Hot and copper are adjectives reinforcing each other.Copper is copper in color, a visual image and at the same time ,has the property of hotness, implying a tactile image. A bloody sun makes the sky copper -red and copper-hot.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

“As idle as a painted ship/upon a painted ocean” is an image in which nature is made to imitate art. A ship in a painting is good art as still life but not in life without breath or motion.

These classic lines are a fine piece of music, evoking a passage of time that has alarmingly shrunk the drinking water supply on board.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The deepest irony is felt in the scarcity of water surrounded by vast quantities of it not suitable for quenching human thirst.

“water water everywhere : in the first line suggests the depleting water supply in the boards in the midst of plenty of sea water.With no wind in the sails time is running out and no water replenishment is available.

The repeat “water water everywhere” in the third line elaborates on the first line pinpointing water’s unavailability for quenching human thirst.The lines have exquisite lyrical beauty.

The very deep did rot:O Christ
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

The sea is rotting deep below with slimy creatures crawling upon the sea.(devils representing the evil forces) .”O Christ” is an invocation to the Son of God who alone can deliver the mariners from the rotting sea that has a spirit six fathoms below controlling the slimy creatures. The spirit has been following the ship since the albatross had been killed by the mariner.

The albatross is a bird of good omen that brings good luck to a sailing ship . It had followed the ship with a fine breeze that carried its sails. The mariner shot it dead from his cross bow bringing a curse on the ship. Hence the calamity that has overtaken the ship.His mates have held him solely responsible for the curse and punished him by hanging the dead albatross around his neck as if it were the cross. The albatross has come to mean a psychological burden that one bears as a penance for a curse.

“Hope is the thing..” By Emily Dickinson

Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

As an extended metaphor the bird image works beautifully to highlight the characteristics of hope:

Hope is the thing. An abstract idea is compared to a concrete thing.It is easier to describe an abstract idea by giving it a physical existence.

The thing enlarges its puniness by being a mere thing. A poor thing drawing sympathy.

The thing is a bird and has feathers. It is perched in the soul but is capable of flying away from it and/or returning to it. The feathers represent endless possibilities of flying away. Hope needs no realistic basis for existing. It can make survival possible even without a logical basis. It can build escapist paradises for those who are in distress.

It also sings the tune without words.Hope has no words but is just felt in the soul.It sings uninterruptedly because there are no words to bring the song to a finis.

Hope is the sweetest song heard over the hissing storm winds. The bird sings without stop ,over the fiercest gale.Its song has kept many a soul warm and cannot be stopped by a mere storm.

The poet has heard the song in the chillest of the lands or the strangest of the seas. The lone traveller who loses way in a bleak desert or on an endless sea does not lose hope of some day reaching his destination.

Lastly the bird merely sings for the world but never does it extract any price for it.Even in extremity hope does not disappoint us leading us towards despair.It does not ask a crumb of us.

The many hyphens Emily Dickinson typically uses in her poem leave you with a hope that something is yet to come. That is what hope is all about.One more of the extended metaphors the poet uses so beautifully.

“Freedom”-A poem by Jayant Mohapatra

At times, as I watch,
it seems as though my country’s body
floats down somewhere on the river.

Left alone, I grow into
a half-disembodied bamboo,
its lower part sunk
into itself on the bank.

Here, old widows and dying men
cherish their freedom,
bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

While children scream
with this desire for freedom
to transform the world
without even laying hands on it.

In my blindness, at times I fear
I’d wander back to either of them.
In order for me not to lose face,
it is necessary for me to be alone.

Not to meet the woman and her child
in that remote village in the hills
who never had even a little rice
for their one daily meal these fifty years.

And not to see the uncaught, bloodied light
of sunsets cling to the tall white columns
of Parliament House.

In the new temple man has built nearby,
the priest is the one who knows freedom,
while God hides in the dark like an alien.

And each day I keep looking for the light
shadows find excuses to keep.

Trying to find the only freedom I know,
the freedom of the body when it’s alone.

The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal,
the beds of streams of the sleeping god.

I keep the ashes away,
try not to wear them on my forehead.

Freedom is the leitmotif in the poem- a different type of freedom from what we usually understand.The poet draws upon the Indian belief system about death as freedom from the body, the bondage of the world,from the physical aspect of life.The imagery of the poem is largely concerned with death and its associated activities .

..my country’s body floats down somewhere on the river

A body is cremated on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi and its half-burnt remains are left in the river to float down somewhere.Nobody knows where the remains finally land, may be, in the vastness of the ocean , the ultimate destiny for the river.“somewhere” is unspecified destination in the vast expanse of space.

The body here is not an individual human being but an entire country, a collection of human beings ,now a mere body floating along on the river to an unspecified destination.

Inasmuch as the body is freely floating on the river it is freed from its bondage of mortal life.

The country is now free in another sense. It is now, in 1997, fifty years of freedom from the colonial rule. What if the woman and her child had no sufficient rice even for a daily -one meal , all these fifty years. Freedom from foreign rule did not give them freedom from hunger.

Old widows in Brindavan or Varanasi are free of their worldly attachments. Their kin have abandoned them and they had to live alone in desolation, uncared for and unloved. But don’t our old widows and dying men cherish their freedom bowing time after time in obstinate prayers ?

Obstinate prayers are said despite the hopelessness of the situation with an eternal hope that some day God will listen to them and grant a miracle to lift them out of their misery.

While the old and dying pray for their deliverance, the young too pray to change the world even before they have faced it. They have their notions of Utopia , to which the poet cannot subscribe . Nor can he join the old and the dying in their desire for freedom from bondage.This way he is left to be alone and not meet the starving woman and child or try to find a political solution to the economic and social ills of the society by resorting to the parliament.

In the new temple man has built nearby,
the priest is the one who knows freedom,
while God hides in the dark like an alien.

Beautiful lines .It is the priest who is free against God in the temple, who hides in a dark corner of the temple.The priest retains his own freedom and enjoys the freedom to let God interact with the devotees as and when he wants it . He alone has the power to decide God’s availability to the devotees.

The priest is our man and one of us.God is an alien , accessible to us only through this middleman of a priest.

A very interesting juxtaposition is achieved by contrasting things/people who have a choice with those who do not have it.

I watch (freedom to watch and not participate) ::Country is lifeless body with no freedom to watch or participate .
Upper part of bamboo is free::lower part of bamboo is sunk into itself.
Old women and dying men pray for release from physical bondage::Young children want to be in it and transform it.
Priest is free to move about :: God has to hide in a corner.
I keep looking for light that is hid in shadows:shadows keep looking for excuses to keep light
I try to find the only freedom I know(no choice): the freedom of the body to be alone(choice)

Let us list below all the things involved with freedom or lack of it:

Country’s body has to float down the river
left alone :freedom to be alone
bamboo sunk in itself in the lower half
it is necessary for me to be left alone,not meet…etc
old women and dying men cherish their freedom but how? By bowing in obstinate prayers(no freedom to do otherwise)
children scream their desire for freedom to change the world
the poet has no choice other than to be alone.Otherwise he has to see this,this..
priest knows freedom but not his God who has no choice