12 December 2022

Continents of the heart

Arseny Tarkovsky (9007-1989), father of the acclaimed filmmaker Andrei, a Russian poet and translator, once reflected on words. For him a word was nothing more than a skin, ‘a thin film, an empty sound,’ but inside, he claimed there is ‘a pink point is beating, shining like a strange light.’

Tarkovsky has some advice for poets or, say, those who want to write poetry but see ‘no better path in this tangled world.’ He advocates thus: ‘don’t describe too early [the] battles or the trials of love,’ and warns, ‘refrain from prophecy.’ The word, he reiterates, ‘is only a skin,’ and cautions, ‘any line in your poem can sharpen the knife of your fate.’  

Poets are of various dispositions. Some are aware that a word or line can nudge fate and not always towards happy outcomes and would therefore exercise reticence whereas others feel compelled to write regardless. Nazim Hikmet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and others were incarcerated. Nazim was eventually exiled. Exponents of the word have been threatened, assaulted, tortured and killed.

Federico García Lorca was assassinated at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, some claim because he was a socialist. Pablo Neruda, who also wrote about the terrible Spain of that time along with a host of other writers including W H Auden and Lorca himself, offered one of the most beautiful eulogies written by a poet for a fellow poet (Ode to Federico García Lorca):

If I could cry out of fear in a lonely house,
if I could take out my eyes and eat them,
I would do it for your mournful orange tree voice
and for your poetry that comes out screaming.

That’s the beginning and here’s the end:

Already you know many things for yourself.
And you will know others slowly.

Between these, Neruda describes the Spain that troubled him, troubled Lorca and others. If that’s not enough to indicate that his death was not political (his absence certainly had political implications, for his was a beautiful and powerful voice against tyranny), such doubts would be laid to rest by a tribute that the two poets made to the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío who initiated the Spanish-language literary movement known as modernismo (modernism) that flourished at the end of the 19th century and greatly influenced 20th-century Spanish-language literature and journalism.

Neruda was exiled too. And today, he’s executed repeatedly (for crimes he freely admitted to) by those who have not come out with word of their doings in poetic or other form, perhaps because they do not want to sharpen the knives of their respective fates.

I was introduced to Tarkovsky by a friend, Nathasha Dream, last night. She sent me the poem referred to above and 77 after Tarkovsky wrote those powerful and tender lines that must have cautioned, inspired and empowered countless readers, poets included, I wrote the following by way of gratitude to both poet and my friend:

Like so many ping pong balls
in a back and forth over a net
so intensely invisible
that it is now a dew-decked cob
now a desperate constellation
and tapestry made of abandoned thought-strands;
soap-bubble words
with rainbow blush
in suicidal thrust and parry
for an intangible yield
that resurrects dead texts;
words like forlorn coffee stains
regaining sharpness with a somnambulist’s touch
rising from deadwood and conversation periphery
flirting with the unspoken
to be breathed, breathed out and escape
through nondescript windows
and into landscapes so new they remain unnamed.

How can I ever think of ‘word’ again without wondering what kind of light it contains, in what colour, the temper of its pulse, whether or not it has done justice to inherent power and visualise the relevant battles or trials of love? Tarkovsky and Nathasha transported me to a battlefield and an orchard. I alighted on a blade of grass and was duly clothed with a language unknown but yet, strangely, understood. I stood trembling upon the edge of a cliff and the point of a sword.

My fate must have been sealed, but then again a word and the continents of the heart within are delicate enough to subvert sentences and liberate butterflies from the most intransigent of cocoons.  

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the first of a new series.]



Other articles in this series:

Allegory of the slow road