Thursday, January 20, 2005

Just opened "The Lover of God" by Tagore, and having turned from the latest from Mike Snyder, regarding the paucity of common sense among us these poets, read this sentence: ". . . the language, Brajabuli, a long-dead literary dialect of Bengali reserved for the exclusive use of Vaisnava poets. . . . Today many schoolchildren know these songs by heart and delight in their recitation." Now, this strikes me as remarkable, that in Bengal there was a whole dialect exclusively for poets to write in. Can you imagine? That means there were different words, different sounds, different syntactic logics one could use (and integrate with what was more common, I'm assuming, since it was a dialect, not a language). So when Jonathan Mayhew asks this morning "What was the literacy rate in Heian Japan?", I'm inclined to agree with his drift, and think that Mike is asking more of the socio-economic environment that we live in than it wants to give, to like poetry more than it does. I don't think there's much more market for poetry, as things (and the people who embody these 'things') are structured, than exists. I also don't think accomodating an indifferent populace is a formula for success, for poets, either. Wordsworth wouldn't think so, either: he suggested a poet listen to the common language, not the demands of those speaking it. That is, listen for what it is, not for what it is saying it is. If you see what I mean.

Back to my point, entirely contrary Wordsworth: integrating the idea of a separate (and respected!) dialect for poets to use with what is now our poetic 'moment' (though I think that I would still say it is a 'moments', not a 'moment') perhaps the struggle, longterm, will lead to the development of a new separate dialect for poets to use, and that, contra Mike's lamenting this, this will be a motion which has great benefit for the development of the American poetic idiom. It's easy to see how those vocabularies of syntax being elaborated on now (collage, mostly, I suppose) could develop into their own assumed and conventional sub-language (meta-language?) of English. Perhaps our society needs a scold, and every society permutates the human essentials in its own way: and ours, for balance with the long-term and rapacious developments of capitalism, may be moving towards a fusing of the vatic and the critical: and this too would be fundamentally biblical (though I think the power-balance comparison is ironic the way comparing Leopold Bloom to Ulysses is ironic), the ancient Hebrew prophets also were holy scolds. And as the USA (purportedly: though maybe we'll get lucky and extend our expensive experiment: who knows where we'll find new resources to exploit?) moves into a more socially stratified phase, perhaps the zeitgeist is no longer with the democratic manifestation of everyman Whitman; that such a personification is too vulnerable?

Just a musing. And look, if you think I'm writing some kind of dystopian (yeah, I don't think caste systems enforced by language are any sort of ideal to aspire to, though I'm sure there's great aesthetic beauty potentially there to be created) fantasy, look at the factors that contribute to our current situation yourself and with our past in mind (both human and national) draw your own conclusions. But if you try for the big picture, you can avoid being merely reactive in your assessment, is my drift.

Stuart, the money part of your quote is "Today many schoolchildren know these songs by heart and delight in their recitation."

Despite the difficulties imposed by the different dialect, schoolchildren, not professional literati, know and love the poems.
Mike, I knew as I was typing that sentence in you'd get a kick out of it.

I have to say, in response to the second sentence of your response ("schoolchildren. . . not literati") that no, schoolchildren ^and^ literati memorize and love those poems. They were introduced in a highly esteemed Bengali literary journal. The story behind them is fantastic, btw, they were passed off as newly-discovered poems from a 17th-century master, and only a few years later did Tagore reveal (not directly, but coyly, after having written a biography of the putative author) that he had been the author--at 14!

Be that as it may, I'm not taking sides per se, I'm saying that the situation is complex. Pope was the first poetry bestseller, translating Homer. Who bought such translations? Recent middle-classers, who wanted a veneer of respectability but could not read latin/greek (I'm pretty sure I read this in the most recent issue of "The Common Reader," btw, though it may have been on Bemsha Swing). There is a reason why so many people are interested in what they are, and if there's a reason, it won't change just by wanting it to be different. Why do Bengali intellectuals and Bengali schoolchildren memorize the same poems while their American counterparts, putatively, don't? What's the reason? I'm asking. What do you think? Just that people want to be contrary and perverse? I don't buy that, personally, I think there is something earnestly being played out. What is it?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe with Bloglines