Who is on the plum tree?
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Nikhil Sharma, who was a budding Indian poet and a bright shining light; a smart young personality I knew who passed away on 10-06-2013.
It is true that great poetry has always sprung from deep emotions and feelings, that this is the only stuff it can be made of. And no emotion is deeper than the one caused by bereavement. Of all occasional poems, it is the poem called forth by the death of someone or something that speaks to us as human beings most, that validates the task of poetry to us most, even in these days of its seeming irrelevance.
We all know of the elegy as a form and its definition as being a study in mourning a person’s death or mourning any kind of a passing away. No one would have read lines with the elegiac note in them like Keats’s – “where youth grows pale and spectre thin and dies/and beauty does not keep her lustrous eyes” in Ode to a Nightingale without feeling the deep pangs of sorrow he felt at the death of his brother Tom Keats or his own TB or the gash of unrequited love. It was this poem and such lines taught by a great Tamil poet called Nakulan to me for whom I wrote an elegy at his death that made me a poet.
I know that I could talk of poet friends or acquaintances I lost here today like the Malayali poet Aveesh K, his brother Sajoosh, a budding painter, – both young deaths – or quote Nikhil Sharma or a poem on Nikhil Sharma but I do not want to hijack the space given to me for personal ramblings. Great art is universal and in it we find ourselves and our tragedies too. Let me instead make you read from my esoteric treasure trove of knowledge a poem by W.S. Graham that best sums up for me the agony undergone at the death of a loved one who is also like all of us who really love art, one wounded by his or her love for art, in the hope that if we cannot yet write the code that cheats death we can at least wrest from it works of art that become undying, thus defeating it.
Background to W.S. Graham’s poem The Thermal Stair About the artist Peter Lanyon:
“Peter Lanyon died on August 31st, 1964, after a gliding accident at
Dunkeswell airfield in Devon. It appears, from the evidence of a witness to the crash interviewed in the programme, that one wing of Lanyon’s glider clipped trees as he approached the runway. Lanyon was not seriously injured and was only kept in hospital because of a comparatively minor back injury. He died suddenly three days later when a blood clot, formed at a bruise on his leg, reached his brain.”
Please do read and listen to W.S. Graham’s great elegy The Thermal Stair here to be inspired to write great elegies that defeat death.
From Wikipedia: William Sydney Graham (19 November 1918 – 9 January 1986) was a Scottish poet who is often associated with Dylan Thomas and the neo-romantic group of poets. Graham’s poetry was mostly overlooked in his lifetime but, partly due to the support of Harold Pinter, his work has enjoyed a revival in recent years. He was represented in the second edition of the Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse (Harmondsworth, UK, 1962) and the Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2001).
Note. W.S..Graham was also much appreciated by T.S.Eliot