Poetry and the Senses

I’ve read quite a lot of poetry, even though I say it myself. And frankly speaking, I adore Blake the most. His mindset is something which I can, maybe not relate to, but attempt to admire and fondle with from a distance. I know we have been told to incorporate imageries from the poems we read in this course and so, I begin. I only hope I do justice to such great literary works, but then subjectivity cannot be questioned, I know; only challenged.



“The eye altering, alters all”

-William Blake


Better words could not be found but that of Blake’s to portray how I feel. Blake has been a personal favorite for sometime now, and it was his book ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ that opened my eyes to the intangible and free-spirited world which poetry offers.


The Skeptic:


One of the first poems which I reviewed again for this course was ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell. Here, a woman (more or less young), is the object of this older gentleman’s eye. The poem frankly made me think of what lengths a man would lie to just to get a woman in bed. And he portrays her as a coquette even, one who uses arts to gain the admiration and the affections of men, merely for the gratification of vanity or from a desire of conquest; and, without any intention of responding to the feelings aroused in her plaything. At any rate, the poem only strengthened my opinion that words are not the truth, but a reflection of it, or not (talk about eye-openers). On the bit about ‘vegetable love’ – a vegetable comes from the vegetative part of a plant, as opposed to a fruit, which comes from the reproductive part (think of Adam’s apple, wouldn’t it be interesting if it said Adam’s brinjal?). Sexually speaking our older lover could take things slowly with her; though it may take thousands of years; and, he would take pleasure throughout the long wait, if, if, only if, there is some prospect of sexual fulfillment. By God, this man wants this woman, this central focus point of his sexual passion. He cannot wait, he begs her not to put off sexual union; carpe diem, aye? Just plain sex please. He eloquently points out that the cares of the moment do not much matter since time is slowly absorbing them both, as it does all things. As Marvel in full glory displays his epicurean philosophy, I sit and wince at my book.


The Uplifted:


Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out… Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.

-A. E. Housman


And working on that above quote, I will start speaking about Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now’ by A.E. Houseman and ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by William Butler Yeats. I’m afraid I didn’t like either poem much. I suppose this really isn’t my style, but being an amateur painter myself, I find it easier to visualize all that these poems have to offer. They are uplifting and they opened my eyes to details. I now find myself noticing and observing movements and items which I never would have done before. And not only do I do that, I manipulate and implicate them to my advantage and transform and transport them at my mind’s will, toying with future speculations of could-be and would-be. And I agree with Blake when he says, “The man who never in his mind and thoughts travel’d to heaven is no artist.”


The Selfish:


The first image which came to my mind while reading ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning was that of a scene from Agatha Christie’s book ‘Five Little Pigs’, where an artist painting his lover, unknown to himself, had been poisoned by her and she, sat there posing and watching him wither away. Browning, of course, reveals a horrifying story of the murder of the duke’s previous wife through the duke’s conversation with the agent. As the duke attempts to paint an inaccurate picture of himself to the agent, desiring to appear as a noble, but abused and caring, loving husband who had no choice but to murder his prideful, disrespectful wife, the duke’s true controlling, manipulative, jealous nature is revealed. The duke’s loss of control and his aim at regaining is also revealed which really made me reflect on the Lord-Slave relationship that takes places everyday. So has it made me reflect? Yes, I know understand the self-centered cuffs around us and how we agree with Machiavelli in thinking “the end justifies the means”.


The Innocent:


Yes, it is the most awaited To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick which I find dragging and dreary. Yes, I do see the implications and the metaphors and one or two similes in there, but it just does not cut it for me. If we are to speak about innocence then why not about Hafez when he speaks about wine and yet his every intention is that of love and innocence. Rumi’s poem “On Love” gave me food for thought and forced me to rekindle my ideas on mayaic love and universal love.


The Jovial:


 ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ by Theodore Roethke reminds of that celebrated short story where a father blindfolds his son and makes him walk on a table towards the end of it and jump promising to catch him on his fall. Which he doesn’t do of course; moral – do not trust anybody, not even your father. Moral? Never dance with parents. OR, just wear steel boots. This poem avoids all psycho-babble about love-hate relationships, childhood idealization of the father, family tensions and conflicts, the borderline between play and violence. It avoids those clichés and trite formulations by instead seeing specific things and moments of experience — by imagery, in a word. And all of that perceived in one sense, is enough to awaken all other senses.