Guest article by Geet George
To start this confession, I spent hours trying to come up with a good statement which would be able to help me describe poetry in its complete essence. Unfortunately, words were not of much help to me here. Only the experience of reading a well written poetry and the emotions it stirs up in you can convey what I wish to say.
The significance of what written word can do is so well put by none other than William ‘The Bard’ Shakespeare in Sonnet-18. The shatter that a soul suffers from the loss of a loved one has been written with such impact by Edgar Allan Poe in A Dream Within A Dream, that one tends to not only empathise with him, but also reminisces the loss that one may have encountered in one’s own life. When Mirza Ghalib decides to belittle the world and its desires at the onset of death in Bazeecha-e-Atfal, you are forced to ponder upon the most profound experiences that life could gift you. It really is an injustice that I have cited just these few examples of good poetry out of the multitude of beautiful poems that mankind has access to. The ocean of word-art is so immense that it would feel like an eternal trip before one reaches the bed.
Although it is quite self-explanatory, I would like to borrow a few more moments of your life just to be clear on what I mean when I say rhyme and free verse, because those are two things you will encounter a lot in this article. When similar sounding syllables are present in a cyclic pattern, thus providing a rhythmic basis to the poetry, we call it rhyme. An example would be,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
That stanza was from If— by Rudyard Kipling, written in 1895. Free verse is just what it sounds like – a poetry free from the bounds of rhyme. An example would be,
Beginning my studies the first step pleas’d me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.
That was Beginning My Studies by Walt Whitman, written in 1867. Now that I have cleared what the difference between rhyme and free verse is, I shall come down to the reason behind why I am writing this article. I have committed a crime while writing poems by not doing complete justice to the thoughts that I should have incorporated in them. Here, I provide what I feel is a defence, but I’m not sure it will be enough to exonerate me from my wrongdoings. You, as a reader, are my judge, and I present to you my case.
While reading poetry is a mesmerising experience, writing one can be daunting, especially for less talented nobodies (yours truly being the best example). Since I have been writing poetry, I have always seen poetry as being of two different kinds – the rhyming one and the non-rhyming one (free verse). I could be correct for the most part in assuming that for a vast majority of us, our first stint with poetry was one that was set in a rhyme scheme. Later, some of us go on to explore poetry outside rhyme, i.e. with free verse, while some of us prefer to stay within the boundaries of similar sounding syllables to sustain stanzas, and yet others manage to carry on a love affair with both these beauties.
The ways in which rhymes have been used by literary greats are so beautiful that it more often than not overwhelms me. Only when I’m scribbling down a verse do I realise how difficult it really is to carry on your stream of consciousness using rhyme. The masters (there are too many to name) must have had some pretty breathtaking command over language to write such masterpieces that do not undermine their voice, even after overcoming the barrier of maintaining the entire piece within rhyme… Aaahh! What I wouldn’t give to write like that!
I’m a bit obsessive about writing in rhymes (which would become fairly obvious if you even give so much as a glance at my works), but setting a rhyme meter brings in limitations to the vocabulary/thoughts/ideas I might have used if it were free verse instead. I often wonder if my poems could have been better, strictly in a literary sense, had I not focused on the rhyme scheme. The rhymes sometimes mould my poems to lean towards sounding childlike and make them lose the level of earnestness that I’d wish for them to contain.
However, without the rhymes, my poems fail to motivate me to read on, which ultimately becomes more important than reaching literary heights that no one would know, because people would be busy scrolling past the unappealing, free verse poetry, which could have served much better purpose had it been prose.
This, however, does not mean that I am demeaning free verse in any sense at all. I have immense respect for the exceptionally talented geniuses (Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, E.E. Cummings to name a few) who can have as much of an impact with their free verse as that which usually accompanies poems with rhymes. This is only a personal barrier for me to overcome, and I wish to work through it someday. Till then, I’ll resort to rhymes as divine crutches on my walk through writing poetry…
That’s all, Your Honour. I rest my case.
Geet George is a young researcher working in the field of Environmental Engineering and Management at IIT Kanpur. Previously he has worked at Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad. When he is not busy studying Earth’s climate, he is either playing guitar, writing poetry, reading books or playing football. He speaks Hindi, English, Gujarati and Malayalam. You can read more of his creative writing on his blog Thought Train Network.