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The Poet's Lies 

Rajendra Kishore Panda

 "I am your ancestor...I admit my life doesn't bear repeating: I agreed to be the poet of one life, one death alone," confided a poet. "I am born with every new poem," announced another, "between this poem and the next: there's death." 

Life no doubt is larger than poetry (all forms of creativity, in macro sense). Yet the poet, as the supervisionary, was assigned a stature of dignity in the classical poetic tradition. The role has been blurred. Thus goes the lament : As we move towards the twentyfirst century, poetry has lost its centrality vis-a-vis politics, economics, religion and technology. 

Alternatives are there : The sensory conveyors are not-so-authentic, the receptor is not always objective: The act of picking up one of the alternatives is therefore a political one. There is also a need to whip a herd. Politics has therefore governed homo sapiens all along and will continue to do so. And, so long survival is primary to the animate's life, economics cannot be wished away. Awe led to religion and knowledge to technology, and these too are forceful factors, with all their pervert manifestations at the micro level. Occasions of intermittent violation and threat of ultimate mortality remains as ever. But poetry survives despite, and because of, all these. 

Poetry is the promise for preservation of the primaeval innocence and glimpse of the vaguely-visualised immortality. It is the manifestation of what Indians call leela : a play with the Self and the Other, life-long. 

Yes, a poet is indeed the poet of one life and perhaps it is an one-poem life: a poem that is never complete. 


"I have the gift of being occasionally able to put myself back in the past and see what's happening," said Robert Graves. Not merely seeing, the poet has the gift of re-shaping the past and even pulling back the future to here-and-now: to a frame designed by him. Immediacy, eternity, proximity and infinity: poetry can handle all these with facile elasticity, tactility and mutability and then let them loose in a charged zone of evanescence. 

If the poet has the lover's quarrel with the world, he has also the pal's rivalry with God. And if there is no God, the poet invents one. While negating he affirms, while affirming he questions. He may even aspire to redeem the redeemer. 

The poet may stretch the dawn-dusk stillness of the creative moment to Time's length. 


Despite the turmoils of individual human existence, regional conflicts, international conspiracies and cosmic uncertainties, poetry will not die. The onslaughts of the satellite, the media and the philistine gerontocracy cannot stifle the inner voice. 

The process of poetry, in essence, has an obsteric autonomy. The seed-line sprouts of its own. It moves through a self-invigorating sap-stream with radiating efflorescence in branchlets of multihued emotion. The elements of fortuitous flashes and creative improvisation lead to an all-seasons fruition. The dryad plays hide-and-seek. 

Poetry gives voice to unrealised significance of lurking dreams, sometimes of a lone individual, sometimes of the society at large. 

Poetry may sometimes strike from above or erupt from the subterranean, linking the acme with the nadir. As Emerson said: "The poet, like the lightning-rod, must reach from a point nearer the sky than all surrounding objects down to the earth and into the dark wet soil." 

Poetry may sometimes ooze from the 'nowhere' void. 


Appreciation of poetry requires a period of probation, howsoever brief. One must go through the initiation-rites. The critic should be a benign go-between, not a professional hangman. John Berryman reacts to the condescending remarks of a well-known critic who hailed the "fine lines" while categorising the 'collection' as "hopeless:" "How do you like that? It is like saying to a beautiful woman, 'I like your left small toenail, that's very nice indeed', while she's standing there stark naked looking like Venus." 

It is indeed a pity that several 'critics' limit their range of realization by the prejudice of what they consider good poetry. Some are of the rigid view that a poet must only mutter in whispers or at best utter self-pitying sobs. 

A lover of poetry must have an open mind. Liberty is the essential ingredient of art. Highways and tunnels, path and non-path, pure and impure, light and dark, a poet passes through all. His is the aesthetics of wonder. A true critic is a seeker and a co-traverser, a co-visionary. After all, the entire cacophony of human history is a choked hum, viewed against the cosmic silence. Poetry is a moment's prayer, where words coalesce with silence, creatively. 


Pardon the hyperboles. As an ancient Oriya poet has confessed, the poet tempts you with lies as well as truth. 

The poet's lies are truer than truth.

A Varnamala Visualization