Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Words are lovely, dark and deep

A C Sreehari

Appreciation is understanding and enjoyment. What do we understand while reading a poem? We are under the impression that there is a readymade meaning inscribed in the poem by the poet so that the reader can readily understand and enjoy it. Is that what happens when we read a poem? Are we really able to know the meaning of the poet? Or need we know the meaning of the poet?

We read and never read a poem twice alike. When I was a schoolboy I had read ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. I had felt it making a clarion call, sensitising me on the need for being very alert and active and move forward despite the beckoning beauties of the world. Nothing can bother us if we have a clear destination.

I was also taught that Jawaharlal Nehru had kept the last four lines of the poem hung on the wall of his room. He took positive energy from the poem .He being the first prime minister of India had to go miles to go before he slept. The teacher read the poem in a hierophantic tone. It went like this:
The Woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep. (Rising tone)

By the time I reached for my post graduation things had begun to change. My teacher over there read the poem in a different fashion altogether. It was never a clarion call; rather it was quite the opposite.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep. (Falling tone)

The last lines are not even audible. A weak and tired voice speaks of the beauties of the world and how his duties prevent him from enjoying it, is the meaning I got from the second reading.

One would wonder how the very same poem could produce quite the opposite meaning while one reads it for a second time? What would have Robert Frost meant when he wrote the poem- one doesn’t know. He is not necessarily the first or the last person to comment upon his poem. As an institution the poet is dead, one can say. The poem can speak on its own, inspite of the poet. Or the context of reading the poem changes the text of the poem. Nehru read the poem in the days of a great national movement and no wonder he identified himself with the traveler in the poem. We read the poem from a different perspective.

Can’t there be a single, stable meaning for a poem? Of course. But the politics of the reader can suppress or open up certain meanings of the poem for the other. Or the ideology of the reading can make it a different discourse.
The point will be more clear if we read two Malayalam versions of the poem.

N V Krishna Warrior had given a translation to it that never could satisfy the schoolboy in me in those days. The spirit I imbibed in the class room was found totally absent in his translated version. His translation is loosely built up in the very ordinary Malayalam metre- keka. It reads like this:
Mohanam vanam sandragahanam neelesyamam/ Njan pakshe palikkenamottere prathijnakal/ Pokanamere dooram veenurangeedum mumbe/ Pokanamere dooram veenurangeedum mumbe.
The metre doesn’t permit me to take it for a clarion call. Later when I got the PG version of the poem of Prof. P K G Vijayaram, this translation appealed to me then and there.

But the schoolboy in me once again became happy when I came across Katammanitta Ramakrishnan’s translation of the poem. It reads like this.

"മനോഹരം മഹാവനം ഇരുണ്ടഗാധമെങ്കിലും
അനേകമുണ്ടു കാത്തിടേണ്ട മാമകപ്രതിജ്ഞകള്‍
അനക്കമറ്റു നിദ്രയില്‍ ലയിപ്പതിന്നു മുന്‍പിലായ്‌
എനിക്കതീവദൂരമുണ്ടവിശ്രമം നടക്കുവാന്‍

Though politically poles apart Katammanitta joins hands with Nehru. The staccato rhythm of the horse’s hoofs is heard here. The tight form of the Sanskrit metre enables him to achieve this meaning. And the energy of the producer of Kurathi and Kattalan could also be found in his reading, to a certain extent.

Which one is the correct reading of the poem, ’Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’? Not all these readings are alike. They differ in degree. They differ in meaning.


അനൂപ് അമ്ബലപ്പുഴ. said...

"അനക്കമറ്റു നിദ്രയില്‍ ലയിപ്പതിന്നു മുന്‍പിലായ്‌
എനിക്കതീവദൂരമുണ്ടവിശ്രമം നടക്കുവാന്‍"
കടമ്മനിട്ടയുടെ ഈ വരികളുടെ വിശാലത പേജിന്റെ പല സ്തലത്തും ഫീല് ചെയ്യുന്നു.......

അനൂപ് അമ്ബലപ്പുഴ. said...

jadala veehala jalapravaha papitha stale,

enna Ravana kavithayude tune alle?

Muyyam Rajan said...

I visited your site and found very informative and interesting.

എസ്. ജിതേഷ്/S. Jithesh said...

റോബര്‍ട്ട് ഫ്റോസ്റ്റിന്‍ടെ കവിതയിലേക്ക്
കൂടുതല്‍ കടക്കുവാന്‍
നല്ലോരു താക്കോല്‍ കൂടി കിട്ടി....

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

thanks for the nice piece. I think it's all about transition which captures one and all as we grow up.
reading the concluding lines of the poem with a rising tone quite comes naturally when we are young and viceversa when we get older(excuse me if i sound generalising) and the change in meaning is starkingly obvious.

Read what Marx said about Milton in your profile. When Shaw was asked: "why do you write"?, he answered: "for the same reason a cow gives milk".

ശ്രീകുമാര്‍ കരിയാട്‌ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ശ്രീകുമാര്‍ കരിയാട്‌ said...

bhayaavaham !