By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
09 Mar 2017
Poets master the art of presenting us to ourselves. Poets are the eyes with which we see a world as a semblance of paradise
Imagining a world without poets is like imagining the whole world as suddenly gone dumb. Poets master the art of presenting us to ourselves. Poets are the eyes with which we see a world as a semblance of paradise. When prophets leave us, the poets preserve their sacred aura for us. Imagine how poor religious life would be without hymns and songs of poets. We can live without food for some time, without families, without priests, without scientists but we can’t live without poetry. Poets defend us against demons within and without and if we could heed them we wouldn’t need armies. When the last poet will pass away, the show we know as the world will be wrapped up as we know that it is a poet who preserves the light of faith in a world orphaned by God seems withdrawal or absence. Let us read our own poet Ismail Aashna what are poets for. We shall focus on a few of his poems in his Heart’s Avenues: I.
For our poet, the poet, like Abraham, drinks flames and unravels “mysteries of twisted destinies.” Indeed it is poet who can peep into the dark depths we contain and read the scripture of self and the abjed of dreams and then open “heart’s avenues” that helps us travel in the dense dark woods of life. He sweeps aside the snow from the rotten layers of leaves to “enable the deer to dance/ in the dense woods.” He gives warmth to “Naked kids of helpless mothers/under the thatched roofs.” He wears shawls of golden beams for the widows whose head-gears have been torn. He makes “the aged laugh/ and walk upright fast." He gives eyes to the blind and food to the hungry. He tears age-old nets, makes waves dance and announces arrival of spring. He accompanies “…the lazy pigeon/ to visit the skies/cajole the hatred-ridden hawk, /and tell the shivering birds/that beyond the dark clouds/there is neither frost nor fog/only sunshine and sunshine and sunshine.” Hiding within his “broken self/ All the pains” till he radiates dawn in every fragment, the poet plans to construct “More than a thousand houses/For emotions, feelings, instincts/And their spouses/ With all amenities.” As with Persian poets, we find in Aashna the Mystery of being, the holy act of living that is salvific on its own. There is nowhere to go, nothing to achieve, no grand political goal to be reached.
When our kith and ken leave us to attend to their woes, we have poetry to console us. The poets buy our sorrows and transform them into flowers of joy. How? This is a strange secret of their alchemical art. Read the poem “Message” and see how it reconciles us to twisted destiny and we become hermits of a sort who are in love with their fate:
O gate keeper
I will give you my life
Be kind enough
O convey her after I am gone
That all the moments I had in my fists
Melted while I was waiting
For permission at the gate
One might recall Kafka’s great story “Before the Law” to see how artist’s heaven is constituted from the bricks of hell. We strangely become soft and mellow and learn resignation after reading poetry that narrates tales of horror and tragic waste.
The poet’s job is, as Akhter Shirani tells us, to see the beauty of life and show it to others. He may or may not help in curing life’s sores but that is not his primary mandate. The poet, in love with life, is unconquerable. He has no private mansion of self to guard and his “snow-like hanging self” finds salvation by radical innocence and being porous, open to sunbeams flying over mountain peaks.
The poet draws pictures from heaven and weaves “Lightening paths…across the pathless woods” and gathers “strange stars” and moons into “his folded skirt.” He mourns “We could not give ourselves up to the dancing/ sparks/…We chose for our portion mere smoke and soot/ Why recoil from our bodies seared and charred.” This echoes familiar imagery of fire and purgatory.
The poet celebrates what he calls “pious” and “winged passions.” He sets ablaze “Dewy aspiration shrubs/Lying in wait for kisses/From sunshine glimpses.” And here is the balm for the ordinary coward people enslaved by dead legalism who like “harnessed horses” have been “smothered under exhaustion.” Braving “ruthless rain falls/ and snow storms” the poet’s “travel addict feet” bring him to “inhospitable reaches” and he takes flight, alone, in search of life giving “grains.” He can’t consent to the transience of life and accept the brevity of epiphanic moments– “Whatever we saw or heard/Was all that/Just on a moment’s lease?” but seeks eternity in the arms of the beloved. But this love too seems to desert him and at times he is indeed inconsolable. Even in “the blossoming seasons” his heart is desolate. It is here we find difference between most poets and mystics/sage-poets. Mystics have no complaints from life and nothing can make them disconsolate. They can celebrate every facet of life. For them autumn is spring in more golden robes. Dancing Life’s sacred dance, they unconditionally love and affirm its tragic guise.
In the dark and desolate world, what saves a poet is plunge to “receive a guest honourable and fair/Lightening, enlightening the infidel” and “She from being a lake/Grew into a shrine/ I, into a saint on a pilgrimage/Rotating around her with prayers on lips” and “assimilate/The Infinity of her strange beauty.” This is why poets are so dear to humankind – they teach us to dive into the ocean and be consumed by the waters that symbolize life. Recall Neruda’s address to poetry in his “Ode to Poetry”:
“you found me company, not just a woman, not just a man, but thousands, millions.” …
“ you raised me up to the glowing heights of ordinary men”
"…. while I went on using myself up
you kept on unwinding your everlasting freshness.”
Aashna’s beloved is poetry itself or the Holy Imagination. He seems to have tasted, at least at certain moments, Fana Fil Shayri. What redeems his work is passionate commitment to beauty and thanks to the Muse he can find it almost everywhere.
Lest we imagine poetry is apolitical, read Aashna:
“By crossing the border without light/In bewildering darkness of this night/You will make yourself a refugee/To live on subsidy, relief and mercy…your identity forever broken.” And “Guards, not gardeners/Guard our orchards/With machine guns” asking us to “prune our thoughts/Instead of pruning the branches.” “The pigeons will not be able/To come back/From the forlorn forests/Beyond the mountain peaks/With astrayed dreams/ In marshy eyes/Where they had gone/To gather glow worms.”
Art has always offered ecstasy, sublimity. Art has celebrated epiphanic moments. Existence can be justified only in aesthetic terms, argued Nietzsche. Nietzsche is the greatest champion of prophetic view of artist and salvific view of art. “Far from the world, its clamours, frenzies, bitterness and dingy light” the poet, in Dionysian vein, consuming himself, reveals the supraindividual and thus immortal essence of man – “ I shall take birth at countless times.” There are several images that recall art’s power to break the spell of individual autonomy and separation as Love/Being can unveil itself only in the flames of vaporized ego. The poet’s transcendental reason accessing the unmoulded, untamed, timeless essence of man, seeks, as Pater says, “the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” And “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” Often Aashna’s heart beats with Romantics and Aesthetes of the world: “With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we see and touch.” However his isn’t a vulgar aestheticism but a more sober and sorrowful vision that we, human, all-too-human mortals, find more true to life’s ironies and tragic beauty.