Mystic Mantra: The mission of poetry

Poetry is the most incontrovertible evidence of the human will to survive.

“The poetry of earth is never dead.”
— John Keats

Poetry has been one of the most ancient creative channels for man. Even before the invention of the written method of communication, the oral tradition sustained the creative output of man. With the birth of writing came the efflorescence of poetry. It became the vehicle of expression for all great men, philosophers, saints, savants and even kings. As the great poet Octavio Paz says, “The relationship between man and poetry is as old as our history; it began when human beings began to be human … as long as there are people there will be poetry.”

Poetry is the most incontrovertible evidence of the human will to survive. It stands by man alone — man is the sole objective of poetry. Not that poetry has suffered from self-doubts and crises. The totalising forces of our age have tried to ignore its voice.

It has suffered suppression and marginalisation. Risking being alone, poetry has stuck to its moral resolve to defend and protect the identity, dignity and inviolability of man. Perhaps it could be asserted that in our time politics, religion, science and technology have all betrayed man and that poetry alone has stood by man as its permanent addressee. Man is the sole objective of poetry.

By causing language to exist where none existed before, poets, in the words of Kofi Awoonor, “look for new homes every day”. The poetic voice is always busily synthesising, almost anxiously, trying to relate each subject of observation to some other force, phenomenon, or abstract — to find the links between self and community, past and present, inspiration and its source, all folds and furrows of the microcosm. The freedom of the poet, even after he passes through a lifetime of hardships and character-moulding experiences, imbues his poems with crystalline transparency, beauty and goodness.

Poetry speaks the same language in war as it does in peace. Its beauty and resonance remains the same, be it the soft winter spring or the sharp autumn frost. Poetry, with its strong life force and its sheer power, is like prophecy. It precedes painting, music, dance, fiction and drama in announcing the advent of new eras, new patterns of thought, new historical currents. In fact, poetry is the soliloquy of the creature most fiercely desirous of freedom — the poet himself.

The poet’s thirst for freedom has bestowed on poetry vitality and refreshing vigour. Poetry is impatient with tradition, unwilling to tolerate any form of binding or control. It must innovate, and therefore it is always the first to shed conventions, always the first to abandon set forms, always the first to redefine paradigms, always the first to illustrate for us the state of prison within which we exist but which the vast majority of us have never noticed. All great poets down the ages have held on bravely to these ideals despite the incarceration and torment they had to face for their boldness.

Today, the poetry of the world is the trustworthiest chronicle of man, of his anxieties and visions, of his sufferings and joys — of his dreams and responsibilities. Poetry sensitises the netherworld of objects, questions the new architectures of self and imparts new sensuousness to language.

In a world being rendered almost totally explicable and comprehensible, it is poetry which surprises us by its discoveries, its ever-lively sense of mystery of the universe, its attempt to restore the mysterious, to rehabilitate the sacred and to reiterate the abiding reverence for all life.

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