From The Thames to Land’s End
The Houses of Parliament abut on the river bank as a regal order for the waves to sing tunes of harmony and peace; London Bridge, along with Tower and Westminster Bridges, spreads as a net for winds of people to blow across the space of time; nothing that flies in the mind of the city escapes the amazingly blinking London Eye; the tube stations, towers, high streets, buildings and parks, all alight with passion are justifying their existence. With a glass brimful of red wine, in an open air restaurant on the bank of the river Thames, relishing the presence of the surroundings, I am puffing at my cigarette.
In a long, thick overcoat, Albert Camus moves past my table, a half-smoked cigarette dangling from his lips. Having invited him, I offer him a chair. Flicking the ash off his cigarette onto the floor, he settles himself comfortably in the chair, and looks at me wearing silence on his lips. To break the ice I ask him as to how he feels about London! He gazes intently into my eyes, quotes T.S. Eliot, ‘the unreal city’. Puffing furiously at his cigarette, he ignores the ash falling on the floor. I look into his deep eyes and find him lost in The Plague and The Wrong Side and the Right Side. Each puff he takes at his cigarette prints an image on his face of Outsider. So I ask him to accompany me to Paris. He agrees. I take him to Arc de Triomphe and Place des Vosges to show him how victorious he has been having painted his mind on the canvas of history. Looking around both the sites one by one in a fairly dispassionate way he signifies his disinterestedness. Nonetheless, I take him to the Seine River to take a Bateau-Mouche Cruise. In this glass enclosed boat plying along the Seine, we make a tour into the womb of Paris. I still see the same image of Outsider emerging out of the plumes of smoke. The cruising finishes and he bids me farewell. While I grope for words, he disappears in the thick of the city leaving behind him rings of smoke hanging in the air. I am left completely immersed in the idea of Estrangement Camus reflected through his mood and gestures.
Engrossed in the chain of thoughts, I come to sense the cigarette has smouldered to an end when the fag end drops onto the floor having singed my fingers. Before I settle back, a voice compels my attention. I turn around and see Baudelaire. Full of enthusiasm, he invites me along to the Louvre museum, “Let’s rush! There’s a grand party of the world’s great names. Hurry, lest we should miss it!” I brighten up and betake myself to the museum with him. We enter the museum’s grand foyer that radiates an aura of grandeur. I get mesmerized seeing Shelley talking to Aeschylus on their Prometheus plays; Goethe opening his collected work of poems for Latif—the bard of Bhit—to flick through its pages; Descartes discussing his Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) statement with Kierkegaard; Thackeray, Virginia Woolf and Sophocles trying to comprehend what Freud elaborates about his id, ego, superego and Oedipus Complex; Machiavelli opening his The Prince and reading its introductory lines to Gandhi, and Bacon flipping through the pages of voluminous War and Peace. On a corner some of the Romantic maestros are absorbed in description of the harp Euterpe—the Muse of music— has invented; at a side Rodin is requesting Balzac to pose in a straight fashion to carve his full length image; Van Gogh and Raphael are deliberating on the use of yellow on Aphrodite’s painting, while Carlyle and Byron are lost in a heated discussion on the concept of Heroes. Besides, many known and unknown figures are seen chatting, discussing, smiling and laughing throughout the foyer. Baudelaire and I meet all of them one by one. Having had the meeting Baudelaire flops down into a chair. I go to Picasso— busy trying to paint Cleopatra, his hand shivering, as the bird of his imagination is unable to unfurl its wings. The giant of creativity lives and dies again and again for its permanent existence, thereby blowing out and lightening the candle of his passion with an uneven pace. Cleopatra smiles at him, obscured. Out of love she appears in her real stature inspiring the bird of his imagination to return to its nest utterly confident to make the artist fill the canvas with the true spirit of the vivacious lady. Letting him enjoy his creative passion, I go back to Baudelaire and sink into a chair by him. In a little while, Mona Lisa breezes into the foyer in her artistic apparel. She sits between Baudelaire and me breathing freshness into our souls. Baudelaire begins to recite his verses to her while I keep extracting verses from her face. The more I look into her eyes, the more the Muse of poetry recites me verses of un-aging love and unending passion. Baudelaire keeps on reciting his verses and she listens to him with unusual fervour. Letting the noted figures present in the foyer rejoice in the party, and Baudelaire and Mona Lisa delve into the realms of beauty and verse, I depart to the Thames.
The Thames flows effortlessly as though it is under the hypnosis of Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. Flowing along its waves, I leave for Shakespeare’s birth place, Stratford-upon-Avon—the town that weaves a spell over the ocean of literature. I see the globe paying homage to the great bard. This small town, with its narrow streets brimming with visitors, emanates an aura of dreamlike environment. The verdant landscape of the town is reflective of the fertility the Bard’s soul has sketched on the map of literature. I knock at the gates of the Avon. The burbling waves invite me into their veins. The journey begins with my meeting Hamlet sitting with Ophelia in a canoe drifting along the river. They are followed in a boat by Othello and Desdemona, so interestingly lost in each other, that nothing in the environs of the waves diverts their attention. Lady Macbeth on the bank of the river with a dagger in her hands utters repeatedly, “It (life) is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. A canoe carries Shylock—hawking his liver around, but is heeded not. A colourful dramatic world appears to rule the Avon. The author of these unparalleled, unsurpassed characters, who have enlivened this magnetizing theatre world, appears in a stately fashion, shakes hand with me, and asks me round for company. We leave for his home where original folios of his dramas and different texts of his poems welcome me. Tragedies, comedies, poems, words, language, heroic passion, feminine courage, characterization, all regaling me with their stories spatter on the soil of my heart as seeds of art. Like two musketeers, the Bard and I shoot at the chains of tradition in literature, which cage the bird of imagination. At the burst of fire, fairies appear with a team of supernatural characters of the Bard’s plays to mark the spirit of enlightenment. Undoing Aristotle’s unities, princes, princesses, soldiers, commanders, messengers, and others flock to impress on time the significance of liberty in thought. Cleopatra and Juliet dance in the chamber of romance, while Anthony and Romeo hum the tune of love on the harp of Shakespearean lines. This theatre feast engages the evening fancifully. Having this feast of imagination enjoyed, I turn to the Avon saying goodbye to the great Bard.
The river water with its mellow waves carries me to Bath. Jane Austen, with her beaming eyes, welcomes me. We hug each other; I give her a la bise. She plants a kiss squarely on the palms of my hands and takes me to Sulis’ realm where hot springs breathe history out. Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma and Northanger Abbey spread on the fertile landscape of Bath as corns of simplicity, care and love. Fragrance and colours of flowers wafting through these fields sketch the map of dignity Bath has been bestowed on. Jane pastes the fragrance and colours of these flowers into my soul while I sprinkle on the soil of her heart the chords of feelings my poems strike with. She opens the pages of her Juvenilia to read me the moments she has taken pains in to print her heart on the leaves of time. I pluck the thorns stitched to the cuffs of the pages and fling them to the regions of obscurity. Letting Jane rejoice in flowers of her Juvenilia, Bath gleam with Jane’s timeless novels, and having affixed my signatures on the waters of Avon, I move back to the Thames.
I am back to the restaurant now. The London Eye crossing the Thames comes near me. I offer her to sit in a chair in front of me; she collapses into it, and uncurls her wavy eyelids to drown me into her eyes. There—in her eyes—I find the Goddess of Justice seated on the throne of Queen Victoria placed at the Osborne House, East Cowes. Sitting by the Goddess, Princess Beatrice recites cantos from The Divine Comedy. The Goddess orders The Inferno gates to open for the masses to exit and gain their first admittance into The Paradiso. The people from The Purgatorio instantly run to shoulder the Statue of Liberty about to fall onto the earth. Some of them rush towards the scavengers near the Statue of Liberty to launch an assault on them. Sirens, singing songs of lust and carnal desires, wait in the waters of the Atlantic near the Needles on the shore of Isle of Wight, but the people sail to the west coast of the Atlantic where Virgil waits to guide them to their destination. I take a long pull on my cigarette and blow the smoke out into the eyes of the London Eye. In a wink she vanishes. I speak to her, “Your eyes are orators!”
I knock back my wine and follow my feet to Greece. The route is long, with hills, streams, thorns, zigzag tracks, deserts, plains and meadows. Here I meet the nine Muses waltzing with gods across Zeus’ chamber over the Mount Olympus; Menelaus instigating Agamemnon to launch an attack on Troy to get him his sultry Helen back; Lycurgus busy revisiting the world’s first constitution he has framed for the Spartan citizens; Heraclitus busy in his philosophy of flux and fire; Euripides writing his tragedies; Aristophanes into his comedies; Aeschylus lost in his words, “Against one’s will comes wisdom.” Ardent followers of Dionysian faith are busy dancing and drinking innumerable bouts of wine flowing from the top of a hill where Dionysus sits with utter charisma. Everyone carouses; everyone is drunk. Streams of wine wave over wave flow freely. Dionysian faith is at its zenith. From the cup of Dionysus wine some Elysian scent wafts to make everyone fall into a trance. Out and out divine, Dionysus descends from the hill having found me standing amidst his worshippers. People draw aside to make space for the god. Wind is muffled, voices are curbed; everyone is surprised to see the god decanting into my glass the ethereal wine! I take the wine glass, bid farewell to the surprised Greeks, and move to Athens.
Crossing the world of Utopia Plato ideated, I reach the point in time when no one in the Athenian streets is found questioning their wit and wisdom, no one is heard speaking on the philosophy of beauty and life, and no one is seen stinging the mental horses of Athens as a ‘gadfly’. Times are haunted by bleakness of its kind. At a fair distance from this time I discern a graveyard. My feet start moving to its direction only to reach there within a short while. The graveyard gives a desolate, forlorn look with its soil crinkled like a dried page in an untouched book. Most of the graves I see are decrepit with stones and bricks crumbling away. I see trees with thick trunks, long curved boughs without a single leaf hanging. My eyes lead me to the grave Socrates is buried in. I tread the path to the grave. Having reached there, I move round it to eventually find its tombstone. The tombstone reads, “Hic jacet Hemlock”!
Again back to the Thames, for over several minutes I see London and Westminster Bridges shooting the breeze. I cherish seeing them in a light mood. Cicero barges in on me bringing Anthony round. He has brought something in his pouch to show me, but before doing so, he starts chattering excitedly to himself only to talk to me a little later, while Anthony with a flat face stands aside mute like a picture. I wonder why such a great orator, as Shakespeare has fashioned him into, has trailed off into a sullen silence! At last Cicero unzips his pouch and unfolds a painting of Caesar being stabbed by Brutus and his friends. He wants to plead Brutus’ case. I warn him, “See, Oh master of Italian, overtones of feelings, morality or cultural norms are not enough for pleading a case, especially a murder case. Facts are essential to a case as are legal and rational interpretations.” Having heard so, Cicero puts the painting on the floor and sits aside silently. It is where I see Brutus emerging out of the painting. He bursts, “I know one thing: ambition is the worst enemy of man; and when this enemy seizes the chair of a ruler, it can turn perilous to the state as a whole. It is, thus, for the prosperity of the state and its people this enemy should be taken to task and stabbed to death for a greater good.” Caesar follows suit, comes out of the painting and says, “I know Brutus will never climb down. But the question is: why on earth Brutus thinks his friend should be slain? Only to provide him with an opportunity to rule the Romans? Besides, who is going to reap the benefit of my slaughter—the subjects or the murderer? Of course, the murderer! Whatever the situation, the Romans reject the idea of Caesar’s killing.” I ask Anthony to speak his version to the world, but he acts dumb. Caesar turns angry at Anthony, dresses him down for subsiding into such an icy silence and goes back into the painting, disgruntled. Brutus, with no point to make, follows him. Anthony disappears beyond London Bridge. Cicero drifting along the waves of the Thames vanishes like a dewdrop. Here comes Mozart holding a violin in his hands. He says to me, “Do you see this violin in my hands? This is totally insensate, numb. It does not feel pain when I strike its strings. It knows not who suffer and who enjoy the tunes it frees. It however vibrates to justify its existence that Anthony does not”. Utterly sensitive, he seems to be bursting with emotions to talk on Anthony’s expected role. I facilitate him to wear his heart on his sleeves. He speaks while I listen. The discussion journeys on a long route till we need to relax a bit; so, I replenish my wine glass and light a cigarette. Getting an affirmative nod from me, he starts fiddling the violin strings belting out rich tunes, which like arrows piercing through the clouds return with drizzling, then rain. The tunes along with the rain dashing against the face of the city echo even after Mozart has left.
Amid the raindrops pelting down on me, I set out for the Tower of Pisa. The moment I reach there, I hear her welcome me, “This is the soil of art. It bristles with episodes of history, which have punctuated Time with snatches of beauty to be eulogized as a diadem on the head of Time. Come and feast your eyes on the lips of art and the face of history.” I respond with an engaging smile. With a light tripping rhythm on a melody of bricks holding her stature, she makes me twirl her around. Her twirling and my stepping convert into a salsa dance. Amidst the rain lashing down onto the soil, we trip off along the road of art cleaving the landscape of history. Salsa turns into Beatrice, who makes us take a short tour of the Paradiso. It is the Paradiso of art where beauty rules, fragrance sings, colours dance, minds fly and hearts smile. We return to Pisa, our minds swinging. The trip is terrifically enthralling, so is salsa. But we have to separate as the Wall of China awaits my arrival.
Beijing at Badaling welcomes me. In the arms of a biting chill crawling on and above the snow-clad landscape on either side, I, like a bird, alight on the Wall of China, exhilarated. In winter clothes, tourists in their multitudes sauntering up and down blanket the Wall as if a long, colourful snake cuts through the white bed of Antarctica. The Wall rings with Sheeshiye and Bookachiye. Only a fraction of non-Chinese tourists is visible amidst the multitude. In this bustling environment, I find Michael Angelo beavering away at a statue. I knock at his mind, “Hello, great Angelo!” He responds accordingly. “Hey man” I ask, “Galleria Dell’ Accademia museum craves for you as Awakening Captive, Atlas, Youthful Captive, Bearded Captive and St. Mathew find themselves unfinished without you, while the statue of David pines for you. The frescoes you left indelibly in the Sistine Chapel and the Medici Chapels are bearing out to the world the exquisite craftsmanship your hands shine with. Why on earth have you selected China for your new carvings?” For a while he smiles wistfully, and replies, “A real artist is a bird that can perch on any bough of Time he feels pleasure in. From the Forbidden City to the Statue of Liberty, I find my destination in the heavens of Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian my soul feels flying in.” I respond, “Yep, chisel of a real artist carves better in Time than stone.” He smiles before immersing himself in dusting of the statue. I add, “How scary and terrifying this statue of a wolf looks!” He draws aside from the statue and looking at it says, “This is” he pauses for a while “death I have been carving in here. Its face does scare off man; its presence, however, is shrugged off. It has many faces; I have sculpted just one.” “Yes my friend” we get surprised to see Will Durant, from a little distance treading along the Wall towards us, cutting in on our conversation “let me plunge into the exploration of death you have carved into a new face. I shall be painting some subtle nuances of its picture on the pages of history.” Having welcomed him we carry on with our chat. He goes on, “You know? Friends! I replenish the ink of my pen from clouds; because it is attained by those with skills to clamber up the clouds, and especially because this ink is like water: colourless and spineless.” Durant looks at Angelo’s statue and says, “I see the wolf statue by Angelo fully coloured. But this is the colour my eyes see. When I add it to the world history, its colour will vanish.” Angelo says, “First of all I have an objection on the term ‘coloured’; secondly, reality hinges on interpretations. Death or colours, thus, themselves in a way are interpretations; what is subjective or objective warrants a careful scrutiny; it’s not so simple, dear.” I cut in, “Let’s not plunge into any philosophical discourse, folks.” Durant says, “But first I have to answer him.” So stresses Angelo. They disagree significantly to each other’s opinions and interpretations. The parley pivots on subjectivity, objectivity, death, reality, art and history; however, turns out to be inconclusive. Durant returns to where he had emerged from; Angelo sticks at dusting his statue; I leave for Wales to see Dylan Thomas.
I reach the St. Fagan’s museum, an exceptional repository affording the world rich history of Celtic cultural houses. I succeed in finding Dylan blowing a trumpet in his house. Having offered me a chair I settle myself in he asks me to watch around the room especially a torso on a plinth in a corner. I am stirred by the craft the torso is modeled with. He says, “That torso I feel is a torso of mind majority of us on our heads keeps moving with. On that corner you can see a pen and ink with a diary I used to compose my poetry in. I have ditched my writing, for it is not for torsos of mind. I feel alienated having used my ink as it spreads on the pages like anything turning them shriveled. No one can read.” “Whatever you contend Dylan, your work cannot be ditched by Time. Like others I still remember your poems.” “Do you, dude?” “Yes, certainly; and I can recite if you like!” “Great! Can you recite to me Under Milk Wood?” I nod my head in agreement. He basks in his poem I recite to him. Having listened to the poem he says, “Of course, nothing makes an artist downright choked up. The trumpet I am holding is a great medium for blowing my tunes through but there is no ear to hear it and if there is one that turns out to be, indeed not everyone, like this torso.” Meanwhile, Wordsworth and Byron enter the room talking to each other on a book titled Bruno is Burnt. We attend to them. Dylan, “What’s up bards? What’s this book about?” Wordsworth, “Hiya, Dylan, Syre, to be brief, it is Bruno’s story, the scientist, who was burned at the stake after he had made his theory about the Universe public, which was notoriously repaid with a gift of death sentence. I think it suffices?” He waits for a moment reading our faces and says, “Or we can discuss it later on! At the moment let me fill you in: on our way from Tintern Abbey we found Beethoven crying?” “Beethoven? Crying? Don’t tell me! I believe he is stout enough to make others cry!” Dylan rejoins. Byron cuts in, “Not kidding, you know he is hearing-impaired; this is what makes him cry.” “Let me add a little detail” Wordsworth continues, “In fact, he was roaming around the countryside with a friend. A flautist played a flute at some strolling distance. Forgetting the maestro’s plight, his friend tapped on his shoulder to show him how superbly the flautist played the flute. The moment the maestro viewed the flautist playing, he burst into tears. What a tragedy!” “True” Dylan comes out with a strange note “some cry for not being able to sing; others cry for why they are singing. What a tragedy!” Byron says, “A mind is both a fag and a fire. Nothing outside us burns us more than the mind’s cosmos persisting within. Once in Venice an Italian shopkeeper in a rude way asked me not to speak to her in English but Italian if I wanted to buy something. For quite a while it discomforted me; but thereupon I feel she might be right in saying so.” “I feel” says Dylan “it is only after death we measure men. How many great men have remained consigned to oblivion till they tasted the cup of death?” “No, I disagree” says Wordsworth “I agree to Byron’s point: this is the state of mind, whatever the objective reality?” “Ok folks; let’s pick up the confab after a break, as I wish to offer you some red wine before serving you special Celt food.” We sit together for long sharing our views on Beethoven, life and nature, our wine glasses chinking. Having enjoyed Dylan’s company, we depart: Wordsworth to Cockermouth, Byron to London, and I myself to Land’s End.
I am standing at Land’s End. Everything off the sea seems fallen into a deep slumber; everything towards the sea is increasingly vigorous. Numerous ships in zigzag lines are bidding goodbye to the coast; their echo faintly audible, their shape hazy in the distance. The moonlit waves in the sea seem like the heartbeats life is running under the water with. The surrounding serenity adds beauty to the coastal marvel. I put my wine glass aside stubbing out the cigarette on a stone, and take my violin feeling if I touch its strings they would bleed and cry. But I know if they don’t bleed and cry; there won’t be music. Hundreds of thousands of songs are drifting on these strings waiting for my touch. I start fiddling the strings with a softer touch; the environment gets blissed out. Seeing the tunes wanting in vibrancy I fiddle the violin with sheer vitality. Music blares out! Tunes spread across the coast to the ships navigating towards the farthest ends.
(This ‘preface’ is an experiment, as I have not availed myself of the prevailing styles of prefaces coming from Lyrical Ballads and even before it. I have, however, tried to make use of fiction to meet my purpose fine. I believe use of fictional or even semi-fictional style, especially for prefaces or introductions to books, can provide both reader and critic with a different flavour. I lay this poetic graft open before the world for critical judgment.
As to my poems, they have, excluding the prose poems, a little variety of metres; main focus on the syllable count; music prevailing over paintings, paintings over statues; stories on the wings of the bird of imagination; the bird of imagination on the bough of a tree rooted in the fertile earth; words suited to contexts, the contexts fitted to ideas, the ideas adjusted to Time, and the Time geared to the soul in order to absorb its shades, hues, colours.)
(Drafted at the Chancellor’s Bar, University of Surrey, England, by the end of 2008; Finished at Tianjin, China, by February, 2010)
© M. Syre