The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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Sri Sri’s Poesy: The Ore and The Alchemy

By Dr. Pothuri Venkata Subbarao

Professor of English,

Medha Institute of Science and Technology for women

Pedda Thanda, Khammam 507003 AP

                                                   

Or say that the end precedes the beginning

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end

And all is always now

-T.S.Eliot

 

It would be a platitude to say that Srirangam Srinivasa Rao is a genius and a multifaceted literary personality. All his poetic output, before he produced his magnum opus Maha Prasthanam, had been the result of a strong urge in him to write poetry echoing Devulapalli V Krishna Sastry[1] and Viswanatha Satyanarayana[2], insofar as poetic diction is concerned. If Platonism provides a treasure house of concepts for Devulapalli to adopt for his own ends, staunch traditionalism blended with modernism remains the hall mark of Viswanatha’s poetry. Sri Sri was well aware of his falling under the spell of these two great poets and tried to come out their grip by searching for his own voice. 

It was around 1930s that Sri Sri began making experiments with an intent to create a poetic diction of his own which demanded not only assiduous labour on the part of the poet but also in-depth scholarship in the art of writing poetry. Digesting all the techniques of the renowned poets of his age - both Indian and European - who are reputed for distinction in style, Sri Sri experimented in the poetic diction of the Telugu language by exploring the expressive possibilities of the language both semantically and syntactically; which would later be acclaimed as through and through individualistic. As he was thoroughly conversant with the then latest publications of Georgian poets like Masefield and Burns, it was but natural that he was on the side of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed in those hungry 30s. 

If we glance at the formative influences of Sri Sri, we will recognize is the influences of a large repertoire of classical literature of yore both in native and foreign languages alike. He worked hard to attain mastery on the meter that could be subtly adapted to express his fervent revolutionary spirit. Besides the French and the Russian poets, Sri Sri was very much influenced by the British poetic generation of 1917- T.S Eliot, Ezra Pound Thomas Moore, and Williams – all born within five years of each other. What Eliot says of Ezra Pound -“he simply did the next thing”- is also true of the poetry of Sri Sri because the poet has imbibed all that is living from the poets of the past and the present. 

The Salt Water Ballads of John Edward Masefield influenced Sri Sri in his earlier days and he was particularly enthralled by Masefield’s poem, A Consecration, in which the poet brings home his ideal of writing poetry,

  

    Not of the princes and prelates

   With Periwigged charioteers…

    but – “of the halt and the blind

    in the rain, in the cold

    of these shall my songs be fashioned

    my tales ice told.

 

The influence of these lines is explicitly discernable in the oft quoted lines of the Maha Prasthanam

 

                Prabhuvekkina pallaki kadoy               Adi mosina boyeelevvaru…

 (Think not of the palanquin the king is riding but of the men who carry the palanquin)

Sri Sri says that the poems of Masefield, in general and this poem in particular, has had a lot of influence on his poetic form and content. As he was deeply absorbed in reading the English ballads – ballads of A.C Swinburne and Masefield -their influence is explicit in the poetry of Sri Sri. Particularly the influence of the ballads of Swinburne such as Triumph of Time provoked him to write a poem on Swinburne in Maha Prasthanam.  Compared to John Keats there is a force in the Ballads of Swinburne and this force has lent a kind of aureole to some of the verses of Maha Prasthanam. As a young poet Sri Sri developed a fondness for the Barrack Room Ballads of Rudyard Kipling and Kipling’s Ballads left an indelible impression on the poet’s mind. In so far as the purpose of writing poetry is concerned, Sri Sri himself had acknowledged his debt to Kipling in motivating him to champion the cause of the underdog. During this formative period of his life Sri Sri was influenced by the two great dramatists of France and America - Anatole France and Sinclair Lewis. Their influence helped him to emerge as a poet. Another great English poet whom he admired most and acknowledged was W.W Gibson. His poem I even I inspired Sri Sri to write his first poem in his mother tongue adopting matra chandas[3] for the free expression of his thought. The poem was titled in Telugu Nenu Saitham (Even I).This poem with its word melody produces a harmonious effect in the mind of the readers with the vast sonorities of vowels and consonants. 

Sri Sri’s thirst for innovation of novel techniques in poetic creation was never quenched with experiments. He also wanted to explore the possibilities of expressing his thoughts through the sonnet form in Telugu. All great English poets like Shakespeare, Milton, Keats,ylan Thomas experimented with the sonnet form. It is a lyric poem in single stanza (8+6) consisting of  fourteen Iambic pentameter linked by an intricate rhyme scheme; an octave (8 lines) rhyming a b b a a b b a and a sestet (6 lines) rhyming c d e c d e and Sri Sri made his experiments in Telugu following the English model with a change of rhyme scheme in the last two lines. He wrote only one sonnet in English. Another great American poet who influenced Sri Sri very much throughout his life was Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s influence on the French symbolist poets such as Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarme in general and Baudelaire in particular  is what appealed to Sri Sri and he regarded Poe’s staunch opinion that “a long poem is always a contradiction in terms” to be convincing. He believed that epics were the products of an imperfect sense of Art and their reign is no more. As a great poet Sri Sri is thoroughly conversant with the writings of Poe; it could it be surmised that like Poe, he (Sri Sri) also would have comprehended how a poem fails to satisfy the poetic sentiment if it lacks ‘momentum’ in spite of all the brilliant things wreathed by a poet. 

It was Edgar Allan Poe who made a study of the 19th century French poet Pierre Jean De Beranger and holds the opinion that his (De Beranger) poems “sparkle  and excite but, from want of continuity, failed deeply to impress.” 

One can easily agree with this view. In his book Moodu Yabhayilu (Three Fifties) Sri Sri covertly expresses his idea of an epic poem by a subtle mocking tone: he makes a tongue in cheek remark on the Ramayana Kalpavruksham of Viswanatha Satyanarayana by saying that nobody would venture to read the epic in spite of their reverence for the great epic poet. 

He was also influenced by the contemporary poets around him even in the days when his cap of misery was to the brim. He was very happy with the poetry of Mirzada Kempe, a Latvian poetess, so much so he wrote an article on her in English with the title “A Great Experience”. It would not be a repetition or reiteration to say that Sri Sri had a large repertoire of everything that is related to poetic craft which helped him fashion his unsurpassing poetic style and thus become a trend setter of the modern poetry. 

As early as in 1930s he was deeply drawn towards surrealist poetry by reading Andre Breton’s “Manifesto on Surrealism” published in 1924. To put it succinctly, the burden of the movement was a revolution against all restraints on the free functioning of the human mind. To them unhampered operation of the deep mind is the source of valid knowledge and art and they turned to automatic writing. Davi Guscoyne’s A Short Survey of Surrealism (1935) and the poetry of Dylan Thomas, LouisArgon and others influenced the great poet Sri Sri so much, that he wrote a Matala Moota, Adhivastavikula Pravesham ( A Bundle of Words: An Entry of the Surrealists)…etc The aim of such writings was to explore the state of mind between sleep and waking and to present natural or artificially induced hallucinations. Sri Sri Swarga Bhairavam (Dog of Heaven) is one of the best rendition of Francis Thomson’s Hound of Heaven. He had extensively studied the existentialist philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus and it helped him look at life from a different perspective; perhaps he would have understood the triumph of life over time. 

As a lyric writer Sri Sri achieved an unreserved rapport with cinema audience with his songs and he had given depth and enrichment by using this platform  but without losing the popular appeal. Like W.H Auden and Stephen Spender he wrote songs without losing the flavor of literature with a spell of music in their composition. Since Sri Sri  had a firmer grip  on Marxist ideology and more ability to put this into a new kind of verse, his syntax always has a low of fervent communism. His songs are also no exception from this rule. His style even when taking a highly personal stand and tone can express abstract and public truths inspiring the readers to revolt against the existing morals which are largely bourgeois in nature. 

To emerge as a great poet, according to the Indian aestheticians and rhetoricians, one needs to have three distinct qualities – pratibha (merit) vyutpatti (etymological derivation) and abhyasa (practice) of which pratibha is primarily the innate potential which is like an Ore that helps to produce an urn (artistic creation), with the secondary aids of vyutpatti and abhyasaand Sri Sri has in him these three primary requisites to the brim and so the alchemy of his unsurpassing genius turned everything into pure gold.

 


[1] Devulapalli Venkata Krishna Sastry: A contemporary of Sri Sri who wrote in the romantic idealism mould in the order of Shelley and Keats.

[2] Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Another contemporary who won Gnanapeeth award for literature, known for his traditional mode of writing poetry.

[3] “Matra chandas is a meter in which it is not the number of syllables that determine the arrangement, but the sum of the syllabic quantities per verse. In total 16 quantities must occur and it does not matter how they are divided up”( From Sound and Communication: An aesthetic cultural history of Sanskrit Hinduism by Annette Wilke and Olive Moebes, p1044)

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