Between a person and a poet

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Jul 2017 10:33:30


By Vijay Phanshikar,

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. ... .”
- William Butler Yeats,
In ‘Anima Hominis’, 1917.

COMPLEX words, though they sound so simple. For, in continuation, Yeats writes on, “...Unlike rhetoricians, who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they have won or may win, we sing amid our
uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders. ...”


Read superficially, these words may have a little touch of sardonic humour, as if we are mocking at ourselves, calling ourselves names, because when we quarrel with ourselves, we call it poetry, while to our quarrel with others we give the name of rhetoric.


 

 

 


But Yeats certainly did not mean this. He meant something else. He seemed to suggest that the process of poetry has a certain tentativeness, certain uncertainty. For, in the process of creation -- of poetry -- we struggle with ourselves, we traumatise our inner being, we get filled with doubt, with anxiety. And all this is the opposite of the sureness with which a rhetorician conducts himself. He knows what he wants to say and do. He knows how he is going to approach the moment when he faces a crowd. That sureness lends him a different kind of aura, so to say.


When a poet -- if he knows he is one -- torments himself with an idea, or an expression, or a dilemma, he cannot be as sure-footed as a rhetorician, not as confident. For, what is in creation is poetry, knowingly or unknowingly, and not a loud process of arguing with or convincing others.


True, when poetry is finally out of the person’s inner psychological womb, the words may have the power to mesmerise others. But until that happens, until the point when poetry is yet to be born, the torment the person faces is immensely critical. It troubles. It tears one apart. It treats the individual in a cruel manner. If anybody, it was Yeats who was fully aware of the torment, of the inner pulling of forces in different directions. For, when poetry is being born, there is no argument to be won or a crowd to be convinced. Whatever happens in the process is nothing but silent dialogue within between two entities, the person and the poet.


Of course, then, there is going to be certain uncertainty about that inner debate, there is going to be a debilitating tentativeness. About such people Yeats writes, “... we sing amid our uncertainty; and, smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders. ...”!


Each time a poet and the person struggle within, the rhythm shudders and an uncertainty menaces inner balance. That process is not at all happy, so to say, as Yeats, himself a poet, makes a point to assert that there is a vast difference between the manner and method of a rhetorician and those of a poet or a person who is struggling within to seek expression of his inner torment or
triumph.


No matter this torment, when poetry is born, when it assumes the form or a poem or an essay or even a single-word expression with immense poeticism, the end is happy. That happiness is worth all the trouble and the torment. Some expression of poetry may still appears steeped in doubt or debate, but some expression is sheer beauty of a fine human mind finding voice.


Of course, this may not be the interpretation in Yeats’ mind when he wrote those immortal lines. He might have had
something altogether different to say when he wrote those words.


No matter that, here, one would love to believe that Yeats wanted to talk of the difference between the manner and method of a rhetorician and a poet.