PICTORIAL POETRY / By Dr. Jagdish Prakash


“ Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.”
-Charles Simic

Poetry is the echo of inner silence. It is that silence which germinates beyond the clichéd existential reality and finds expression in words. Poetry deals with felt reality of perceptions, feelings, memories, emotions, delights, frustrations angst, unrequited desires and a complex web saddled deep in the recesses of subconscious mind. It is these realities of the subconscious which churn the thoughts and emerge as poems.
In simple words, poetry is a play of emotions on words. It is poet’s ability to go beyond his/ her everyday experiences intertwined with emotions which give birth to a poem. Poetry creates written or even verbal images of happenings ‘ which is an outcome of poet’s own imagination.
Ramayana, Mahabharat, Eliad, Odyssey, Shahnama, are some of the examples of epic poetry which have created eternal images which have lasted beyond centuries and are still popular with readers. Same is the story with writers like Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Kalidas, Bhavbhooti, Omaer Khayyam, to name a few. Later day poets, like Keats, Shelly, Coleridge, Wordsworth were master story spinners through their poetry. Boris Pasternak, with his poems, created very strong visual images around which a great movie was made.
In later years, in order to make these texts easily understood and attractive, a practice was started to illustrate these books with pictorial images based on what was described by the writer in his text. Many manuscripts were written with hand drawn illustrations on the margins or on top or bottom of the books. I have seen and read many such illustrated books. In Rajasthan, whole story of a folk story of Pabuji is pictorially written on textile scrolls. Old Testament stories are painted on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel in Vatican. Many of the temple walls in India, are decorated with pictorial images from Ramayan, Mahabharat and other religious poems.
These examples are evidence to the fact that it is pictures which have followed the written words. It is the mind which creates images which are transferred on paper through words based on which visual images were being created.
With passage of time and technological advances, photography caught the imagination of people who could create visual images with click of a button. Digital photography has made this task even easier. Taking a cue from this development , some poets have started using these pictures as ‘supportive mental stimulus’ to construct their textual imagery. The have started poems based on ‘seen’ images in these pictures rather than ‘creating’ their own images through mental artistry. The art of poetry writing means that the poets have to delve deep in their subconscious mind and use more of their creative energy, for creating their poems. They embellish their subject with similies, metaphors, idioms, alliterations etc.
A pictorial poet finds his inspiration in a picture than storehouse of his own existential experiences. It could be for the reason that a pIcture accompanying a poem makes the poem visually appealing.
As mentioned earlier, poetry is an art of assessing and analysing the impact of events on the poet’s psyche and blending it with his/her emotions to create word images with subtlety and sublimity embellishing it with aesthetic imagery. A picture can connect a poet with outer contours of his/her subject in the picture but it is difficult for him/her to link a visual image with the inner thought, emotion and feeling of his subject. You can capture a rose in a beautiful picture and how will you bled it with fragrance which is the soul of a rose. You can see a baby’s smile in a picture but how would you know what made this baby smile? Da Vinci created Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile but the state of mind which evoked that smile could never be captured in a painting. It is a poet who can venture to peep in her minds window to imagine the reason of that kind of smile. A Raghu Rai’s photograph can be visually, even aesthetically, highly satisfying but he cannot capture the soul of his subject in his picture. Can Images created by Dante in his Divine comedy ever be created through a pictorial poem? These images, intensity of their feelings, these emotions, these expression of pain and anguish can be created by the poet only with his words as he draws inspiration for his creativity not from a picture but from his own experiences blended with emotions formed by his felt reality in his subconscious mind.
Pictorial poetry, aided and abetted by digital photography and conceived around visual images, could be a contemporary trend but, in my reckoning, it cannot be a substitute for a poem based on poet’s own experiences as instant coffee cannot be a replacement for freshly brewed coffee beans.


Dr. Jagdish Prakash

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