Introduction to Lily Swarn’s poetry / By: Dr. Venkat Ramani

Introduction to Lily Swarn’s poetry

While going through the poems of the present poet Lily Swarn, certain questions are bound to rise in the minds of discerning readers in the context of Indian poets writing in English in India.

Some are inclined to label all Indian English writers writing post Independence as “post colonial” To enter this debate at this point may not be very appropriate and fruitful. But the claim that post colonial writers do not have pure imagination consequent upon the fact that they had been colonized in the past and therefore will in their literary and artistic creations give evidence of subalternity is difficult to grant and accept.
We have several prolific writers writing in English in India. They constitute poets, novelists, chroniclers and many more. There is no room to go into all the details here.
Lily Swarn is one such poet in the present day.
The theory of “indeterminacy of meaning” and the doubts raised about the efficacy of Word to express the innermost thoughts and feelings may be held in suspension while reading the poems of Lily Swarn.
Lily Swarn brought up on folk, rustic and native, indigenous literature and art has through her poems proved –what Eliot theorized in the last century :
“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”
To the readers such a quote may sound hyperbolic, but a close reading of her poems reveals that she handles her themes objectively ; even the most subjective themes are dealt in an objective manner.
Her collections , Conversations with the Soul, Nature, Love, Relationships , Portraits to name a few, contain poems of high order. The technique she employs to achieve a higher unity in the poem could be briefly described in terms of ironical juxtapositions of the opposites and in the underlying layers of binaries that are structurally ordered in the poem. The perception of similarity in obviously disparate, dissimilar things, the induction and recognition of the macrocosm in the microcosm and vice versa, the ingenuous extension of a symbol or image to its utmost define a kind of poem which is essentially metaphysical in the tradition of Donne and Dickinson.


Lily Swarn

A close reading of Lily Swarn’ poems reveals that they are structured upon a host of incongruities and ironical and paradoxical juxtapositions that embody psychic and social antagonisms. Myth and archetypical patterns are closely woven in to the structure of several poems .These antagonisms and patterns gradually unfold as we read the poems, laying open to us a world of symbols and images , trailing forward with a vignette effect . A symbol or image she uses in one of her poems is not peculiar to that poem alone. In fact an alert reader traces the “phases” of that symbol or image segueing into another in different poems, and that goes on to prove its dynamism coupled with its concatenative effect.
To illustrate one out of many consider the symbols used in her poems. Most of these symbols with their varied nuances run through several of her poems and metamorphosise into something different and obviously polysemic. Expanding on symbols and images is characteristic of her poems but meaning is never a casualty. Her dexterous use of words is a challenge to postmodernist deconstruction that dismisses logocentrism pointing out that the poet in his attempt to create and construct actually destroys and deconstructs.
In Swarn’s poems, the binaries ,the ironies and the paradoxes are organically structured to achieve a higher unity and meaning. The atmosphere of romanticism, the feeling of sensuousness , the experience of reality , the philosophy of idealism , the portrait of Nature ,( with inscape and instress in the manner strangely different from that of Hopkins ,yet refreshingly original) the sublimlity of things human , Nature, and Divine which she lays out in her literary canvas are not superimpositions ,are not extrinsic but organic and intrinsic ,interrelated. And this she achieves through the use of words.
The aim here is not to reduce her poems to a mere linguistic construct. No, it is rather to portray that her choice is eclectic. While you read her, you gradually realize that atmosphere has become content in her poems.
Another trait of her poetic technique is her myth making faculty. To illustrate this ability we need to go through some of her prize winning poems. Easter Lilies and Aphrodite are two out of the seven. In Easter Lilies the structural balance and unity is achieved through “myth syncretism”: the Christian and Greek myths of the white and red lily are juxtaposed. The white symbolizes rebirth and regeneration and the red, death and redemption. But both are the creations of the same Painter. It is something like Blake’s Tyger in which the Divine is delineated in softer and harsher aspects. White stands for resurrection; red for death; and green for growth and sustenance. Color imagery is central to the movement of the poem. The lily embodies and epitomizes the story of Christ’s birth and His sacrifice. The poem moves from deification to reification in the last stanza—a gradual movement from myth to reality—a reality which embodies and epitomizes the Divine myth.
But sometimes even Reality might achieve the dimensions of a Myth and a legend; and still remain genuinely historical and real. Rara Avis Guru Gobind Singh is an instance of such reality. Divinity constitutes piety, valor and sacrifice and Divinity is not myth.
In Aphrodite, again the Greek and Roman myths are collated. Romantic, sensuous, an instance of ‘portrait painting’ the poem exudes the Chaucerian aura of the Prologue. The poem is in the tone of a carnival celebrating Love and Nature. Mythical collation and syncretism as a technique univeralises the theme of love and Nature and in Bakhtin’s sense carnivalises, implying that Being has a common Origin.
In the preceding poems in her unique style Lily Swarn interprets the myths to us, but in Why Fret, she leaves it to the reader to interpret the myth. As with her other poems, you needn’t figure out her intention or purpose. No, rather the reader is invited to recognize and comprehend the typical dilemma a woman might face. Myth is wedded to reality. The myth showcases the desire of Draupadi to marry a man who embodies the five qualities of her choice: the reality is she has to marry five men, each one embodying one quality each! In a sense myth has changed into reality. With Draupadi, the reader too is caught in that conundrum. The title and the last lines of the poem uphold the myth and minimize the dimension of reality This ironical apposition of myth and reality achieves structural unity in the poem.
For once there is break from the myths of the preceding poems and a plunge into the harshest reality faced and suffered by a maidservant in her teens, who has been sexually abused, mentally devastated and socially ostracized for no fault of her own. The very title of the poem is ironical. Consider the girl with the beautiful eyes has now only ugliness to see. The poem is built upon the tension generated by what the girl “sees” and what the perpetrators of crime against her “see”, what the society “ saw” before she was assaulted and what it “sees” after; tension generated by her perception and subsequent blindness. The poem is rather a trenchant commentary on the sufferings and insecurity of women in this country (in particular the rape survivors). Reality stands in sharp contrast to Myth. Consider in Why Fret the myth upholds the chastity, the modesty and deep respect for woman; Sunaina explodes that myth.

Dr. Venka Ramani, Formerly Lecturer of English. Retd. Principal of Govt College & Joint Secretary Higher Education Govt Of Rajasthan

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