Book: Pearls of Strawberry Moon
Author: Monalisa Dash Dwibedy
Binding: Paperback – 91 pages
Publisher: Independently Published Pub. Date: 2nd April 2020
Price: $5.99 USD Kindle Edition: 4.03 USD INR. 62
Pearls of Strawberry Moon’, the debut volume of poems by Monalisa Dash Dwibedy, is a masterpiece of her creative imagination. The book in three sections ‘Life’, ‘Lament’ and ‘Miracle’ leads the readers to various thoughts like love, Nature’s glory, the positive vibe, submergence in poetry, the hollowness and existential crisis of the post-modern world, spiritual atmosphere, environmental consciousness, the marginalization of women, spiritual humanism that deserve special attention. Indeed, it includes the holistic aspects of life with an attitude of simplicity and humbleness. It can be scanned and interpreted through the following ways:
1. Presentation of Love:
A dream-like atmosphere of love of the lovers and its pain and evanescence and transitory nature is felt in ‘To the Atlantic’. Sometimes the lovers make futile attempts at writing their names on the sea beach but the jealous tide washes them away — almost an echo of Spencer’s beginning lines of ‘One Day I Wrote Her Name upon the Strand’. Sometimes again, one dreams of walking a mile with the other but this seems to be evanescent. In ‘Let Me Unlock’ love is the central theme. The narrator is the caretaker of the lover’s pain and wound. She requests her lover to allow her to unlock, release the life in him. Holding the lover’s hand gently, she kisses his tears and then adieu. In ‘Love’s Funeral’ love is personified and is malnourished and waiting for vital nutrients. Monalisa’s concept of love resembles Shakespearean concept of love in ‘Sonnet 116’. Both Shakespeare and Monalisa believe that love is not love that depends on terms and conditions that are found in marketing job. From both the sides of the lover and the beloved the game of hiding secrets and mistrust are found. The poet brings out the transitory and fake love in today’s post-modern world. In ‘A Thousand Love Affairs’ the poet places love in a higher trajectory. It is Platonic and divine. In the narrator’s love humanitarian appeal is felt. Like Plato love to Monalisa is something holy and a kind of cosmic force harmonizing the chaotic state of the universe, few lines —
“I am in love
Not only with a boy with the sun-kissed skin
But with all life forms around me
I love you the way you are
Right from the start
When you’re dumb
When you’re smart
My love does not discriminate”.
The last stanza is full of divine love, mingled with the vibes of positivity and empathy. Here love is fully holy, pure. The narrator falls in love with the creations and the Creator. Being in true love, divine love, in real bliss of light, her heart blossoms — almost an epiphanic moment, a moment of divine realization. Tiny mortal’s heart opens and surrenders to the creator, a few lines —
“My heart is opening up
While falling in love with the creation and the creator
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I am in true love, in a real bliss of light”.
‘Strawberry Moon’, echoed in the title, is filled with the Platonic love. The love of the old man for the moon is similar to Sidney’s concept of love in his sonnet sequence ‘Astrophel and Stella’, a collection of 108 sonnets. ‘Astrophel’ and ‘Stella’ mean ‘star lover’ and ‘star’ respectively. Only difference in this poem is that the old man is moon lover. Love here is pure and holy. The old man has been gazing at the moon for eighty years. ‘Moon’ may metaphorically stand for a woman who from the old man’s perspective is unattainable. The moon also loves him but he does not know it. Loving him, the moon has broken the laws of the universe. Moon’s desire of living in his eyes is fulfilled in the end. Personifying the moon, a natural satellite in the cosmic address, and establishing love affair between an old man and the moon, the poet places love in a higher level giving it a Platonic touch and treats it with extraordinary power of creative imagination.
In the end of ‘Fall’ the love of an old man and an old lady is presented with somewhat similar light. Their mutual love and trust is reflected in their eyes. Even in the winter season of life true love remains. Like Browning Monalisa believes that love is best. The ending —
“And hear any moment
They read from each other’s eyes
— is almost similar to the ending line of Browning’s ‘Meeting at Night’ “…..two hearts beating each to each”.
The poet champions eternal love in ‘Love Forever’. Love is pure and it purifies the narrator’s dusty life. The narrator’s lover’s love shines in golden hue and it is metaphorically compared to holy poem, magic of lightening, a spellbound journey, a thousand moonlit nights and so on.
2. Unfolding Manifold Aspects of Nature:
Monalisa is almost Wordsworthian in her attitude to Nature. Nature is a living entity to her. In ‘Soul Of A Forest’ her loving heart eavesdrops the calls of Nature. When dawn comes with rhythmic dance, she starts walking through the forest. With the sunshine through the dense trees the poet listens to the magic whisper of the wind blowing on her face and embracing her hair. Like nature in Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’ Nature here is filled with the scent of wild jasmine, songs of earthworms, peacocks that make her chorus and sing the song of life leading her to humanitarian appeal like Wordsworth’s. After her oneness with forest she feels the soul of the forest, the realization of which remains unknown to the cities.
In ‘A Butterfly’ the poet presents the same natural world in a different way. She is lost in Nature. Here the butterfly becomes part and parcel of Nature. This tiny beautiful insect is the poet’s source of joy and pleasure and simultaneously an inspiration to fly like it in dreamy ambience filled with the romantic imagination. Like all the romantic nature poets nature is a resting resort to Monalisa who returns to nature. The harsh realities make life painful and chaotic. In the lap of Nature her ‘messy life’ is purified, quietened and tranquillized. Like Wordsworth Nature is also a source of blessings and mystic communion with Nature to Monalisa, a few lines from ‘To The Atlantic’ —
“This rare September day
So bathed in sunshine
We spent outdoors
Talking to the salty wind
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gazing the stars under the sky
Letting my soul roam free
My messy life
With its gifts
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So full of unmixed blessings”.
Like Wordsworth who composed a poem titled ‘Daffodils’ and lost in the beauty of daffodils the poet Monalisa Dash Dwibedy also loses herself in the world of daffodils, bright yellow flowers, in her poem ‘Daffodils’. In the last stanza using three apostrophes, she addresses God indirectly in different ways to show her the place where the daffodils live. Escapism, return to Nature, addition of strangeness to beauty, sense of wonder makes it a fine piece of romantic nature poem.
Nature is not always calm and sublime. She may appear terribly. In ‘Nature’s Fury’ the cruel aspects of Nature are manifested in the form of severe cyclonic storm Fani that hit Odisha on May 3, 2019 —- an indirect reference. Watching in television, her heart is salted. Walking on the roads of Toronto, she visualizes and feels the particles of sand flying in the air. In May the temperate weather of Toronto is transformed into storm, fierce. Her love for hometown Puri comes in the end.
In ‘Luminous Lagoon’ the readers’ minds are calmed. The poet describes the glistening waters of a Jamaican lagoon where she went. The riding of motor boat to Falmouth, the meeting of Caribbean sea and Marth Brae River, the flashing lights of the micro-organisms, experiencing Nature’s blessings leave indelible impression on the poet’s mind. Each human has a luminous lagoon within that should be discovered, gazed to have infinite joy from natural lagoon and to be alive every day.
In ‘What You Seek’ tranquil and hypnotizing aspects of Nature are felt. The restless moon peeping through the window, the welcoming rainbow, vernal breeze whispering in ears of carrying the scent of roses are all heart-soothing. When all these impress heart, joy knows no bound.
Though the poem ‘A Speck Of Dust’ begins with philosophical outlook, in the third and fourth stanzas the tranquil Nature draws the attention of the readers. The silvery silky moon beams become the sources of the poet’s dreams leading to the journey metaphor. In an atmosphere of joy and merriment the poet participates. Nature seems to be feast to her ears and eyes. Her heart moves in joy, few lines —
“I love rain
Echoes of droplets
Sweeping lemon petals
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Invite the lonely dew that dazzles
on a blade of grass
To be part of my celebration”.
The recurrent image of the moon takes the readers to the world of Nature. In ‘Strawberry Moon’ moon is just like a human being. In a calm and peaceful ambience in silvery lights the birds are hypnotized and are in slumber and dreaming. The natural world offers an apt background for Platonic love.
In ‘Niagara’ the poet changes the taste of the readers by taking them to the gorgeous, majestic, magnificent aspects of Nature. The waterfall keeps the poet in mystic mood. The wind, the chirping birds welcome the new life.
Man-Nature interaction takes place in the first stanza of ‘Somewhere In Puri’. Before the Bay of Bengal the poet stands with bare feet touching the waves and her breath flowing into the perfectly clean sky that symbolically stands for the Almighty.
‘Mountains Are Alive’ is fully a Nature poem. Mountains are personified. They are alive, calling the poet who feels their pulse. Flowers bloom and the wind wanders through the flowers. Even clouds talk to the mountains, fall in love, kiss them passionately. Mountains have ears to listen to the heart-wrenching story of roaring waves.
In ‘Canadian Winter’ Winter, humanized, folds the poet with smoky breath and ice-cold fingers. Winter is generally thought to be symbol of death and decay but the poet praises the beauty of the sound of falling snow, city adorned in a glistening white carpet.
Monalisa Dash Dwibedy
3. The Vibes of Positivity:
The positive vibe is recurrent in many of the verses of Monalisa’s ‘Pearls Of Strawberry Moon’. The poem ‘In Search Of Motivation’ is finely woven with hope. The poet refers to the higher aspects of Nature and the insects and birds and tortoise, struggling hard in their lives and thereby suggesting that anyone can have motivation from their immeasurable labour. It is one’s own will power that urges him or her to work.
The third person narrator in ‘A Dreamer Comes Home’ is a dreamer who dreams of bringing Cauvery in his village, dry and barren. His love for his native village is so intense that he never hesitates to quit his high profile government job. On the banks of the dried Cauvery he began planting trees leaving his newly decorated city house. In today’s world that faces existential crisis because of globalization, urbanization the narrator’s hope, dream and promise are unforgettable, few lines —
“. . . . . . . he promised
He won’t stop until
He brings rain home
Brings Cauvery home”.
The poet’s hope comes to the surface in ‘Tears’. She is sure that her tears of ecstasy flowing like a river will mirror the sun, the moon and the sky. She will be led to the sea of grace. Through her tears of ecstasy unknown, unseen vistas of life will be opened up along the way of life. Tears are mixed with the vibes of positivity. In knowing life with her tears lies her humanitarian outlook.
In ‘The World Goes Blind’ the poet shows a positive outlook that in spite of having so many ills and wrongs of the world, God is wandering through the souls to infuse a little grease of divinity and bliss to dry and rusty hearts of humans.
In ‘Canadian Winter’ the apparent despair in lines ”Night embraces my part of the world/ In a blanket of black dew”, “How far can you go, when the blizzard wind blows” is suppressed by the ray of hope in the last four lines —
“Bring me sunshine in a mug of hot cocoa
With tulips tinted purple spring’s scent
Borrow the smell of earth from the first rain
Smile away the melancholy of the coldest winter day”.
Here the poet is perhaps appealing the Almighty to bring sunshine. She is not only hopeful but also makes all hopeful.
The positive vibes can also be felt in the second stanza of ‘Let Me Paint’, in the end of ‘My Failures’ and ‘Gratitude’ and throughout the poem ‘Love Forever’.
4. Comment on the Hollowness and Existential Crisis:
The poet Monalisa Dash Dwibedy comes to a very serious issue of today. She gets an opportunity of commenting on hollowness of the post-modern men. Her poem ‘Shelter’ becomes a telling critique on the hollowness and lack of spirituality of today’s men. The original goal of life is to be one with the eternity but man chooses a luxurious life — life of material prosperity. The expression ‘beautiful ajar enclosure’ that a post-modern man chooses for shelter, metaphorically stands for mundane life that has almost blinded man’s eyes to search and see a real abode for communion with God. The expression ‘worn out body’ metaphorically stands for the hollow men of whom Elliot has referred to in many of his poems.
‘I Do Not Want To Be Born Again’ is replete with the poet’s musings on the existential crisis. The poem is a philosophical speculation of today’s man, trapped in the worldly desires that pull him back from blissful life. The repeated apostrophes to the universe bring the plights of the post-modern men, just existing on the strings of time and heading towards the graves. The universe seems to be the mystic of mystics. In a world of material desires the real purpose of life is lost, and thereby pushing humans to existential crisis.
5. Philosophical Framework:
Almost the entire volume is woven with philosophical thread or pattern. In the first poem ‘My Life in Two Blue Suitcases’ in the journey metaphor philosophical outlook comes. In the poet’s journey unconscious and conscious selves come to the surface. Her unconscious self makes a full journey and when she comes back to her conscious self, she feels the Infinite or the Almighty with a transcendentalist, philosophic and spiritual tone, few lines —
“The moment consciousness dawns
The forever being, the maker of the universe
Comes in search of me”
A dreamy spiritual ambience is created in ‘In Presence of the Master’. In presence of the master i.e. a yogi the poet becomes bodiless spirit, as the yogi chants a prayer. The poet’s soul is set free for a moment. Like Kalam the poet also feels that through prayer one can transcend his or her body and become a part of the cosmos. Freeing the soul or spirit for a moment in a world of gross like existence is a spiritual, philosophical and transcendental experience. Wordsworth also felt the same mystic experience in his poems like ‘Tintern Abbey’ and ‘Immortality Ode’.
In the last stanza of ‘To The Atlantic’ the poet creates a spiritual atmosphere under the open starry sky. She allows her soul to roam freely. Her messy life is calmed and blessed. In freeing her soul she passes through a mystic experience. The words ‘gifts’, ‘majestic’, ‘blessings’ are suggestive of the glory and grandeur of the Infinite.
A philosopher comes in the poet in ‘Let Me Paint’. In her desire to paint the entire planet blue she wants to make the world ‘One’, unified and infinite suggested in the colour ‘blue’. Like a yogi or a sage she feels the consciousness that includes everything in the universe.
In ‘I Still Remember That Day’ a philosophical realization comes in the poet when she looks at the stars, blue sky and the crescent moon, which are the manifestations of God’s glory. It is an epiphanic moment — a moment of God-realization. So, she kneels down with awe and tears in her eyes. In her desire to fly and join the clouds lies her quest for the communion with the Infinite —- a recurrent theme of Tagore’s ‘Song Offerings’. But her mundane tie or the devil in her pulls and prevents her not to fly. ‘Someone’ in the poem leads the readers to diversified interpretations. This word may suggest the poet’s conscience or the inner voice or God whom she philosophizes under the starry sky. Sinking to the knees and rolling down of tears suggest that the poet, a tiny mortal, has realized her temporary existence in the scheme of the universe.
Almost in the end of ‘The World Goes Blind’ the poet refers to God who is waiting from time immemorial and wandering through the souls. Dynamism in God or the mysterious power is also felt in ‘Ishopanishad’ and Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’ — a philosophical pattern.
What Wordsworth and Tagore did, Monalisa also does in her poem ‘Niagara’ — discovery of the Almighty in Nature’s glory. Attentively gazing at the waterfall, the poet is lost in majestic Nature. The white water wheels lead her to a trance-like state and she hears the calls of the water wheels to become One with them. Then she becomes aware of her mortal body and thinks it impossible to become one unless she is transformed into a drop of water.
‘You’ in the poem ‘You’ refers to anybody in the world, involved in worldly desires till death. The poet muses on life span with philosophic outlook. Body returns to dust — the very idea mentioned in ‘the Bible’. The word ‘someone’ seems to be less literary. It may refer to a person who will love ‘You’. In another sense it may also refer to God for whom the entire humanity is in a vivid waiting.
‘You’ feeling also recurs in ‘Somewhere In Puri’. If ‘You’ is thought to be divine, then an idea of the poet’s communion with the Infinite is suggested very beautifully. Hearing a ‘faint hello’ and ‘calling my (poet’s) name’ may also be less literary. They may stand for the inner voices. The poem fully ends with an epiphanic moment — a moment of God-realization.
The last poem of this volume ‘I Set My Soul Free’ is woven with philosophical thread. It begins with a mood of prayer to God. The higher aspects of Nature inspire the poet. The maker of the universe comes to her and asks her if she likes His gifts. Coming to know from God that He is fully hers, she is filled with awe and reverence. Then all her beliefs, egos, pride fall off like dust and she becomes One with God in endless ecstasy. In a communion with the Infinite she sets her soul free — a recurrent idea in many verses of Tagore’s ‘Song Offerings’.
Religious or spiritual atmosphere is also felt in the second stanza of ‘What You Seek’ and in the last stanza of ‘The World Goes Blind’.
6. Environmental Consciousness:
The poet is a lover of Nature and environment. Her environmental consciousness is felt in her poem titled ‘Save The Planet’. The poem is a telling critique of the poet’s anger and grievance at the random use of plastic that causes death to animals, fishes in water bodies and harms humans bringing diseases like cancer. The uses of interrogations or questions express the poet’s anger. Humans are fully blind as they forget the roles of trees that are the causes of the existence of men. In the end the poet advises all to take an oath to give pollution-free environment for a baby, to give a plant with gift for the sake of humanity.
7. Anger at the Marginalization of Women:
In ‘Silent Death’ the poet vomits her anger at the marginalization of women across the globe, especially in India. When women are raped and burnt alive. People march with candle lights and nothing more. No one knows how the victims suffer and lie in hospital beds. The poet is satirizing the judiciary system that delays to give capital punishment. But the rapists roam freely. Nothing can be more heart-rending, when the women are raped by gang, burnt alive or sometimes an iron rod is pushed through their genitals. While reading the lines, the readers’ hair stands on ends with anger at the rapists and tears for the victims. The poet also attacks the law and order and the political leaders who do nothing to check this indescribable dark aspect of society. The poem may indirectly refer to the rape of Dr Priyanka Reddy who was gang-raped and burnt alive and many more incidents.
8. Submergence in Poetic Creation:
Monalisa is a wordsmith. She knows how to weave poems with words. In her poetic creation she does not always get sunshine. She faces clouds too. In her poem ‘Lost and Found’ she is seen involved or submerged in poetic creation. In the word ‘Lost’ problem of poetic creation is suggested. In the word ‘Found’ she talks about her poetic creation. In the last eleven lines she gains whatever she lost and by using almost all the senses goes back to her college days, joyous.
In ‘Confluence’ the poet speaks of boundaries, fragment life and spaces, man-made, and refers to the destruction of Nature by man in the name of salvation and development. In such a situation she hopes for poetry, formed with the mystical words in the upper air. With the secondary imagination she feels a song of heart, a great searching for its writer, a fable of magical experience, automatically revealing itself endlessly. In her imaginary atmosphere she goes on floating with the viewless wings of poetry.
A writer is submerged in poetic sensibility in ‘Writer’. Monalisa brings out a writer’s world. A writer is a dreamer who never stops dreaming even in the ups and downs of life.
In ‘My Failures’ words, woven together, transform the poet’s failures into soulful poetry that is the best medicine for an aching mind. Her gloomy mind is illuminated and she finds ray of hope. Thus, poetry is a resting resort and a way of tackling the difficulties and adversities of life.
Clouds in the poem ‘Sky’ are not the symbols of sorrow or gloom but the sources of poetic creation. Clouds lend her words to create blissful poetry and the sky, the vast blue canvas, is creative, colourful, and secretive.
Other focal points include journey metaphor with reflective and meditative posture, musings on the shining and suffering societies in the expression ‘Painted and blank canvases’ in ‘My Life In Two Blue Suitcases’, humanitarian outlook in the poet’s chorusing and singing the song of life in ‘Soul Of A Forest’, psychological investigation and probe into the depressed and prescribing metaphorical medicines to live life, a gift and one time opportunity in ‘You Are Not Alone’, musing on the heart-rending and tear-drawing picture of terrorism in ‘A Little Girl’, the intermingling of positivity and negativity in the end of ‘I Do Not Want To Be Born Again’, nostalgic atmosphere in memorializing friends, school days, New Year bash at Nathan Philip Square and Lake Valley High School in Toronto in ‘Lost Friends’, critique on the art of telling lies of humans in today’s world in believing fake show-offs, ignoring and disrespecting each life, writing poems on love, gender- equality, forgiveness and hope without paying attention to the painful story of a shattered human being in ‘Truth Hurts’, agonized and tormented mind for failures in ‘My Failures’, current reference to the deadly Corona virus, request and advice to all to remain at home, spend time with the loved ones calmly in a mood of prayer in ‘Corona’, musings on the hypocrisy, satirizing the war-mongers, distasteful attitude to race, religious turmoil and upheaval, man-made boundaries, search for ray of hope even in the dark tunnel of life in ‘The World Goes Blind’, eagerness to escape from the harsh reality, tension, stress to the all-inclusive sky to forget the troubles of the world in ‘Sky’, thankfulness to God for the gift of life and the very desire and suggestion to fill it with light and laughter in ‘Gratitude’, dedoublement (also used by Jules Laforgue, the French poet and T.S.Elliot), meaning the splitting of self into two — the knowledgeable or conscious ‘I’ and ignorant or unconscious ‘I’, the philosophic realization of ‘I’ from the depth of heart about life, creations and the Creator of the universe without any discrimination and bidding goodbye to the unaware ‘I’ by the conscious and aware ‘I’ in ‘Goodbye’, the modern human’s quest for the simpler and humbler aspects of nature in a world of rat-race and gross like existence like blooming flower, scene of sunset, chirping birds, child’s half-smile, moonlit sky, gazing at the stars, adventurous sport, sipping favourite drink, hugging dear ones tightly in ‘When Was The Last Time’, presentation of India’s social, economic, political, spiritual, simple and humble lives near the border of death, unmasking the absurdity of war, remembrance of India even in Canada or thinking Canada as home through stream of consciousness technique in the end of ‘The New Immigrant’, ‘You’ feeling with plurality of meanings, recurrent images of moon and so on.
Monalisa Dash Dwibedy ‘Pearls Of Strawberry Moon’ touches all the themes which make her really a rising star in the sky of literature. Let her poetry, the fragrance of jasmine, intoxicate all. My best wishes to her.
Reviewed by Manab Manik
Poet, Short Story Writer and Reviewer
Midnapore, West Bengal, India.
April 15, 2020.
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