Saturday, October 09, 2010

Poetry of Hope from a Traditionalist Pen

Place: fourth place in Pro Athletes Council

Literature of hope is special and very often we get directional clues from it on how to bring about a positive change in our lives. Take inspirational poetry for example; it uplifts by showing the direction in which to proceed. More often than not, the lines are indirectly addressing someone who has been/would be a sufferer of distress. They are comforted via words of hope, and ways of avoiding and/or recovering from trauma are pointed out as the solution to existential pains. But also, very often, what such poetry suggests reveals the conservative mode of addressing issues instead of thinking out-of-the-box. Take the renowned Jalaluddin Rumi, for example. A while ago, I received one of his poems from a writer friend. Given below, this poem came to me as an uplifting piece at first sight, and a traditional-conservative message on a second read. The poem attempts to show the value of movement in avoiding suffering. It goes as:


Oh, if a tree could wander
and move with foot and wings!
It would not suffer the axe blows
and not the pain of saws!
For would the sun not wander
away in every night?
How could at ev’ry morning
the world be lighted up?
And if the ocean’s water
would not rise to the sky,
How would the plants be quickened
by streams and gentle rain?
The drop that left its homeland,
the sea, and then returned ?
It found an oyster waiting
and grew into a pearl.
Did Yusaf not leave his father,
in grief and tears and despair?
Did he not, by such a journey,
gain kingdom and fortune wide?
Did not the Prophet travel
to far Medina, friend?
And there he found a new kingdom
and ruled a hundred lands.
You lack a foot to travel?
Then journey into yourself!
And like a mine of rubies
receive the sunbeams? print!
Out of yourself? such a journey
will lead you to your self,
It leads to transformation
of dust into pure gold!

Jalaluddin Rumi

The first message about trees moving away from destruction speaks the conservative approach of asking the victim to change his/her situation in order to avoid pain inflicted by an aggressor. This is followed by examples from nature where movement causes development and makes life possible/better. The parallels are obviously weak since a fixed tree is as much ‘nature’ as a moving sun or circulating water. The subsequent examples from religious traditions again reinforce the traditional moralistic approach of victims leaving a troubled scene in order to avoid more suffering, finally to get greater success. In the end, we are encouraged to indulge in an inward journey if physical movement is not possible. And how long can we bear with being addressed constantly while the source of pain is bypassed by the poet?

The fact that the traditional moral approach almost never addresses the education of the aggressor for preventing pain is now common knowledge. A renowned Islamic scholar once argued that women should be kept veiled in order to prevent rape. Neither he nor his audience dared to ask (or even think) if it was any less good to chain men while the women are out to prevent the same crime. If a man is the aggressor, the active agent, in a crime, why not chain him and usurp his freedom instead of subjecting the woman – the victim – to restrictions?

The same message of hope by identifying with the aggressor is found in poems like If a Tree Could Wander. That we may call ‘medieval hope’. In the post-industrialist societies, where we take pride in living by information, getting the right message out to the right person in the right way defines our progress. In our age, we need the passion of Rumi for challenging the forces of destruction instead of finding fault with the victim’s mode of living. We need titles like If the Feller Won’t Hurt the Tree instead of If a Tree Could Wander. There will be more hope in such poetry and less tolerance of oppression. And we can surely be more comfortable then in taking a journey into our selves.