(Poem #1426) The Hill
This normative hill like all others is transparently accessible, out there and in the mind, not to be missed except in peril of one's life. Do not muse on it from a distance: it's not remote for the view only, it's for the sport of climbing. What the hill demands is a man with forces flowering as from the crevices of rocks and rough surfaces wild flowers force themselves towards the sun and burn for a moment. How often must I say to myself what I say to others: trust your nerves-- in conversation or in bed the rhythm comes. And once you begin hang on for life. What is survival? What is existence? I am not talking about poetry. I am talking about perishing outrageously and calling it activity. I say: be done with it. I say: you've got to love that hill. Be wrathful, be impatient that you are not on the hill. Do not forgive yourself or other, though charity is all very well. Do not rest in irony or acceptance. Man should not laugh when he is dying. In decent death you flow into another kind of time which is the hill you always thought you knew.
Thanks to Vinod Krishna who sent me today's poem, saying "The poet Nissim Ezekiel has just passed away. I thought it would be appropriate to submit a poem by him". I hadn't come across the poem before - my knowledge of Ezekiel was, sadly, confined to two of his almost trademark renditions of Indian English, and the ubiquitous "Night of the Scorpion", all from that marvellous anthology "Panorama". Today's poem is very different in tone - at once exhortatory and philosophical, so that while it is not the stirring call to action that, say, Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" [Poem #38], it is nonetheless a thought-provoking poem. The temptation is to call the poem unoriginal, because so many of the elements seem familiar from other poems. But the overall poem is far from derivative, with passages like Do not forgive yourself or other, though charity is all very well. that shock the reader with a reversal of the popular connotations of words like 'forgiveness' and 'charity', and What is existence? I am not talking about poetry. I am talking about perishing outrageously and calling it activity. with the ambiguous value judgement of individual fragments belying the purposefulness of the verse. A fitting epitaph for the man, definitely. martin [Links] An epitaph: [broken link] http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s1023721.htm For a short discussion and bio of his literary life see: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Culture/Literature/literat.html [The article by a Prof Vinay Lal of UCLA is in pdf format]. A photograph of Nissim Ezekiel is at: http://www.meadev.nic.in/earthquake/culture/literature/gallery/gal18.htm