Apologies of SAARC nature poetsArt plays a significant role in creating awareness about countering the reckless attack on nature.
A conference being held via Zoom by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, Delhi in collaboration with the Sahitya Akademi of India from March 27-29 has evoked the familiar story of struggle spelt out as "ecology, nature of prakriti" for its theme. Writers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand are participating in that conference. As an old and regular participant in this organisation's literary and folkloristic conferences for more than two decades, my experience speaks louder than my current understanding of this subject.
The founder and organiser of this literary crusade, the octogenarian Punjabi writer Ajeet Cour, sits through all in-person or virtual sessions as a witness to all these events and the ebbs and tides of political powers in this region since she took up the cudgel to create this rare organisation of writers. She has seen this literary organisation grow like a coral reef.
Hope for the future
I will be presenting my views on the subject of ecology and prakriti and conduct one session of the colloquium. The questions that will naturally arise at such colloquiums are: Can nature be addressed as a subject of hope, harmony and survival? For us as writers, using the same theme of nature and ecology at literary conferences and discussions, as was used at the world leaders' Glasgow summit on climate change in November 2021, may sound like an anachronism. But we assert that the efforts made by poets and artists to restore the ecological balance have provided some hope for the future of mankind.
I am drawn by the power of the voice of poets in our times. The main question is: Can poetry make things happen? One old adage famous in the Indic region says that a poet reaches a place that even the sun fails to reach. Such an all-pervasive power of the poet is questioned by some sceptics. Among them is an English poet named WH Auden who, in his poem written to grieve the death of the British poet of Irish origin WB Yeats (1865–1939), presented just the opposite aphorism. The gist of his poem is: Oh, poet Yeats, though you fought all your life for the freedom of Ireland, it remains the same at the time of your death. "The madness of Ireland that hurt you into poetry" is still there. Your poetry did not bring any change "For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives in the valley of its making."
Writers, especially poets of the Indic region, should be mentioned here because they held nature or prakriti both as a power and source of inspiration for the creation of good nature poetry. Poets of the earlier generation did not see any problem with nature, and saw no disruption in the ecological balance. Nature was always held as the inspirer and giver of some kind of precious zeal to poets and all the human and sentient beings of this region.
Today, we are speaking about the woes caused by a rupture in the balance. The jeremiad of poets and writers, inasmuch as the treatment of nature is concerned, dominates our culture of mind. Ecological or environmental loss is a subject of concern today. But the poetry of the good poets of the erstwhile generation shows a very balanced view of nature. The poets of this region saw nature as a meaningful mystery. I want to especially allude to Nepali poets and their relationship with Indian poets of the first half of the 20th century not least in the use of nature in poetry.
I mention the names of Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Siddhicharan Shrestha, Kedarman Vyathit and Madhab Ghimire as those Nepali poets who used nature as the perennial source of strength. Their feeling towards nature was sublime and liberating. In one essay compiled in his collection called Laxmi Nibandha Sangraha, poet Devkota quotes the lines of the famous Hindi poet Jaysankar Prasad (1890-1937). I make a free translation of the Hindi poem here. The lines he quotes say, "The bosom of the quiet lake impelled by don't know what desire, wakes up in the wavy restless ripples." These are amazing lines. The poet sees nature as living, sublime and benign power.
The poet would see nature as the source of poetry. Poet Devkota wrote, "There is good knowledge in the tender buds of nature." Poet Siddhicharan Shrestha in a poem written on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi evoked nature to compare the sublime aspect of the Mahatma's life and even his death. He writes, "Crisis occurs to the humans not to the stones. A bullet hits the Bapu not the others. Hailstones first hit the flowers in the garden."
Nature and the sublime side of the great soul are comparable. These are just a few examples. Nepali poets shared the feelings of the poets of the famous generation of Hindi poets known as those who wrote under the name Chayabad or shadowism. The poets of this movement were Jaysankar Prasad, Sumitranand Pant (1900-78), Mahadevi Varma (1907-87) and Suryakant Tripathi "Nirala" (l899?-l96l). The Chayabad movement, among other things, was devoted to the glorification of nature. Nature and love that included love for the self were the main principles of the Chayabadi movement that lasted roughly from 1920 to 1938. These poets, in turn, were heavily influenced by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Nature in poetry and art
The above-cited poets used nature as the power of their poetry. Critics compare the Chayabadi poets of India and the nature poets of Nepal with the English romantic poets and their treatment of nature both as an inspirer and guru or teacher. The tradition of the use of nature in poetry and art has a long history in this part of the world. The iconography of trees, especially the banyan tree, and the association of gardens in a Buddhist monastery and other holy places and palatial spaces find expression in poetry and art in this region.
But a paper presented at a seminar or used as a motif in the colloquium that has introduced the subject of ecology and the crises of environment has to address a question: Can the genres of art like poetry, painting, sculpture and music play a significant role in creating awareness about countering the reckless attack on nature, and thereby the very sense of aesthetic balance? As an apologist for the promotion of poetry and art as a means of creating awareness against the mindless destruction of nature, I would say yes, they do play a very important role in the creation of awareness. But David Attenborough, 95, delivering his address at the Glasgow Summit, sometimes sounded like a poet whose poetry "makes nothing happen: it survives in the valley of its making".