Thursday, July 06, 2006

Discovery of Hope

In the hullabaloo surrounding the reservation issue, the sanest and the most rational of combatants on both sides of the debate forgot to ask the simple question: Where are the brilliant academics who can create institutions of excellence? Not may dare to ask this question because there are not many who fit the bill. But if one looks beyond the hollow metropolises and the so-called reputed institutions of excellence, where academics are mostly jousting in the jargon of the latest intellectual fad, one can find that rare gem of a true academic, who passes on valuable knowledge to the students.

Malati Mathur, who teaches English in the Government College at Alwar turns out to be the sincere and extraordinary academic, who can transmit knowledge and values which are so wanting in the higher educational institutions in this country. Her book, “A.D.Hope Merging Meridians: Poetic Vision” (Creative Books; Rs 400) reveals the genius of Australian poet A.D.Hope (1907-2000). And she builds up a great complex argument where she shows that Hope was both an Augustan – in his adherence to prosody and the function of satire – and a Romantic, in his engagement with mythologies and symbols, passion and sensuality. She argues her point in a simple and delightful fashion for the next 200 pages. Academics generally tend to think that to write in an intelligible style is to demean themselves.
Mathur skirts intellectual fads like post-colonialism, deconstruction, feminism, Third World-ism et al. She brings to the reader the many facets of a great poet like Hope. It is after reading her account of Hope that we realise that we missed out on a great one. Mathur achieves the true mark of a good teacher. She draws our attention to the enduring values of a poet. She does not quarrel with Hope for being a moralist, or for indulging in the quintessential male gaze in his love poems. In remaining true to the ideal that literature presents a total picture of the human condition, she is stubbornly old-fashioned. And it is not surprising that she chose Hope, an old-fashioned poet with a modern and moral sensibility, as the subject of her dissertation.

Hope bemoaned an Australia which lacked cultural traditions of Europe, much like Henry James and T.S.Eliot did about America. But he did not lose hope and transplant himself to Europe. He lived on in Australia, and created poetry that connected his new country with the rich cultural and mythological traditions of not only Europe but also of countries like India. It needed a brave intellect to do that, and Hope, we discover, was nothing but brave.

The toughness of Hope’s poetry can be seen in the poem, “Australia”, where he describes his country in ruthless terms: “A Nation of trees, drab green and desolate grey / In the field uniform of modern wars,…/ They call her a young country, but they lie:/ She is the last of lands, the emptiest, …/ Without songs, architecture, history: / The emotions and superstitions of younger lands, …/ Where second hand Europeans pullulate / Timidly on the edge of alien shores….” But it is not self-hatred all the way. He turns around at the end of the poem, and states his resolve and dream of his country: “ Yet there are some like me turn gladly home / From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find / The Arabian desert of the human mind, / Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come,…/…some spirit which escapes / The learned doubt, the chatter of cultured apes / Which is called civilization over there. “

But there is the sensitive, romantic and sensuous side to him. We find it abundantly, beautifully and metrically expressed in the first of the “Six Songs For Chloe”. Without much ado, it is titled, “Going to Bed”: “Thus Love in mime despoils this world: / Fashions, beliefs and customs fall; / In brutal, naked grace unfurled /He shows the root and ground of all…/. No roof can shelter us, no house / That falls to ruin as fabrics must; / No crumbling temple hear our vows / Or sanction that immortal lust.” Though one attuned to the poetry of W.H.Auden will find these lines sufficiently Audenseque, it is quite clear that Hope is far simpler and truthful in talking about passion and emotion, something that Auden could never bring himself to do. Of course, Eliot was a hopeless case in this matter.

Thank you, Malati Mathur, for presenting Hope.

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