Look to the Sun: By Weston McDaniel, (The Beechhurst Press, New York.)
Weston McDaniel’s book of poems, Look to the Sun, reminds us of the Surya Gita by Dr. James H. Cousins. To Dr. Cousins the Buddhist banner floating serenely over the turmoil of the market place is a symbol of conquest, of man over Nature and of peace over the mind of man. This is how the East looks to the Sun, the inner illuminer of the mind, the symbol of that which impels our higher intuition. Weston McDaniel, however, would like to look at the Sun in the way in which the eagle is said to gaze at the Sun and sharpen its sight. In a poem entitled Be as the Eagle he writes,
“If the mind tumbles
In whirlwinds of doubt,
If the teeth clench
And the jaws lock in pain,
Be as the eagle,
Feather torn eagle blown violently
From perch in the crags….
Ride in ecstasy
He gives to us the active faith of a younger generation which would look to the Sun as the symbol of the progressive forces of light and life struggling against die ewige finsterniss, ‘Devils and witches’ stand as symbols of the darker forces of life which convert life’s aspiration into a walpurgisnachtstraum, and it is from such bondage to the devil’s saturnalia of the Brokenberg that the author would fain freedom mankind, which like Faust stands at the cross-ways of life.
Didactic poetry is my abhorrence, said a poet of an elder generation. Though McDaniel sees in intolerance, the absence of spiritual freedom, the devil of the age, he avoids sermonising over the need for tolerance and political justice. With true poetic insight he weighs the affairs of nations and of individuals in the only balance the poet knows, the emotional. The poet weighs human nature just as a scientist weighs the stars. In a poem entitled Scales of grief he gives to us a picture of the desolating effect of war, the product of intolerance as it affects the home. He writes,
“Silence looms heavy in the cabin,
Heavy as iron weights suspended motionless
On scales of grief.
A picture of doves buried inch-deep in soot
Hangs off-balance over the fire place
An old man rocks solemnly in his chair
Thumbing wrinkled pages of his Bible
The mother chokes
Holding back sobs.
A lamp burns at the window,
Two boys sit vacant eyed,
Frozen to their seats,
The sister slumps over the table
Propping her face with icy fingers,
The lame man hired for the chorus
Hums Yankee Doodle in raucous notes stirring the silence,
Silence in the cabin
Where words glued to yellow sheet
Johnny...killed in action.”
Civilian poets like Tennyson have been accused of being war-mongers, by depicting war attractively in the glory of drum and colours. If Weston McDaniel’s attitude is pacifistic, it is because he has fought in the two World Wars, and cherishes no illusions. The keynote of his poetry is that intolerance is responsible for war, and that such intolerance exists as much in peace time as in war time. He does not advocate a weak tolerance of wrong, or a helpless endurance of evil, but he desires to let in the light of the mind in the darker recesses of the human heart. In a series of vignettes entitled Breakfast in the hills, he depicts the black passions of the white man. Brute Samson, ‘judge, jury, hangman all in one’ is a symbol of that intolerance which wooden hearted men inflict upon the orphans of justice. Every society has its skeleton in the closet, and instead of merely finding fault with other types of society, it would do well to cleanse its own bosom. If we can import into our daily lives a portion of that idealism with which we are very generous in things that do not concern us, life would be much better for all of us. The black and lawless passions may sometimes take a seductive aspect, leading the unwary youth into webs of intrigue, as he seeks love amid the flame-spent ashes, but whether it be false love or false hate the result is the same,
“Ignorance is the false clay of mind,
Dead root of thought,
Covered with slime of prejudice.
Ignorance makes the world turn back
Spinning futilely on axis of fate
Spinning orbits of decay.”
In a poem entitled Blunder of blunders he writes,
“Hate lies in the agony of mind,
Mind pierced by spurs of greed,
Torn by gaffs of fear,
Hate...startling as thunder,
Violent as storm.
Hate of the races,
Hate of the creeds,
Hate...the old blunder,
Blunder of blunders.
Stifling the heart.”
What is aesthetically ugly is intellectually false. What is false is like darkness. It is not a positive quantity. It is merely the absence of light. That is why the light is one, but the shadows are many.
While Weston McDanie1 does not mitigate the influence of the powers of darkness, he does not despair of life. He tells us that only wooden-hearted men stumble at the crossroads of decision. He bids us take life as a joyous adventure, with time spanning the flow of centuries, with bridges of joy, and tolls of grief. The poet’s outlook is incidentally a refutation of the point of view of T. S. Eliot who sees the world coming to an end with hollow men in the wasteland of life. He writes,
“We lie all night waiting for dawn,
We watch dawn
And the birds hurling to the winds
Breasts tinted with sun…
Surely the world ends not with a whimper,
But begins, begins..”
The poet’s outlook on life is ‘in tune with the Sun’, for it is part of the elemental wisdom of Nature. In the silent trickle of dawn, as well as in the rhythm of rain as it beats upon parched ground, he sees the assertion of the powers of peace descending from the heavens like a ray of joy from the stars. Mankind may be caught in the night of ages, and the spirit of darkness may lie heavy like a drugged goddess insensate to the crimson drama of life, but sleep conceals within it a dream, and a dream leaping forth like a rainbow coloured fish out of the dark waters of life, may be the symbol of hope. In the battle of life individual soldiers may draw black straws of fate, but the darker powers may themselves be present as veiled mourners in the drama of life. As long as life is like a child’s wisdom, pure as a white flower, there is always the possibility of redemption. What is wanted is an active faith which would boot back the hangman greed, and march onward. In the ascent of life, fear like loose sands peeling from rocks may impede progress, but the sage is he who climbs the hills of truth, even though it be with bleeding feet.
Mc. Daniel does not believe in a cloistered virtue, in a retreat from conflict. No soldier says Sauve qui puet. In a poem entitled Steadfastly to man, he says,
“Joy comes to the hermit,
Who in wrestling with self
Conquers image of fear that drove him to the hills,
Last ridge of the hills
To rot in loneliness.
Peace comes to the hermit
Who in shaking off rags of despair
Pins himself to love,
Welds himself steadfastly
The poet takes his stand with average humanity, but would fain be not only its soldier, but also its guide and counselor, and plead with society on behalf of the soldiers, the saplings of valour, who are the victims also of society’s short-sighted greed.
“People, oh people,
Why not seek tables of peace,
Councils of love.
Before the red rot of intolerance
Claims once more
The valiant sap of youth?”
As long as we cherish some private darkness, even repentance becomes impossible. The right way to look to the Sun is not to gaze upon the physical luminary which shines upon our planet, but to look to the Sun as the symbol of knowledge as it rises upon our intellectual horizon, to comprehend life by the law of love, and to make use of the material environment for the progress of the pilgrim soul.
It is only then that he who looks to the Sun becomes a Rocket of the Sun.
“Away from tongues steeped in fable,
Myths woven on looms of terror,
Away from spears of malice,
Black lances of revenge
Hurled to the heart.
Come out of darkness,
Out of the dungeons of shame,
Come out rejoicing,
Come out now,
As rockets of the Sun!”
We have great pleasure in welcoming this new fire-binger to our common quest, the Promethean conquest of life.
The Father of Political Agitation in Travancore: G. Parameswaran Pillai: A Brief Life-sketch, by ‘Keraliyan’. (Radh-Ind Publications, Trivandrum. 1948. 65 Pages. With a Portrait. Price Re. 1.)
This is a simple, straightforward, and an all-too-short account of the career of G. Parameswaran Pillai, who pioneered a variety of activities in the eighties and nineties of the last century. G. P. made history while yet a student at Trivandrum College, for the Dewan could not tolerate his journalistic tirades and got him expelled. From Madras, during his twenties, he aroused, by a vigorous exercise of his vituperative acumen, the conscience of his countrymen. While twenty-six, he organised a remarkable whirlwind campaign in Travancore for the purification of the administration. At twenty-eight, he became the Editor of the Madras Standard and he converted it before long into a popular forum for the fearless ventilation of national grievances. He was a staunch Congressman, an ardent temperance worker, a prolific author, and a stentorian orator. Gandhiji in his Autobiography acknowledged the help he was able to get from G. P. during the South African Passive Resistance movement. In fact G. P. had specialized, more than all else, in this subject, and the stirring speeches against racial discrimination he made before the Congress at Poona, Madras, and Calcutta sound quite modern today, in spite of Agreements, Pacts, Resolutions, and Sanctions! In 1897, G. P.’s famous book, Representative Indians, was published by Routledge & Sons and it won for him instant recognition as a writer and interpreter. A defamation suit filed against the Madras Standard by Sir V. Bhashyam Iyengar ended G.P.’s connection with the paper. Undaunted, he said, “I mean to live all this down; I shall yet conquer.” He went to England and joined the Inns of Court. During the three years of his stay, G. P. placed his incisive pen and persuasive tongue at the service of Dadabhai Naoroji and Romesh Chunder Dutt the British Indian Congress and the London Indian Society for advocating the cause of India. Gandhiji wrote to him from Durban in 1901 to promote a deputation to the British Government on the South African Indian issue. G.P. returned to India in 1902 and bean legal practice at Trivandrum, with the prospect of long years of public service ahead of him, but death snatched him away from the scene of his tireless labour at the early age of thirty-nine. Surely, a meteoric career of storm and stress! We feel that G.P. deserves a more voluminous biography from the pen of ‘Keraliyan’. We suggest that he may take up the task and give us more of G. P.’s correspondence with the stalwart patriots of his age, for that will make the book even more authentic and attractive.
Edgeways and The Saint: Poems and A Farce, by Harindranath Chattopadhyaya (Nalanda Publications, Bombay. Pp. 54. Price, Re. 1-8.)
The farce is about an opium eater-cum-murderer who while asleep on the roadside is discussed by a crowd of ignorant admirers and critics (including two men, each called Seventh Man!), as saint, sinner, miracle-worker, and moron, until a police constable luckily arrests him and leads him off. The theme is rather trite and the execution of the play leaves much to be desired. Of the twenty poems Contained in this book, some are, we regret to note, heavy with complex artificiality, as:
O wonderful wide being interims
Of dreamless vasts which burgeon and endure
Star-fired and nude
With exquisite creation-haunted solitude;
while others are frankly commonplace:
All is a terrible miraculous tension
Continued beyond human calculation.
A sudden Einstein with his fourth dimension
Dethrones a Newton with his gravitation.
Harindranath, however, has the genuine poetic gift in him. He says: “I do not write only because I can, I write because I must.” Hence, there are brilliant gems, too, in the collection, like:
Yon moon is but a bayonet wound
Plunged sheer into God’s azure throat.
It is a bleeding ugly blot.
I hope it will not rise again.
Kanasina Mane: By V. M. Inamdar. (‘Usha Sahitya Male’, Mysore. Pp. 242. Rs. 3.)
This novel may well be called a study in Platonic love. What equality of the sexes really implies and what society, and especially the Hindu society, has to offer to a woman whose married life is devoid of that mutual understanding and love which alone transforms the formality of marriage into the union of souls, are the questions that Sri Inamdar raises and presents in an artistic way here. As Sri A. N. Murthy Rao points out in his lucid and interesting Foreword, the novelist is not bound to answer the questions he raises; it is enough if he states them clearly and artistically and Sri Inamdar has certainly done so. Reminiscent of Galsworthy’s great novel. ‘The Man of Property’ in the emphasis it lays on the possessive instinct deep-rooted in man, as well as in some of the situations depicted, the novel is both interesting and thought provoking. The characters are generally well-sketched and the heroine, Mohini, stands out as the most pathetic and graceful of all. Only the character of Vasanth seems to be slightly sketched and lacking in energy. Some parts of the novel are truly lyrical, and the work is a good example of realism blended with imagination. Sri Inamdar has shown sound aesthetic sense and artistic restraint in handling the theme of love, especially of what narrow-minded society brands as ‘illicit’ love. He pleads for purer mind and greater vision, also offering to the reader an interesting story and a gallery of complex yet essentially human characters.
Sahasa: By B. Bhujanga Rao. (The Hindi Kitabs Ltd., Bombay Pp. 150. Rs. 2.)
The theme of this historical play is the ‘Bloodless Revolution’ which brought about the overthrow of the usurper Nagavarma by his nephew and rightful heir to the throne of Karnataka, Mayuravarma. A play of this kind demands a skilful interweaving of petty historical details into the texture of the play without eclipsing the human interest. While tribute must be paid to the author’s careful study of this historical episode to which the wealth of detail bears evidence, it must be observed that the human interest is not always well sustained. The speeches are too literary in style and the characters are lacking in depth and complexity. A more pathetic effect could easily have been secured by portraying at greater length the mental conflict of the Lady Macbeth-like character, Charudevi. The play, however, renders valuable service in acquainting the people of Karnataka with at least one period of their glorious history, at a time when a knowledge of our country’s history is needed by all who aim at developing political freedom into mental and cultural freedom.
It is strange that the Introduction, giving a brief account of the historical events which form the theme of the play, does not so much as mention the dates of these events.