I still remember the time when I read this poem called “The Queen’s Rival” in school. I don’t remember a lot of other poems as starkly as I remember this. It is probably this poem, this strange poem by Sarojini Naidu that had me tumbling into this beautiful genre.
“QUEEN GULNAAR sat on her ivory bed,
Around her countless treasures were spread;
Her chamber walls were richly inlaid
With agate, porphory, onyx and jade;
The tissues that veiled her delicate breast,
Glowed with the hues of a lapwing’s crest;
But still she gazed in her mirror and sighed
“O King, my heart is unsatisfied.”
King Feroz bent from his ebony seat:
“Is thy least desire unfulfilled, O Sweet?
“Let thy mouth speak and my life be spent
To clear the sky of thy discontent.”
“I tire of my beauty, I tire of this
Empty splendour and shadowless bliss;
“With none to envy and none gainsay,
No savour or salt hath my dream or day.”
Queen Gulnaar sighed like a murmuring rose:
“Give me a rival, O King Feroz.”
— The Queen’s rival, Sarojini Naidu
Every time I think of this genre, or talk about it with a fellow bibliophile, I am transported to the classroom echoing with the teacher’s animated voice. She recited it with so much passion, with so much heart—the class was quiet and mesmerised, partly by the words, partly by the performance.
This has been the definition of poetry for me for as far as I remember. Cut to now, probably to maybe a year back when I discovered “poets” on social media. More precisely, it was then that I discovered a whole world of “pop poetry” on Instagram. Posting four line thoughts, to phrases that really touch your heart—these people called themselves poets. I am not here to degrade anyone—because I loved these, if not as much as traditional poetry.
What really had me thinking was, what qualifies as poetry, and what, just mere phrases of heartfelt emotions? While the debate on this is on an all time high, I can’t help but ponder on the way poetry is changing with changing times. Are we reaching greater heights, or are we going back in terms of what we are accepting as “good writing”.
I thought it probably was just my misinterpretation, so instead of basing my opinion on what I saw on social media, I thought I must read the books. Read I did, and I did enjoy them. The writing is easy to understand, simple to latch on to, and more often than not, it talks about emotions with great precision. I enjoyed them as phrases, as thoughts put together to empathise with the reader. But what these books lacked is the complex intensity, the deep passion, and beautiful rhythm that makes poems poetic…
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance….”
— “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth
I do not consider myself to be a critic of any repute to really elaborate on what’s right or not. It just irks me that something that was beautifully written with much passion and grace in earlier times is now preceded by mere phrases, roughly woven together disguising itself as poetry.
We believe that we are evolving, freeing ourselves of unrealistic standards that shackled us. But are we truly evolving towards better writing, or did that raised standards set a benchmark for quality work much against the mediocrity that we are now ingesting in the free of freedom from predetermined standards?
It is a part of the human experience to feel pain
Do not be afraid, open yourself to it…
— Rupi Kaur
How much love can a person be capable of giving?
I thought I knew the answer until I met you.
— Lang Leav
I lost my mind,
Waiting on you to make up yours