Of A Questionable Conviction
by Jayanta Mohapatra
Stanza by stanza explanation, Analysis with Questions and Answers for the poem included in the CHSE +2 Alternative English book ‘Approaches to English – II’.
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Stanza by Stanza Explanation:
This is a man who talks of pain
as though it belonged to him alone
Maybe he has invented it himself
and made a virtue of it.
May be he is a poet.
Poets and writers almost universally lead a life riddled with hardship. The initial years prove to be quite testing time for them as the reading public and the publishers take a long time to spend money for their otherwise highly creative works. Poets suffer humiliating rejection by the commercial, and materialistic world, and their lives become tales of deprivation and poverty. Only a minuscule number of budding poets strike it rich in the first phase of their careers.
Poets and writers suffer another type of pain – the turmoil of the heart. Generally, poets and writers find themselves at odds with the trends in the society, and want to raise a flag of revolt. At times, broken personal lives haunt them. Thus, their minds are gripped by ceaseless pain.
Here, the hapless poet talks about his ‘pain’ as if he is its sole victim. He talks about his missteps that has landed him in this state of distress. At the end, he tries to feel good about the way he has sacrificed his life for a noble cause.
All the above characteristics are the hallmarks of a poet.
For hours he waits, in the night,
Toward another night he waits,
for that is his excuse to live.
The empty window in his lonely wall
belongs to him.
For months together
the window has been deceiving him.
Light comes in, then goes away on its own.
He has been trying
to polish the light on his heart.
Nights are quiet periods of a day. For contemplation and conjuring, nights are the best times. So, the poet sits beside the single curtain-less window of his room looking outside. He waits for the spark of an idea to base his poem on, but the spark eludes him for nights at a stretch. Light mening a gush of ideas come in, but melts away soon after. The poet vainly tries to ‘polish’ the light in his heart.
They all say he was a poet.
His eyes saw the pain in the mirror
that occupied him.
They didn’t grudge him that :
such a harmless pastime never ruined anybody’s sleep
The commercially futile journey of life ends. The poet dies. People come to see his last journey. They praise him perfunctorily. The relentless pain he endured all his life are etched in his eyes. The visitors talk highly about his poetic pursuits, but remain oblivious of the grinding poverty he suffered. The poet has departed quietly bring the curtain down on a saga of sacrifice and struggle. Although he suffered so much, he never disturbed any one.
Why are poets so mysterious? Is that a set-up? Do they pretend to be elusive to derive sympathy and admiration from their readers and well-wishers. Or are they the real sufferers-whose pain is often misconstrued as a means to manipulate people’s emotions owing to the fact that poetry with a tragic backdrop is one subject for which they receive good attention and money? Do poets not create pain in their lives, especially psychologically, and claim to suffer pangs of pain and unbearable depression as though the world was nearing its end? So why did Poet Jayanta Mahapatra come up with this poem that justifies the actual pain of poets mostly misunderstood by the materialistic world? It’s because as a poet he himself has written profoundly emotional poems demanding a greater philosophical depth from its readers. Unfortunately, a considerable section of the mortals is letting his poetic spirit down, and calling every poet sentimental and fake.
In the poem, Jayanta Mahapatra writes that the poet takes much pain in dedicating his life for an inmortal creation, poetry. He willingly accepts the strenuous job even though writing poetry as a profession yields no output. It is a pain he has been embracing for a long time, because producing poetry is the only activity that brings happiness to him. For the poet, creativity is something he thrives on, without it he is a nonentity, so although thinking and coming up with ideas for a poem is a punishing process that leaves him lonely and unwanted as people find him unreasonable and weird, he writes poetry and falls in love with it. Throughout his hardship, the poet waits for any inspiration for a new poem. But there is not a single satisfactory idea and it leads him to wait for days together for just a good subject to write on.
The poet has a miserable living. He is most likely poor and uncared for as the brutally materialistic world is not interested in investing their time and money in reading his poems. But poetry is the poet’s only excuse to live. His life is never better than when he writes poems. So he waits for inspiration for his upcoming poem even longer, like several months.
The poet is lonely and sad, in the poem, the lonely wall and the empty window all signify the his sadness. It is true that a poet’s inspiration is his only companion. However in the poem, this only companion of the poet is absent. Although he yearns for inspiration and looks through the door for it to show its light, it seems it has been deceiving him time and again. But, when finally his companion (his inspiration) shows its light (the magic of creativity), the poet feels enlightened and tries to polish the rough idea of the subject he is about to write.
In the last stanza, Jayanta Mohapatra sheds light on the ignorant and callous reaction of common people, when they hear of the poet’s death. Let us be clear that the line ‘They all say he was a poet’ is quite evident of the fact that the poet the we were initially talking about has now( in the last stanza) passed. He has lived a painful, wretched life leading to his death and also looked in the mirror to find that poverty enveloped him and his body also made for a miserable sight. But after his death, all that ‘they’ say is ‘he was a poet’. It is apparently a careless remark passed by the unappreciative and materialistic people.
For the people, the literary inclination of the poet just made no difference to them. They didn’t complain about his poems because those were not thrusted on them by the poet. Those poems and the poet could just be conveniently ignored.
Questions for discussion
1. Why does the poet think that the man who talks of pain invented it himself?
Answer – The man who bemoans the pain he has to endure while chasing his literary dream is possibly unaware of the fact that success in poetry writing is an unpaved path riddled with uncertainties. So, when he encounters pain, he assumes he invented it on his own.
2. What is the main idea in stanza 1?
Answer – The stanza is devoted to apprise the readers about the sad plight of most poets who face financial and professional failures all the time.
3. What according to poet his ‘excuse to live’?
Answer – Most poets struggle for ideas to write on. They wait patiently night after night hoping to stumble upon an idea, but their wait turns out to be futile. Still, they don’t give up, and wait for one more night to come and pass. Such optimism prods them to carry on, and becomes their reason to live.
4. Can the wall be lonely? Why does the poet use the expression?
Answer – Apparently, due to financial hardship, the author lives in a spartan house whose walls are devoid of decorations. The wall is plain and simple.
5. ‘For months together, the window has been deceiving him’. What could the poet mean by it?
Answer – The poet has been patiently looking through the window to get some spark of ideas to write about, but his wait has been futile. This is the poet’s lament.
6. The poet described in the poem has been trying to polish the light on his heart.” How?
Answer – The poet has tried to ponder, analyze the many cues from the light he saw at night, but found nothing worthwhile in it.
7. You can easily see that in the first three stanzas only the present tense forms are used. In the final stanza, however, past tense has been used. Why is the shift in the concluding stanza?
Answer – The shift happened because the poet has departed from this world.
8. Would you consider the ending of the poem satisfactory? Explain your point of view.
Answer – The ending has been very apt. It captures the spirit of the poem, and adequately reflects the general air of pessimism the poet wants to portray.
9. What can you say about the tone of the poem?
Answer – The tone is pessimistic and defeatist.
[Composition to be posted on request with word count]
Do you feel the same way as Jayanta Mohapatra about poets, or do you feel writers, and poets are overrated and their so-called sacrifice glorified? Let me know in the comments!
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