Saturday, January 22, 2011

The long shadow of the Iliad and will Venus and Mars ever align in the Age of Aquarius.

Recently had an interesting fb discussion on the role of the poets and poetry in war.

I'd originally thought that all involved in the discussion were women. You see all participants, except me, hailed from the east, Bengladesh to be precise. Not having enough knowledge or experience in Bengali, I assumed that the names and the profile pics in the thread- which were not conclusive as to sex- were all women. Well, says alot for premature assumptions as all in the discussion were indeed men and only one women. So egg and my shirt goes well together. It was through this misinformed frisson of the man/ woman dynamic, however, that I drew some of my most inspired arguments, at least I thought so. The discussion got off to a poignant and sad start by noting the flag draped coffin of yet another soldier arriving home who died on foreign soil.

As follows starting the thread:

Bakhtiar Shahjahan Hafeez

Why do innocent lives have to be extinguished on a politicians whim? Such loss.

•Charmane Rashid Ahmed

• It goes back to the myths of male strength that must be tried and tested. The epic poets are partially to blame, Illiad, Mahabharata, etc. and partially it is because human beings have egos.

•Venkat Patla

•Some things never change. Why is it that the lives of so many are in the hands of so few? Don't blame the poets though. They merely mirror the state of the society. If not, all we'll need to fix the world would be a few good women poets!!!

•Charmane Rashid Ahmed

Ram, while I agree in part, I also do feel that poets romanticize war as honorable and glorious and the Victor gets the spoils, etc. There's Alexander 'the Great'--why great? Conquering countries that were doing fine on their own before the... Greeks came along shouldn't make him a great conqueror or strategist just because he won over weaker rulers. Of course, history might have been written very differently if invaders didn't exist, but as they say, history repeats itself and, unfortunately, it is oft repeated by the spilling of innocent blood....

•Venkat Patla

• Agree with all you say. Except the part about the poets. The prevailing mood in the society is what they reflect. If a bunch of people show up ranting with pitchforks, the poets join in. As along as there is life on earth there will be wars. Too morbid for a Friday! Lighten me up! I love seeing all those old pictures of your family. Very nostalgic.

•Bakhtiar Shahjahan Hafeez

• I've always maintained that religion, politics & governance should be headed by the fairer sex. Not because I'm surrounded by them at home. Goes directly to the ego/testosterone issue.

•Charmane Rashid Ahmed

• Ha! Ha! Alright, enough said. God bless the poets..

•Charmane Rashid Ahmed

• Bakhtiar, you're going from one extreme to the other. We need a balanced approach here. Go read some poetry. :-)

•Venkat Patla Mr. Bakhtiar,

• I wouldn't go that far. Left to the "fairer" sex, we'll go the praying mantis route!

■And now the long wind starting with the penchant for female praying mantids to devour their male consorts...

"Don't wanna get caught between the flaying mandibles of fairer sex mantids here, but I see both sides of the discussion between C A and V P (above) on the role of poets and poetry. Just so happens that poetry can cover the whole spectrum from the passive and reflective to the active sowing of seeds setting the grand stage for such virtues as honor and glory in battle. The Iliad, as CA notes above, surely does capture, for the first time in the Western literary tradition, the virtues of war’s honor and glory for all succeeding generations to come - not in preserving and protecting human life, but in destroying it.

It is the romance that is attached to war, seems to me, that is the most telling flaw some of the poets have helped to perpetuate in seductive, stirring hexameters and rhyme. Kipling comes to mind, but there are so many others in this tradition.

It is a sad testament really that the very first "story" in all of the western literary tradition is the story of a war written by a poet. Not a story about how we learned to grow crops, develop cooperative systems of commerce and government, establish laws, or utilize developing technologies--essentially, how we built sustainable societies--but of how we killed each other long ago on the Trojan Plain.

The very first story-teller (Homer), the very first poet that we become aware of- in western tradition anyway- is Homer; Homer who chronicles a “history” (perhaps myth) about the gratuitous ways that men killed men, thus earning their just rewards with the supposed glory, honor, and sacrifice conferred upon them by the “Gods” and by their fellow men.

I go along w/ what BS says about the fairer sex: Just imagine, cannibalizing mantids aside, and on a utopic tangent, if the very first epic poem, for example, had been written by the great woman poet, Sappho, who might have made grand in sublime hexameter the glory and honor and goodness there was in learning how to cure sickness, grow crops, read the stars, enrich language, raise children--essentially how to sustain life, not destroy it… one might hope that one day, long after these "ancient times," in which we still live as far as I'm concerned, that wars will be no more and the stirring romantic ethos of some of the poets will be seen only as social artifacts along the road of human becoming..

...some light reading for a Friday afternoon, eh?



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