Opinion: Climate Consciousness Through Poetry

Satendra Nandan’s fourth book of essays, Dispatches From Distant Shores, and sixth volume of poems ,Across the Seven Seas, were launched in Fiji in March this year. When I was
21 Aug 2017 17:00
Opinion: Climate Consciousness Through Poetry
Pollution and it’s results
  • Satendra Nandan’s fourth book of essays, Dispatches From Distant Shores, and sixth volume of poems ,Across the Seven Seas, were launched in Fiji in March this year.

When I was in my teens, a teacher gave me a poem to read.

The title was ‘LINES: Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour: July 13, 1798’.

It was by William Wordsworth.

The teacher’s name was FE Joyce. He was from Dunedin, New Zealand and he became the principal of Natabua High school then situated in Natabua hills with a thatched avenue of rain-trees leading to it from Queen’s Road, not far from Lautoka Harbour and city.

Every morning I used to walk that dusty road to the school after arriving in  Mr Taki Khan’s bus from near Nadi Airport.

One day Mr Joyce looked at my disheveled hair and dusty countenance and decided that I should stay in the hostel.

He invited me to the hostel and gave me a room among senior students who were studying for the Senior Cambridge examination, that ubiquitous  test that opened so many doors to so many students from the colonies as big as India and as small as Fiji. I was enrolled for  another examination.

I’d joined Natabua after passing my Senior Cambridge from Shri Vivekananda High School  (SVHS) near Nadi bridge at the end or beginning of the town – depending from which direction you entered the one-street town.

If SVHS changed the direction of my little life, my destiny was shaped by Mr Joyce’s teaching of English to me.

I’ve written about my teacher, Mr Joyce, in my short story, ‘A Teacher’s Story’ published in my collection of short stories, Seashells on the Seashore.

One morning after the assembly Mr Joyce gave me ‘Tintern Abbey’ to read. I read and re-read the poem in blank verse. He taught it in the class and then asked us to write a critical appreciation of the poem.

I do not remember what I wrote but I learned it by rote; and he liked my rustic response and encouraged me to read more poetry.

I’ve since read almost the complete works of Wordsworth.

Worshipper of nature

Only the other day, I was having coffee with an English Professor, he asked me who was my favourite poet?

I said William Wordsworth. He said he, too, liked him deeply. And we became friends. Now we meet every Tuesday and talk about  a poet who was born in  1770, died in 1850.

Mr Wordsworth has been called a poet of nature; indeed a worshipper of nature. He became an orphan at the age of 13 and had plenty of time to be alone loitering near the Lake District. He attended Cambridge but his record is undistinguished as a scholar.

He went through a personal crisis during the aftermath of the French Revolution. His initial enthusiasm for it led to despair and disillusionment: ‘Bliss was in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very heaven’, he’d written in a sonnet.

Luckily his friendship with Coleridge and his devoted sister Dorothy saved him from total derangement and in 1798, they published a book of poems, Lyrical Ballads – possibly the most exciting and ground-breaking volume of poetry in the English language where the inner landscape of the poet  melds with the  outer  and finds the deepest expression in ordinary words.

Poetry and landscape became entwined and Mr Wordsworth saw how vital was nature to human healing and survival.

So I read ‘Tintern Abbey’ without much understanding. And have been reading it ever since, as if it’s part of my memory too.

Returning to his remembered place, the poet writes:

These beauteous forms have not been to the poet as is landscape to a blind man’s eye.

But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘amid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;’

On that best portion of a good man’s life,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened… His little , nameless, unremembered acts

Of kindness and of love.

Nor less, I trust,

To them I may have owed another gift

Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood In which the burthen of the mystery,

We see into the life of things.

He hears in Nature the still, sad music of humanity and feels the sublimity of harmony between man and nature:

And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.

Not even William Shakespeare had expressed the natural connection between man and nature with such haunting passion and intimacy.

Our environment, our nature today

Today as we see our world destroyed by toxicity of many kinds, mostly man-made, one realizes how vital it is to preserve this sacred relationship with nature and all living things.

Albert Einstein had written that if bees are exterminated from our planet, man will not survive for more than three years after that catastrophe.

That is what for decades philosophers and scientists and poets have been telling us from the  sages of Upanishads to Al Gore: the fluttering of a butterfly in Beijing can cause a tidal wave  in Brazil, even Fiji.

For us in the South Pacific, the survival of the many islands, with their unique cultures and life, depends on how we teach our children to love the land, the sea, the rivers and hills,  the sky and the stars under which they and their ancestors have lived for generations.

And this awareness comes not only through scientific data but through poetry and mantras and the sacred recognition of the most sacred object we have: our life on this earth.

If a teacher can teach that to his or her students, the future is safe. If not, then all our plans and our lives are in peril for we’ve no Planet B.

This is it.

Religions often tell us that there’s a paradise somewhere else. Perhaps there is but it is in this world. In the infinity of the distance of light from your eyes to the stars, one sees that reality.

Only recently the rock carvings in the Aboriginal caves have been discovered–they are at least 80,000 years old. That makes the Aboriginal culture the longest continuous civilisation in the world.

There’s a lesson somewhere there for all of us. Keep Dreaming and connecting the song-lines of all lives.

And if we can make our children love the little gardens in their schools, trees on their streets, streams, lagoons , rivers, to take care of, we may yet save our planet. And its pulsating membrane from asphyxiating plastics.

That is where it begins: with ourselves.

Little had I realised ,almost sixty years ago, that Mr Joyce, my exceptional teacher, a stranger amidst us, was giving me the deepest and wisest lesson of my life through the words of William Wordsworth.

That, of course, is the great gift of teaching – and learning.

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj

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