GIFTS From A Teacher: 2018

Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. His sixth volume of poems, Gandhianjali, will  be published on 15 May, 2018. His two books, Across the Seven Seas and Dispatches From Distant
31 Dec 2017 14:17
GIFTS From A Teacher: 2018

Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. His sixth volume of poems, Gandhianjali, will  be published on 15 May, 2018. His two books, Across the Seven Seas and Dispatches From Distant Shores, were published in May 2017.

On Christmas Eve I wrote a piece ‘Season’s Greetings: How Green Is My Village’.

It evoked responses from far and near–students write to their teachers as I’d remembered two poems taught to me in my last year at a secondary school in Fiji.

That year was crucial for me for I’d met a teacher , a stranger from another land, in fact New Zealand,who taught me poetry and made a critical difference to my life.

The poems he taught me were by William Wordsworth.

The poem that affected me most deeply was one with a long title: ‘Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye, during a tour. July 13, 1798.’

Until I went to Natabua school hostel, I’d lived in two villages.

In between was the Nadi river often in full flood as we saw it from our corrugated tin house atop a hillock–safe enough from the flooded river that flowed in its muddy spate with an abundance of fruits and vegetables towards an insatiable ocean.

I had no idea of the origin of the river or the vast ocean it rushed to meet like a lover hurrying to her clandestine assignation.

Nothing aroused my curiosity in the landscape which gave us food and nourishment ; on its banks we played soccer; and swam in the river till dawn to dusk as our cows, bullocks, horses and goats grazed on its richly laden riparian banks.

On one side were the sugarcane fields green in their splendor, rippling  as the wind  rustled through the sharp cane- leaves.

On the other side were the teiteis planted by our native neighbours integral to the  alluvial  soil .

Above us grew the shady rain-trees with spreading branches that bent towards the river’s embracing, swirling  waters.

When the day was clear we could see the silver fishes under the river’s surface.

Matalita was often seen fishing near the teitei .

And Nini, the village bully, on the other side with a fishing line thrown into  Kalpu’s kund–he wouldn’t let anyone swim or fish on that bend in the river.

He claimed its sole ownership.

On my recent trip to Nadi, I visited the place.

The river is no longer the river I’d known in my childhood and youth.

That world has almost vanished; no children rush to the river to swim or wash themselves in its clean, cool waters.

The river looked sludgy and aged. Long ago I’d written a  poem ‘Voices in the River’.

It’s a  remembrance of my days by the Nandi.

So this visit was quite a bit about remembrances of things past: Not so much  mine but a poem I’d read more than half a century ago.

It takes a long time to discover the depth and beauty of a great piece of writing.

How sometimes your life and  lines of a poem reverberate in harmony with the music of humanity and the passing of life into the well of oblivion.

But a  poem, like a landscape reads you : it demands all the resources of your experience, knowledge, readings and reflections of  a life-time to understand it. If you ever do.

Christmas is a good time to re-read what you might have loved with such tender love.

So I began re-reading Wordsworth’s masterpiece.

Re-visiting the river, the poet begins with  stark simplicity:

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of  five long winters!…

The poet has returned with a sense of deep seclusion, chastened by personal  acceptance of the turmoil of his early, romantic life.

From under a tree he sees  the pastoral farms where wreaths of smoke rise from fires lit by vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods where the hermit, he imagines, sits alone, meditating.

There’s in Wordsworth a deepening sense of loneliness.

The human world has darkened his vision considerably.

He begins to commune with Nature and recalls

But oft, in lonely rooms, and amid the din

Of  towns and cities…

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart…

Slowly his faith is restored and he remembers the little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love that make a good life.

Nature gave him that blessed mood in which the burden of the mystery of Life is revealed; the heavy and weary weight of this unintelligible world is lightened:

That serene and blessed mood where the motion of our blood is suspended in body and we become a living soul:We behold an invisible harmony and joy and begin to see into the life of things .

Seeing into the life of things is not easy.

You’ve to be aware of the tears of absence of things; you’ve to know the holiness of his heart’s affections.

And its afflictions.

How often in darkness and amid the many shapes of joyless daylight when the fever of the world have hung upon the beatings of his restless heart, the poet found solace in his memories of nature, although its aching joys and dizzy raptures are no more.

Now he feels the presence of a living spirit that rolls through all things.

This awareness of the continuity and connectivity of all creation is what makes the poem sublime.

Nature becomes the nurse, the guide and  the guardian of his heart, and soul and all his moral being.

He turns to his companion, his sister.

She’s the Other who gives his life a new meaning.

He tells her  that nature so informs and forms our life that neither evil tongues, rash judgements, nor the sneers of selfish  men, nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all the dreary intercourse of daily life, can make him lose faith in the life around him.

His exhortations to her are that in her loneliness and pain, she’ll remember these moments when they were together on the banks of River Wye, when he felt, with her,

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwellings is the light of 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.

I wrote this as I saw my 3-year-old grandson , Jesse Arman, collecting tiny stones in a little garden where ants were crawling frenetically like cars on a busy city street.

If he can sense the connection between stones, ants and his life, there’s yet hope for our one and only planet.

The young can save the planet–from  drowning islands to the  disintegrating icebergs.

Creating this awareness beyond the classrooms could be every teacher’s gift to his or her students, learning to read and write, beginning to think for themselves.


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