Vikram Seth, a man of many words and deep sensitivity has captured my imagination like no other author has. One reason for this is his lyrical sensitivity and a sense of balance, in his poetic prose and  and deep prosaic poetry! His genres traverse different universe and follow their algorithm to the T.  From memoirs( Two Lives) to travelogues (From Heaven Lake); stand alone collection of poetry (All YouWho Sleep Tonight);  books of poetry that include translations, an opera libretti (Rivered Earth) and of course the fictionalised longest read: A Suitable Boy, the sequel to which makes me look forward to 2017!

In his latest stand alone book of poems, 25 years after the first one- All Who You Sleep Tonight, the polymath is out with his latest- Summer Requiem (Aleph Book Company). Shifting seasons, dying day and hope; the infidelity of life and vigour which seem to age with ageing; and die before dying, is a recurrent theme of the book. The hour of rust, when memory seems to be haunted by loss and decay and waking hours with soul-obliterating lethargy- forms the part of the artist’s rumination in this sixty odd pages of this pocket friendly and fitting text!

A few of my favourite things!
So if ‘Memory is a poison’ that has ‘sickened’ the poet’s soul, the ‘day sees’ him ‘dreaming of  sensitive hands and the dance of warmth’! This pendulous poetic schizophrenia makes the poet moving from agonising despair to euphoric peaks, only to plunge ultimately, in ‘a scrapyard claw’ where the ‘opened rose closes and welcomes night’!  
The reader walks, treads and runs the ecstatic past, before she enjoys the dead stagnation of ochre turning into rust- the lyrical quality of Seth’s verses… never lost, blank verse or otherwise. He does give in to his obsession with rhyming couplets but proves yet again his success with the villanelle. Seth’s triumph in Summer Requiem lies in his poetic keen eye, and his sensibility of a heart that thinks and a mind that feels! ‘I never look for things to say. They find me and they crush my jaw’ leads the poet to ‘pack his wordlessness in grief.’
 ‘Day and Night, ‘Yellow Leaves’, Evening Scene from my Table’ and more such gems from the book, highlight the theme of darkness covering the hope of day and colours of the dark overshadowing, those of light. The amber sky calls for dusk and this time of day captures the imagination of the poet. He unravels the darkest fears deep in his psyche that of a lone man fending for himself whilst fighting with his mid-to-late-life crisis.

His dexterousness as a poet is seen in Haiku, not one, but all of 14, huddled in a layered deliciousness of moving from the mundane to the serious! Take a look:
‘A mosquito’s here-
out of season, out of tune,
homing in on blood’ 


‘just one room is left.
What may I put in it now
That there’s not much time?’

 Seth‘ians like me are familiar with his recurrent theme of nature, life, longing and unrequited love along with an affirmative acceptance of life’s trials and mundane existence at times! The birds , bees and trees, exist and swing with the poet’s mood  and sway with the brush of his pen. The mulberry tree, the Suzhou Canal, to the ‘fluttering doves’ all form a part of this poet’s canvas- painting pictures of happy-sad beginnings, middle and end!

For those wanting to read Vikram Seth – begin from the beginning- Heaven Lake and for those re-reading and then reading some more of Seth, Summer Requiem is a collector’s choice- one in which Seth inadvertently describes his prowess- that of dreaming the undreamt and imagining those not living- as he enunciates a prayer for his unwritten novel:

‘Whatever force outside me moves my hand
And gives me strength to dream and understand,
let me, by grace enlivened and by skill,
Enliven those who lived, and those who will’

– to which I say Amen!
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47 thoughts on “Summer Requiem- Of Music in Verse”

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