Creation and Criticism
a literary e-journal
Creation and Criticism
(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
A Study in Imagery of Swami Vivekananda’s Poetry
Vishesh Kumar Pandey
Swami Vivekananda is the signature of the spiritual culmination on the cheeks of the materialistic world. His splendid endeavour to unfurl the flag of India was hailed all over the world from the dais of Chicago and he became marvelously immortal voice of the Vedanta after Adi Shankaracharya. His profound knowledge of Indian philosophy and its application to the practical schools of life i.e. education, society and morality have been a continuous source of study and research for the genii; the least considered aspect of his personality is the poet in him. Like his prose and preaching, his poetry is also abundant of marvelous thoughts and techniques. Mostly the thematic aspects of his poetry have been dealt but not so profoundly while the artistic aspects of his poetry are almost untouched. His language, rhyme, rhythm, versification, symbol and imagery are superb. His imagery is not the imagery of any sensual poet but contains the depth of heart and the height of mind.
Key words: Imagery, perceptual, emotional, romantic, traditional, compound.
Swami Vivekananda is the poet of spirituality, present in each aspect of the cosmos. His poetry is not the mere presentation of dry philosophical aspect; it is garbed in the ornaments of imagery and rhetoric. In the selection of the themes, he is a classic but his treatment to the subject leads him to the romanticism. Arabati Pradeep Kumar aptly comments, “The poems of Vivekananda are rich in lyrical quality as the ancient epics of the Hinduism were perfect in the subtleties of style and diction and carry out the qualities of spontaneity, lucidity, symbols, images, metaphors and similes which enhance the poetic beauty of his poems.”(101)
The purpose of the present paper is to clarify the imagery, present in the poetry of Swami Vivekananda. Imagery is the effect on our senses after the real experience. Indeed an attempt of any particular definition of imagery is to fill ocean in the palm. Language is the medium of expression through words and statements; it presents images which create perceptions as if they are a part of our actual experience. The reader percepts everything through the sensibility of the poet and thus comes out the poet’s images or imagery. Imagery is used to decipher the vivid and visual message of poet. The poet uses different artistic approaches to play hide seek with his emotions but an attentive reader gets a clue out of the poet’s perception and treatment of the subject and an interpretation comes out of the poet’s creation through image and imagery. Naresh Chandra tries to define it as-
………an image is a replica of any object or phenomena formed by reflection or by some other physical process. Thus a reflection in water or glass, or a mirage formed by refraction rarefied strata of air in the desert or the echo of a sound reflected from a rock or building is described as the image of the original object or phenomena. (111)
Some emotions and experiences may not to be a part of a reader but these become part of his perceptions through the poet. Our sensibility gets a broader sky to fly in the company of a poet. Throwing light on the importance of the value of images, Naresh Chandra comments-
The point is that an image is not merely a revival of our previous sense impressions or experiences. It may bring us an experience or an emotion of which we had no idea before. That is where the poetic value of the poetic image lies. (113)
M. H. Abrams and Geoffrey Galt Harpham elaborate it saying it one of the most common in criticism and variable in meaning and give it the credit to make ‘abstract’ poetry, ‘concrete’.
“Imagery’’ (that is, “images” taken collectively) is used to signify all the objects and qualities of sense perception, referred to in a poem or other work of literature, whether by literal description, by allusion or in the vehicles (the secondary references) of its similes and metaphors.(134)
In short, it can be said: “As a literary device, imagery consists of descriptive language that can function as a way for the reader to better imagine the world of the peace of literature and also add symbolism to the work. Imagery draws on the five senses, namely the details of taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. Imagery can also pertain the details about moment or a sense of body in motion (Kinetic Imagery) or the emotions or sensation of a person such as fear or angry (Organic imagery or subjective imagery).”
The imagery can be classified in the given sections on the base of their origins and conventionality-
Perceptual imagery proceeds from the perception of the poet and satisfies the perception of the reader. There are five sense organs which familiarize us to the external world; they are windows of experience and knowledge to us. These sense organs create seven types of imagery-
Visual- Presentation of something through sight,
Auditory- Presentation of something through ear,
Olfactory- Presentation of something through smell,
Gustatory- Presentation of something through taste,
Tactile- Presentation of something through touch,
Kinesthetic- Presentation of something through physical movement,
Organic- Presentation of something through internal (sensation like hunger, pain, thirst, regret etc.)
There are ample proofs of Perceptual imagery in Swami Vivekananda’s poems. He is a mystic poet and his poetry does not present the feelings and emotions as directly as an ordinary man’s ; these are the results of his feelings and perceptions with imagery of Nature and Indian myths. We see, feel, touch, smell and listen through him as if his is our sensibility and we are the direct receivers of his feelings. We listen with him the bursting music and blowing of the trumpets, the sound of the guns and cannons pierce our ears in ‘And Let Shyama Dance There’; we are flabbergasted at the sight of –“The beauteous earth, the glorious sun,/ The calm sweet morn, the spangled sky” (The Song of the Free, 25-26). His ‘On the Sea’s Bosom’ presents a beautiful imagery of nature when he was returning from the west through the Mediterrean Ocean. The imagery of the orange sun among the multi-coloured clouds in the blue sky directly descends to our perception of the sight. He makes us feel the divine touch of God in ‘friendship shakes’ and in “the nectar in mother’s kiss/ and the babies’ sweet ‘mama’ ” (In Search of God, 70-71).When he writes ‘To An Early Violet’, he teaches us in the character of Sister Christine, not to surrender to the dark clouds of calamities and keep on in the world where vices control virtues. The flower of love, duty and action may be crushed down in this atmosphere but we should not forget that in spite of being destroyed, these flowers of virtue never lost their smell and make us happy and satisfy in the depth of our hearts where no storm of wickedness may mar their beauty or dry them up. Mostly, his poetry is full of inspiration to reach to the limit of our capabilities because to know the base of limit is to go beyond of it. One of the most beautiful examples of the kinesthetic imagery is from ‘And Let Shyama Dance There’ where he describes the activities of the soldiers in the battle-field-
The earth trembles under the infernal dance,
A million heroes mounted on the steed,
Charge and capture the enemy’s ordnance,
Piercing through the smoke and shower of shells. (54-58)
The restlessness of a seeker of God is well exposed in ‘In Search of God’ where the seeker lays down “…..on Ganga’s shore/ Exposed to sun and rain/ With burning tears….”(13-15) and ‘wailed with water’s roar’ but his sufferings don’t prove wild goose chase and a divine voice realized His presence with him.
Emotional imagery is the outbursts of feelings and emotions. This imagery is not the part of the thoughts or sense organs but it is closely related to the heart of the poet. Poetry can’t be without emotion and as far as a mystic poet is concerned, he has a soft corner to all without a bit distinction between the poor and the rich, the sinner and the pious. The emotional aspect of the poet is well painted where he assumes the role of a child to search for God but finds himself all alone in this dark and wide world.
Like a child in the wildest forest lost,
I have cried and cried alone,
‘Where art thou gone, my God, my Love?’
The echo answered, ‘gone’. (In Search of God, 5-8)
Soon he comes to know that the subject of his search is with him always. The emotional aspect reaches to its climax when the child gets angry with his mother and wanders here and there for a long time; mother searches for him to and fro but finds him nowhere. At last, the mischievous child returns to her but in place of punishing him, she clings him to her breast, ‘with speechless mouth and tearful eyes’. The child falls at her feet and craves for pardon but knows that she will never be angry at him. In ‘My Play is Done’, the child has grown up and is fed up of ‘life’s currents’ ebb and flow’ where his existence is hollow; everything seems of him but nothing is of him including his body, name and birth. He pleas to his Divine Mother to take him out of the darkness of the world where he, ‘Tossed to and fro, from wave to wave in this seething surging sea, /Of passions strong and sorrows deep, grief is and joys to be. (21-22). He is tired of all this and so he requests Her to shower mercy on him, to scold him but not to be indignant to him and to take to him, “…..to those shores where strifes forever cease; /Beyond all sorrows, beyond tears, beyond e’en earthy bliss” (35-36). His emotional cry resembles the suffering of Shelley in ‘Ode to the West Wind’-“Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! /I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” (53-54).
The romantic imagery is called the personal imagery too. Though all the images are perceived through the poet, some images are too abstruse to be explained because of the observation and conception of only of the poet. Naresh Chandra observes it as-“The personal image becomes private when it is linked with our experience of the poet, not shared ordinarily by others. Something happened in his private life of which none else has any knowledge and he furnishes forth an image out of it.” (125)
After his return from America and Europe, he wrote Kali the Mother in 1898 during his visit to Kashmir in the Dal Lake near Kshir Bhawani temple. Kali is the incarnation of ‘Shakti’ for the destruction of the wickedness of the world. Swami ji has presented both the sides of motherhood; one common image of mother, distressed at the lost of the child is common among the poets of the world. His poems like “The Blessing”, “Who Knows How Mother Plays” and “My Play Is Done” too present the delicacy of mother. In ‘To the Awakened India’, he remembers, “Himalaya’s daughter, gentle, pure/ The mother that resides in all as power” (24-25) who is responsible for the generation and operation of the world with the power of love; She opens the gate of truth i.e. oneness in all. He also presents the terrific picture of mother. Zinia Mitra connects the imagery of Kali to the vision of Blake and says that his ‘apocalyptic vision is a fearful revelation’. Further she says:
Vivekananda invokes mother to come “scattering plagues and sorrows/ dancing mad with joy”. Here the image conjured is not that of the protective mother but associates death. In the next stanza the association is strengthened and it is made explicit that she is not merely individual death, but ‘Time, the All-destroyer’ whose very name is Terror and whose very breath is ‘Death’. (96)
How beautifully he says-
For Terror is Thy name
Death is in Thy breath,
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for ever.
Thou ‘Time’, the All-destroyer!
Come, o Mother, come! (19-24)
For Tagore, God is the greatest singer and as a singer he presents himself before Him; Swami Vivekananda images God as a poet and painter. He claims that God is the most ancient Great Poet whose poetry is the whole universe, written in perpetual bliss. Like the Divine Poet, the Divine Painter has painted the world with his ‘golden brush’ on the canvas of the earth with various colours ‘over the bosom of nature’. In ‘And Let Shyama Dance There’, he celebrates this Divine painting as:
The rising orb of day, the painter divine,
With his golden brush but lightly touches
The canvas earth and a wealth of colours
Floods at once over the bosom of nature,
-Truly a museum of lovely hues-
Waking up a whole sea of sentiments. (15-20)
An imagery that has been used since a long time and everyone is familiar with it, is conventional. The imagery of flower, journey, lost child, threshold and darkness are the treasure of the mystical poetry but Swami Vivekananda gives it a new tint. He has compared ‘the human body’ to ‘the cup’. For the Romantics like Shelley, this cup is filled with negativity, failure, disappointment and frustration by society and environment. Swami ji lays the responsibility of using the life like cup on its user; no social, environmental or physical is responsible for the sour or the sweet substance of the cup. God has made only the cup, not its substance. He again compares life to the road; the mundane journey of our friends or relatives may be a bed of roses while it may prove a bed of thorns to us. We are inspired to keep on marching without caring for other’s fortune and our misfortune as he doesn’t allow us to weep in the Shellyian tone for what we don’t have. The result of our ‘fault and passion’ should be accepted as His grant is destined to the individual one.
……………..It has no joy nor grace,
But it is not meant for any other hand,
And in My universe hath measured place,
Take it………… (10-13)
Further they who think the cup, full of joys, are embarked on the ship of pride and hollowness, thinking hapless creatures their slaves, are advised not to do so as nothing is permanent. Life is a circle and a bubble of water on the harsh ground of realities (a particular imagery of the Buddhism and the Jainism). ‘My Play is Done’ has the comparison of life to ‘the floating bubble’ and ‘old wheel of grief and bliss’ while the Divine gate is ‘the gate of light’. He compares life to such a wheel of which, “False hope its motor; desire, nave; its spokes are grief and joy” (30)
The metaphor of drama has been applied to life by the genii of the world among whom Shakespeare is on the finger’s toe. Shakespeare says In ‘As You Like It’ that the world is a platform where each one has come to play his part in various moods and conditions. Fitzgerald in his translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khammay says:
A moment guest - there back behind the Fold
Imnerst of Darkness round the Drama rolled
Which, for the Pastime of Eternity,
He doth Himself contrive, enact, behind.(stanza - 52)
Swami Vivekananda also comments on life as a drama of Maya, directed by an unknown and unseen director; neither the joys nor the sorrows are permanent, neither the entity nor the existence is true. We are given roles to play, either of Merry Andrews or Don Quixote. He addresses the Maya, in the form of dream to lessen the impact as the piercing the veil of haze is a hard nut to crack. When the veil is pierced, it makes, “harsh thunder, sweet song/ fell death, the sweet release” (Thou Blessed Dream, l.15-16). We should enjoy our life in which we are the maker of our sufferings and smiles; we are the actor and director of our destiny.
A play- we each have part
Each one to weep or laugh may;
Each one his dress to don-
Alternate shine or rain. (Thou Blessed Dream, 5-8)
Compound imagery is not a new kind of imagery but the accumulation of all the perceptual, conceptual and emotional images. This is a rare quality of a poet which transfers the reader to the next sensation with each new line and the reader finds himself bewildered at the poetic beauty. There are not so many examples of this compound imagery in his poems, wherever these are, these are extraordinarily remarkable as the beginning stanza of ‘And Let Shyama Dance There’ is praiseworthy-
Beauteous blossoms ravishing with perfume,
Swarms of maddened bees buzzing all around;
The silver moon- a shower of sweet smile,
Which all the dwellers of heaven above
Shed lavishly upon the homes of earth. ( 1-5)
First three lines percepts smell, sound and sight respectively and line fourth and fifth create the sense of mundane bliss and pleasure, showered on the earth by some Divine power. He uses the audio-visual imagery together in ‘The Song of the Free’, where the image of the unfurling hood of the snake is put together with the blazing up flame (as both go upward) and the lion’s roar in the desert echoes the thunder of the cloud. This visual-aural imagery is noteworthy from ‘In Search of God’-
The majestic morn, the melting eve,
The boundless billowy sea,
In nature’s beauty, songs of birds,
I see through them-it is He. (53-56)
Dr. Radhika Nagrath gives vent to her thoughts on the vivid presentation of his imagery as:“With the images of the physical Nature, the poet shakes the inner being to realize its real, true nature. His imagination, continually in search of concrete pictures often turns to the world of Nature for evocative atmospheric images. He uses the visual and the kinetic images from Nature which link the inner feelings with and external situation……………………. The visual and the kinetic images combined with auditory images create an atmosphere of fear darkness which are always aiming ‘to crush’ one out. (84)
In a long run, Swami Vivekananda’s imagery is derived from metaphysical phenomena to the natural phenomena. He has shown us everything very clearly. The preacher in him is not absent a bit but his preaching are accompanied with beautiful images and reaches to a common reader very easily, distracts him from his meanness and leads him to the realization of Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram. He is superb in their application and his effortless usage of imagery proves his mastery over language. There is no sensuality at mean level which may devalue the Mantric composition of his writing. Besides all other features of his imagery, the prominent is the apparent diversity with innate unity in Mother Kali and Nature’s peaceful and fierce glance. I t is his Vedanta vision to see himself in all and all in himself as he and the world are the part of Him.
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Kumar, Arabati Pradeep. “Swami Vivekanda’s Spiritual Message To The World: A Perennial Source Of Inspiration.” Contemporary Spiritual Poetry in English: Critical Explorations. Ed. Vijay Kumar Roy. New Delhi: Alfa Publication, 2012. Print.
Mitra, Zinia. “The Seer’s Ink: Poetry of Swami Vivekananda.” Contemporary Spiritual Poetry in English: Critical Explorations. Ed. Vijay Kumar Roy. New Delhi: Alfa Publication, 2012. Print.
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About the Author:
Vishesh Kumar Pandey, who is NET (English) and has qualified research course work from M.J.P.R.University, Bareilly, U.P., is a poet, writer and bibliophile. His ‘Nar Mein Vivek Jaga’, (A book on Swami Vivekananda in eighty ghanakshari chanddha) was published in 2014 and ‘Tanhai Mein’, his collection of miscellaneous poems of Hindi and ‘Vishwasghat’, a Hindi poetic translation of ‘Macbeth’ is waiting for publication. He resides at Adarsh Nagar Civil Lines Budaun 243601; and can also be contacted through e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.