Summer Requiem, the title in itself is enigmatic —– on one hand, the picture conjured is of summer replete with youthful, sky-blue days with birds chirping ever so long in the outstretched evenings, and then in the very same breath looms thick a requiem, a Mass held for the restoration and repose of the soul or a keepsake of remembrances. The name Summer Requiem is striking enough to commence post-haste the reading of Vikram Seth’s book of verse. The poetry treads on the changeless and ageless repositioning of the seasons and the unyielding and undeviating tempo and cadence of a world that both bestows and withholds… The poems footmark the dying days of summer, ‘the crimson sun suspended on the dark spire’, when one’s thoughts are preyed upon by a deep and consuming sense of burrowing bereavement and withering woe. ‘Where the lock of longing was opened/There there will be perpetual wound.’ lines bringing sinewy feelings to the fore… Seth’s collection of poems is resplendently resonating, bearing a texture that has a palpable feel. After propelling pain, there however, is a tired resigned reconciliation with the impermanence of life and the reality, that there is a place, though movable yet shall not play Judas. In his words, ‘changeable, that will not betray’.
In the opening poem, Summer Requiem, it a namesake of the book, Seth with permeating sadness that borders on depression cries,
‘Memory is a poison; it has sickened my body.
The cleavage of attachment has frayed my mind.
Rabid and weary, autistic, spasmodic,
Exhaustion makes me dance like a puppet.’
One can catch a glimpse of a shade, ending at an inarguably endearing note of Robert Frost’s poem Dust of Snow in Vikram Seth’s One Morning.
The parallels blow in one’s face akin to a gentle breeze though retaining both poets’ own uniquely solo voice. Frost’s, Dust of Snow as produced here:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
And, then in Seth’s, One Morning
Rose light enflamed the eastern sky.
A greyhound, masterless, loped by.
A poplar’s black denuded crest
Thinned to reveal a magpie’s nest.
On the red lake two snowy geese
Swam in a sarabande of peace,
And as I breathed the callous air
I lost the drift of my despair.
Both tangibly drawing strength and fortitude from nature, uplifting them in such a manner that they are able to dispel the disheartenment of the day…
Tercets to Parsnip could be considered a haiku poem given the three lines of poetry penned in two stanzas, in this poem saucily sad, the sarcasm not to be left out. ‘They margarined a parsnip, buttered none.’
Seth’s collection of poems is resplendently resonating, bearing a texture that has a palpable feel. After propelling pain, however, there is a tired resigned reconciliation with the impermanence of life and the reality, that there is a place, though movable yet shall not play Judas. In his words, ‘changeable, that will not betray’.
Can’t, another poem in Summer Requiem speaks of the poet’s inability to get out of bed and go through the motions of facing a day unworthy of taking on —— the world deliriously dark, an atrophying feeling having taken hold of his body and being… Towards the end of the poem, he reconciles to the reality that he is bereft of his beloved, and thus there would be nobody for him who would perhaps, in the dead of night ‘reach the clothes hung on that distant chair?’ Yes, there is the realization that he had to come to terms with life and cease his Can’t stance and to use a well-worn phrase, “Seize the Day”.
Flowers, rain, birds, clouds, hills, trees, mist and more, ferry themselves filming by luminously in Seth’s verse; the strokes and caresses and blows of nature manifested in such a manner, that one can in actuality feel it in concrete form thawing in the palm of the reader’s hand.
The only visible flaw in Vikram Seth’s, Summer Requiem lay in its disastrous cover where the poet’s name screams out in stark white as if demanding one’s deferential and venerational attention. The title of the book is lost or rather merges in the congruent colour of the jacket. A sad fact, considering the treasure-trove of words, thoughts and emotions enclosed within its folds.