April 18, 2007

Turned to my pain

Poetry rarely does much for me.

But when I hear about senseless killing -- like in Delhi 1984, or Kashmir since 1989, or Rwanda 1994, or Bombay 1992-93 and 2003 and 2006, or the Balkans through the '90s, or Columbine 1999, or Godhra and across Gujarat in 2002, or Beslan 2004, or Chhatisgarh 2007, or Virginia Tech two days ago, and merely putting down this short list has me depressed -- anyway, when I hear about such senseless killing, I think of two poems.

I can't offer that cliche, that the words in these poems give me "comfort". Because they don't. They make me feel worse. But I think of them anyway.

The first is not really a poem, but is taken from a prose piece by John Donne. It goes like this:
    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The second is by the Roman poet Catullus, written as a tribute to his brother, killed in 58 BC near Troy. (I quoted it in my post Your unworlding). This is what Catullus wrote:
    By strangers' coasts and waters, many days at sea,
    I came here for the rites of your unworlding,
    Bringing for you, the dead, these last gifts of the living
    And my words -- vain sounds for the man of dust.
    Alas, my brother,
    You have been taken from me. You have been taken from me
    And by cold hands turned to shadow, and my pain.
    Here are the foods of the old ceremony appointed
    Long ago for the starvelings under the earth.
    Take them. Your brother's tears have made them wet. And take
    Into eternity my hail and my farewell.
So Matt LaPorte and GV Loganathan and Reema Samaha and Caitlin Hammaren and Juan Ortiz and over 25 more at Virginia Tech -- all of you -- your deaths, your unworlding, diminish me. Diminish us all.

And I say this today with Catullus, and silently: You have been taken from me, and by cold hands turned to shadow, and my pain.

6 comments:

DonPato said...

The poetry of words can help make life a little softer and not so hard. Bless you for your words.

DonPato
GayIndia

Anonymous said...

But when I hear about senseless killing -- like in Delhi 1984, or Kashmir since 1989, or Rwanda 1994, or Bombay 1992-93 and 2003 and 2006, or the Balkans through the '90s, or Columbine 1999, or Godhra and across Gujarat in 2002, or Beslan 2004, or Chhatisgarh 2007, or Virginia Tech two days ago...

Please: Except for Columbine and Virginia Tech, the other killings were anything but senseless. They were organized and supported by state machinery. You do a disservice by comparing the Columbine/Virginia Tech killings which were carried out by a few seriously disturbed individuals with state-sponsored pogroms.

Dilip D'Souza said...

When innocent people are slaughtered for no reason at all, that to me qualifies as "senseless". I make no comparisons, I simply think they are senseless.

Anonymous said...

You are free to think of the political pogroms in the same breath as the Columbine/Va Tech killings on the grounds that innocent people got killed in both cases. I find it distasteful to do so. The Columbine and Va Tech incidents are big tragedies in their own right but they are not going to be made bigger ones by making (in my opinion) unjustified comparisons. It's your blog and of course, you are free to write whatever you want but if I were in your shoes, I would have discussed these incidents separately.

That's my last word and I leave it to you to have the final say. I suspect we will agree to disagree on this issue.

Ash said...

Thank you for posting both these pieces, Dilip. They help articulate my sadness.

preeti said...

Dilip - That was a nice tribute.

Having spent my first 3 years in the US as a graduate student there, Virginia Tech holds a special spot in my heart, and some of my fondest memories of life in the US are of my time spent in Blacksburg.

I feel diminshed, as you do and am saddened by the unspeakable horror that swathed the campus on Monday. Having spent a significant amount of time at Norris Hall, having friends who had offices there, and knowing people well that studied under GV Loganathan (about whom I have heard only the nicest things), the tragedy has hit closer to home than I would have liked.

I appreciate your thoughts, and agree with your sentiment that the VT tragedy, and in fact, all others you mention are indeed senseless.