Meera Bai (Image By Treesa Rose)

Poetry As Sanctuary – A monthly column where poets from the Poetry of Diaspora of Silicon Valley pen their South Asian experiences.

Why is that a verse in poetry has greater power to touch our soul than an extensive iteration of words in prose?

What is it that makes poetry so beautiful and compelling? What is the power that is present in a few lines in a verse that renders itself into one’s mind without any effort? Why do some verses keep playing in the back of our minds, long after we have heard them?

What is this power that God has given to this beautiful form of human expression?

Why is it that the greatest of all books of religion are mainly in the verse format? Whether it is the Bhagavad Gita or the Bible or the Quran, everything is in the form of a verse.

If we remember the wandering mystics of India and elsewhere, it was poetry that they used to ignite the flame of devotion to God. One has to only read the words of Meerabai, Kabir, Purandaradasa, or Kanakadasa to imagine these mystic poet-saints wandering in India inspiring people and drawing them to the divine.

At a very practical level, was it because the verse was easier to memorize and hence easier to preserve over thousands of years by word of mouth? Or was it because there was something about it that lent itself to being a potent vehicle of divine communication?

Of all the art forms, music has been considered the highest. And poetry, in its turn, is the highest expression in the written word. For, what can compare to the writing skill that can produce volumes of meaning in a few lines? Combine these two and we have the highest expression a human is capable of.

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower.”  — William Blake in his Auguries of Innocence.

What profound meaning lies in these two lines!

Our own ancient literature captures the essence of the very idea of creation itself in verses composed of just a few lines. A translation of a verse from the Upanishad by Swami Prabhavananda in his book The Upanishads: Breath from the Eternal goes:

“The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightning and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not.”

Volumes can be written to interpret this verse, or they can simply be understood by actual self-realization.

The 16th-century Indian princess turned mystic poet Meera Bai writes:

“Life in the world is short,

Why shoulder an unnecessary load

Of worldly relationships?

Thy parents gave thee birth in the world,

But the Lord ordained thy fate.”

Kabir with a disciple.

From the princess, Meera Bai to a weaver, philosophy, and divinity have been captured by countless great mystic poets of India. We have the great mystic poet Kabir, who was but a weaver by profession, who gave us incredible esoteric knowledge, captured in simple verses like this

“The moon shines in my body, but my blind eyes cannot see it:

The moon is within me, and so is the sun.

The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me;

But my deaf ears cannot hear it.”

In the middle east, the same divine fervor is expressed by Sufi saints like the the13th-century mystic poet Rumi who writes,

“Eternal Life is gained

by utter abandonment of one’s own life.

When God appears to His ardent lover,

the lover is absorbed in Him,

and not so much as a hair of the lover remains.”

It is in all these different examples that we find the reason behind the power that poetry possesses. It is not just a mere medium of expression, but the power to express the divine and so eloquently, that it is like an arrow tugging directly at the strings of our sleeping soul.

Whether we are simple villagers listening to the songs of our mystic poets, or a great scholar discerning the meaning behind the Upanishads, it is the divine power that calls to each one of us.

Many a spiritual aspirant has found devotional words of a hymn leading them quickly into the realm of the higher consciousness during meditation, than any long dissertation.

At our weekly engagement of a band of eclectic poets that gather under the umbrella of Poetry of Diaspora Silicon Valley, brought to life by Jyoti Bachani, this divinity pops up amidst all the different renderings. Whether it is through the beautiful classical style vocal renderings by Laxmi Rao or the powerful recitation of Sanskrit verses by Navaneet. 

Even a beautifully composed poem of rain by Vidur captures one’s heart, as does the resounding lyrical compositions of Jai Polepalli. Even as this diverse group of poets brings the ethos of humanity through the colors of love, fear, pain, and rejection to the fore, there is always that underlying divinity as the group gathers as one brotherhood celebrating the beauty of poetry through sound! 

For, if we remember, creation itself began from that one primordial sound! And sound with meaning that poetry renders, is that ‘call of the divine’, within each one of us. For that power of creation of that great creator rests in everything. The poet, the reader, and the poetry itself!

Anuradha Gajaraj-Lopez lives in Clovis, California. She holds a postgraduate degree in journalism and mass communication. She was a reporter with The Times of India and held the post of Special Correspondent with The Asian Age national newspaper in India. Her book ‘Agastya: History, Legend and Reality’ has found international readership in Italy, Germany, UK, India, US, and Brazil.

Featured image under CC 4.0.