Coming to Sonnet 116

I sat in an Optional English class yesterday and wished I had been a better student. Since The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Husband Stitch, I have been all prose, less poetry. I have read these stories over and over again, imposed them on students every semester because the women who wrote them wrote them so unnervingly.

I read a Sharon Olds one day and thought that Sex without Love was beautiful– both the idea and the poem. I read Ramanujan another day and it rained. Sometimes poetry does what prose cannot do for me. And this is a discovery I made only a month ago.

P, S and I formed a poetry group, which means one whats app group was also created. P called it Bommali Beats and put up a Javed Akhtar dp. We’ve met only once so far. But when we did meet, we made chai, sat on the steps near the media lab and read Ramanujan.

We read poems about leaky taps in small marriage halls, about conjoose marwari businessmen who slipped coins under the mattress they sat on, and about barks that scratched the windows in unison. It was an interesting session. I came to read words beyond what they meant for me, in my regular prose world. I came to treat words with envy, with distance, and with an unfamiliar resistance to laziness.

I realized that I have been avoiding poetry for so long because I am afraid and lazy — it’s too much work to stay with words for so long. To stay with them until they become coherent meanings and patterns and eventually stories that bend and curve in ways that I do not understand. The rhythm and the line and the meter all go over my head. Because I prefer the freedom that words I read in prose throw at me. There’s so little to resist when I read prose. Not that it’s easy. Reading never is. But I am learning only now how both poetry and prose are so alike and so different at once.

Yesterday in class, AM did Sonnet 116. He sat at the table with nothing but a book and a pen. I felt intimidated and thrilled all at once. Of course he knew the poem by-heart. Long ago, when Titus had asked him how to teach a poem, AM told him to read it 20 times before teaching it. Titus returned the next day and said that the class didn’t go well. AM asked him how many times he had read it. Titus said 5 and received an almighty whack on his egg-head.

In school, they made us memorize poems. I had learnt to close my eyes and recite them without knowing what I was reciting, like the multiplication tables my mother made me by-heart, a wooden scale in her hand, her lips pursed tight.

We would get 5 marks in the English exams for reciting poems without mistake. I took an immediate aversion to it and failed, like so many others, to see that poems are meant for the ear, it’s how they sound more than anything else.

AM had made everybody write down the poem before they came to class– hand-write them. I copied mine from R who was sitting next to me. While I was writing it down, I remembered reading Sonnet 116 in M.A once and liking the first and last lines. I didn’t know what they meant; I just liked how they sounded. This was also the sonnet that Paris recites to Rory in Gilmore Girls just before their big AP test on Shakespeare.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There’s such a thing as simply allowing the poem to take shape, to give it time, to give oneself time, to make sense of the poem – one word at a time, to read each line in isolation first and then in relation to the poem. I have never been able to do that. I am hurrying always, to get to the bottom of it all.

After yesterday’s class, I am learning ways to rediscover meanings. From what I was able to gather, poetry is as much resistance as it is interpretation– resistance to laziness, to conclusions, and sometimes to interpretations themselves. This is exciting. I have found a whole new way to learn.  Sometimes I wish I was studying EJP and not teaching it.

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