I met the ascetic mystic Thiruvalluvar one morning in the Indian province of Tamil Nadu. I was resting on a fine, empty beach, watching the white waves sweep sublimely across the Bay of Bengal. In a soft second of existence I was alerted to a flutter of birds & saw a mile or so along the coast a distant figure approaching. I couldn’t help but watch him come steadily nearer, a middle aged man with a thick, black beard, swathed in white robes, his bare feet leaving footsteps in the sand. I expected him to pass me by, but as he came to within a few metres he suddenly veered off in my direction & tho’ he was walking slowly was at my side in a flash.
“What is your profession?” he curtly asked, his voice gravelly with wisdom, his gaze penetrating my soul.
“I am a traveller from a distant land.”
“Rider,” he replied, “Saraswathi, I see, has smil’d on you, then welcome to India. Are you wise, traveller?”
“I have studied a little, sir.”
“Ah! as the city-dwellers know most animals only from photographs, your wisdom seems second-hand. You shall be my guest, for there appears much you are yet to learn in this life.”
He invited me to dine at his home, an offer which I quickly accepted. As we walked along the sands he engaged me in conversation & I could already see I was speaking to no ordinary soul.
“Are you creative?” he asked.
“I write sonnets, sir.”
He suddenly froze on the spot & gazed with those magnificent eyes, burrowing into the heartlands of my mind.
“By any chance, are you carrying a silver rose?”
My startled hand suddenly went to finger the small piece of flower I had hung around my neck.
“May I see?”
“Of course,” I replied handing him the necklace. After a moments curious examination the mystic said, in esoteric tones, “I have been expecting you.”
“I once had a dream – in it I saw a young man who looked very much like yourself plucking a silver rose.” I was stunned a little by his words & prescience, then the mystic went on, “Could you describe where you found the rose.”
“It was in Italy,” I replied, “Twenty-one years of age & taking my first steps into the poetic art. I had been inspired to write a poem on the death of the English, poet Shelly, & my journeys had brought me to the Gulf of Le Spezia, where he spent his last days. At one end of the bay lies the charming idyll of Portovenere, the port of Venus. There was a castle & an old Norman church on a rocky outcrop jutting into the azure sea, & behind me the giant cliffs of the Cinque Terra strectched away into the distance. Before setting out to Italy, I too had had a dream. In it I saw myself climbing a cliff, a wonderful panorama all around, & in my dream, as the light of the sun cascaded upon the world below, I was filled with both peace & exultation of the heart. I did not know what my dream meant, but I grew determined then to climb cliffs until it came true. Indeed, by the time I reached Italy I had climbed many along the coast of my native land.”
“Go on,” said the mystic.
“As I began my ascent of the cliffs above Portovenere the still air was suddenly filled with an elemental wind. Up her stony slopes I huff’d, puff’d & scrambl’d, all a fluster in the blustery gale that was growing all the time. As I climb’d further my clothes were torn by the claws of thorny bramble as an angry Zephyrus summon’d yet more of his strength. My head told me to turn back, but my young heart had call’d upon the soul of our being, for being conquers all. As I reach’d the clifftop, glorious realm of diety, the winds suddenly settled & I began to write a poem. It was there, as the sun was setting, that my eyes were drawn to a flash of colour, reflecting the golden light of the sun as it slipped neath the clouds on the horizon. Investigating further I found a wee silver rose, & I wonder’d how such sweet tenderment grew, like a heavenly star. I spent what seemed like an eternity gazing at its lovely shape & immersed in its fragrance & every sinew of my body, & every fibre of my mind, was at peace. During this flush of pure nature I suddenly thought perhaps my dream had come true? I wasn’t sure, but if it had, & wishing for a memonto of the occasion, I pluck’d that gorgeous flower.”
“Yes, these events you recant I saw in my dream,” said the wiseman, “& you are very welcome as my guest, & your timing is impeccable, for there shall be a gathering tomorrow.”
I looked at the mystic with a puzzled expression, taken aback by his words.
“Let me elaborate,” he said, noticing my expression, “I have invited many thinkers to my house to talk about life & they shall arrive in my village on the morrow. They are to spend a night here in the village & you are very welcome to stay & listen, & even join in as you so desire. Imagine if you will all the great minds of history gathered under my roof, exchanging pearls of wisdom with one another upon the condition of humanity. I shall then unify all these separate strands of thought into one work, free from sectarian restraint & approached with the appropriate poetics.”
“It would be an honour,” I replied.
As we carried on he pleasantly enquired as to the nature & customs of my native land. After listening intently to my stories he began to elaborate more on the coming events.
“All human knowledge has a source within the creative psyche of the mind. These ‘ideas’ are sent out as brightly winged birds to every corner of the world, spreading their lively messages. This part of the psyche is also tapped by the poets, who have the ability to recall the birds, assimilate their message & gave them new, painted wings before releasing them to the world once again. It is in this capacity that I have summoned the loveliest birds, the brightest ideas, of humanity. I hope that they shall share their wisdom with one another, which I hope to transcribe for the benefit of mankind. Do you understand now?”
“I do, mystic.”
“Then come, my village is still a good way yet. So, you play guitar,” he had noticed the the old acoustic guitar which was slung over my back.
“Yes, a little.”
“And you sing?”
“I write my own songs.”
“Good, then perhaps you can sing for us on the morrow.”
“If it would please my gracious host, then certainly sir.”
On the way to this hospitality asked me if I had any examples of my work. On answering in the positive I handed him a notebook containing my scribbled notes & polished pieces, the detritus of several years of sonnets & song. He picked up the book & skimm’d thro them at speed, seemingly absorbing each into his psyche.
“I notice you have master’d the fourteen feelings.”
“The feelings?” I asked.
“Yes, the fourteen impulses that drive poetic thought.”
“I did not realise I had.”
“Yes, this is the work of the silver rose, my friend, for he that plucks it will be enchanted – you are, in fact, a soneteer & the rose is its emblem.”
“Well, I do enjoy the sonnet, it is a very venerable form. Do you know much of the sonnet,” I asked the sage.
“Indeed, traveller, for within its scanty plot of ground, as Wordsworth noted, many forms of poetry may be contain’d. It can be seen as the great compositive form, which draws components from all the others. It can use the monoverse of blank verse & vers libre, polyphonics, the couplet, the triplets, quatrains, cinquains, sestets, septets & octets – even Spenser has weaved his novtet into a sonnet.
“There are many forms of poetry,” I added, “Indeed, I have identified thirteen different forms of the sonnet itself, from the Terza Rima of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind to the cleverness & intricacy of the Acrostic genre. Indeed, I have utilised most of these thirteen in the creation of my own sonnets. The number thirteen also corresponds to the golden ratio, that mystical formula that rules the beauty of nature, from the seeds of a sunflower head to the spirals on a snail’s shell, from the constuction of the pyramids to the harmonies of a musical scale.”
“But poet, perhaps there is another form. After all, there are fourteen lines in a sonnet & there are fourteen feelings.”
“I have travelled both West & East & traversed the vast annals of literature, O wise master, but never have I come across a fourteenth form.”
The mystic held me a moment in his velvet eye, & then said, “A revered ancestor of mine also met a poet, very much like you, a troubador from Provence & composed entirely in a thirteen line form.”
“The Rondel,” I replied, the long hours of erudite study crystaliazing in my minds eye.
“That is right. But hen the young French man added another line to his form & created a Rondel Prime.”
“The French sonnet!” I replied in astonishment.
“If that is what it is called, yes. But as you can see, as the Rondel found another line & as there are fourteen feelings, then there may also be a fourteenth sonnet.”
“That is possible.”
No, not possible, but true. Tomorrow I shall introduce you to an aquaintance of mine, he may be able to help you in your quest.”
“My quest?” I asked, “I did not know I had undertaken a quest.”
“But of course you have, for from the moment a poet plucks the silver rose, they can never rest until she is satisfied.”
Our discourse was all of a sudden dispersed by the spreading of a smile across the mystic’s face.
“At last,” he said, “Welcome to my village.”
The first house in the village was an unassuming cottage, but inside was all a-bluster with activity. Of those present in that room one was an old woman, racked with disease, led in her bed & very ill indeed. Nearby a young woman was in the final agonising throes of labour, about to give birth to her first child. Others were watching on attentively as before them two cycles of life were fusing as one. The old woman was desperately drawing her last mortal breaths to the sound of a far younger woman gasping through childbirth, for as one soul was leaving this world another was entering. The old woman’s health had been failing her for several years, & now, surrounded by her family, she was ready to depart from her mortal coil. Her family were very distraught, slowly soaking the silken sheets with their tears. But the old woman was smiling. She said she knew it was time for her to leave this life, but she had had a good life. It was beautiful to be surrounded by her loved ones & they should not be sad, but happy they had the chance to dwell together. Then in a blaze of epiphany at the same instantaneous moment the old woman passed away & a new life was brought into the light of the world. It was a baby boy, red & raw with the onset of life. A fine babe, whose eyes stared back at his mother full of innocence. All around him grew & rushed the world & his gurgle was laced with a hint of expectancy. I smiled at the babe as the mystic turned to me.
“In this room today you saw a birth & a death – so life begins & life ends, thus is the circle of life. But there is also an inbetween. If you stay with me I hope you shall learn of this. I was born here too, in a hut just like this one. Before too long I was was running around the village, bringing delight to the wise old elders with my youthful affection for everything about me. I had a very inquisitive mind & was always asking what everything was, from the trees & the rocks, to the lizards & the birds. I would then ask why the birds lived in the trees & why the lizards crawled under the rocks. One day my father placed me upon his cart & I left the village for the very first time. We were travelling to a nearby town to buy some food, & we passed by many new places. I saw the rivers & the mountains, & saw other villages where the houses were different from those in my own. At length we came to a town where I was amazed at the many people busying about. My father held my hand tightly as we walked through the market. My eyes lit up at the new fruits father bought, & the shiny new coat he put on my back.”
I watched the mystic as he told his story, seeming both close to me & very far off in another place.
“On the walk back home I asked father many questions. I found out our village was just one of many that surrounded the town, & that town in turn was one of many that surrounded the city, & that city was not even the capital of the country where we lived. Then father told me that the world was made up of many contrees & the universe of many worlds. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t the universe, but only a part, & a very small part indeed! Then father took me to a hill that overlooked the village, where we could see the businees of every villager. We sat beside a gully that by some quirk of nature carried the conversations of the villagers up the hillside. I sat by my father listening attentively to all we heard & how the villages interacted with each other. At every turn he would try & explain the good & the bad in every situation & how best to be true to oneself. Once the sun had set he led me back down to the village & I had my first epiphany as to the nature of the world. I decided at that moment to help the people of the world to understand themselves.”
Then the mystic sunk into silence & we continued on our way.
We arrived at his home a little later, a simple two-storey building of white washed stone stood within a luscious jungle of tall toddies. He was greeted by a young woman, fresh as unstirred snow.
“Gita, you shall make a bed for our guest, he shall be staying with us.”
The woman went away & the mystic led me onto the roof of his home.
“Tonight the moon is completely dark, as it will be again in a month’s time. Between now & the morrow I hope you will become wise, illumed by the light of the moon & the minds of your fellow guests.”
“Thank you for this opportunity,” I humbly said.
“You are very welcome, traveller, now if you don’t mind, I must meditate. You will be looked after. But while I am gone, you must search for the moon.”
After he left with a gracious bow I began to scan the entire span of the starry skies, until I found the dark outline of the dark side of the moon, nestled between the plough & the bear. As I gazed upon that black sphere I found myself urging on it’s silvery light.
“Patience,” said the sage, who had silently re-appeared on the roof with Gita, “The light shall come!”
“Tis a vast universe,” I said, “so many stars.”
“Yes, so many stars… & so many worlds. In the far distant corners of reality there exists a planet,” said the sage, “This world, our world, is called Earth & is peopled by the human beings. Every action on that planet is governed by a mysterious, invisible force called ‘Divinity,’ existing everywhere at once & gives life, form & substance to all things in its sway.”
I pondered what he had said in silence.
“Would you care to sleep on the roof, Gita has brought the necessary bedding… & the night is warm.”
“I would love to!”
“Very well, sleep well,” & again he left. Gita made me a pleasant bed, bowed & left, & soon I was led upon a soft canvas, staring at the stars & making pictures of them, until I fell into a sound sleep.
I slept soundly that night & my dreams were full of joy. The next day dawned brightly & I awoke with a strange & enormous sense of well-being. The sounds of the jungle floated in & out of my consciousness as I made my way downstairs. In the main room there were several tables being set for a meal, the smells of cooking drifting into the room. I took a seat & watched the mysic attend to the arrangements for the feast. Eventually the sun began to fade & it was just as dusk was falling when the first guest arrived. She was a dancer, dressed in ermine silk, followed closely by a monk, then by a prophet, a general & a philospher. One-by-one the seats at the table were filled by people of high thought, each from a different portion of society. A simple meal was served, washed down with the cleanest water from the nearby mountains, in order to invigorate the mind for the expected great innovations of thought.
As the main meal was drawing to a close, the mystic sage quietly approached me.
“Perhaps you could play for us now?” he enquired. His eyes were so soft & welcoming I could hardly refuse, so took out my guitar, tuned it to a crisp harmony & began to sing my songs. As I did so Gita brought in a large cake, with a warm, inviting smell. This was distributed among the guests & as I finished my third & final song, I too eagerly feasted on a delicous slice.
“Welcome,” said the mystic once the last portion of cake had been consumed, “Thro the night I would like to entertain discussions on the universal aspects of society, begginning with the themes of the soul.”
The audience sat silently & respectfully.
“Guests, this is an age where religion & poetry are in a state of decay, the great advances in human thought that came with the enlightenment are long-time passed & the great twentieth century pursuit of psychology is complete. Time itself has moved on from these outbreaks of spontaneous intellectual epiphany & their original wisdom diluted by the conjecture of ages. Then it is our task to disseminate these wide trachts of knowledge & to make them anew, or as a Western poet once said, to reduce all knowledges into harmony.”
A general concensus of agreement murmored around the room.
He went on, “Thoughts & ideas are pure & simple, the nearest thing to god we can get on this Earth, it is only when they are organised into words that they lose their mystery. As you meditate tonight I shall be turning your thoughts to poetry, pouring the sentiment into Kural to capture a little of this divinity for the benefit of mankind. For as one candle burns, they only light a portion of the room. But when many burn together, the room is cast in a blaze of light. My friends, the world is a room, & we are its candles.
“Mystic,” said the general, “What is a kural?”
“I see from thy sword you are well versed in the warring arts, but by your question, not the poetic. A kural is a form of arranging words in simple combination. It consists of seven words divided into two breaths, each forming a line. With the first breath four words are spoken & with the second, three. It is the orator’s purpose to condense as much depth, meaning & subtleties into a kural as possible. A kural could be in the most simple words, or pregnant with complicated scientific terms, but at all times shouls they be perfumed with poetica, for thro the music, rhythm & rhyme of speech the ideas are easily absorbed by the memory. These kural shall contain the best ideas using the best of words in their best order.”
At that moment a scribe entered the room carrying a gold-tinted scroll, a bowl of sparkling ink & a mighty swans quill, which was placed upon the head table where the mystic was sat. Upon examining his writing tools he whispered in the servants ear, who left the room & soon returned with another scroll, ink bowl & quill. To my astonishment they were placed in front of me.
“Traveller,” he called across the room, “Can you make kural?”
“I have never tried, sir!”
“Are you willing?”
“Then you are to meditate upon what you hear in this room. For all our words are nothing without understanding. Will you make kural?”
“I shall try.”
“Good, then let us begin. Who goes first?”
“Indeed it must be myself,” said the holy man, “For I speak for god & it is with god that everything begins. God is everywhere at once, from the begginning of time to the end. He is without bounds & infinite, & beyond the range of mortal comprehension. All we know is that he is here & this force pulses thro all it has created, uniting we humans with its energy, giving them life. The greatest manifestation of divinity being that of the rain that falls from the skies. This is the vital life juice of creation, without which everything would wither away & only a lifeless desert would remain.”
“Life, said the biologist, life is a precious gift, created by the natural laws of the universe & improved upon by the movement of the aeons. The planet, our planet, is home to millions of different organisms of which we are only a small, yet significant number. Every one of these organisms is bound together intrinsically by the natural laws defined by the entity of creation.”
“Why does our planet teem with such a multitudinous variety of species?” asked the mystic.
“This is evolution, said the biologist, all life began the same, but environmenet & chance allied together to alter the offspring of the original organisms, & upon their offspring in turn, until over billions of years we have reached the state we are in today. Indeed, give another billion years the organisms of our world will be very different again.”
“Then what are we?” asked the sage.
The thinker-philosopher rose from his seat & spoke with a ghostly air, “Like the years are divided by four seasons & the world divided into four elements, each person in this room exists upon four planes. Everyone of us posseses a soul, a heart to feel the passion of the world, a mind to think thoughts & a body in which to live.”
And so they talked til the setting of the sun.
The day growing tired our sage thanked each guest personally & with a bow wished them safe journey & good morrow. Once the guests had departed I was left alone with the mystic.
“Traveller, how did you find today?”
“It was inspirational sir.”
“Excellent, & have you made any kural?”
“A small amount, sir.”
“Well, I shall leave you in tranquility to finish… Gita!” he shouted, his call soon answered by her soft smile, “Get some candles for our guest, & a little wine I think.”
She returned a few moments later with several candles, which she placed around the room & lit. A charaff of wine & a golden goblet were placed before me & with a smile & a bow she left.
“Happy voyaging, said Sage & with a bow he also left, leaving me alone in that room. As my mind could still hear the profound statements spoken thro the night, I became heady with ideas, their words fueling my imagination until I was pregnant with creation & I began to write.
At the end of the night, when the last pearls of wisdom had been written down & the dawn was casting ethereal shadows across the wax-warped candles, the sage return’d. With him was a man I recognised from the gathering. He was a poet & had said many wise things concerning the art.
“So traveller, have you made your kural?”
“I have tried sir!”
“Good, may we read them?”
I was a little tentative as I passed over the scrolls & held my breath as he began to read them.
Rain’s continuance preserves existence
Speaketh celestial ambrosia
Stances, glances, chances, dances
Epitomise youthful romances
As ant-holes collapse embankments
Civilians topple governments
Exquisite fortresses become rubble
Without excellent inmates
Her chrysoberyls perplex me –
Celestial? Peahen? Woman?
Promises, poetry, flowers, flattery
Produce sensuous pleasure-rooms
Hatred, sin, fear, disgrace –
Stain bedswervers imeperishably
Candles of knowledgable beings
Light many millions
Ancyent civilisations indecipherable pages
Futurity’s erudite manna
Splashing thro Parnassian streams
Mankind’s glorious attainment
They read in silence, a silence broken only by the sporadic ‘hmmm,’ laced with an occasional, ‘interesting!’ Outside, commanding the morning sky, there was the thin sliver of a new moon, shining silvery against the cyan canvas. As he finish’d a page he would pass it to the poet, who looked at them with an eually inquisitive eye.
At last they had finished reading thro my meagre lines & I waited tentatively for their reaction. It was a moment of awesome proportion as I felt & saw everything around me.
Looking up from the pages the sage neatly said, “Good, you have the thread.”
“Thank-you, but what shall I do with these, kural?” Taking a step back I admired my host, his handsome beard & endless eyes, his gleaming robes & noble stance & smile, twinkling in the sun.
“I believe I can help,” said the poet. His voice was sweet, like the warbling of birds greeting the sun after a storm, “You are now ready to receive the fourteenth sonnet, that is the placing of seven connecting kural together in one poem. Seven sets of couplets comes to fourteen lines, & that is how many lines are in a sonnet, yes?”
“That is right,” I replied.
“Indeed, there are seven words in a kural,” said the mystic, “Thus making a kural sonnet a grand kural in itself – do you understand?”
As he said those words a moment of epiphany lit up my soul as the fourteen forms flashed thro my mind, & they were arranged like this;
The Italian is the original form, consisting of an octave, usually rhyming abbaabba, then, following a change in direction from the poet known as the turn, a sestet usually rhyming ccdccd. The English consists of three quatrains, rhyming ababcdcdefef & a final couplet summing up the poem of gg. The Scottish is simialr to the English, but its rhyme is enveloping, going ababbcbccdcdee. The Lancaster is an intricate form, consisiting of two stanzas of seven lines, rhyming aba(c)(b)dd & efe(c)(f)gg, the rhymes in brackets only being half-lines. Terza is based on the form of Dante’s Divinnia Comeddia, four three-lined stanzas rhyming aba bcb cdc ded, & a summary couplet of ee. The French sonnet developed from the Italian by the troubadours of France, is an octet of abababab, where the last two lines are a refrain of the first two. Following the turn, there is a sestet of aabccb, where the last line must echo the first line in a kind of half-refrain. The Couplet is seven connected couplets rhyming aabbccddeeffgg. The Open sonnet may be a simple list, or more often a piece that is almost prose, with each unmeasured & varying line being more of a sentence, a single lyrical breath if you will. Its cousin is the Heroic, the blank verse of sonnetry, being fourteen unrhyming lines of iambic pentameter. The Artisan is the Leonardo Da Vinci of the sonnets, where the emphasis is on visual representation, a picture on the page using words, whose only rule is its depth may be only of the sacred fourteen lines. The Modern is based on the free verse of the twentieth century, the only rule being it must only be fourteen lines long, tho a certain modern aesthetic is desired. The Acrostic is an unusual & delicate form – it’s body may consist of any of the other forms of sonnetry, but the first letter of each line must spell out a word, phrase or personage.
“Do you understand?” repeated the poet.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then you are ready,” said the mystic.
“Ready for what?” I asked inquisitively.
“The next stages of your quest,” said the poet, “I undertook it myself many years ago.” to my astonishment he opened a shirt & reveled a wee silver rose hung round his neck on a chain. “I am a barer of the rose & a master of the sonnet. Many moons ago I plucked my own flower & she led me on a literary quest. I see, tho you have not realised, you have also set your feet upon the path. My friend here says you have master’d the fourteen feelings.”
“He says that is the case, but I am not sure. I do not really know what he means.”
“Then let me explain. A feeling is a genera, & thro them all poetic utterance is directed. Let me give you something.” He rustled in his pockets for a few moments, then pulled out a piece of paper, folded several times. “Please take this & keep it safe. I was given it in turn by a poet when I was a young man, just like you. On it are the fourteen feelings.”
He handed me the paper & I opened it up. On its yellow surface, faded with age, I found a block of text which read;
“Those genre,” said the poet, “Are the life-blood of the art & dictate the poem’s subject matter, shape, mood & choice of words. Several of them are descriptive in nature & describe a scene; The Vista is a poetic photograph, where the poet describes a panorama, usually from a high point. The Location describes a particular place from the poet’s point of view, while the Journey is a sequence of locations & vistas connected by travel. The Pastoral is one of the oldest feelings that originated with the shepherds, those keepers of the flocks who sung for the sheer love of their rustic surroundings. It is marked by a simplicity of style, a brevity of tone, a delicacy of feeling & a delight in nature. Of the econmia, the Ode is a poem praising a non-human object or event while a Dedication praises a person or personages, living or dead, usually addressed to by the poet. The History is the retelling of a story from the past, when gorgeous memories of days far distant in the past flower afresh beneath the poet’s touch. The Biography is a history of a person & their deeds, whether the poet or some other figure, either a grand life-story or some small snippet of that life. Poetic poetry concerns all aspects of the art itself, from the poetic schools to individual expression. Philosophical poetry stems from the poet’s mind, & reflects their musings on a certain topic. Amoretti are a poet’s expression of love, either as an attempt to woo the object of desire, or to explain the feelings the object has generated, where the ephemeral essence is collected & crystallized, clad in a lush, lyrical flora & placed in adoration upon the immortal plinth. Zeitgeist is the journalism of poetry, capturing the poet’s life & times. With the Didactic the poem becomes something of an educational lecture. Dramatic poetry brings to life a scene by giving the carachters within it a voice, either purely spoken like a Shakesperian play, or mixed with description & action.”
With that the poet had finished his monologue & I gasped a moment as the full ambit of the poetic art spread through my psyche.
“So now you see,” said the sage, “the sonnets you have been writing all correspond to these fourteen feelings.”
“It appears they do,” I replied.
“Then you have conquer’d feeling & completed the first stage of your quest,” said the poet, “This should have taken you seven years, am I correct?”
After a little mental calculation I acknowledge the truth in his assumption.
“Then you are half way through the life of the rose. Notice my own rose – she is metallic, not soft to the touch as is yours. The reason being is that once plucked a silver rose will only remain fresh for fourteen years, but as most flowers fade with age, she will grow brighter & stronger, until at the end of the fourteenth year she will become true silver.”
“But only if you give yourself up to her power,’ said the sage.
“May I touch it?” I asked the poet.
“Of course,” he replied, & I held out my fingers. Indeed, the rose was now metallic, warmed by the blood coursing thro the poet, who resumed his speech.
“Now, traveller, I see you have already been placing your sonnets in sets of fourteen. Can you tell me why?”
“I wish I could. I do not know really, only that it seem’d right & proper to do this.”
“That is the will of the rose,” saigh’d the mystic woosily, “for she guides your thought thro the more creative moments of thought.”
“He is right, said the poet, “& now you are ready to embark on the second half of your quest – that is the search for the Perfect Sequenza.”
“What are they,” I asked.
“These Sequenza are fourteen connecting sonnets, a sonnet of sonnets if you will. You have already unwittingly written three, I see. To write them you must continue a dedicated spirit, like those of the East who engage in the martial arts. After this come the Sequantos, which is a series of sequanza interconnected by theme & spirit. These higher echelons of sonnetry are marked by discipline, focus of thought & dedication to the craft. Do you possess these mental properties in no small measure?”
“In a small degree. I hope they will be sufficient, for after hearing your words I wish to embark on this quest.”
“To attain the title of master sonneteer you must attain two more levels of proficiency, each marked by the composition of a polished sequenza. The Major Sequanza is a series of sonnets relating to a period in the poets life, usually composed during a tour of a country or county.
“Like my North & South sonnets.”
“Exactly,” said the poet, ‘”you are young & youth is marked by impetuousness & restlessness. This restlessness is the mystical energy which will drive you to the mastery of the sonnet.”
“How?” I asked.
“Your restlessness has brought you here, yes. Well only through travel can the sonnetteer generate enough poesis to fill a Major Sequenza.”
“What is poesis,” I asked.
“Poesis is the true source of poetic inspiration. The world exists in an eternal state of flux, constantly generating this electric charge that drives poetry. As clouds diffuse sunlight over the world, so does a poet spread poesis through a poem… a little in each line. Poesis blankets poetic sites & scenes, such as bluebell woods & wide open plains in the early morning mist. It can be gained from society, that interaction of people, such as deep friendships & intimacies, company & conversation. Poesis bubbles forth from the fermentingemotions; Passion, Grief, Lust, Dejection, Love, Anger & Joy can all move a poet to write. Immersion in the arts, such as ballet, music & theatre leaves a lingering hint of poesis in the poet’s soul. From a more intense course of study… history, philosophy, religion, politics, etc… comes a wealth of ideas, each one succulent with the images & feelings that mark poesis. Of these, the richest source are the old poems themselves, still containing a portion of that poesis once channelled by the poet of origin. One of the most important, & perhaps essential, sources of poesis available stems from solitude. These moments of tranquil communion tap the poesis latent in their psychic store rooms as the poet converses with their soul & art, whereby through deep thoughtful musing they gains fresh insight & projects. With all this poesis swimming about the psyche the poets have always been treated as ‘mad’ & this may be true – but it is a finer sort of madness.”
“A finer sort of madness,” I repeated his words, which tho whsiper’d, seem’d to echo for an age.
The poet continued; “before attempting the higher levels, I suggest you record your voyages here in India; the emotions invoked, scenery, the history, the very essence of my country, in the same way you poeticized your own. The sonnets may be of any form or feeling, even of an experimental nature, but the essence of this sequenza is exploration. In it you will be learning how to turn your experiences into sonnets, so when you reach the next stages of the art, when your thought will be focused upon increasing discipline, you may summon the poesis of your experiences at will. Then you will be ready to attempt the Prime Sequenza. In this you must write in each of the fourteen forms, to show you have conquer’d form. Then comes the Perfect Sequenza. There are an incredible & practically inexhaustable number of variations of this sequenza, the true expression of a master-sonneteer. Only by writing one will the rose be satisfied & she will commence her transformation into priceless silver. On completing this apprenticeship, as the acolyte will one day become a wise old sensei able to defend himself from attack, so shall the master sonneteer be able to produce exquisite sequanzas & sequantos when they themselves are attack’d – not by an enemy but by the desire to compose poetry!”
“& you shall also be able to speak the Language of the Flowers,” whispered the mystic.
“The Language of Flowers?” I asked.
“Yes, as the language of birds is discovered upon drinking dragonsblood, the language of flowers is discovered upon plucking a silver rose. Look deep in your heart when you imagine them, & speak of the emotion they unveil. To we humans it is mostly a lost art, but it has been preserved among many species of creatures upon the earth. For although like we humans animals speak in different tongues, they have always been able to communicate through flowers.”
“But where do I begin,” I asked nervously, “Where shall I go to complete my apprenticeship? What must I do to learn to speak this mysterious Language. of Flowers”
“I suggest you travel to Italy,” said the mystic, “for that is where they both originated, the sonnet & the rose, for as nature is a constant wheel & all things once commenced will come full circle, then you should return them both to their places of birth.”
“Yes,” said the poet, “The sonnet was born in Sicily, out of the Canzone, those sweet & moving songs the shepherds sang as they tended their flocks on the pastures of that wonderful island. I see you are very are much like them, wandering the earth & singing your songs. I thought one of those you play’d earlier rather to my taste.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
The poet went on, “Even when her powers fade, the rose remains a part of you, including the occasional flight of psychic fancy. You should expect many moments like these when you are treading the bloom d’argent”
“You were telling him of the canzone,” said the mystic, slightly bemused by the poet’s verbal wanderings.
“Ah yes, the ancyent songs of the Sicilian shepherds. Over the course of many centuries these songs evolved into a fourteen-lined piece, with a turn, or volta – to a modern mind this would be where the chorus begins after the verse of a song.”
“Like the turn in an italian sonnet,” I enquired.
“Precisely, for indeed it was from the spirit of these canzone that the first sonnets found expression at the Magnia Curia, the court of the Sicilian King eight hundred years ago. Shortly afterwards it was brought to an early perfection by Dante & the school of Tuscan poets blessed with their “Sweet New Style.”
“I have read of this,” I said.
“Good. The Italian sonnet is the first of the fourteen forms, & indeed there are as many variants of this particular form as all the others put together. It is only natural you should travel to that country, where nature, weather, culture, history, architecture & society combine to such a pleasant degree that she has no comparison on earth. I reccommend that you first travel to Tuscany along the lush, historic valley of the Arno, & there master the fourteen forms.”
“That is where he found the rose,” commented the sage.
“Perfect,” said the poet, “On completion you will be ready to attain the final level. Simply journey to Sicily & bring your sonnets home. From that point on the rose shall lead the way.”
“Thank you my poet, & thanks to you o mystic sage. The time in your immaculate house has enriched me like the mountains of Parnassus.”
A silence passed between us & the wind made noises I had never heard before. They sounded like the voice of a familar song, summoning me to its native land. From the warmth of the melody & strength in the words I knew it to be that of the Tuscan sun & the song of the Arno.
“Then I am for Italy,” I told them, “The music of the sea-breeze bids me there return.”
“Then Saraswathi go with you,” chaunted Thiruvalluvar , & bowing my head I left his house & set both foot for Chennai.