Thursday, 25 June 2009

What's the future for Literature? wonders Vandana Datta

In the current issue of Research, the bi-annual journal of English studies from Patna Magadh University, the editor Dr. Vandana Datta concludes the editorial with the following words:
"Literature is above all isms, above all classifications and it is this that should be aimed at, irrespective of caste, class and gender. Things, however are not as simple as they may appear. Social issues are rarely just social issues. Politics has seeped into every aspect of our lives and made things far more complicated than they would have otherwise been. Let us try to keep literature away from the murkiness of politics. Let us keep it pure and clean, as clear as the fresh evening air, as clean as one comes out fresh from a bath."
When Dr. Datta writes these words what is being addressed are "categorizations based on caste and class" that "reflect the narrowness of the human mind".

In Northern Ireland recently some 200 Rumanians were forced to take refuge from the mob and hole up in a church. Were these unfortunate Rumanians also victims of "the narrowness of the human mind" wonders Poet-in-Residence. If so, the world's mentality is in a sorry state. One would have thought that in Ireland, at least in Ireland, a land famed for its warm hospitality, and which itself has a long sad and suffering history of persecution, reckless colonialism and brutal conflict; and wide-ranging and terrible it is too; from Viking invasions to Cromwell to the mass exodous to America, to the terrible famines, and more recently a history of senseless bombings and violence based at root on "caste and class" and decades of armed troops in armoured cars on the razor-wired streets, that something would have been learnt, at least there in the emerald isle, the poetic jewel in the Atlantic, the land that produced great writers such as Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh.

And in other countries too, not only India and Ireland, are we still facing tsunamis of turbulence based on "caste and class". Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Spain, Rwanda, Congo, Nigeria, Israel, Russia, North Korea, China, Peru are just a few places that spring immediately to mind. A little pondering will quickly bring forth many more. In fact, the list is almost endless. Perhaps it is endless.

So what does the future hold for Literature and for Mankind? The poem that follows is about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is by Erich Fried. The translation is by Poet-in-Residence. It starts and finishes with a question. But not the same question.
A prologue to the poem tells the reader that in some parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the dust in the streets turned to glass.


The sun is the sun
The tree is a tree
The dust is dust
I am I you are you

The sun will be sun
The tree will be ash
The dust will be glass
I and you will be dust

The sun remains the sun
The tree needn't be ash
The dust shouldn't be glass
I will not be dust

You will not be dust
We will not be dust
They will not be dust
But what do we all do?

gw2009 trans. from Es ist was est ist
1983,1994 Wagenbach, Berlin


  1. There is a lot of food for thought here poet - and it is a very apt poem to put after that disgraceful affair in Ireland.
    Unfortunately we still have that awful "pack instinct" - one does it we all do it deep in our psyches. Sometimes things happen which make one ashamed to belong to the human race.
    Interesting point about Hiroshima - Dominic's father was a Japanese POW and at the time of Hiroshima was literally dying of cerebral malaria in a camp deep in the jungle in Thailand. Had the war not ended when it did then he would not have survived. And without Hiroshima the war may have dragged on. This means that it is thanks to Hiroshima that he survived. It was always a dilemma he could not resolve in his mind.

  2. In a remote village in India about the same time, much to the relief of the villagers, a small group of RAF men shot dead a man-eating tiger which had killed several local people. We, like perhaps a frightened child in the village or its mother may ask 'what if...' and 'but if...' and 'how if...' but it will lead nowhere.
    'The moving finger writes and having writ moves on ...' as the poet said.

  3. Go tell them the pen is mightier!

  4. Thanks for all the Erich Fried Poems. I hadn't had the pleasure of his aquaintance before you kindly undertook the introduction.

  5. Thanks Mairi, I first came to him, as I've mentioned, as the German translator of Dylan Thomas. Then I had the idea that I'd like get to know him better. What a surprise! I'm currently borrowing 9 of EF's books. A couple are co-authored with illustrators: with Adolf Frohner 'Toten Köpfe' and with Michael Helm 'Gegen das Vergessen'. There must be that many again on the library shelf. A veritable treasure hoard. It's a little strange that the most widely read poet after Brecht is almost unknown in the English-speaking world.
    Best of bardic,


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