Summary / Analysis of The Poem
The poem is about the elements of composition and discusses about the Hindu concepts of the five elements (Pancha bhuta). These five elements are the earth, the fire, the wind, the water and the sky, which is one such number, the other number being the 100-odd elements about which the chemistry books speak. The poem starts by debating composition and ends with decomposition (the caterpillars, eating and being eaten). All the elements are collected into a chattering self, entangled in love and work, such as gold, magnesium , calcium, etc.
“Capable of eyes that can see, only by moving constantly, the constancy of things”
This is a magnificent idea. The eyes can see the constancy of objects, like the Stonehenge or the cherry tree, only by moving them constantly. Physical eyes can only see the beauty of nature or the great work of art by continuously moving them. One should watch objects that are in a constant state of flux over a period of time to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of nature and the great work of art.
“add uncle’s eleven fingers making shadow-plays of rajas and cats, hissing, becoming fingers again”
A beautiful reminiscence of the poet about the dexterity of his uncle in shadow-play using his eleven fingers to create interesting pictures of kings, cats, etc. and sounds like hissing and turning the shadows again into fingers!
His sister’s fear of an impending tragedy just before her wedding :
“ the look of
panic on sister’s face
an hour before
her wedding, a dated newspaper map, of
a place one has never seen, maybe no longer there”
The wretched life of the mutilated lepers of Madurai against the exquisitely ornate stone sculptures of the goddesses of dance in the magnificent Temple of Meenakshi:
“add the lepers of Madurai, male, female, married, with children,
lion faces, crabs for claws, clotted on their shadows under the stone-eyed
goddesses of dance, mere pillars, moving as nothing on earth can move —”
All these are the very elements of which he and they are composed. They pass through him as he passes through them :
“I pass through them as they pass through me taking and leaving affections, seeds, skeletons,
millennia of fossil records of insects that do not last a day,
body-prints of mayflies, a legend half-heard in a train”
The entire poem is about what we are made up of, the various forms in which the elements mix, the effect of time on the composition, the process of decomposition (Madurai lepers) and, eventually, death and destruction (eating and eating).
Solved Questions and Answers:
Q. What is the poem all about?
Answer. The poem is about the elements of composition and talks about the Hindu ideas of the five elements (Pancha bhuta), the earth, the fire, the wind, the water and the sky, which is one such list, the other list being the 100-odd elements that the chemistry books talk about.
Q. What is the horrific existence that is mentioned?
Answer. The horrific existence that is mentioned is of the mutilated lepers of Madurai against the exquisitely ornate stone sculptures of goddesses of dance in the majestic Meenakshi temple.
Q. What does the physical eyes can see in this poem?
Answer. The physical eyes can see the beauty of nature or a great work of art only by moving them constantly. One should watch things which are in a continuous state of flux over a period of time to grasp the inherent beauty of nature and a great work of art.
Q. What is a lovely reminiscence according to the poet?
Answer. According to the poet, A lovely reminiscence is of the poet about his uncle’s dexterity in shadow-play using his eleven fingers to create fascinating images of kings, cats etc and sounds like hissing and the transformation of the shadows to fingers again.
Q. What are the different forms that the poem conveys?
Answer. The whole poem is about what we are composed of, the different forms in which the elements combine, the impact of time on the composition, the process of the decomposition (the Madurai lepers) and finally death and destruction which is described as eating and being eaten