Phoenix of Beauty
Indian English poem titled Phoenix of Beauty is written by Dr. Sumitra Chakravarthy. She was an alumnus of Calcutta University with an Honours degree in English Literature, secured a gold medal in her Master’s and a PhD on the topic “The Search for Identity in Contemporary British Fiction”. She has taught English Literature at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in Bangalore and guided research students. She has presented papers in several national and international seminars both in India and abroad. She has published a book of poems, The Silent Cry (2002), and co-authored a book of critical essays, The Endangered Self (2003). A book of translations of short stories of four major Bengali women writers on women’s issues is currently under publication with Oxford University Press. She is working on a second book of poems on issues related to tribal women and their habitat, some of which have already been broadcast over All India Radio.
Analysis of the Poem
Saumitra Chakravarty’s poem “Phoenix of Beauty” is an indication of the beauty of nature emerging from the ugly. Using the metaphor of the “Lotus” flower, the poet wants to bring home the fact that beautiful things are not always found in higher places of life or nature; instead they can evolve from the lowest of places too. This concept can surprise us because we usually look at the highest places for inspiration and beauty and totally overlook the lowest places; however, the lotus flower being the most beautiful flower in the world comes from slime.
The poet begins the poem with the idea of a future. When the little bud opened to a beautiful future, all that she saw was the death of the long stems or the tired petals which were very active and shining the previous day. There is a reference to the fact that time can destroy beauty. What was beautiful yesterday should undergo changes and become ugly tomorrow and make way for newer beautiful things. After reflecting on the destructive power of time, the bud looks at the young sun that is forever young.
While she utters her birth cry, she notices the pall-bearers carrying the dead. It’s a dismal picture, but it also tells her that this is the harsh truth of life. Now, after gaining this wisdom at her birth itself, the bud looks at the sun and she finds the sun very wise. The sun turns its look at the young bud that appears to be pleading for life, innocence and also for the beauty to prevail longer. But the nature/world is no longer innocent. It has experienced the harsh truths of life. The bud wishes for innocence to prevail in the world of guilt. The first rays of the sun had initially smiled on a new world, but now it no longer smiles because the inhabitants of the world have changed their attitudes towards nature.
Finally, the poet talks about the fact that the lotus flower, though very beautiful, has risen from the bed of slime. The new flowers have shades of red and yellow splashed across their petals making them very attractive. This bright red and yellow shines over yesterday’s dirt and overshadows it. The poet moves on to human beings now from the flower. When the white teeth flash in a blackened face and the merry eyes dance in the hunt for something beautiful, the dung heap unfolds and outcomes the liberated beautiful lotus bud. “The white teeth flash”, “the blackened face” and “the merry eyes” describe the beauty of an individual who may be black and yet happy.
The happiness of the person is a reflection of the beautiful mind. When the poet says “beauty dies hard”, she means that beauty never dies; it comes back in a different form. The poet instils hope in the readers with this line.
The poem, at one level, explains the beauty of nature unfolding from the ugliest of things; and on the other level, reflects the general attitude of people to disregard anything ugly. Even though dung is ugly and despicable, the lotus flower blooms in that slime. Like the phoenix rises from its ashes, the beautiful lotus bud rises from the dung. The poet also implies that time destroys external beauty, but will never dare touch the internal beauty. By attributing beauty to the female gender, the poet perhaps tries to emphasize the fact that the female of the species is the most beautiful in the world, in different aspects, just not the external beauty, but in their behaviour and their kindness, fortitude, patience and love.