On the Death of a Poem


‘On the Death of a Poem’ is a beautiful poem written by A.K.Ramanujan. The poem expresses the writer’s aggravation and pain at having poetry go unrecognised. The poetry is also accompanied by a sensation of guilt-ridden consciousness. As we go further into the metaphorical meaning, the poem’s core feelings become more apparent.

Summary and Analysis


The poem is presented as a process of poetic creation in such a lean and striking linguistic space. At the source and core of the poetic process, the poet enshrines the intimate conclave of consulting images. As the second stanza suggests, the poet’s personal and basic experience is one of serious ideological, aesthetic, and moral difficulties. However, as the poetic “jury” comes to a value judgement and language consensus, each of the “images” narrows down their options.
This forces the “jury” to conclude the final line about the linguistic necessity and finality of the grammatical sentence.

In the sense of sentencing, this might also be a kind of ultimate judgement. For practical as well as linguistic reasons, this resolution and closure of the poetic process becomes a judgement that comes near to capital punishment for Ramanujan’s ego. And that is clearly stated in the title, despite the fact that the poem’s emphasis appears to advocate for a different perspective on the origin and status of a poem. If it does not open up without closure for others to participate, contribute, and diverge from, a poem in a clean grammatical sentence as an art object is a dead poem. In some ways, Ramanujan’s writing may be attempting to challenge the sole authority and privilege of either the poet’s critical discerner or the advocate for critical hegemony. Ramanujan may be exploring the possibilities of a much more process-oriented non-canonical, secular, and democratic practise and philosophy of poetry in this way. Because, as Bruce King observes, “such completeness kills the experience of the images operating on each other.” It is as if Ramanujan wants to hold and propose the view that “The poem is a process of images operating upon each other before being given a fixed order and interpretation.”

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Ramanujan’s persona here takes on the role of the devil’s advocate. ‘On the Death of a Poem’ can be interpreted as a poetic warning against the politics of language hegemony controlling and appropriating a potentially secular creative process. Rather than sanitising, the poet raises questions about the complicity and politics of linguistic choices in the context of poetry. As a result, secular aesthetics appears to necessitate a lifelong commitment to a language that does not abandon the street of ongoing contact with the subaltern and changing times.

However, unlike Nissim Ezekiel in his Very Indian Poems in Indian English, Ramanujan did not make fun of his poor Indian cousins. Genuine, he has not adopted the focused political posture of an Arun Kolatkar in Second Sight in support of the dispossessed and exploited as the true “masters” of “the city.” Kolatkar’s lyrical avatar, the Pi-dog, locates the heart and soul of Mumbai admirably and deservedly in the subaltern and secular communion of the underdogs representing every possible colour, gender, caste, and race living off the street and on the street in Kala Ghoda Poems.

Despite this, Ramanujan performed “things with the syntax” and imagery in “On the Death of a Poem” that made his poetic language “alive in rich and strange ways.” In that respect, to return to Ali’s metaphor, the language utilised in his poetry has contributed in some way to a different level of “biriyanization.”

The critical exegesis of these two poems substantiates the secular possibilities of Ramanujan’s use of poetic language. As Ramanujan himself has sarcastically put it, the Kamasutra, “literally a grammar of love”, declines and conjugates “men and women as one would nouns and verbs in different genders, voices, moods and aspects.” Similarly, the sources of Ramanujan’s poetic topics and concerns, the dynamics of his poetic language and imagery, and the dialectics of his voices and visions can be inflected and informed by the grammar of secular aesthetics. As a result, the strength of Ramanujan’s poetic language contributes to the whole strength of the secular aesthetics vision that his poetry aspires to in terms of worldview, political charge, and authorial process. Theoretically, in the context of Indian Poetry in English, Ramanujan’s Secular aesthetic has subverted and exposed the orientalist and upper-class predilections of a Sanskritic aesthetic tradition based on the primacy of the classical Indian ethos or the ‘Great Tradition’; it can also challenge and withstand the formalist and urban-centric linguistic standard, and the resulting exclusions of a “Sacramental” aesthetic trend of a supposedly globalised literary taste and global English. Furthermore, the Secular Aesthetic model arising from Ramanujan’s poetry has the potential to make poetry appreciation and critique much more relevant to the Indian context, as well as give one of the meaningful pedagogic possibilities for literature studies. It is pertinent to our current cultural and political context, in which native / regional literatures, subaltern literature, Dalit and women’s writings have asserted their mainstream presence.

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Questions and Answers


Q. How is the poem presented?

Ans. The poem is presented as a process of poetic creation in such a lean and striking linguistic space. At the source and core of the poetic process, the poet enshrines the intimate conclave of consulting images.

Q. How does the poem brings out secularism in this poem?

Ans. ‘On the Death of a Poem’ can be a poetic warning to the politics of linguistic hegemony taming and taking over a possible secular poetic process. Instead of sanitizing, the poet problematises the complicity and the politics of linguistic choices in the context of the poetic form. So a secular aesthetic would seem to need a continual commitment to a language that does not leave the street of constant contact with the subaltern and the changing times.

Q. Does the personal experience of the poet brings conflict in the poem?

Ans. The personal and core experience of the poet is one of severe ideological, aesthetic and moral conflicts as the second stanza implies but, as each of the “images” in the poetic “jury” arrives at the value judgment and linguistic consensus, they narrow down on their choices.

Q. Who is Ramanujan’s persona in the poem?

Ans. The persona of Ramanujan plays the devil’s advocate which can also be a kind of final judgment in the sense of sentencing. This resolution and closure of the poetic process for practical as well as linguistic purposes become a judgment close to capital punishment for Ramanujan’s persona.

Q. How is comparison made in the poem?

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Ans. Ramanujan has used comparison in this poem like sacrament is compared to idli thereby giving a desi twist.

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