Role of Poets in a Transitional Society
Poetry is not created in vaccum. It is the work of a person who belongs to society. Homer, Virgil, Goethe, Balmiki, Vyasdev, Kalidas spoke to and for their societies. The epics of Homer and Virgil convey and dignify the history of a people, the good wars, and the gods. Social wisdom is conveyed by the choruses of Greek plays.
The epics of Balmiki and Vyasadev also convey and dignify the history of a people, the gods, and wars for the establishment of justice. The poets fulfill the highest obligation to society by impressing on common men the social wisdom of living. In earlier ages, the poets were responsive to the needs and aspirations of the society to which they belonged. They were court poets and used to compose patriotic songs to inspire men patriotic self-sacrifice; they used to write poetry to sing the celebrations of victory.
As a matter of fact, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, Wordsworth, Bankimchandra, and Rabindranath have all written patriotic poetry. The power of such poetry and its social value is great. War poetry is often written to inspire young men to go to the war front for the cause of their country. The poets thus discharge an important social duty.
From Plato to modern communism, it has been urged that poetry must transmit social ideals, form social virtues. praise great men, idealize the system. Plato in his Republic excludes poets from the ideal state because they tell lies, malign the gods, soften the character, confuse the unreal and the real. But Aristotle defended the poet as presenting a more significant kind of probability than the more factual recording of the historian.
Poets have responded in various ways to the social systems. In a divided society, the poets often take sides. Milton attacks Anglican clergy in Lycidas and Dryden defends Charles II in Absolom and Achitophel. Milton seeks to justify the ways of God to men in a society ridden by factions and stricken by religious nihility. The close of Pope’s Dunciad rises to pessimistic grandeur, letting and foretelling how men fall away from great norms of thought and conduct. Thus the poets have come forward to expose some cause or to warn people in a society divided by factions or threatened by God’s wrath, plague or famine, and internal social decay.
In British ruled, India Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay composed a patriotic song ‘Bande Mataram’ to inspire the youths struggling against British imperialism. Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote ‘Bidrohi’ and other poems to inspire people to protest against oppression and exploitation. Rabindranath Tagore supported wholeheartedly freedom movement against British Raj and wrote many patriotic poems and songs.
The poets have done their social duty in the then transitional society of India. Sukanta Bhattacharya also wrote poems about the oppressed and down-trodden poor people of society. The position of the poet as a moral teacher has been upheld by nineteenth-century critics and poets. The crux (Gibat fat) of the eighteenth-century doctrine was that poetry illuminates human nature and pleases and instructs by so doing.
In the nineteenth century, it is urged that imagination is the instrument of the moral good; poetry strengthens the imagination; therefore poetry is an instrument of moral good. Wordsworth says that the poet “is a person chatting with man”. The poet relates men to each other and to the world of external nature through an account of illustrative situation seriously apprehended and concretely described, and in doing so both demonstrates and increases the pleasure which lies at the heart of all activity, human and natural. Wordsworth shows the primary laws of human nature from the experience of a humble shepherd, a leech-gatherer, of an idiot boy.
In the twentieth century, poets are imprisoned in their private emotions and sensations. As a result, they are alienated from society. As a result of industrialization, poets as a part of culture became more and more autonomous, and therefore more and more self-regarding and specialized.
The poets tend to write down not about public matters but about themselves. They have evolved their own personal language made of highly wrought systems, paradoxes, and ambiguities. The poetry of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Mallarme, Rilke, Jibanananda Das, Sudhin Dutta, Buddhadev Basu, Subhas Mukhopadhyay is obscure because of private myth, allusiveness, and ambiguity.
They reflect the weariness and sterility of the age through their images and symbols. The modern Humanists and Marxists enforce the social and moral function of the poets, though with different emphasis. The Neo-Humanists see poetry as a criticism of life. The study of the technique of literature may be a study of means, whereas they’re concerned with the ends of literature as affecting man. They are opposed to Naturalism and Art for Arts’ sake. They feel that poets must communicate their experiences to the readers. They want the poets and artists to propagate humanistic doctrine just as Marxists want the poets and writers to propagate social realism.
The Humanists have Sophocles and Shakespeare; the socialist realists have Tolstoy and Sukanta Bhattacharya. But these great writers are led by their own inspirations to create their versions of human life. These great writers paint the pictures of life with such sympathy and perceptiveness that they bring out the dignity of man and the emerging victory of the working class. Every genuine work of art enriches the reader’s knowledge of life and heightens the aesthetic sensibility and his emotional culture. In this respect, the poets fulfill the role of an educator. Poetry implies experience and enlarges human sympathies. Poets teach through aesthetic means.
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