A poet has three very special names: yesterday's delight-seeker, today's delight-seer and tomorrow's delight-harbinger.
There are three types of poets: ordinary poets, great poets and seer-poets. Ordinary poets grow like mushrooms in infinite number. The great poets are few and far between and are also known as born poets. The seer-poets are of the supreme heights. A seer is he who envisions the present, the past and the future all at once.
Poetry has three very special names: inspiration-mind, aspiration-heart and beauty-life.
God wanted to have a very, very special garden of His own. He asked His poet-son to be the gardener. He also asked the gardener to create a garden as beautiful as possible and, at the same time, as small as possible.
The poet-gardener devotedly asked God if there was any esoteric purpose for the garden to be smaller than the smallest and beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful.
God said to His newly appointed poet-gardener, "What is poetry, if not My real Beauty? Do you not recall what My English poet-son Keats' immortal utterance is: 'A thing of Beauty is a Joy forever'? Beauty and Infinity are inseparable. I want to reveal the Infinity that I am through the finite that I equally am. Therefore, I am asking you to make Me a garden of beauty unfathomable and beauty unsurpassable."
God further said to His poet-gardener, "My son, once you have accomplished your task to My Satisfaction, I shall entrust you with another task. You will be the only flute player in My garden. Infinity's Beauty-lovers from the four corners of the globe shall visit and drink deep the beauty of our garden."
The difference between a prose writer and a poet is this:
A prose writer is a marcher. He marches and marches along Eternity's Road to arrive at Infinity's Goal.
A poet is a singer. He sings and sings along Eternity's Road to arrive at Infinity's Goal.
The prose writer has thunder-legs.
The poet has lightning-feet.
Arriving at the destination, the prose writer declares,
"I have become."
Arriving at the same destination, the poet whispers,
"I eternally am."
I have been writing prose and poetry for over half a century. I am very happily and proudly sailing in the boat of Coleridge:
"I wish our clever poets would remember...Prose: words in their best order. Poetry: the best words in the best order."
Again, it is illumining to read a comment by Rabindranath Tagore, the master poet of India, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. He writes:
"I wonder why the writing of pages of prose does not give anything like the joy of completing a single poem. One's emotions take such perfection of form in a poem, they can be taken up by the fingers, so to speak. While prose is like a sackful of loose material, incapable of being lifted as you please."
Poetry I read to lighten my mind and enlighten my heart.
Poetry I read to sweeten my bitter mind.
Poetry I read to replace my heart's sorrows with my soul's ecstasy.
Poetry I read to transform my human mind-jungle into my divine heart-garden.
Poetry I read to fathom my own inner worlds and to scale my own higher worlds.
Poetry I read to see and feel Divinity's Beauty inside the heart of humanity.
Poetry I read to watch the hide-and-seek of my heart's tearing tears and my soul's blossoming smiles.
Poetry teaches my heart infinitely more than it preaches to my mind.
Ancient poetry pined for inner freedom. Modern poetry hungers for outer freedom.
Since, according to many, I am a modern poet, I do not know how I can escape from Goethe's irrefutable observation of modern poets: "Modern poets mix too much water with their ink."
Ancient poetry paid more attention to the Unknowable than the knowable. Modern poetry maximises the power of the knowable and allows the Unknowable to remain a stranger, a perfect stranger.
The ancient poetry-boat was quite often overloaded with poetry-passenger-readers. The modern poetry-boat is quite often empty of poetry-passenger-readers.
Now what about those who are not poetry-lovers at all — no, not even poetry-readers? They do not care in the least either for ancient poetry or for modern poetry. Dear audience, with your soul's permission, I am crying ditto to a statement by Anthony Hope Hawkins:
"I wish you would read a little poetry sometimes. Your ignorance cramps my conversation."
Ancient poetry loved to swim in the sea of tears. Modern poetry loves to surf in the ocean of laughter.
Poetry tells the world, "O world, I am a flower. Appreciate my beauty if you want to. Enjoy my fragrance if you want to. But do not expect from me anything more than my beauty and my fragrance. If you expect anything more, you will be doomed to disappointment."
Poetry tells the world, "O world, I can teach you how to smile, even while you are crying."
In my case also, I have my own ancient poetry and modern poetry. My ancient poetry embodied my inner cry:
A sea of Peace and Joy and Light
Beyond my reach I know.
In me the storm-tossed weeping night
Finds room to rage and flow.
My modern poetry reveals my inner smile:
I am flying and flying
On Immortality's Wings
In Infinity's Sky.
When I started my poetry-journey, my inner experiences and realisations spontaneously expressed themselves through the power-aspect:
No mind, no form, I only exist;
Now ceased all will and thought.
The final end of Nature's dance,
I am It whom I have sought.
My spirit aware of all the heights,
I am mute in the core of the Sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
My cosmic play is done.
As I continue my poetry-journey, my inner experiences and realisations spontaneously express themselves through humility and devotion-aspects:
Your Love has entrapped my eyes,
My heart, my life and my all.
May I be allowed to entrap
The hallowed dust of Your Feet?
Throughout my poetry-journey, my poetry-tree has cherished various branches: philosophy, prayer, religion, spirituality, my love of Nature's beauty, my love of word-making, which the English language indulgently allows me to explore, and my abiding love, concern and hope for this world of ours.
When nationalism captures my mind, I soulfully sing:
I dearly love my India
And her age-old silence-peace.
When internationalism embraces my heart, I offer my sleepless and breathless prayer-song to God:
My Lord, do give me the capacity
To wipe every tear
From every heart.
Wherever I go, Nature's beauty enters into me and feeds me with abundant inspiration:
The sky calls me.
The wind calls me.
The moon and stars call me.
The green and dense groves call me.
The dance of the fountain calls me.
Smiles call me, tears call me.
A faint melody calls me.
The morn, noon and eve call me.
Everyone is searching for a playmate.
Everyone is calling me, "Come, come!"
One voice, one sound, all around.
Alas, the Boat of Time sails on.
It was Horace who offered us the following illumining definition of poets: "Poets, the first instructors of mankind."
May I add,
Poets, the first God-Beauty-lovers
Poetry is not something to be understood.
Poetry is not something even to be felt.
Poetry is something to discover one's universal Reality.
Poetry is something to uncover one's transcendental Divinity.
I am deeply honoured to be talking to you in this august hall dedicated to Theodore Roethke, the esteemed American poet who was a beloved professor and poet-in-residence at this university. According to my humble opinion, Theodore Roethke was truly a God-Beauty-lover in God the creation. I would like to end my talk today by invoking the presence of his bright illumination-soul: "The Light Comes Brighter," which celebrates the simultaneous arrival of Spring in nature and in the mind:
"...soon a branch, part of a hidden scene,
The leafy mind, that long was tightly furled,
Will turn its private substance into green,
And young shoots spread upon our inner world."
My highly esteemed Chairman Shawn Wong, my lovingly revered Professor Charles Johnson, your university is unique for its motto: "Lux Sit," "Let there be Light." Your love of light, both the light of the soul and the light of the mind, is supremely unparalleled. Today you are kindly, compassionately and blessingfully honouring me with The Light of Asia Award. In silence-secrecy-ecstasy I am sowing the seeds of my heart's gratitude-tears and gratitude-smiles in your beauty-non-pareil-heart-gardens.