While I had hoped for three more drafts by the end of 2011, I’ve only completed another one, for a total of three. Life, alas, placed many other demands in my way, intervening in the time and peace of mind I needed.
Yet I managed to write a thirty-page essay on Rabindranath Tagore, which I am told will be published this month in India in the journal Rupkatha.com. I began reading Tagore as a very young poet many decades ago and have often thought of writing about him, but dismissed the idea until prodded by the editor, giving me the determination to take a seeming detour into the months of reading needed to shape my thinking into form. Actually, I had felt for the last year or so that I had to engage with Tagore at a deeper level before finishing The Parliament of Poets, and now feel he has opened further for me a perspective that is highly congruent with what I have already written.
Homer’s catalogue of ships at the end of Book II of the Iliad suggested the third draft of The Parliament of Poets. I was actually quite surprised by the development. As a young writer I had always had an animus against the form. Reading Melville’s Moby Dick, I found his chapters on the history and practice of whaling infuriating. At times I couldn’t control the impatience I felt with his method, wanted to throw the book across the room! A diligent student, I, nevertheless, wasn’t one who could skip chapters, ploughed through them, while salivating for the thread of the plot to return. As an older and perhaps wiser writer, I have made my peace with the form. The catalogue serves a literary and intellectual purpose I’ve come to respect, indeed, come to realize I need, for the good of my story and my reader, though there might be some out there someday annoyed as I once was. I hope they’ll come as I have to respect Homer and Melville’s practice, among other writers who have found similar devices necessary, and consider there are reasons and purposes that only the epic catalogue can fulfill.
Homer recounting in Book X the warriors of his epic, Agamemnon in Book IV reviewing his troops, Virgil in his catalogue of the Latin forces and the Etruscans, Milton that of the fallen angels, all tell us something very important about the epic drama under way. Such devices open out and broaden the scope and elevation of the poem. How much more needed in a global age when we have come to view the earth even from the moon. How much more necessary in an age that embraces so much in terms of human experience.