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Hindu Philosophy fascinated WB Yeats: Remembering him and his Timeless Poetry at Jaipur Literature Festival

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Jaipur, Jan 20, 2017: William Butler Yeats, one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature, has cast his shadow over the history of both “modern poetry” and “modern Ireland” for so long that his pre-eminence is taken for granted, it emerged during an intense session on the life of the late poet on the second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) here.

In the session titled “WB Yeats The Arch Poet,” leading Irish historian Professor Roy Foster travelled beyond Yeats’ “towering image as one of the 20th century’s greatest poets to restore a real sense of his extraordinary life as Yeats himself experienced it — what he saw, what he did, the passions and the petty squabbles that consumed him and his alchemical ability to transmute the events of his crowded and contradictory life into enduring art”.

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“Yeats never visited India but it is evident that right from the beginning, Hindu philosophy fascinated him. He deeply admired India and his devotion towards the works of Tagore is well known,” said Foster, author of the first authorised biography of Yeats in over 50 years.Tagore first met Yeats during his third visit to Britain.

English painter William Rothenstein, overwhelmed by the rhetorical simplicity and philosophical gravity of Tagore’s work, is said to have passed his poems to Yeats. And what next? The Irish poet reportedly burst into a torrent of praise on reading the manuscript: “If someone were to say he could improve this piece of writing, that person did not understand literature.”

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Later Yeats wrote the introduction to Tagore’s “Gitanjali”, which caught the imagination of the Western world.

“Yeats presented himself as a representative of his country’s beliefs and that of his generation. This figure is so less understood even today. He is not just a poet but also a politician, a journalist a revolutionary and a theatre director,” said Foster, a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) and the Royal Historical Society FRHS). He has delivered dozens of lectures on Yeats in several countries.

“He rediscovers Irish literature, always conscious of looking apart and different from the crowd. He moves from being an Irish Victorian to being an advanced modernist. He moves to a different world but throughout the process and even now he has always remained somebody who continues to make Irish culture richer,” Foster said, as an attentive crowd listened patiently.

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In favor of home rule, Yeats once compared Irish society to “a stagnant pond filled with junk, including the two old boots of Catholic bigotry and Protestant bigotry”. Yeats believed that home rule could undam this pond, Foster said.

“Of course, this wasn’t going to happen. The pond wouldn’t be gently undammed by a constitutional act. It would be dynamited by a revolution,” he said.

Yeats changed his public image from time to time so that he emerged, in 1922, as a prominent figure of a new nation, Foster said.

“Many of his early poems which seemed superficially simple are actually deep, deeper than most of us can ever comprehend. Yeats had an extraordinary ear for rhythm and as such, he believed that his own poetry should be chanted rather than recited.”

“Yards and yards of scholarly research is yet to be written and decoded about the mysteries and the wide range of references and imageries that Yeats made in his work. As somebody growing up in a country facing a revolution, which would soon be free, in the new state of affairs, Yeats would soon emerge as a prominent figure, he always drew anger, strength and motivation from Ireland.

“His poems are so beautiful, in words and significance, because they came at a time when he was constantly changing his mind. He often had to rethink himself,” Foster noted.

Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”. (IANS)

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Attention Readers! Here are Five Books to Look Forward to in November 2017

While October saw a diverse bookshelf, ranging from "Finding my Virginity," by Richard Branson to "The Bhojpuri Kitchen," by Pallavi Nigam Sahay, the upcoming month is more about concrete titles by well-known faces.

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Looking for books to read in November? We have got you covered! Pixabay

New Delhi, October 30, 2017 : With the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Man Booker Prize – the two most coveted literary honors – having been awarded earlier in October, the literary season has indeed set in.

Two literature festivals have just concluded in the national capital. The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature will be announced in about two weeks, while the Jaipur Literature Festival is also round the corner. What better time for publishing houses to release the most-awaited books of the year?

While October saw a diverse bookshelf, ranging from “Finding my Virginity,” by Richard Branson to “The Bhojpuri Kitchen,” by Pallavi Nigam Sahay, the upcoming month is more about concrete titles by well-known faces.

Here are five books we can’t wait to read this November

1. “The Book of Chocolate Saints” by Jeet Thayil (Aleph)

One of the most-awaited literary books of the year by Jeet Thayil, a past winner of the DSC prize, the Sahitya Akademi Award and a finalist of the Man Booker Prize. In incandescent prose, Thayil tells the story of Newton Francis Xavier, blocked poet, serial seducer of young women, reformed alcoholic (but only just), philosopher, recluse, all-round wild man and India’s greatest living painter. At the age of 66, Xavier, who has been living in New York, is getting ready to return to the land of his birth to stage one final show of his work (accompanied by a mad bacchanal). Narrated in a huge variety of voices and styles, all of which blend seamlessly into a novel of remarkable accomplishment, “The Book of Chocolate Saints” is the sort of literary masterpiece that only comes along once in a very long time.

2. “Conflicts of Interest” by Sunita Narain (Penguin)

One of India’s foremost environmentalists, Sunita Narain gives a personal account of her battles as part of the country’s Green Movement. While outlining the enormous environmental challenges that India faces today, Narain says political interests often scuttle their effective resolution. She recounts some widely reported controversies triggered by research undertaken by her along with her team at the Centre for Science and Environment, such as the pesticides in colas report, air pollution research in Delhi and endosulfan research in Karnataka, among others. Narain also includes an ‘environmental manifesto’, a blueprint for the direction India must take if it is to deal with the exigencies of climate change and environmental degradation.

3. “Life among the Scorpions” by Jaya Jaitly (Rupa)

From arranging relief for victims of the 1984 Sikh riots, to joining politics under firebrand leader George Fernandes, to becoming president of the Samata Party — a key ally in the erstwhile NDA Government – Jaya Jaitly’s rise in Indian mainstream politics invited both awe and envy. All this even as she continued her parallel fight for the livelihood of craftsmen on the one hand, and conceptualised and ensured establishment of the first Dilli Haat in 1994, on the other. With all the backstories of major events in Indian politics between 1970 and 2000, including her experience of dealing with the Commission of Inquiry and courts regarding the Tehelka sting, the story of Jaya Jaitly makes for a riveting read. A powerful narrative on why being a woman in politics was for her akin to being surrounded by scorpions; this is one of the best books set for release and a hard hitting memoir that offers a perspective on the functioning of Indian politics from a woman’s point of view.

4. “Chase Your Dreams” by Sachin Tendulkar (Hachette India)

Why should adults have all the fun? In his career spanning 24 years, hardly any records have escaped Sachin Tendulkar’s masterly touch. Besides being the highest run scorer in Tests and ODIs, he also uniquely became the first and only batsman to score 100 international centuries and play 200 Tests. His proficient stroke-making is legendary, as is his ability to score runs in all parts of the field and all over the world. And Tendulkar has now come up with this uniquely special edition of his autobiography for young readers.

5. “China’s India War” by Bertil Lintner (Oxford University Press)

The Sino-Indian War of 1962 delivered a crushing defeat to India: not only did the country suffer a loss of lives and a heavy blow to its pride, the world began to see India as the provocateur of the war, with China ‘merely defending’ its territory. This perception that China was largely the innocent victim of Nehru’s hostile policies was put forth by journalist Neville Maxwell in his book “India’s China War,” which found readers in many opinion makers, including Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. For far too long, Maxwell’s narrative, which sees India as the aggressor and China as the victim, has held court. Nearly 50 years after Maxwell’s book, Bertil Lintner’s “China’s India War” puts the ‘border dispute’ into its rightful perspective. Lintner argues that China began planning the war as early as 1959 and proposes that it was merely a small move in the larger strategic game that China was playing to become a world player — one that it continues to play even today. (IANS)

(Editorial note : This article has been written by Saket Suman and was first published at IANS. Saket can be contacted at saket.s@ians.in)