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Hindu Philosophy fascinated WB Yeats: Remembering him and his Timeless Poetry at Jaipur Literature Festival
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)
Facebook says it plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to work on a new computing platform.
The company said in a blog post Sunday that those high-skilled workers will help build "the metaverse," a futuristic notion for connecting people online that encompasses augmented and virtual reality.
Facebook executives have been touting the metaverse as the next big thing after the mobile internet as they also contend with other matters such as antitrust crackdowns, the testimony of a whistleblowing former employee and concerns about how the company handles vaccine-related and political misinformation on its platform.
In a separate blog post Sunday, the company defended its approach to combating hate speech, in response to a Wall Street Journal article that examined the company's inability to detect and remove hateful and excessively violent posts. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Facebook, Metaverse, Augmented and Virtual Reality
As children, singing the rhyme Rock A Bye Baby was a fun thing to do. It was a statement of thrill and adventure to imagine a child climbing to the top of a tree and rocking to sleep. Especially in the Indian context, rocking a baby to sleep by attaching the cradle to the tree is quite a common thing. But the origin of this rhyme, or lullaby, seems rooted in other histories.
The most popular notion associated with this lullaby is of women leaving their babies tied to tree branches, rocking to sleep with the wind. It is believed that at the time this lullaby was written, it was inspired by a coloniser who saw the Native American women tie their children in birch bark cradles to the trees. The babies went to sleep rocked by the gusts of wind while the parents went about their tasks.
A Native American wooden cradle Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Another interpretation of the rhyme is that it is an allegory to Betty Kenny, or Kenyon, as some versions record it. The Kenyons were a tree-dwelling family, and they used to live in a yew tree. They had carved the tree branches to fit their babies and allowed them to nestle there during the day. The part of the rhyme that talks about falling off the tree is a little scary in this context, but the speculation is that the tree branches were quite low.
The final interpretation of the lullaby has political allusions. King James II of England, was the last Catholic king. He had no heir and reportedly used another baby to impersonate his own. But he was found out and exiled in the Glorious Revolution that took place after he was deposed. The act of falling down from the cradle is a metaphor for those who make mistakes from being overconfident or proud.
The many versions that exist of the rhyme/lullaby make it confusing to really know why it was written in such a strange and morbid manner. Each version points to a different time in history where certain practices were prevalent. However, despite all the various interpretations available, the lullaby itself works wonders in rocking babies to sleep, and perhaps that is the only reason it has survived.
Keywords: Lullaby, Rhyme, King James II, Kenyons, Native Americans, Colonisers
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,