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

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WB Yeats, Wikimedia

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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JLF Panel Examine The Future Of AI

The panel also explored the impact of AI through the example of the popular debate on the use of driverless cars. 

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AI has the potential to increase India's annual growth.
AI has the potential to increase India's annual growth. pixabay

“In 50 years, we’ll probably have a robot conducting this session,” said author Anupama Raju in her opening comments on Monday at the session “The Future is Now” in the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), giving voice to an increasingly popular concern: will robots take over the world, our jobs and life as we know it?

A panel of eminent technologists Meredith Broussard and Toby Walsh was in conversation with Raju on the concluding day of the Festival.

“Scientists work within the envelope of the dreams that writers tell us,” said Walsh, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) professor, stating that the world is now waking up to the ideas that have been explored by science fictions writers such as Isaac Asimov for over 50 years.

Data journalism professor Broussard said that Hollywood has “coloured” our perception of AI with movies such as “The Terminator”, which portray robots as “evil machines that take over humanity”.

Having helped 1.7 million people around the world gain mobility with the famous Jaipur Foot, the organisation is now embarking on a mission to develop an affordable artificial hand, its founder D.R. Mehta has said.
Jaipur Foot and US are collaborating to develop an artificial hand. Pixabay

She called the fictional narratives “interesting but far from reality”, stating that there is “very little to fear” about AI.

Walsh argued that the real concern with AI is actually its “incompetence: We are giving decision making ability to machines that are not capable of making choices that are fair and meet the values of the society we’d like”.

Walsh, who has written “2062: The World that AI Made”, however, batted for the greater rationality of machines over humans.

“Humans are terribly irrational,” she said.

Broussard argued that computers, limited by their ability to merely executing what they are programmed to do, would “discriminate by default: The world is racist and sexist and has all kinds of social and economic inequality”.

Agreeing that AI doesn’t have an opinion and simply reflects the values of the people who build it, Walsh said that using computers to make a fairer world would certainly require immense prudence and hard-work.

“It’s the same as how chemistry makes the world a better place if we think carefully about not over-fertilising our soil or using nuclear bombs.”

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“A tectonic shift is happening in AI. Nearly 85 per cent of enterprises globally will use AI in some form or the other by 2020.

The panel also explored the impact of AI through the example of the popular debate on the use of driverless cars.

Walsh said that driverless cars would help save millions of lives, be economically beneficial by reducing transportation costs, prevent truck attacks by terrorists, and free people to do more productive tasks than driving.

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Broussard, author of “Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World”, was admittedly “sceptical”.

Narrating an incident where she almost got killed by a driverless car, she explained, among other issues, how such cars’ “image-recognition algorithms could be easily defeated”, thereby resulting in accidents.

The JLF concludes later on Monday evening. (IANS)