Essay on Inspiration in Poetry

Outline:

  • Different processes of creating a poem
  • Meaning of inspiration
  • Fascination of words
  • Process of writing poetry like the making of a diamond broach
  • Poet as a seer Power of imagination

What is an inspiration in poetry? We had better hear the answer from Henry David Thoreau. In a poem entitled “Inspiration” he writes:

“It speaks with such authority

With so serene and lofty tone

That idle time runs gadding by

And leaves one with eternity alone”

The poet while getting inspiration goes through a very subtle kind of experience. There are different processes by which a poem is created. In the first place, the seed or germ of a poem strikes the poet’s imagination. It may come in the form of a strong but vague feeling, a particular experience or an idea. The poet jots down the idea or image in his notebook or just makes a mental note of it, and then he probably forgets all about it. The seed of the poem passes into that part of him, we call the unconscious mind. Then it grows and begins to take shape till the moment comes when it is ready to be born. For a poem, the second stage may take a few days only or it may take years. In the first stage, the poet feels an urgent desire to write a poem. It is often an actual physical feeling of either being hungry or excited or frightened about something that is just going to happen. The poem begins to take its shape and the poet sits quietly or he may stride over the Countryside Like William Wordsworth or ride in a bus like Alexander Pope – whatever helps him best to concentrate on getting the poem out of him. He recognizes in it the seed that first came to him weeks or months ago, which he may have forgotten all about in the meanwhile, but the seed has grown and developed in a remarkable way.

In this stage, the poem hangs at the door and demands to be let out. What comes first is not the finished poem but a far of the poem. Here the hard work of writing poetry begins. The poet has to get the rest of the poem. out, to shape it, to choose every word in it as carefully as you would choose a new dress. The writing of the poem is so hard that often it may take hours or even days to write one single line that really satisfies him.

Inspiration does not mean a great golden flood of words pouring into the poet’s mind and marshaling themselves neatly into lines and stanzas. Inspiration is when the first seed of a poem strikes its root in him. A poet may have many experiences, receive many ideas and images which could be the seeds of the poem but somehow they don’t strike root, don’t get deep enough in his imagination to fertilize it and he can never tell which of his experiences is going to form itself into a poem, until the poem actually starts asking to be born. We might fairly apply the word ‘Inspiration’ to this moment of the poetic process too, the moment when with eager excitement the poet realizes that he is ready to create a poem. C. Day-Lewis describes this condition thus: “This moment is like switching on your radio to get some distant station. You move the dials, there is a long silence, the instrument begins to warm up, and at last a faint voice is heard, words growing gradually more easy to hear and understand”. How this inspiration is received, is by the aid of the poetic imagination.

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One can never be a poet unless one is fascinated by words – their shapes, sounds and meanings and have them whirling about his head all the time. The poet develops his poetic faculty through contemplation – that is to say by looking steadily both at the world outside him and things that happen inside him, by using all his senses to feel the wonder, the sadness and the excitement of life, and by trying all the time to grasp the mysterious pattern which underlies it. Yet however devoted he is to his profession, however much he contemplates and practices, however, skillful craftsman in words he may become, a poet can never command inspiration. Dr. Iqbal has rightly said, “to become a poet you need no teacher. The inspiration comes from heaven”. The inspiration can come all of a sudden, as Percy B. Shelly had said: “The mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness”.

The actual process of writing poetry is rather like the process by which a diamond broach is made. The poet digs into himself, as a miner digs into a hillside, to find the precious stones the themes and images of his poems. How skillful and hardworking a miner is, he will not find any diamonds unless there are some to be found there, and you won’t get any poetry out of yourself either, unless it is there – unless your imagination is so hot and strong that it has fused your experience into the precious stones which are the raw materials of poetry, the same way as certain chemical conditions are necessary for the making of diamonds beneath the surface of the earth. You can’t write a poem just by wishing it. When the diamonds have been mined, they must be selected, graded and cut before they can be used for an ornament. This process is equivalent to the work, a poet has to do, and to make a finished poem out of the raw material his imagination yields him. Just as the quality and size of the diamonds available to him affect the design of the broach, which the jeweler makes, so the nature and quality of our poetic material helps to create the pattern of our poem.

The poet is a seer and out of the chaotic nature, he forms an order – a system. He goes to the inner soul of things. A poet’s imagination is so strong that out of abstract objects, he can create concrete things. As Goethe has said, “No two ideas remain abstract in our mind but assume the character of two persons arguing”. Through imagination, the poet goes through nature and destiny and reaches the heights, of which the human soul is capable. The poet’s imagination takes him to those regions where the ordinary eye cannot penetrate.

There is no limit to the power of imagination. Imagination does not define things; it feels them. The poet’s work is to describe the feeling. “This feeling is like a bud which is waiting for the morning breeze to prop open”. Says Dr. Iqbal.

The poet always becomes agitated by the feelings that his heart contains and tries to soothe him by giving vent to his feelings. Dr. Syed Abdullah has described this feeling as “melting of the heart and becoming a river of fire from which the poet borrows heat for his poetry”.

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