Chapter 4 - Poetic Drums

Chapter 4 - Poetic Drums

Chapter 4 - Poetic Drums

“Poetry can be dangerous, especially beautiful poetry,

 because it gives the illusion of having had the experience

without actually going through it.”

― Rumi

 

“There is something about poetry beyond prose logic,

there is mystery in it, not to be explained but admired.”

 — Edward Young

 

As a drummer, you're always fighting for a level that you never quite attain. Damien Chazelle 

Period of time covered: 1955 to 1963.

Location: Belo Horizonte.

             

            My father loved music. He had a large collection of 78 rpm records, which were mostly popular music from his youth ― the 30s to the 50s. His musical interest varied from melodies and songs in American films to occasional local productions, as well as from Viennese Waltzes to Argentinian Tango. It was to the sound of Jazz bands that he taught me how to dance the fox trot.      

            Developed in the 1910s, the fox trot reached the height of its popularity in the 1930s and is still danced today. It is a smooth dance of continuous flowing movements to the tempo of four, as opposed to the waltz, which is to three.

            Father also taught me how to waltz, an absolute must, and the only Latin rhythm we danced to was the Tango, which came into fashion worldwide at the end of the 19th century.

            Our dancing lessons at home started early, when I was about five, as my father soon realised that I had inherited his love of music and dance and so learned easily. For our lessons, which were right after dinner, we would go to the living room where my father would play his records on a victrola. I would insist that my mother help me change from my pyjamas into a dress, as I thought it was a necessary prerequisite for dancing. Meanwhile, my father would put on his tap dancing shoes.

            Our lessons soon progressed into a contest, which was my father’s idea, and he would take notes if I missed a step. I remember how lightly I touched his shoulder and his hand to make sure I felt every move he made as we moved across the floor in gentle twists and turns to the rhythm of the music.

            After my lessons he would round off the evening by tap dancing for me. For tap dance shoes with steel tips on the heels and toes are worn, and to very great effect by Fred Astaire in his films. He was my father’s idol and he watched all his movies. My father also used to tap dance very well, though he was self-taught, and I always applauded him when he danced for me. I was a very good dancer and I tried to learn to tap dance, but I found it very difficult.        Poetry, for me, is very similar to tap dancing, as it also follows a beat. What I did like about it was the rhythm. But I never meant to write it, neither did I like it that much, and was not a habitual reader of it. But words often came into my mind of their own accord in a sequential, unstoppable and unsolicited torrent of sounds that begged to be recorded on paper. They just pulsated forcefully to the beat of a mental drum, evoking the sound of tap dancing on a wooden surface.

            My first attempts at poetic expression were the result of this subconscious influx of rhythmic words that appeared to be telling a story. Or was my mind trying to describe emotions imprisoned within it? As much as dreams analyse and order our memories, though presented in jumbled sequence, emotions pour out as poetry. But just as the language of dreams is pictorial, a phonological mental presentation consists of a sequence of words to a rhythm.

            Poetry is, therefore, a story told to the music of imaginary drums. It starts with an un-choreographed sequence of thoughts bursting forth in staccato, not necessarily obeying their natural order, which later have to be tamed into sense and shape. Just as the instinctive dance of a child or an untrained dancer is just a sequence of movements, the unplanned words adhere to a pace and are instinctively adorned by the occasional repetition of sound, which is rhyme.

            Talking about the rhythm or beat of a poem brings to mind the verses entitled I-Juca-Pirama by Gonçalves Dias. This is one of the most famous Indianist poems of the Brazilian Romantic period. It was published in 1851 and written in the decasyllabic and alexandrine verse form, and it is divided into ten cantos.

            Indianism is a Brazilian literary and artistic movement that reached its peak after Brazil gained its independence from Portugal in 1822. These works are characterised by the presence of an Indian as the protagonist. In the Indianist movement, the Romantic style of the previous Baroque period, which began around 1600 in Rome and spread to other European countries and their colonies, is still present.

            I-Juca-Pirama means in the Tupi language He who must die and is worthy to be killed. The poem tells the story of a warrior who was caught by an enemy cannibal tribe — the Timbiras, who were part of the Krenac people and speakers of the Macro-Gê languages.

            As the Tupi brave is about to be sacrificed he begs for mercy to go tend to his sick and blind father. His captors set him free and he quickly returns to his father. However, the father smells the sacrificial paint on his son's body, and upon learning what happened, insists that they return to the Timbiras' tribe, to continue the sacrificial ceremony.

            The Krenac chief, however, tells the old man that they no longer want the Tupi warrior because he begged for mercy and is thus a coward. The old man then curses his son as a disgrace to the Tupi tribe. The son, unable to face his father's displeasure, wages war alone against the entire enemy tribe. As the old man listens to his son's war cries he realises that he is fighting with honour.

            The battle is only finished when the Timbira cacique recognises the valour of the Tupi by saying, “Enough brave warrior! Bravely you fought. Now you must keep your strength for the sacrifice!”. On hearing this the old man hugs his son and cries with joy.

            I tried to find an English version of the 4th Canto of the I-Juca-Pirama epic, but, unable to do so, I did my own translation. In this I tried to capture the beat in the Portuguese original by means of rhythm and the occasional rhyme. I also had to research the meaning of a number of uncommon words in the original Portuguese version, and availed myself of the occasional poetic license to achieve an effective composition.

 

I-Juca-Pirama, 4th Canto

By Gonsalves Dias

Translation by ALP Gouthier

 

My song of death
Warriors listen!
I am a son of the
Jungle in which I
Grew, I descended
From the Tupi.


The valiant tribe
Now shunted aside
By a fickle fate.
Thus I was born, I’m

Angry and strong, and
The son of the north.
My song of death
Warriors listen!

I have seen fights
Of enemy tribes
And the hard toil
Of war I tasted;

The cunning looks

I saw in the faces,  
With fleeting cries
On the winds I loved.

In distant lands I
Waged raw wars,
Wandered the hills
Of the vile Aimorés.
In struggles of braves
I saw strong slaves of
Indolent strangers,
In cushioned feet.

In the tall fields
Of broken arches,
The humbled pajés
Without maracas;
The gentle singers
Serving their masters
Who were but traitors,
Bringing no peace.

By enemy's blows
My last friend with
No shelter, homeless
Fell next to me,
With placid face,
Serene, composed,

And I suffered

Bitter inner aching.

My father beside me,
Broken and blind
With grated feathers
Leaning on me.

After hapless treks,

Covered in thorns

We arrived here

In misery.

 

The old man then

Long suffering,

By hunger broken,
Just wishing to die.
No longer enduring,
I enter the forests
And try to survive

With my arrows.

So strangers I say,
Imprisoned I was by
Warring braves who
Chanced upon me,
While attending to my
Father, weak and blind.
Until my return what
Will be his fate?

I was his guide in
The dark of night,
The only joy
God left to him.
I him supported,
On me he depended,
He rested by me,
His child that I am.

The old fellow with
His grated feathers,
Just broken and blind,
What is there left
But to die? As now,

So soon describing

The end of the life

I had. Let me live!

I am not vile, not idle,
But strong and brave,
I will be your slave,
Here I will return.
Warriors, I feel no
Shame for tears I cry,
Over life I deplore, I
Also know how to die.

 

            As the Tupi warrior sang his song of death, I heard imaginary drums beating their rhythm, insistent, strong and tragic. But the canto also sings of devotion and love. And going back to Anastasia’s poetic expression, could verses be vessels in which to bury emotions? Or are they a vehicle through which to take one’s private thoughts and speak out to an audience larger than one dared to before?

 

Poetic Drums

 

Writing poetry is but

The placing of words,

Thoughts, ideas, into

A rhythmic throb.

 

The beat of drums,

The Morse code of the

Mind, swaying, rhythmic

Just an impulse.

 

The pouring words,

Thoughts creating

Torrents of sounds

Bubbling from mind.

 

Throw not your stones,

They’re only thoughts.

Do not stone dreams

Your actions restrain.

 

Given space to bloom

A dreamer may thrive in

Moments of peace, of rest,

In which to live and die.

 

© ALP Gouthier, 2011

 

            Though many poems may be just a short sequence of words, the poetic message is endless as it depends on the comprehension of the reader to fulfil its intent. It was the first medium through which I dared express myself, not because I found it easy, but because it is generally shorter than writing in prose. Even now that I have at last dared to organise my thoughts into longer episodes, I still occasionally go back to poetry for my quick messages to the world.

            My mother did not like dancing or music in general. As a matter of fact she was unable to perceive rhythm and was completely tone deaf. It amazes me that she actually liked poetry. So she was certainly not empathetic as far as my father’s appreciation of dancing was concerned. But that did not matter because my father hated most forms of social life.

            He had no patience for the usual chit-chat at parties. He was also averse to drinking alcohol, to smoking and overeating. Food was just a necessity to appease hunger and promote health. That was all. He got terribly bored at parties and usually soon disappeared from social gatherings. I have come to understand this as I now find it terribly tiresome to converse aimlessly for hours, and I try to keep short the social functions I attend.

            My mother always loved spending long hours talking to her friends and eating, or amiably playing cards. My father and I always hated cards, and he went as far as to think card games a thing of the devil. I am more liberal than he was, though I also abhor wasting money through any activity involving chance or luck. But even when I have to play innocent card games, that do not involve money, I get terribly bored by the shallow repetitiousness of the procedure.

            In many areas my father was ahead of his time. His ideas on nutrition, workers’ rights, women’s rights and birth control were certainly advanced, but in some other areas he most definitely appeared to belong to a previous century. At home his was loving and affectionate to us children, but as we grew up he became very severe. Wearing a bikini was out, holding hands with a boyfriend discouraged, and kissing out of the question.

            However, away from home, unseen and unheard by us, he exercised his own perceived rights in as unbridled manner. It was only when I read about certain personages in early 19th century Brazil, or others in the distant kingdoms of India, that I learned that  such wayward behaviour was often the norm. Father never realised that times had changed. He never could.

           

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

                  – William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

A Familiar View of West Minas Gerais / Vista Familiar do Oeste de Minas Gerais.

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