Art & Culture

A slowed-down heartbeat

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiNov 26, 2015 | 17:43

A slowed-down heartbeat

There's an early winter feeling at "The Sideways Door": a sense that the time is near for burrowing and hibernation, for the slowed-down heartbeat and for a long sleep. This month, despite the doubled line count and - I hoped - a tempting prompt, there was one sole submission. Though there's a resurgence of interest in myth-making, it appears that someone else, somewhere, has to do the telling.


Unmana Datta's poem "Boromir" draws, of course, from the work of that modern-day mythologist, Tolkien. I had wondered, when I wrote the prompt and carefully avoided mentioning the poems inspired by The Game of Thrones, whether anyone would interpret the prompt to include works from our own lifetimes that have achieved the status of myth: The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, even - with more than a little trepidation - the products of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Unmana's choice of Tolkien is unexceptionable and even welcome. Tolkien's own work uses a fair amount of song and verse, and though entire genres have been unable to escape his influence, there's remarkably little poetry that draws from his work.

It is interesting, therefore, to see that the poem "Boromir" draws more from Peter Jackson's films than from the books - "His sword glowed blue, signalling that orcs are around," Unmana writes. A brief comparison of the books and the film reaffirms this.

It is also interesting that while the poem is clearly based on the cinematic version, there is little in it that is visual. Instead, the words aim for the rotundity of Tolkien's writing - the kind of speech that signifies a voice from mythology:

  • We turn away from each other and dry our eyes
  • As we walk on. But I grow weak
  • Not in strength but in will. And I forget
  • Why I shouldn't have the ring.
  • It calls to me with promises of defeating evil
  • and finally setting my people free and at peace.

There are inconsistencies in the voice, an echo of the current day seeping through the cracks of the "antiquity" of the poem; as when Boromir says, "But. But. But. But yet again." Since that is not a stammer, it can only be an out of character and anachronistic mode of speech that is more in tune with Tumblr than Tolkien.

The poem also needs some thought on what it can do that the books and films could not. It is a poem written for a reader who has definitely seen the films and has perhaps read the books - a young person somewhere between the ages 18-30, in fact. What then, can the poem make them see and feel anew? This, I feel, is a question that hasn't been thought about enough.

As a poem in the first person, a straight up overview of the significant events that lead to the death and redemption of Boromir, it's a decent poem. It sets up the character and his concerns well. There's a skilful attempt at indicating the presence of the others in the company:

  •                                                              I see the contempt
  • in your eyes, Ranger, Elf-lover, heir to the kingdom
  • my father rules. You and your fathers stayed away.
  • We burned, but you were too far to smell the smoke.

This is Boromir to himself, speaking his mind silently, but watching and acting when necessary. We infer an honourable man, acting out of the best intentions, capable of friendship and loyalty but equally of resentment and the will to power.

Understandably, all this is hard to achieve with the necessary economy the prompt demands. The poem exceeds the line limit of 40 lines by an entire stanza of 11 lines; and for this reason, I won't be posting the poem in full. This is a good draft poem, one that has the structure and heart it needs; but it needs pruning.

Thank you for your submission, Unmana.

"The Sideways Door" will return with a prompt in early December. However, there is a caveat: the month in which I receive no submissions is the month in which "The Sideways Door" will close.

Which is as it should be.

Last updated: November 26, 2015 | 17:43
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy