Refer to “A Different History” and “Pied Beauty” (1877). Discuss the way in which the cultures of the poets and the dominant cultures of their eras, affect the reader’s successful understanding of the above poems.
Both the poems, “Pied Beauty” and “A Different History” were written within a similar time period and each poem conveys the poets’ views on culture and religion at the time. Nature is integrated in the poems and linked to religion while the poem itself challenges/questions. A poem has always conveyed a poet’s feelings and thoughts and as such, the different cultures and religions of their time affect the content and tone of their poetry.
In “A Different History”, the poet compares her culture and the leading culture at the time. Written at a time during the English colonization, the poet has seen how a dominant culture has affected smaller cultural groups. She is very conscious of the different languages spoken throughout the world and the almost overpowering English language, which leads to her concern about losing her mother tongue and forgetting her background, the simpler, Indian culture. She seems to feel as if one’s identity is derived from their culture. As a relatively smaller cultural group in the Western world, she feels a constant pressure to conform to the dominant culture of the modernized world.
With this in mind, when she writes her poem, the content and the tone are affected by her own beliefs, her history and the occurrences of her world at the time. She starts off by talking about the Greek God of nature and she says that even though it seems as if he has disappeared, he hasn’t because “he simply emigrated to India” (line 2). She believes that the ancient Gods can only go to India because it is the only place left in the modern world that had not traded tradition for industrialisation and has not been consumed by a bigger culture. The first section of Sujata’s poem seems to be criticizing the modern world for forgetting these important gods and contrasts India’s way of life with the new world. Sujata believes that language is tantamount to the actual act of speaking and in the second part of the poem talks more about language and its role in society. The second part is slightly different to the first part of the poem because instead of criticising the English language, she points out that every language is guilty of some indiscretion, even her own when she says “which language has not been the oppressor’s tongue?” (line 19).
When readers understand Sujata’s background and beliefs, it is easier to understand the poem because it is mainly about losing culture and questions languages’ roles. She believes that language is intrinsically linked to culture and one’s identity. She uses the example of the rules relating to a book for numerous reasons. Not only do books contain the languages that we learn, but they are also something that, in present day, not many treat as considerately as her culture. Mostly, in the Westernized world, it is not a sin to “slam books down hard…toss one carelessly across a room” (line 11) and this simple rule not only demonstrates the differences between her culture and the dominant one at the time but also how constrictive her culture is as well. The westernized world has more freedom, but her culture respects the ancient Gods more and see God in every natural object. It is curious how she uses the pronoun “whose” (line 18) when talking a tree. Many of us consider a tree an inanimate object and “whose” is usually only used for people or animals. This underlines the importance and respect she has for nature in comparison to the Western world.
Because we have hindsight, we have also seen how cultures and languages have combined and changed over the years. At the present time, many cultures exist peacefully yet there will always be dominant ones. Sujata portrays how language can be used to harm but we have also seen how a language can unite people as well. Predominantly, English is spoken worldwide and even though, like other religions it is also guilty of being forced onto other cultures, many still learn it. Because the reader can interpret the poem in many ways according to their history and their beliefs, understanding Sujata’s background helps the reader to more successfully understand her meaning of the poem and what she hoped to achieve by it.
The next poem, “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins strongly conveys the poet’s feelings about religion and life. Written in 1877, the same year that he become a Jesuit priest, his newfound religion is clearly revealed in the poem when he begins with “Glory be to God”, a Jesuit motto. His religious beliefs influence the poem significantly because it is about his perception of life and beauty itself. The religious affect is noticeable mainly because of his references to Jesuit mottos and the climax at the end is praising God.
Gerard’s beliefs are what leads the poem to question beauty itself, and everyone’s perception of beauty. He believes that God made an imperfect world, but that its imperfection is what makes it so beautiful. This is where the reader’s understanding of his beliefs is required because he makes up words and the poem may seem a little queer because of the examples of things he uses to portray beauty. Normally, when one thinks of something beautiful “brinded cow”, “rose-moles” and “fresh-firecoal” do not spring to mind. When the reader understands that he feels that beauty is everywhere because God has made it, it is easier to understand the poem. His tone is not only challenging, but it is also grateful to God for what he has created.
At the same time, one must remember that he uses unconventional objects and adjectives to challenge our perception of beauty and to point out that beauty differs from person to person. He considers not only natural, but also man-made objects or something man has done to nature for example “landscape plotted and pieced” (line 5). Different cultures interpret beauty differently and for him, anything diverse “all things counter, original, spare, strange” (line 7) is beautiful. Once again, this poem can be interpreted in different ways by the reader but the poet’s background and beliefs help to see the poem’s purpose as he intended.
Both poems have a questioning or challenging tone and these are based on the poet’s beliefs which strongly influence their poetry. For a reader to not only interpret the poem according their experiences, one must understand the background of the poet to discover the true meaning of the poems they wrote.