Opinion: Poetry and Journalism

12 mins read

While journalism is about facts, the poetry is about experiences yet both represent the society and both reflect true image of it. Tampering with it leads to a bad situation, writes Zia Darakshan

A good poem helps to change the shape and significance of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him—Dylan Thomas

Journalism is a noble profession and it is selfless in nature, it is more of a social service rather than source of earning profits — Altaf Hussain Hali

Plato wanted to banish poets from his Republic because they can make lies seem like truth. Shelley thought, poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. According to a European researcher, nations that empty themselves on world are dead wood and only poetry can raise them from slumber.

19th century Urdu poet Altaf Hussain Hali believed that poetry has strength to revive and make us cherish ‘the innocent and selfless memories of childhood.’ It freshens up feelings and desires which have become stale and dead.

Nonetheless, we stay busy with the ‘chorus’ of life but the same time it steals ‘essence from lives’, robs us of memories, rots our hearts. In a world filled ‘selfish’ one yearns for something that would lift up. Not just body, but soul and mind. Such is the power of poetry that it makes retrospect our past as well as introspect for our present and future.

According to Hali, poetry is not only about wisdom but about the virtues, morality, reforms of a society, good habits, national pride, respect, endurance, vows, emotions and feelings. Qualities and virtues, that build nation.

‘Had Plato been successful in banishing and sending poets in exile, through his imaginary constitution’, Hali said while criticizing Plato, ‘then he would not have been able to serve the nation best through the best virtues and morality lessons.’ Hali believed that, otherwise, the society would have been an indifferent and selfish, far from feelings and emotions necessary for human survival. This is the reason the whole world respects poets that lead to noble things.

It is said that if you want to understand any dimension of a society, go through its poetry. Whenever a lexicographer writes dictionary, he goes through the poetry of that region to find the collection of words so as to incorporate the new words, old words and the current trend of expressions.

Poetry and society are interrelated

However, like anything else, poetry too has its limitations. Poetry is dependent upon the tastes and temperaments of a society. “If society has a bad taste, it will reflect in the poetry of a poet, because a poet does not deliberately change his poetry according to the tastes of society, but because he himself changes as per the society,” remarks Hali. Take the example of Bollywood songs. Compare the old and new ones. The older era depicted simplicity of words and expressions and were deep spiritual truths on our existence and surroundings; love and romance; impermanence of love, sufferings and the realities of life; while the new songs have insulted the old standards with noisy, unintelligible and non-sense lyrics. This simply demonstrates the bad taste of society portrayed by a poet. Therefore, a poet acts as a mirror of the society in which he lives.

Hali says a king who has whole kingdom at its disposal, a bank is his pocket money, and he actually ruins a poet by patronizing him. His undue reward and recognition for the poetical works murders the poet and his poetry. His plight is not less than a beggar who begs at every door. A poet otherwise is the national pride and asset of a society.

Effects of bad poetry on society

Plato’s argument against poetry in Republic 10 is baffling. He says poetry corrupts our youth, incites the passions instead of faculties of reason. He says poetry corrupts our souls and cripples our thought process. However, it is clear that when he talks about the ‘bad poetry’.

As Maulana Hali opines that poetry is harmed by the bad taste of the society and once it is harmed, its toxic nature harms the society at large. Deceit and imitation are the two enemies of poetry, when they become rampant in poetry; it loses its charm thus leading to its venomous nature that spoils our society. We become comfortable with deceit and falsehood; the more the deceit the more your poetry is acknowledged and people become totally lost and appreciate the imaginary and supernatural stories which are far from reality. Science, mathematics, history, geography, and reasoning take a back seat. Creativity is gone for toss and bad humour is the order of the day.

Poetry in our country

In our subcontinent, the Mughal period is described as the “golden era of Urdu and Persian poetry” as it is during this period that Urdu and Persian poetry flourished far and wide.

The imperial courts in India and Iran played a crucial role in patronizing the poets. Persian poetry and most of the Persian poets were attached to one court or the other. They found their poetical works duly recognized and were rewarded by the imperial courts more so because poetry in the form of Ghazals, Rubaai, Mathnavis, Qasida etc. were the life blood to the comfort seeking monarchs.

The Qasida (Panegyrics)

The panegyrics have been written by well-known poets as well as the lesser known ones and the poets like Mirza Ghalib too had practiced the art of panegyrics, however the intention of panegyric writings have mostly been to gain respect and prize from the court.

No doubt the Qasida is an important element of poetry and is considered to be the highest form of poetry, however, the quality of Qasida writing was not duly respected by some poets; hence it suffered a major loss at the hands of such poets who completely restricted it to the exaggeration and praise of kings.

The undue praise, comparison of a king and nobles to God and Prophet remained a pastime of poets to gain short term gains from the court. This practice became quite popular; the more you praise the more you earn. These short term gains proved a bonus for such poets thus paving a short cut to quick income and stature for the poets. This encouraged the practice of panegyrics, however, the learned and insightful visionaries warned such poets.

Poet versus journalist

We live in a technology driven society. There are no kings, no courts and no nobles yet there are bad poets who have transformed themselves into journalists.

Nowadays, journalists are in the rat race of building contacts and networks with the influential people and bureaucrats which, as a matter of fact is important for business, however if it goes beyond a certain level or at the cost of professionalism, it does harm rather than help the society. These journalists focus more on earnings rather than on work. Their credibility is not less than those poets who used to sing praises to please their kings and nobles for gaining prize and honour. These journalists are the bad poets who harm society by flattery and sycophancy in order to establish their identity.

Journalism is not just a profession but it means quality, integrity and a responsibility, failing otherwise might put a question mark on the credibility of a journalist.

While journalism is about facts, the poetry is about experiences yet both represent the society and both reflect the true image of it. Tampering with it leads to a bad situation.

I again invoke Hali here. “Journalism is a noble profession and it is selfless in nature, it is more of a social service rather than source of earning profits. A journalist’s job is crucial and challenging as he is a counsel to the society and advisor to the government. A person, who lacks basic qualities like patience, understanding human psychology, human values and ability to guide them, should never adopt the profession of a journalist. A journalist should have the capability of convincing people with his versatility, knowledge and patience.”

“He should not even criticize people to the level which harms their reputation and maligns their image instead he should adopt a moderate course while handling such issues.”

What journalists should learn from poets?

The Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Edwin Arlington Robinson once said that poetry has two outstanding characteristics. One is that it is indefinable. The other is that it is eventually unmistakable. Good poetry always speaks about the truth.

Journalism also seeks truth. This affinity  has to be understood by today’s journalists who desperately want easy money and fame. Unless our journalists are inspired, nothing can be achieved or expected, in fact such journalism will further rot our hearts and souls just like the bad poetry which eventually lead to the decline of a rich and huge empire.

Hali has rightly put in his essay ‘Journalism and its responsibilities’. He says, “A hoarse voiced mauzin (caller to prayer) is disliked by the people, similarly a journalist not well versed with his skills, has done actually a wrong assessment of himself and his example is just like that of a crow who tried to be swan but forgot how to be a crow”.


The author is Associate Editor at INS and can be mailed at ziadarakshan@yahoo.com


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