January 14, 2018

Kotri, By the River - The Universal Nostalgia of Young Love

Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, 1916
Kotri, by the River 

At Kotri, by the river, when the evening's sun is low,
The waving palm trees quiver, the golden waters glow,
The shining ripples shiver, descending to the sea;
At Kotri, by the river, she used to wait for me...

Notice the use of internal rhyming - river, quiver, shiver, river.  This is done in every stanza -

slender, tender, flowers, hours;
water, taught her, duty, beauty;
listen, glisten, above her, lover; and so on.

Along with the end rhyme couplets, this sets up a gentle dynamic lapping, a hypnotic pattern that soothes the mind into the poet's soft dreamy scenes.

Westerners unfamiliar with India may be forgiven if they conflate the Kotri of the poem's title for the name of the beautiful doe eyed young woman the poem celebrates.  Kotri is the name of a town, a small village in Hope's day, on the river Sindh (or Indus).  The Sindh river gives the region its age old name, as well as the people that dwell there.  The girl and her tender lover remain nameless.

The nameless girl becomes so identified with the place where days spent daydreaming on the river slipped by that the poem could work as a  metaphor - is the girl who sings like the birds and whose face "broke into flowers" a symbol of the land itself?  No matter, whether meant to embody a charming landscape or depict an old flame, the poem is warmly saturated with nostalgia, like an aging photograph or faded bit of film.

During their days of love, the narrator teaches his muse about the three of Hope's favorite themes -  Youth, Beauty and Love.  There is more than lovemaking at work though, there seems to be a union with all of nature in this time spent next to the river's glinting, cooling waters.  Laying on the ground, parrots flitting about, the joy found within a lover's arms fill the starlit evenings.  The wind plays through the trees, and when all else comes to a standstill, the ever present river carries along the thoughts of the lovers.

And while we sat together, beneath the Babul trees,
The fragrant, sultry weather cooled by the river breeze,
If passion faltered ever, and left the senses free,
We heard the tireless river descending to the sea.

Uknown Indian dancer
Maharani Gayatri Devi
Now that the narrator's lover is utterly lost to time and her fate unknown, it is somehow more comforting to imagine that she may have passed away and been interred in this beautiful place.  Certainly the  memory of her still dwells here by the river.  It is a memory that creates a sort of magical spell - there is no aging, no second act, no settled life with children and duties for the nameless beauty.  She dies just as she lives - in the narrator's mind, an idealized embodiment of youthful play and easy times.  The speaker prefers to simply join her in a sort of ephemeral slumber of death rather than reckon again with cold reality.

At Kotri, by the river, maybe I too shall sleep
The sleep that lasts for ever, too deep for dreams; too deep.
Maybe among the shingle and sand of floods to be
Her dust and mine may mingle and float away to sea.

By joining her dust flowing to the all-dissolving ocean, the easy "at oneness" with nature that came naturally in youth may once again be experienced - indeed it may be the only way to return to that deep state of easy union.
Near Kotri, Lower Indus, 1890

Krishna and Radha
The last line's "passions of the past" are wedded to the landscape; the quivering palms and the lights playing the water's surface provoke memories.  Like Proust's madeleine cookie, it takes only a taste of the river air to bring back youth's careless mingling of merriment, lovemaking, and ease.  But memories are hardly accurate;  they are glorified, and therefore better than the original, at least for the poet.   Aside from dreaming, the only thing that approximates such remembered ecstasies would be dissolving in the transpersonal state of death - finally.becoming one with the elements.

We are designed to mate, and in that mating hopefully join with not only the Beloved, but Nature and Universal Consciousness as well, even if only for a brief moment.  It is a testament to Hope's choice of theme in "Kotri", that (aside from the most repressive societies) most humans living at any time in any culture can relate to it's universal emotion kindled by warm memories of young love and - with the right stimulus - may cast themselves back on their personal river of time to revisit days of pleasure past.

The task of transmuting the transient and transpersonal permanently into words is the ultimate challenge, and greatest gift, of the poet.

Ruth St. Denis

NOTE:  "Kotri, By the River" is recorded in the fourth section of India's Love Lyrics and may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to share your thoughts, discussions, pleasures and corrections.