To Feel or To Act?

Some would argue that poems are meant to be felt. Critical analysis, more often than not, leads to the death of a poem. On the other hand, feeling the poem brings with it a different vibe. What do I mean by ‘feeling’ a poem?

Every work of art carries with it not just the artist’s expression and the physical, visual and auditory components, but also a whole new world, perhaps a setting, a smell, a memory, and plenty more. It varies from observer to observer, but if one is able to link it to a particular memory or even create a new one, one is able to feel the work on a personal level.

Similarly, if one is able to live in the poem, absorb its imagery, symbols, tone, and other aspects, then it brings an entirely new experience to the table. It is almost like the Rasa in Indian dramatic conventions where certain emotions are evoked in the audience which leads to a more fulfilling experience for the viewer. There is a strange, warm satisfaction that comes with feeling a poem.

For instance, let me delve into an example that comes straight out of my mind. When I read Jim Morrison’s poems, I could get a sense of the dreamy air that lingered around his words. It was almost too easy to associate his poems with the occurrences in my life. (I urge the reader to keep in mind that this is not an analysis, but simply a sharing of ideas and nothing more.)

The first poem that struck me is from Wilderness:

I am troubled
By your eyes

I am struck
By the feather
of your soft

The sound of glass
Speaks quick

And conceals
What your eyes fight
To explain

I shall skip the use of words such as ‘metaphors’, ‘similes’ and whatnot. The poem, quite simply put, evokes a sense of longing and love. There is a suggestion that Morrison is talking about a rejection, where the word “disdain” stands out. It is possible that the woman has broken the speaker’s heart, hence the “sound of glass”. It might also represent alcohol, which may have steered the speaker away from the woman he loves.

There is a slight poignant touch to the poem. The speaker feels longing to a point where he is “troubled” “immeasurably” by the woman’s eyes. The “feather” of a reply strikes the speaker. Again, one sees the contrast between immense feeling of love and being struck. The words “struck” and “soft” having been put in the same stanza evoke the ups and downs that one faces regularly while in love. The image of the “eyes” is brought back in the final stanza where the speaker notes how the “sound of glass” hides what the eyes of the woman “fight / To explain.” The confusion in the poem adds to the idea that love is an elusive feeling which is abound with unpredictable contradictions.

It brings one to the question and idea of what love or attraction is. Does one necessarily need to act on a feeling that one has for somebody? I remember watching a conversation with Sadhguru where he advised a young man in love to not rush into things. He told him to enjoy the feeling as it might not remain the same after the girl is aware of his love for her, because then, the constructed notions would all fall apart and the man would not be able to experience the same feeling again once the girl comes into the picture. He would no longer have control over his feelings. He asks the young man to “just enjoy it, don’t tell her” and not rush into it at an early age where the body and mind are vulnerable to various temptations.

In most cases, it is the idealized version of love that one is drawn to. The kind seen in books, movies, and even poems. If one has the ability to experience and empathize with feelings in art and reality, and not act in haste, things might work out accordingly, with time. If one is able to feel something in its wholeness, then it provides space and room for rational thought once the feeling evaporates, but if a person loses himself in that feeling, it turns into an alternate reality, where he is unable to distinguish from reality and the dream which often leads to friction in the mind.

In the poem above, and in reality (in many cases), feelings come and go like a leaf slowly floating in the wind. One might wake up one day like the narrator in Erica Stevens’ The Survivor Chronicles: Book 1, The Upheaval:

She’d woken up one day and had a clear epiphany; she didn’t love her husband anymore. Hell, she didn’t even like him anymore. Not even a little. As she reviewed the past few years and became brutally honest with herself, she’d realized she’d actually never really liked him. She’d simply been in awe of the striking, slightly older boy who had desired her too.

In Love in the Time of Cholera, Florentino Ariza waits five decades to finally unite with Fermina Daza, the woman he loves. The entire story is about how they spend their lives apart from each other, and in the closing chapters they reunite, old, but still in love. It is interesting to observe how the feeling remains constant in the case of the two characters and transcends into a whole new understanding between the two.

The Before film trilogy is another fascinating example of the idea of love. Director Richard Linklater explores love at three different stages in the lives of Jesse and Céline. It pushes the viewer to reconsider the real meaning of love, breaching the barriers of jealousy, possessiveness and every other feeling associated with love. The final film in the trilogy Before Midnight brings out much of the frustration that has been bottled up between the two. There is much confusion and what I like to call a ‘domestic’ war, where the two say a lot of things that possibly bring out the ideas hidden in their subconscious mind:


I don’t wanna live a boring
life where two people own each other,
where two people are institutionalized
in a box that others created – because
that is a bunch of stifling bullshit.

Things finally blow up and Céline storms out only to return to confess that:

You know what’s going on here? It’s
simple – I don’t think I love you

Jesse finally follows her and they have a conversation laced with humour, and they realize that their impulsiveness and misdirected anger has dissipated. The reconciliation concludes the film and the viewer is left to ponder over the sequence of the events and outcome. It is not clear as to whether they go back to being a couple or just spend the night together. What is clear is that they have respected one another’s desires and acknowledged that they love each other but do not necessarily need to live a life together in order to pursue it.

Love is fleeting. It comes and goes. Sometimes it is strong and passionate, sometimes it is less so. But it is there, in the air somewhere.

And Jesse and Céline are able to identify this. Unlike in most films, the trilogy is highly conversation based, where the two characters strive to get to know each other through long conversations. It is philosophical and takes their understanding of one another to a deeper level. All this happens over a couple of decades.

Understanding one’s feelings can be extremely hard. It can drive a person to do many questionable things which s/he comes to regret later. Time and patience often enable people to understand and rationally consider the same. Until then it is, I would argue, essential to enjoy the sensations and feelings that a person experiences without considering it to be an obligation to act upon them immediately.

Jim Morrison writes in Time Works Like Acid:

We are not constant
We are an arrow in flight


Her face changed in the car
eyes & skin & hair remain
the same. But a hundred similar
girls succeed each other

It is a reference to how time changes perceptions of everything, including people. It is unclear as to whether something that is considered beautiful today will be seen in the same light in the future.

I believe that one needs to be able to completely feel a poem in order for it to attain the ideal result. It is the same with life, where one must come to terms with feelings and learn how to blend rational thought and feeling and not be mislead on the commercialized notions of ‘love’.










This essay would not have been complete without the following references:


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