Kamala Das

Off we go girls with a new poem.  This time you are being given the author, the title and the nationality.  SO just read it, ejnoy it and the ONLY  thing (used with a pinch of irony, of course) you are being asked to do is: let yourselves be carried away by these words and let me know where you end up.  What do you think the poem is about? In two weeks’ time you will find some extra information posted in italics, so that you will be able to appreciate the poem even more.

Kamala Das

A Request

When I die
Do not throw the meat and bones away
But pile them up
Let them tell
By their smell
What life was worth
On this earth
What love was worth
In the end.

The request in ll. 1-6 seems to comply with the Indian custom of burning corpses.  However, those "meat and bones" have something to "tell": how are thye supposed to do it and what does that imply?

The smell of a corpse is certainly not a ncie one.  This implies taht "meat and bones" have quite a "bad" story to tell.

Is the general tone of the poem pessimistic or optimistic? Hos is this tone achieved? (in terms of images and rhythm)?

Pessimism is achieved through the reference to "smell" and through the despairing rhythmical positon of "in the end" which concludes the poem.  The use of very short lines is also funcitonal: every word becomes important and emphatic.

Kamala Das was born in 1934 into a liteary Hindu family in India.  Af fifteen, she was compelled to marry a cousin and moved to Calcutta.  Af sixteen she had her first son.  The forced marraige and her life away from her hometown (Malabar) were traumatic expereinces which inspired some of her best poetry.  After her divorce she returned to Malabar whe she still lives.  Her own forced loveless marriage has turned into an extended metaphor for the situation of all Indian women who are victims of a patriarchal culture.  Her love poems express her femininity and her belonging to the Indian tradition and landscape.  She has insisted on the need to rebel against tyrannical conventions and on woman’s need to find her own identity, of which "true love" and passion are only a part.  She has been considered a feminist wrter, but she has always rejected that label, declaring that in her poetry she only wanted to be honest and that she was simply interested in what is right or wrong.

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16 Responses to Kamala Das

  1. anonimo says:

    According to me this poem includes meaning of life. When you die you think about a lot of things that you did in the past because they are in your body, in your bones,in your meat, they are a part of you. You can’t cross out them also if you burn it. The poetry is indian so you can refer the bones’ smell to the custom of burning corpses. I’m not racist I accept the other culture’s traditions but I sometimes i don’t share them. I know the flames purify your body from sins but if you burn it you cancel a person you change him/her in ash. I can’t think you remember something breathing the smell of burned bones, but it’s better if you know that in this place there is someone who you loved.

    This poem is optimistic because there is hope to live in the heart of

    the others. While i’m reading this poem i can see a lot of bones piled up and burning and in the smoke i see the life of the dead person.

  2. anonimo says:

    In my opinion the theme of the poem is the fragility of life. I had the impression in reading this poem that it may be the work of a woman. I felt a sensitivity that can be feminine. I also had a sensation of spirituality that is typical of women. The poem starts with the imagine of death, the author says to people not to throw away her flesh and bones. She wants people to “pile them up”. When she says: “let them tell” means that what is left of her body has to be hinted to everybody the reality of life. When a person is dead, his stiff stinks (also the most wonderful and perfumed body does). I think she wants to give us a personal demonstration: all things which have value in our life, when death comes, are useless and futile. When the author clarifies “on this earth”, she wants to let understand that there is another life, not on earth but in another dimension where bodies have no importance anymore but other values are relevant. Only the good things we have done and received in life maintain a value. The tone of the poem is optimistic because following the author love is worth living and dying. _francy_

  3. anonimo says:

    i will say on tiptoe what i think to think -i am not really sure about it- about this poem, being it the request of somebody whose culture i do not know anything of.

    i read it once and i thought i couldn’t possibly understand, so i let some time pass, and than i re-read it..this time many thoughts in my head; i do not know how could they come out of my mind…i’ll try.

    by my occidental vision, i think that the author wants the bones and meat to be there to let people understand that it is just…meat and bones, nothing else. everything else, what the author is “made of”, won’t be found with that bones, it will be in another place. so i think Kamala Das is saying “do not worry about death, do not be afraid! it is only a passage! i know, you won’t have your corporal body any longer, but it is not really important…look amid that bones and meat,: i am not not down there!” i love the idea of appeal to the senses…most of all that “let them tell” in v.5, and the smell in l.6, because it strucks you; i think that if you once smell the stench of meat in decomposition, you won’t ever forget it.

    every line has just a few words; i think it is because the author wants the poem to be read slowly, and wants us to savour every single word.

    i would love to have something to tell about the last two lines…but i can not understand them…maybe i’ll read somethig through my made’s comments that will be illuminating even to me! i think that’s all, so on my tiptoe i’ll go away.


  4. canda98 says:

    Dear anonymous writer,

    I can read that you were carried away by this short poem. You used your imagination a lot, since you visualized burning bones! As to your reference to the Indian culture, I do understand your puzzlement, because you read about a custom that is so different from the European one, for example. But try not to be judgemental. If I see our custom of burying through the eyes of a person who burns the corpse of their beloved, I could get a sense of feeling smothered, being buried inside a damp, dark, deep place. The rays of the sun cannot warm my bones. Slabs of stone and concrete are heavily placed “on me”. I feel locked inside a prison. I want to be free, I want to be part of nature, don’t leave me alone….. This is some what dramatized, because talking about death and burial customs on the web is too much for me. These are private issues and as such I do not like writing about them (seriously) for everyone to read. That’s why I brought my comment to the extreme and I added a tone of sarcasm. But I am sure, knowing me as a teacher, why I wrote this to you. We need to lear to see things through different eyes. If we train ourselves in this direction we can understand other cultures, or people who we considere different from us, much better.

    Keep writing and I will keep reading you.

  5. canda98 says:

    Dear Francy,

    You are a poetess yourself. Well done, girl. I agree with you, even though I am not quite sure about your consideration about what characterises feminine writing. We haven’t dealt with the Romantic poets yet, but believe me Francy, the kind of sensitivity you will read in a few months is so touching and so “feminine” as you define it, but most of the poems we will read were written by men. By this I do not mean that the reader cannot “perceive” whether the writer is a man or a woman. I just think that it is not so easy, it is not black and white. We will certainly discuss about this issue in class. So be prepared.

  6. canda98 says:

    Dear El,

    I do understand your “fear” of writing about something you do not know very well, or about something that is so different and distant from your own reality. Your tentative approach (your tip-toeing, I loved this expression of yours!) is understandable. We cannot have the exact same response to a poem. It would not be a poem that appeals to our “soul”. SO this means that we cannot understand everything straight away. It takes time to savour things. The poem is short, but so dense in meaning. This is why I had chosen it. This way you realize how much can be said on so few lines! Try to rearead it, I am sure you will find the meaning to the last two lines and you will explain them to me. Looking forward to hearing from you again, then. Take care. Love. Your teacher.

  7. anonimo says:

    The poem is about death, better still about what the relatives should do with the author corpse after death. She says that the dead corpse speaks because, looking at it, we can understand better the worth and the real value of life. When the relatives are the deprived from the love of the dead, they understand more the importance of it because they have a hole inside.

    In my opinion those “meet and bones” tell something thanks to their presence: if the people see them, they would probably think over the meaning of life and they could understand that life is short and we must live and appreciate every part of it. In this poem there are rhymes: tell – smell (lines 5,6) are a rhyming couplet, worth – worth (lines 7,9) are alternate rhyme.

    Lines 7 and 9 are also an anaphora, because it is repeated most part of the line. I think that line 4 is particular because it is a single word: “and”. In my opinion it creates a sort of separation: in the first part the author gives the instructions of what the relatives are supposed to do with her corpse; in the second part she tells the importance of life and function of her corpse (underline the value of life and love). I think that the tone of the poem is optimistic. The Indians, if I don’t mistake, believe in the reincarnation. I think that it is optimistic also because it tells positive things about the worth of life.


  8. anonimo says:

    At last it’s possible for me to write. Sorry if I didn’t write any comment for the other poem.

    So…I find this poem very rich of sentimental value. Reading these few lines I can savour all writer’s life. I think the poem is about the fine borderline between life and death. But the tone in not pessimistic, the speaker knows that the life is only a passage but the memory will stay in the other’s heart. Thanks to give us the opportunity to express ourself without be judge and to choose this wonderful poems.


  9. anonimo says:

    This is the most beautiful “testament” I have ever seen. It is short, simple both in words and lexis, and at the same time it says everything. What is our aim in this life? Many people (writers, philosophers, scientists…) are still tring to give an answer to this question, and also I have asked the same to myself. Why? Why are we here? In my opinion this poem gives us a possible answer. Our life is not only directed towards what we can do here, in the earth, but its most important aim is “to guide” who follows us. What we do in life is to give examples of what is wrong and what is right for who will live after us. Many people could think that all this has been made for centuries, and that’s right, someway, but what we have condered are texts, peace of peaper that many times are been misinterpreted. But our “meat and bones” could not been, because they without speaking tell the truth to everybody in the same way. For example, when we are in front of a tomb there is silence (wich is the sublime evocated by art) and in this moment we can see in our soul understanding the essence of life. It’s really ironic that we can see it in what is no more alive. The rhythm of the poem is slow and makes the reader think about what is talking. The tone is pessimistic because the poet seems to think that the human being makes always the same errors withuot looking back trough the story, and I agree with him. -wolly-

  10. canda98 says:

    Dear Paola,

    You are not mistaken at all. First of all, do not worry about your considerations. I had asked you to feel free to express you own ideas and to draw conclusions on the basis of your background knowledge. So do not worry about possible generalizations at this stage. I appreciate the fact that you make a stylistic analysis of the poem as well. You noticed the relevance of the isolated “And”. It goes without saying that all these stylistic choices are meant to procure a certain effect upon the reader. Nothing comes by chance. Thank you for taking the time to write. I know you are packed with things to do so I really appreciate your contribution to this blog.


    Your teacher of English

  11. canda98 says:

    Dear Tribal girl,

    Thanks for finding the time to write. I do not understand when you write “this poem is rich IN sentimental value”. Can you clarify this point please? You are right in stating that there is a very “brittle”, “fragile” line that separates life from death. Yet, the tone is not pessimistic. Life is transitory, but memory will survive life.

    I THANK YOU for thanking me. Sometimes I feel disempowered in your class, because I get the impression that whatever I suggest is not something that catches your attention. At least, now, your words disclose a different reality: you are appreciating these poems. As to the possibility of expressing yourselves freely, well, you are always invited to do this in class as well. Perhaps with these poems you feel more involved. Bye for now. Try to join the tribe 🙂 more often if you can.

  12. canda98 says:

    Dear Wolly,

    Sorry for not writing to you promptly, but splinter was “out of order for a few hours” so I couldn’t post the message that I had written for you.

    As you clearly point out the power of literature is to make our minds more inquisitive. If it were not for it, we wouldn’t questions ourselves about the meaning of life, of our existence, etc. When we read and wonder about what we read, we gain energy from the writer’s experience of the world and we feel somehow “understood”, less lonely. Has it ever happened to you to exclaim “that is what I feel myself” after reading a poem?

    I do not understand when you write that it is ironic to appreciate things when we do not have them any longer? Do you want to say that it is absurd that lots of human beings long for what they cannot have any longer?

  13. anonimo says:

    According to me this poem show us life’s immortality. the “Speaking I” tells about a person who wants to protect her memory. For me this poet wants to demonstrate to us that she has good values like love in general. Her bones have “the gift” of speaking. We are caught into the poem. The poet wants us to live this situation using the sense of smell and not only. Then, this poem helps me to meditate about deth. Here death means another life, the proceeding of our life is in another world. I like this poem because it doesn’t describe death as something that puts on end to existance, but allows us to proceed through the memory of the living people. The author is a woman because she expresses her feelings in a sentimental way.As this is an Indian poet I think that she feels strongly the sense of another world, the idea of coming back on earth. so the death of body is not important because the soul survives. _fede_

  14. canda98 says:

    Dear Fede,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I can see you appreciated the poem and that it involved you deeply. Please read the comment in italics (under the poet). Then move on with the third poem and try to respond to it as profoundly as you did with Kamala Das’s. 🙂

  15. anonimo says:

    Too many hard up years,

    I can’t hold her,Have come my way

    Too many teardrops yeah

    I don’t get it

    Life moves on

    If you want it to

    Too many times I’ve felt

    My heart was broken

    Wasting time on someone

    I don’t get

    But I’ve found someone

    Who makes me better

    Yeah I’ve found someone

    Who makes me go


    poetry too

  16. canda98 says:

    I don’t know who you are, but I love your poem. I like the rap rhythm, the simplicity and depth of it. I am happy that you have found someone “who makes you go.” Good luck with your life. 🙂

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