Posthumous Urges: A Critical Review of the poem ‘After I Die’ by Santosh Kumar Pokharel

Rabindra Rajashahi

A poet as a literary artist is always under the obligation to use words—words only—with at once semantic import and phonetic significance in order to enrich the human soul, enlighten the human mind, make human life in its different planes and diverse manifestations livable as well as enjoyable, and offer the balm of incommensurable hope to ailing humanity. Philip Sidney argued in his Apologies for Poetry (1598) that the poet translates the brazen world of reality into a golden world. With its emotionally charged language, poetry transports the readers, not merely convinces them oftener by the light of intuition rather than by the will of reason.
Out here, the poet-Santosh Kumar Pokharel-too very fervently employs and exploits the cornucopia of words for the dance of creative life as well as for the experience of a delight akin to ambrosial beatitude. In the very same process, he wrestles with the raw stuff of dreadful reality—the death that is inevitably bound to happen in everyone’s life after birth, and hence the destroyer of mortal things.
Death is, of course, the ultimate farewell to this world, and there is no chance of reaching back to our near and dear ones. Most people cannot accept the impending death as gracefully and calmly as the speaker in the poem “After I Die.” Intrigued, albeit tormented still, by this cruellest reality, the speaker of the poem imagines himself being in eternal slumber. That is when the poetic persona’s desires uncoil and unfold with an urging to his loved ones (maybe his better half, sweethearts, or favourite readers) to place two of their favourite poems on his chest so that he won’t be able to hear the wailing cry of his loved ones. His dead body would then be burned on the pyre. After its consignment to ashes, the speaker wants them to make an offering of a handful of water to the sun, as it may calm down and soothe his departed soul. He urges them afresh to keep a couple of poems on the bosom so that, if they like, they may peruse the same poems to get fresh.
The poet is always lonely, lonesome, and aloof, distanced from the rest of the world, for the sole reason that he is at all times engrossed in carrying a whisper from God to man or a prayer from man to God in the visible, veritable form that is nothing but poems. He pens poems with divine afflatus, dismantling all the fevers and frets and all the hee-haws and hiccups we confront in this work-a-day world. This is the divine bestowal of his special life. None could, therefore, confine him to sheer limbo and oblivion, because he is well conversant with the fact that art has the power to immortalise humans. Since his poetic persona has to his credit all poetic creations and laurels, the posterity will read his poetic works, and consequently, in the long run, he will stay immortal till eternity.
The poem being discussed can be explored and examined through the lens of cultural perspective. As per the cultural-critical belief, all authors write as part of a cultural context in which they participate. A literary work is a cultural artefact or product whose meaning can be deciphered and interpreted only in relation to its socio-cultural context. For example, unless the readers become aware of how Native Americans were dominated and oppressed at the hands of white Americans, they cannot fully understand the theme of the short story ”Lullaby” by Leslie Marmon Silko. There is a long-held and universally accepted belief that literature is the mirror of society. That is to say, literature manifests culture, reflects actual historical events, and reflects the culture of a particular community or the nation as a whole. Since literature is an inevitable part of a culture, it is only natural for a literary text to reflect such cultural forms and practices. Silko’s ”Lullaby” shows that singing a lullaby is integral to Navajo Red Indian culture. At the end of the story, the Navajo woman, Ayah, sings the lullaby that presents the nature-human bond against the White Americans’s aggressive invasion of nature.
By the same token, the poem ”After I Die”, too, presents Nepali cultural practice, or, by implication, the Hindu cultural norm. Let’s consider the following poetic lines:

I will be dead!
My body will be burning on the pyre,
Give a handful of water to the sun
Perhaps my Self will calm down.

These lines are concerned with the cremation of dead bodies, which is one of the important cultural practices of the Hindus. The cremation practice exists only among the Indian and Nepali Hindus, whereas it is completely non-existent in other cultures around the world. The practice of offering water to the sun is also in prevalence among Hindus. So, it naturally follows that the poet is a bona fide Nepali Hindu.
In this poem in particular, Santosh Pokharel appears more like Christina Georgina Rossetti and Federico Garcia Lorca so far as the treatment of the theme of death goes. Christina Rossetti, a Victorian great poetess and sister to D.G. Rossetti, wrote her well-worded, beautifully crafted, and deeply moving poem ”When I am Dead, My Dearest” that bears the eloquence of emotions in perfect rhyme and rhythm. In the poem, the poetess imagines her own death and implores a loved one not to mourn her death and not to remember her, for in death she will not have any awareness as to whether or not her dearest mourns her as her earthly senses will not be working. In like manner, Federico Garcia Lorca, a well-known Spanish poet and dramatist, expresses in the short lyric piece ”Farewell” a deep desire of the senses to feast on the delights of this wonderful world even after death.
For one thing, the poet’s remark has insightful significance:

” Give a handful of water to the sun
Maybe my Self will calm down.
Stand up for a moment of calm.
This, I desire.”

This is a cultural practice among Hindus that, after a body burns to ashes, all mourners must offer water up into the air 36 times, usually facing the south. To the poet, particularly, however, offering water to the sun has special meaning inasmuch as the sun is a prime source of energy that all living things, including humans, need for their robust survival and thriving. We cannot conceive of a vibrant world in the acute absence of the sun. So, it is the poet’s strongly held view that it is the sun that breathes life into and energises every living thing needs.

As for the poet’s language and style, he is a conventionalist in the sense that he uses simple sentences and everyday words without breaching grammatical rules. No grammatical anarchy, nor whirligigs of verbal usage! His language use is, thus, marked by lucidity in expression and simplicity in syntax, which are by no means foreign to his poetic style. His poem does not have the singing quality that we generally associate with a lyric. The poem sounds constructed for declamation and recitation rather than singing and offers the pleasure of a soliloquy rather than a lyric. His poem is sprinkled with lively and lovely, graphic and realistic images of chest, cry, pyre, burning, home, and tears that have a truck with the ultimate of death. Stanzaic pattern and line numbers, however, are inconsistent, irregular, and dis-uniform in matters of his versification. Most of the lines consist of mono-syllabic words followed by way less di-syllabic ones. The poet seems flustered and blustered when it comes to the organisation of lines in stanzas; it is his glaring weakness in my view.
In conclusion, Santosh Kumar Pokharel delves into the motif of death with dignity, power, and grace, rather in the manner of Christina Rossetti and Federico Garcia Lorca. Lucidity and simplicity in language on the one hand and eloquent thematic treatment on the other hand remain grist to the mill of the poet. The poem in question can shake its readers out of their slumber and into the pithy tidings bequeathed. Balkrishna Sama, often called Nepali Shakespeare, has also articulated similar sentiments as the poet’s:
“When I want to die for the living.”
I write poetry.”

Hereby, I enjoy offering the thought-provoking poem by international multilingual Nepal poet Santosh Kumar Pokharel for you, the readers.

by Santosh Kumar Pokharel

Two of your favourite poems by me, after my death
Put those on my chest,
I will be asleep for ever
You won’t have time for their quest.
So, pick up your favourite poems right now
I may not hear you cry then my dears
You won’t cry too much!
Feel free to shed a few tears.
I will be dead!

My body will be burning on the pyre,
Give a handful of water to the Sun
Maybe, my Self will calm down
Stand up for a moment calm,
This, I desire.

The illusion of mind will be removed
And take one or two poems to heart
After that your duty is over,
You home may revert!

Get fresh in a moment instant
If you like,
the same poem you may chant.
I have always been here alone,
and alone shall I go
Life is something special
Divine did bestow.

This is the truth that no none could ever vie
Look at my other poems
After I die…

(From the book The War & Other Poems)

Rabindra Rajashahi is an Associate Professor at Triyuga Janata Multiple Campus, Udayapur.