Forest Fire Poem By Kamala Das

Forest Fire Poem By Kamala Das : Summary and Critical Appreciation

Forest Fire Poem By Kamala Das : In  the  Forest Fire Poem By Kamala Das she  is  speaking  directly  about  the  poet’s  appetite  for  sensory  input  and  for taking in, soaking up, all of the experiences and images around her.

Forest Fire Poem By Kamala Das

Of late I have begun to feel a hunger
To take in with greed, like a forest fire that
Consumes and with each killing gains a wilder,
Brighter charm, all that comes my way. Bald child in
Open pram, you think I only look, and you
Too, slim lovers behind the tree and you, old
Man with paper in your hand and sunlight in
Your hair… My eyes lick at you like flames, my nerves
Consume ; and, when I finish with you, in the
Pram, near the tree and, on the park bench, I spit
Out small heaps of ash, nothing else. But in me
The sights and smells and sounds shall thrive and go on
And on and on. In me shall sleep the baby
That sat in prams and sleep and wake and smile its
Toothless smile. In me shall walk the lovers hand
In hand and in me, where else, the old shall sit
And feel the touch of sun. In me, the street-lamps
Shall glimmer, the cabaret girls cavort, the
Wedding drums resound, the eunuchs swirl coloured
Skirts and sing sad songs of love, the wounded moan,
And in me the dying mother with hopeful
Eyes shall gaze around, seeking her child, now grown
And gone away to other towns, other arms.”

Kamala Das

Forest Fire : Summary

The poetess is in a park and she is eager to see as many people and as many things as possible and keep them in her memory.  The baby in the pram with its bald head and toothless smile, the lovers who hold hands  and  hide  behind  the  trees  to  talk  in  secrecy  and  the  old  man  with  sunlight  falling  on  his  head sitting in the bark  bench  and reading a  newspaper  attract her attention.   She looks at all  three of the simultaneously and tries to etch them deep into her memory.

She says she does not just look at them but trying to lick them up with her eyes and take them inside her mind.  She compares her intense gaze on them to the flames of the forest fire that licks and consumes things on the way.  Just like the forest fire leaves out the useless and waste ashes as it passes by, the poetess too leaves behind very few things as waste or unnecessary in the course of her intense observation.

She goes on to say that she has taken in not only the sights she has seen but has also retained the sounds and smells related to the sights.  The baby  continues  to  laugh,  smile  and  sleep  inside  her  mind.    In  the  same  way,  the  lovers  and  old  man continue  to  carry  on  with  their  work  and  all  exist  with  their  own  individuality  within  the  mind  of  the poetess.  As the poet feels happy that she is able to recall and retain everything in mind, she also recall and visualize whatever she has seen long back.

In the park, she has observed the life during day time.  and in recalling, she recalls the life she has seen during  night  times.    She  could  see  the  lights  glimmering  and  not  burning  brightly;  the  sounds  of  the wedding drums and songs can be heard.  The cabaret girls are dancing in a enticing manner showing of their sexuality and the eunuchs too dance with their colourful skirts swirling around them.

There seems to be so much fun and happiness around but as the poetess recalles the songs and the moans made by these cabaret girls and eunuchs, she could feel that there is so much pain and suffering hidden in them.   When the poetess relives the memories of the unsaid pain and suffering of the cabaret girls and eunuchs she had listened to, she remembers her own pain.  As a woman, she was not allowed to voice out her opinions,  thoughts,  pains  and  sufferings.

 Even  if  she  tries  to  do  it,  she  is  not  allowed  and  is  highly criticized  by  the  people  around  her  if  she  disobeys  them.    By  this,  the  poetess  refers  to  the  way  her works were denounced and criticized in her own country whereas they have been given the due credit and appreciation in the  world  outside.

She compares herself  to  a dying mother who  longs  to see her child appreciated and able to do so but at least feeling happy that the child is appreciated and well cared for in the distant land. Here, the poetess compares the creative writer and her work of creation to the mother and her child.  The poetess also brings in the idea that the process of creating a piece of work is equal to the process of nourishing a child inside the womb and giving birth to it in a safe manner.

About the poet:

Kamala  Das  was  born  as  Madhavikutty  in  Punnayurkulam,  Malabar  district,  Madras  Province,  British India in 31 March 1934 and died in 31 May 2009, at Pune.  She wrote under the pen names Kamala Das and Kamala Suraiyya.  She is an Indian poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, nonfiction writer,  autobiographer,  etc.  Das  has  authored  many  autobiographical  works  and  novels,  several  well- received  collections  of  poetry  in  English,  numerous  volumes  of  short  stories,  and  essays  on  a  broad spectrum of subjects.

Das’s provocative poems are known for their unflinchingly honest explorations of the self and female sexuality, urban life role in traditional Indian society, issues of postcolonial identity, and  the  political  and  personal  struggles  of  marginalized  people.  She  has  received  many  awards  and honors, including the P.E.N. Philippines Asian Poetry Prize (1963), Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for her writing  in  Malayalam  (1969),  Chiman  Lal  Award  for  fearless  journalism  (1971),  the  ASAN  World  Prize (1985), and the Sahitya Akademi Award for her poetry in English (1985). In 1984, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

About the Poem:

In  the  poem,  Forest  Fire,  she  is  speaking  directly  about  the  poet’s  appetite  for  sensory  input  and  for taking in, soaking up, all of the experiences and images around her. With wild abandon she ‘eats’ them and consumes them until they become a part of her. Her hunger and desire to write, create a longing like a fire inside of her. Later, she will take all of these experiences and write something and ‘give birth’ to it, but the child will be in other arms in many other towns. So, the symbolism is the creative ‘fire’ as the poet’s inspiration and desire to create, and the created work as a child.

Kamla Das’s poem are a representation of her human consciousness. Her poems deal much while describing her personal life and her desires. In the poem “The Forest Fire” the poet compares herself to the forest fire. She says that as the forest fire spares nothing and no one in its rage, so does the poet. The poet too swallows everything which happens around her. She expresses the problems and barriers which arrive in her life and she talks about the ways of dealing with them. The poem also is a reflection of her unhappy personal and married life. As the forest fire grows and becomes brighter, in the same way, the poet too becomes more ‘charming’ with every new experience.

 Kamal Das, in her poem Forest Fire talks about the various aspects of female life and uses her words to provide an external outlet to her burning, internalised outrage against the various hard and fast rule that the female body and female desires are subjected to by the oppressive patriarchal society. She says that she has the longing to consume everything that she comes across, every restriction, every confinement and then leave nothing of them but heaps of ashes as an act of her defiance.

She, in a subtler tone also hints at her sexual longing and her oppressed right to be an equal counterpart to men in her sexual freedom and choice. Her eyes licking like flames and her nerves consuming all the experiences of her desire and spitting out small heaps of ash (in form of her emotions and feelings in the aftermath) also echo her screaming voice for a sexual liberty.

She also talks about different walks of life ranging from a baby in the pram to lovers behind a tree and then old age (most probably speaking to her baby girl lying in the pram) to indicate the different stages of life and the emotions that she will have to go through like any other woman whose has to meet the same fate in her life as the poet in a society which marginalises a completely normal desire to be free to express, choose and love at one’s own accord.

Read it also:  Girish Karnad: A Great Playwright

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