The Rivered Earth

the-rivered-earthThe Rivered Earth

by Vikram Seth | 120 Pages | Genre: Poetry | Publisher: Hamish Hamilton | Year: 2011 | My Rating: 9/10

Recital of the poem ‘Fire’ by Vikram Seth HERE

Vikram Seth has written 4 libretti for 4 musical performances conducted over 4 years (2006 – 2009). A mix of original work and translation, they draw from three cultures – Indian, Chinese, and European – and are set to music by the composer Alec Roth and violinist Philippe Honoré. Titled ‘Songs in time of war’, ‘Shared Ground’, ‘The Traveller’, and ‘Seven Elements’, each of these four librettos in this book is presented with a foreword that provides a backdrop for the particular work. Exquisite pieces of calligraphy by Seth, in Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic, prefaces each text.

In the first libretto, Songs in time of war, most of the poems are set during a terrible rebellion in the Tang dynasty, which caused vast devastation and famine. In the second libretto, Shared Ground, Seth moves from the Tang Dynasty to the Stuarts, to Salisbury, England, to the very house where the idea of the book of libretti was first born. In a delightful poem titled Host he recounts his admiration for his favorite Anglican poet, George Herbert,

“He’ll change my style.”
“Well, but you could do worse
Than rent his rooms of verse.”
Joy came, and grief; love came, and loss; three years –
Tiles down; moles up; drought; flood.
Though far in time and faith, I share his tears,
His hearth, his ground, his mud;
Yet my host stands just out of mind and sight,
That I may sit and write.”
 
 
The third libretto, The Traveller, which is about the stages of human life – unborn, childhood, youth, adulthood, old age, and death, is influenced by Rig Veda. Suitable texts for the stages were taken from various Indian languages – Tamil, Hindi, Brajbhasha, Urdu, and Bengali. And therefore the tone of the poems are playful, philosophical, contemplative, passionate, reminiscent, and yielding. The final libretto,Seven Elements, is inspired from all the three cultures, and thus its seven poems are based on seven element in nature, air, water, earth, fire, space, metal, and wood.

This deeply sensitive, appealing and seductive book about friendship, love, loss, drama, history, geography, literature and music is my Read of the Week.

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About Manu Mayank
I work as an International development professional. My interests include reading, writing, traveling, movies, music, cosmology, collecting stamps, matchboxes, and rocks, mentoring, coffee, and computer games, among many more.

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