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What Lessons Do You Learn?

Mary Ann Dasgupta

By S.K. Prasad , General Editor 
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1976, 109, 5.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 5 September-October 1977

When, oh! when, will Indian publishers approach textbook production with both the intelligence and sensitivity that it demands and the sincerity and dignity that it deserves? It is especially dis­couraging to see a slipshod, erratic text from a prestigious publishing house like Orient Longman. My first quarrel is with the Editor's Note itself. It begins thus: ‘An antho­logy of poems is before you. We do not know whether you will find it new. But our intention is to make and provide a new set of poems to our young students. Hence the title: NEW HORIZONS.’ This cosy prelude is all right if the students for whom one is writing are in class V or VI, but, no, the editor prattles on to say that it is ‘the students of undergraduate classes for whom this new anthology has been chiefly prepared.’ The two criteria for inclusion of poems were (1) the poems ‘find a response in our aesthetic’ and have an ‘imaginative flavour’ and (2) whether he (the poet) has got a verbal, metrical and rhythmi­cal medium which is, as far as practi­cable, just the kind of medium his experience can fruitfully, artistically carry and create an equally admiring, appreciative response in the reader (whatever that means!). The editor admits, however, that ‘not all the poems gathered here come up to even those elementary expectations of ours’. And he goes on to say that that is exactly why they decided to incor­porate them ... so that the discerning reader can also learn to separate the grain from the chaff (!!) When you embrace a range of poets from William Shakespeare to P. Lal, from England, India, America, Africa, Australia and the West Indies and you have space for only forty-seven poems, do you really have space for chaff? The format of the text is straight­forward and potentially useful: first the poem itself is printed, then notes on the poet, the central idea, word meanings and, style. But they are often misleading. I will mention only two instances, G.K: Chesterton’s touching poem ‘The Donkey’ is described as a humourous poem and Carl Sandburg's use of the word ‘Coocoo’ (which in American idiom means loony, crazy, nuts, off-your-rocker) in ‘Who Can Make a Poem of the Depths of Weariness’ is defined as follows! Coo coo: Cuckoo, the spring bird who uses other birds' nests for laying eggs and getting ...

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