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 Teesta Review: A Journal of Poetry, Volume 5, Number 2. November 2022. ISSN: 2581-7094

The Quiet of the Sky: a conversation about poetry across and within time and place

-- Dr. Cameron Hindrum and D C Chambial

‘Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.’


(William Wordsworth, Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey)






This article explores the dialogue between two poets: DC Chambial, who lives in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and myself — Cameron Hindrum — living on the island state of Australia, Tasmania. This dialogue has been occurring broadly over the last couple of years, across which we have been swapping poems, responses to each other’s poems, and snippets of our lives and histories. For the specific purposes of this chapter, I have focused on the emergence of the poetic muse in each of us, and how — in different cultures, at different times, on different continents — the impulse of poetry has driven us both to explore our environments, our histories and the parameters of our knowledge of the world — or at least, our respective local areas within it. When asked about the constant of his island home (St Lucia) in his work, Derek Walcott replied that “What we can do as poets in terms of our honesty is simply to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles really.” (Holland-Batt, 2021, 196) Consequently, in what follows I will be navigating the intersection of history, inspiration, context and creativity in providing a concise illustration of two poets in their place and time, as contrasting as they are, utilising poetic craft to examine respective environs that could not be more distinct from one another. To focalise this navigation further, I draw on two specific individual influences that have emerged: the work of William Wordsworth, and that of Philip Larkin. The contrasting poetics of these two giants of the canon provide illuminating and provocative punctuation for the aesthetic conversation between two poets on different sides of the planet, and their reflections on the craft of poetry.


Background and Context

D C Chambial and I established contact with each other during 2019, to share our work and its contours with a view to crafting a paper, and have since remained in touch. DC was kind enough to publish some of my poems in the journal he edits, Poetcrit, and I was also able to contribute to an anthology of poems from Australia and India, Dancing the Light, edited by Jaydeep Sarangi and Robert Maddox Harle. The purpose of our communications, other than to establish a connection between our respective cultures, was (to my mind) explore the notion of poetry as a mirror — and the extent to which we reflect ourselves and our sense of place in it.

In doing so we might play a small part in a much larger and more broad-ranging conversation, to redefine perceived notions of world literary knowledge — as Revathi Krishnaswamy suggests, to “uncover cultural differences as well as common (possibly "universal") features of our shared aesthetic nature by placing different conceptualizations of literature/literariness side by side” (Krishnaswamy, 2010, 401). Despite the diversity of our linguistic and cultural backgrounds, it is entirely possible that DC Chambial and I have some shared beliefs in the value and place of poetry; such common ground is infinitely worthy of exploration and scrutiny.

William Wordsworth found in nature the very essence of life and creativity. In his new biography Radical Wordsworth, Jonathan Bate notes that “One of his controlling metaphors … is that of the river or stream, flowing onwards but sometimes looping back on itself, sometimes meandering while at other times rushing in a torrent.” (Bate, 2020, xxi) It is well known that Wordsworth used the rhythm of his constant walking to inform the metre of his verse and in this simple fact alone, we find the most intimate connection between man, environment and verse. Furthermore, Singh & Mishra state that “It was William Wordsworth who revealed the inner soul of nature in his poems and to make it a better teacher than moral philosopher of the present and past” (Singh, J. & Mishra, S.K., 2019, 1). Given this universal reach into the consequences of nature’s meaning for man, it can be surmised with little effort that Wordsworth’s influence would extend beyond the time and place of his own existence and catalyse inspiration and craft in the poetry of others who are living a century later and many thousands of kilometres away.

Conversely, Philip Larkin was not by any measure a nature poet — rather, he turned the Muse inwards and reflected on experience and its vicissitudes, often with a note of barely restrained cynicism. He is famous for his assertion that despair was for him, what daffodils were for Wordsworth — thus we find ourselves at that intersection again, where poetry can allow us to look outward to observe and rejoice in what physically shapes us, and inward at how our memories and experiences infiltrate our perceptions of nature. Larkin was not, of course, beyond drawing on geography for metaphorical impact though, as the last verse of his famous ‘This be the Verse’ attests:

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

                             (Larkin, 1974)


Significantly, Larkin eschewed Modernism; he considered the James Joyce a “textbook case of declension from talent to absurdity”. He explained that “I dislike such things … because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it” (Larkin, 1970). In such a phrase we find two points of interest--Larkin striving for a moral honesty, to delineate in his work a truth about the human condition, and also a point of connection with Wordsworth — seeking to examine the humanity in what one found reflected when one gazed outside of the self.


Meeting the Muse: DC Chambial

In response to an interview question posed to him in an email, DC Chambial reflected on the first moment he could recall being inspired to write poetry, or what is was that poetry could specifically express:


In 1962, when I was a student of sixth standard, while going to school on a fine momentous morning on the hilly path, with my satchel hung on my shoulder, I happened to see some yellow flowers very bright in colour. This occurred to me about a kilometre off my home at Bajrol, in erstwhile Kangra district of Punjab, but [which is now] in Hamirpur District of Himachal Pradesh. There were no roads, only a narrow path led to school wriggling in a serpentine way.


These [flowers] captured my fancy and I started humming an unknown tune and then suddenly the following lines from William Blake’s poem reverberated in my mind and I was lured by their melody:


          Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

In the forest of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (‘The Tiger’)


At that time these lines fascinated me musically, for I wasn’t mature enough to understand the philosophy behind these words, lines and the poem; yet they cast a spell on me and that day I scribbled some lines. Later, Keats’ lines from ‘Endymion’ almost captivated my imagination:


A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness


Then, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ and ‘Solitary Reaper’ also became my favourites. Thereafter, I don’t know, even today, whether I followed the Muse or Muse enticed me and since then I have continued writing poems without looking back. It reveals the influence of English Romantic poets and Wordsworth’s Nature-poetry.  (Chambial, personal comm, 2021)


The universality of poetry as an art form is enshrined in the humble evocation of this memory. Firstly, it has transcended memory and thrived in the recollection of the poet across some six decades; secondly, it reflects with some precision the Wordsworthian ideal of beauty and revelation in a simple and unadorned image — by the side of a roughly formed track, in a region of the world that has known conflict and separation, a growth of resilient yellow flowers, bright and hardy, ephemeral and constant as reminders of the intricate strength of the natural world. Intricate strengths are also required of poetry, the lacing together of words — borne of the unformed pathways of our hearts — to create something more resilient and viable than themselves.

While I am not in a position to offer generalised comments regarding Chambial’s body of work over the ensuing decades, his recent poetry that I have read reflects a clear Wordsworthian influence, one that has most likely been at work in the ongoing development and refinement of Chambial’s craft.


Slumbering city once again     

steadily begins to wake up     

shifting sides sluggishly like young

bride on a carefree honey-moon.        


Dim lights, as if drowsy with sleep,

gradually diffuse into             

growing brightness at dawn like smoke

in the silent air.


(FromTrivandrum at Dawn’)


The moment of transition here is caught deftly, and there are clear echoes of Wordsworth’s famous sonnet ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’:


This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.      


Chambial has, like Wordsworth, relied only on simple language — slumbering, dim lights, silent air — to infuse poem with stillness that both activates and captures reflection. There is also a sense of music at play — note the softly repetitive ‘slumbering/steadily/shifting/sluggishly’ in the first verse. Wordsworth relies on open vowel sounds to achieve a similar effect — it is worth saying the line ‘Open unto the fields, and to the sky’ to hear the space and promise of each of those open sounds. This is cleverly contrasted with the tighter confines of ‘bright and glittering’ in the following line, which is arguably Wordsworth subtly reinforcing the thematic point of his poem — a vast and lovely city, captured at the point of waking: slumber suggested by the open vowel sounds, the business and duty of the day perhaps foretold by the shorter, more staccato sounds that follow.

His poem ‘Dhanushkodi’ offers a slightly different perspective of Wordsworthian influence. The poem is a portrait of an abandoned town on a spear of land jutting out from India’s south-east coast, pointing towards Sri Lanka.  It should be noted that the town was abandoned due to a cyclone that struck in the early 1960s, causing irreparable damage — hence Chambial’s reference to ‘nature’s ruthless ire’ in the paragraph below.


The sand spreads, as goes the eye, far and wide:

tale of Nature’s ruthless ire.

The sobbing silence of ebb and tide

fills the human heart with helpless fire.


                                      From ‘Dhanushkodi’


It’s Chambial’s distinctive use of imagery here that is noteworthy, in particular the last line with its nearly-oxymoronic ‘helpless fire.’ In this poem, we see man and nature crossing paths, as it were; and, with its unrelenting might, nature will win out every time such an intersection occurs. This has concomitant notions of futility, of man attempting perhaps to tame nature or the natural world; such attempts will, as noted, usually come to nothing if they do not end in tragedy. So the human heart, as captured in this poem, is a fragile thing — it can only operate in consequence, not in catastrophe. This inward-looking external view of nature is captured by Wordsworth repeatedly in his work but comes into focus in this brief extract from ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ (from 1798):


Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things.


The ‘eye made quiet’ is also present, it seems to me, in the work of DC Chambial. There is a semantic difference, of course, between sight and vision in the context of this poem and the last line of this extract is perhaps accurately read in the context of vision. Nature reveals itself to us and it reveals ourselves also, even in its danger, it is compelling, and we are only observers.

It says much for the power of language that a single moment’s observation of some flowers, brief in time but lasting in significance, can have triggered a lifelong dedication to the craft, often tempered through possibly the greatest and most resilient voice in western nature poetry.

Meeting the Muse: Dr Cameron Hindrum

In trading interview questions by email, DC Chambial and I asked each other who we would identify as our major influences or inspirations. Personally I never find this an easy question to answer, but I can identify the poet whose work I often try to emulate for its uncompromising honesty sitting side by side with perfectly crafted metrical lines and structures: that poet is Philip Larkin. Since his death in 1985, Larkin has been exposed as something of a racist and bigot and so the argument has been made repeatedly since then that we should separate the man from the Poet. This is an argument to which I wholly subscribe — indeed, I have often reflected on the fact that if I’d had the chance to meet Larkin in person, we would have very little in common. He was famously grumpy, something of a loner, and serially unfaithful to the women with whom he formed romantic relationships; these things aside, however, he was and is a masterful poet. Here is one of his much later poems, ‘The Mower’, composed possibly only a few years before his death.

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found  

A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,  

Killed. It had been in the long grass.


I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.  

Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world  

Unmendably. Burial was no help:


Next morning I got up and it did not.

The first day after a death, the new absence  

Is always the same; we should be careful


Of each other, we should be kind  

While there is still time.


Larkin’s poetic voice benefits enormously here from what (for want of a better phrase) might be termed ‘matter-of-factness’: ‘Next morning I got up and it did not.’ An evocative web of complex emotions — grief, acceptance, sadness, horrible realisation, pain — is enmeshed in those few simple words. Music there too of course — unobtrusive/unmendably, and the repetition of ‘should’ in the last several lines of the poem. The word ‘unmendably’ is a singular delight in this poem — it is a crafted word (usually we might say ‘irreparably’, for example), soft in the mouth but very pointed and uncompromising in its semantic power.


Unlike DC Chambial, I cannot divine a particular moment or observation that triggered an encounter with the poetic muse; it emerged slowly over time, sometimes reluctantly. I replied to one of Chambial’s question on this matter that I often think I became a poet by osmosis; as Director of the annual Tasmanian Poetry Festival from 2003-2019 I spent considerable swathes of time either in direct contact with poets or in their physical company and conversations routinely turned to questions of craft, inspiration, the next book, favourite poems and so on. I have no doubt that some of the essence of these conversations seeped into my literary soul, and the emergence of my own poetry was the (arguably) inevitable result. However, I can determine a moment — or a poem — where I believed I had crystallised the voice and form of my inspiration into an original poem, ‘Morning Burial’-which, quite coincidentally, also touches the spectre of death as its central impetus. This poem accounts for the time during my son’s childhood when a beloved family member — a rabbit, named Tinky — died during the night and my wife and I resolved not to tell him. We believed he was too young at the time — he would have been about four years old. Instead, this being at around Easter time that particular year, we told our son that the Easter Bunny had asked for Tinky to accompany him around the world, handing out easter eggs. She occupied him on the couch inside, watching early morning cartoons, while I surreptitiously prepared a grave in the back yard, with the deceased rabbit waiting in a small plastic bag — the only convenient makeshift coffin we could find quietly.


A small plastic coffin, a small

Fragile body. Soft fur.

I carefully arrange the deceased

In this shallow grave.

The plastic bag sits bright

Like an insult.


Cold earth peppers the plastic;

The hole is quickly hidden.

I smooth it over, replace bark chips.

No one will ever know,

except his mother and I, and we

will keep our burden.


Cartoons will keep him safe.

                             From ‘Morning Burial’


The moment of parental angst is signified in the cynical last line, which is offered as a final and confronting truth. Larkin’s famous despair has seeped in here, and this poem emerges from the conflict between doing what one considers right and the stark visceral reality of moral duplicity. The little details that are offered--the fragile body, the plastic bag that “sits bright / like an insult” and the grim artificial nature of plastic itself — each work to compound a bitter truth — that occasionally, for the greater good, we choose to lie.

As an aside, I read this poem at a local reading at which eminent Tasmanian poet, the late Tim Thorne, was also present. He congratulated me on the poem afterwards but offered a compelling observation, only partly in jest — he mentioned that that was how religions were started, lying to people about death. It was a fitting thing to say for reasons Thorne probably could not envisage in that particular moment — his comments bring to mind lines from one of Larkin’s last major poems, ‘Aubade’:


This is a special way of being afraid

No trick dispels. Religion used to try,

That vast moth-eaten musical brocade

Created to pretend we never die…


Whether or not one agrees with Larkin, there is no doubting his conviction, and a line like ‘vast moth-eaten musical brocade’ is gloriously evocative. I make no claim to that degree of simple complication but I do aspire to the qualities of the voice — emphatic, uncompromising and unadorned by unnecessary verbiage.


I noted in my replies to the interview questions sent to me by DC Chambial that above all I inspired to a Buddhist simplicity in my work — a way of enabling deeper and more provocative questions with what appears to be, on the surface, an aesthetic voice approaching the prosaic. This approach might similarly be at home with the Imagist movement of the early twentieth century, which also eschewed artifice or adornment in the composition of poetry.



It has been fascinating to consider, reflect on, investigate and respond to the concepts that have been explored in this chapter. A great cycle of poetry, response and conversation has been established between myself, in the relatively quiet regional city of Launceston in Tasmania, and the far distant climes of Himachal Pradesh, in Northern India. Significantly, in the cauldron of poetry and poetic craft, distance has come to mean little; I hope that this chapter provides some insight into two poets who remain singular in the pursuit of their craft, and in doing so are locked into conversation with their respective influences, inspirations and the always-evolving dramas of the place in which they reside. Within the course of our lifetimes, the landscape may change little or shifts may be tectonic, but the constant is that we will change — sometimes in response to our environment, in the crucible of age or in response to significant changes. A further constant is that, hopefully, we will always be in pursuit of poetry, that quiet art with its choir of voices.



Works Cited

Holland-Batt, S. (2021). Fishing for Lightning: The Spark of Poetry. Queensland, Australia, UQP.

Krishnaswamy, R. (2010). "Toward world literary knowledges: Theory in the age of globalization." Comparative Literature 62(4): 399-419.  

Singh, J. M., Sunil Kumar (2019). "William Wordsworth as a Poet of Nature: an Overview." Think India Journal 22(10): 1-6.


Note on Copyright

Dr Cameron Hindrum and DC Chambial remain the respective copyright owners of their individual poetic works directly quoted in this chapter.


Interliminal Encounters: Indian and Australian writers in po(i)etic dialogue, eds Amelia Walker and Aden Burg