Book Reviewed By: HAMZA HASSAN SHEIKH
According to Mother Teresa, “Peace begins with a smile.” Peace is a desire which dwells in the soul of every lover of humanity. In “Peace” I expressed my feelings as;
From the lap of mother
To the solitude of grave
It dwells inside a person
In depth of his being. (Museum of Reminiscence)
“Songs Before Shrine” is the collection of poems by Dr. Stephen Gills from Canada. His poetry is the representative of every peace loving heart and soul. Peace in this world of violence and atrocities is his eternal desire. He used poetry as a tool to raise his voice against this world of atrocity where human blood has become the cheapest thing in this vast and wide universe.
Stephen Gills is a multiple award-winning poet, writer and critic from Canada. He was born in Pakistan; later after partition he moved to India and got his basic education from there. Later, he moved to Canada and taught in different international universities. He is the eye-witness of Indo-Pak subcontinent partition. One can trace his feelings about partition in his writings whether its poetry or prose. In the preface of “Songs Before Shrine”, he has expressed his feelings about his early childhood and then his struggle of fighting with the hurdles of life. His struggle of getting education, then survival in an extremist society as well as facing the difficult situations of partition and after moving abroad, again the feelings of homesickness can be felt in his writing.
“Songs Before Shrine” is not only the collection of poems but it may be termed as a desire-box of peace, harmony, humanity, muse, dreams and freedom of humanity. The book opens with the poem, “To mother” and then series of prayers to God for peace and happiness. Later; when you go through this collection, you see “Peace” as the dominant theme of the whole book. Most of the poems in this collection are titling “Peace” for example, The Dove of Peace, Peace, The Name of Peace, Seeking the Dove of Peace, Harmony and Peace, Muse of Peace, Prince of Peace and Domain of Peace. These are the poems which are raising the slogans for peace in this unharmonious world. The second major theme of this poem may be termed as harmony as many of his poems are carrying the title of harmony for example; Evening of Harmony, Harmony and Peace, Rays of Harmony and Harmony are the poems which are talking about the harmony in this violent world of intolerance and prejudice.
Man and humanity can be termed as the basic object of the poet as he is worried about the human of today; not only for his peace and harmony but the poet also wanted perfection in the man of today’s world. In this poem, he exposes the hypocrisy of today’s man. Like in the very first stanza of poem he says;
On the one hand
Songs for peace.
On the other
Distribution of weapons
Siding with the murderers.
And later in the last stanza; he concludes the poem in this way;
On the one side
Respect for the cats
Fondness for the dogs.
On the other side
Defeat for humanity.
No one knows
What is today’s man?
The poems like “Contemporary Humans, Man of Today, Humanity, I am still a Man, Man is Ever a Child are exposing the veiled face of today’s man who is full of jealousy, hypocrisy, diplomacy and is having many different veils on his face.
The poet is having a soft and smooth heart for humanity which is never tolerating the violence or atrocities as well as his heart hates the demon of war which brings nothing to the world except destruction and dismay. If There be a Third World War, To Warmongers, War is Fraud, About War are the poems which gives the message of hatred for the war. In the poem, “War is Fraud” the poet says;
Made a hero
For the others
And the kills
On the fields.
In the last stanza of the same poem, he says;
In the prison
About the war
And its fraud.
His poem, “About War” from the first line to the last one is the lament of humanity. Not only it is the voice of the human beings but it is also the cry of earth, atmosphere and environment which is totally destructed because of war. The poem “Humanity” is the slogan of humanity which is suffering in the clutches of terror even in the twenty first century when man is planning to conquer Mars.
“I am Still a Man” is the poem which reveals the hypocrite society of today’s world which is divided in castes, religions and regions and there is a zero tolerance for one another and the humanity is patching on warm sands of violence and intolerance. It conveys the message of smile, love and respect for all humans and humanity.
The poems like, “Lonely Art, Oars, Isle of Art, A Poet, The World of Poetry, My Songs, My Muse are the proof of his artistic soul. He is a true lover of art and he always wanted that the art should be everlasting because Art is the only powerful weapon against hatred, violence, intolerance and disharmony. A true artistic soul is very sensitive and that can feel the miseries of the people around. I would like to quote his poem Oars;
Poets are adventurous
They dive with swimmers
Dance with singers
The souls of tyrants
As they paint
In the seas of thoughts
The waters of emotions
With the delicate oars
This one stanza is enough to convey the feelings of a true artistic heart while he is using the oars of pens to row away the boat of humanity.
Election is a kind of festival and campaign in Indo-Pak society and though it is very serious issue but this election is just the change of faces instead of change in system which is running same from many years. In this poem, “Election Result” the same concern is discussed that how the innocent people are made fool with golden promises at the election time and later how they are kicked away while the election is over and they have to suffer for five years and they have nothing in their hands except the old banners and posters which they have collected from the streets.
Dr. Stephen Gills is the voice of today who is desirous of a beautiful and peaceful world. He uses poetry as a tool and weapon to raise his voice against all discriminations and atrocities in this vast world and his slogan of peace is not only heard but appreciated though the world wide.
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