The Virtues of Poetry


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Any literature has dual functions i. While entertaining, literature would also impart a specific message to society. Besides, a literary text has several functions such as cognitive, expressive, persuasive, aesthetic and so on. A literary text where the persuasive function is dominant is called didactic and the text where the aesthetic function is prevailing is called literature proper, even though it also conveys a message indirectly.

Incidentally the seeds of didactic literature can be noticed right from the ancient Tamil poems popularly known as Sangam literature c. A newly married young husband intends to go abroad for earning and leading a comfortable life. She eloquently makes him understand that when one is blessed with youth and requited love, what other good is there for such a one to expect from wealth except living with a wife in an inseparable union that is true living Kalittogai 2 He emphasizes that living with wife even in penury is much more meaningful than searching for a comfortable mate- rialistic life leaving the wife in the house alone.

The increasing influence of the North over the Tamil land during the post-Sangam period contributed much to the deve- lopment of didactic literature in Tamil. In an age of inter- nal uncertainty and near chaos, the poets showed of course through their poems how life should be lived and what kind of moral percepts and codes of conduct should govern it.

It is the scripture — next only to the Holy Bible Christianity , the Holy Quran Islam and the Bhagavad Gita Hinduism — widely translated into more than eighty languages. Its non-sectarian views are its uniqueness. One can find each and every thing — from the Godhead to ordinary entities — in it.


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It preaches ethical values, to live in moral purity, spiritual knowledge and eternal wisdom. The didactic work is a wonderful guide for any individual, be they householder, homemaker, worker, artist, teacher, scholar, industrialist, politician or ruler.

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It consists of three sections viz. It clearly brings out the ideals of an enchant- ing family life and the excellence and beauty of ascetic life in the first section. The second section elaborates the procedures of an able administration of a country. The third section deals with the delicate and fine feelings of love. It comprises chapters of ten couplets each with a total of It has used about words in total, out of which less than 50 are Sanskrit.

This classical ethical work employs as few words as possible i. Not a single syllable is super- fluous. Among the eleven didactic works of post-Sangam period c. Since it does not speak of any particular God, uniquely it remains non-sectarian in temper, though theistic in spirit.

A virtuous life sometime may be a hindrance to worldly life, still it is worth-living. For the successful ascetic life, he prescribes several virtues to be followed in life: mercy, not killing other beings, abstinence from meat-eating, penance, steering clear of hypocrisy, and fraud, truthfulness, eschewing anger, and causing suffering, evanescence of life, renunciation, realization of truth, extinction of desires and fate.

For example, not to eat meat, not to resort to hypocrisy, not to cheat, not to cause injury and insult, not to destroy life — all these injunctions are aimed at weaning away the ascetic from anti-social enterprises. Once freed from such social blemishes, the ascetic could easily overcome other obsta- cles on the path of his spiritual journey. In a way, the recommend- ed virtues for ascetics by TVR denote the reality of that period in which not all ascetics were free from social sins.

Abstinence from killing and staying away from meat-eating, extinction of desires, hypocrisy, etc. Whereas these virtues are obligatory and should be observed strictly by ascetics, thus pronounces TVR.

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It is, never to destroy life. This chapter represents the changed climate of the age from idealized jewel of the home who had to sacrifice several strands of freedom enjoyed in the previous age. In both cases, the wife is considered a life property not to cross her door- step herself nor anyone should infringe upon the law of property by crossing over to her. As with the kings for territory, these newly propertied classes might have started violating the social laws by force of might.

The period of Didactic Lite- rature, i. Drew and John Lazarus Nowhere in the entire body of Sangam corpus, drinking is condemned as an evil. Whereas, TVR highlights the evils of drinking. Thus he reasons out against the drinking of liquor.

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Thus, on the one hand, he severely discourages begging, on the other hand, he sincerely encourages giving alms to the poor, against any odds. Not in a position to alleviate the miseries of the jobless poor other than appealing to the rich to help them, TVR seems to be suggesting a humanitarian viewpoint: the haves should support the have-nots, in the their own interest of not causing a potential revolution against their own lot.

The tone of the work is strongly ascetic and cynical.

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Many verses describe the transient nature of the world which includes body, wealth, etc. Likewise youth loses all its elegance with the passage of time. Do not be taken up by her sharp spear-shaped bewitching eyes. Her alluring beauty and youth will give way to old age.

While the former treats the theme of transient nature of the world in one chapter, the latter elaborates it in three sepa- rate chapters describing the evanescence of youth, the body and the worldly pleasures.

The Virtues of Poetry | Commonweal Magazine

Learn with clear discrimination what there is to learn, Like the heron which leaves water and drinks milk. Kamil Zvelebil Being an anthology of verses composed by several unknown poets, there are some verses which contradict themselves in cer- tain maxims such as nobility of birth, concept attributing high or low to a person and so on. According to Jaina philosophy, an individual meets with for- tune or misfortune, possesses good character or bad, in accor- dance with the laws of karma. One cannot swim against the current of a wild river. Similarly, one cannot go against what is decreed to him.

Not structured into chapters, these compositions do not have the verses of similar ideas grouped together. Each poem is to be read to understand the subject of teaching. At times there are repetitions or the same virtue is described differently. Stallings on the Greek economic crisis.

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