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The Voice of the Mountain Questions and Answers

The Voice of the Mountain Questions and Answers 

Marks-10/15

 

1. The Theme

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[Q. Discuss the major themes presented in the poem ‘The Voice of the Mountain’.]

In ‘The Voice of the Mountain’, the poet says, “My voice is sea waves and mountain peaks/In the transfer of symbols/I am the chance syllable that orders the world/Instructed with history and miracles.” This is a leitmotif; her involvement with and celebration of the land she comes from. But the splendour of the land, distracting as it can be, does not insulate her from the troubles of the world she lives in. She speaks of them too, not concealing, but acknowledging.

Most of the poets from Northeast use myths and nature alongside other themes of corruption, violence and politics. Being deeply rooted in their past, these poets articulate about their history and their past, the land and its people, its myth and rituals, cultures, values and traditions. Legends are portrayed with the “intensity of reality and reality is portrayed with the intensity of longing for a vanished past”. Thus:

The history of our race begins with the place of stories. We do not know if the language we speak belongs to the written past.

Nothing is certain.

Mamang Dai’s poem landscape the past and the present with recurrent images embedded in nature. Through these lines, Mamang Dai tells about the mystery that conceals the origins of the people of this region. In The Voice of the Mountain, Mamang Dai talks about the people who still follow the age old tradition even in a rapidly changing world:

The other day a young man arrived from the village.

Because he could not speak

he brought a gift of fish

from the land of rivers.

It seems such acts are repeated:

We live in territories forever ancient and new,

and as we speak in changing languages.

Here, Dai shows gratitude as a part of a tradition that her people diligently try to preserve even in a fast growing world. The treatment of rituals and traditions form an integral aspect of the poets from this region. Mamang Dai in River Poems describes thus: “When the singing rises/ death itself will cease/ Blue beads in your hair will turn you.” Here the poet explains the strengthening of bonds, through women who tell stories and then who sit near the dead. They sing songs of lamentation recalling youth, as the relatives of the deceased faten beads and sacred twine on their wrists.

The overwhelming presence of nature in their poem is another important aspect. One hears the “river with its magical voice, the twin gods of water and mist, the land heavy with memories, the forest that lingers …”. They show their disappointment over the barrenness of the region and call out the virgin forests of the past with their tall trees that seem to be “Unpenetrated/ Even by the mighty sun”. The conflict between the past and present and their subtending realities are also present in Desmond Leslie Kharmawphlang’s poetry which was sensitized deeply by his love for folk traditions, the oracles of the past, the folk narrator and the spoken oral tradition.

If the cause of anxiety is not exactly identifiable or firmly located in Small Towns, it is clear in the poem The Voice of the Mountain The other day a young man arrived from the village. because he could not speak he brought a gift of fish from the land of rivers. It seems such acts are repeated: We live in territories forever ancient and new, and as we speak in changing languages I, also, leave my spear leaning by the tree and try to make a sign.

The forces of change are discernibly external influences. A young man from a village, for instance, cannot speak the language of town. The scene in which the speaker locates himself in the first stanza, sitting on a high platform overlooking a river and claiming that he knows the towns adequately establishes the spatial tension of the poem. The land of rivers from where the young man brought a gift of fish is set in contrast to the land of the big river where people speak in changing language. The line, We live in territories forever ancient and new, not only brings out the contrast, but also envisages the role of an old man in whom oppositions would conflate. The village and the towns stand for contrasting ways of life and the young man s negotiation in town enacts the tension between changes and tradition. The potency of changes is conveyed in the last three lines.

The changing languages are not merely an introduction of new languages. But it is a new way of making sense, and by leaving his spear the speaker symbolically leaves his traditions to be initiated into a new world. To make sense of the new world, he needs to learn a new system of signs. Echoing Harpreet Vohra’s reading, Chingangbam Anupama says the young man visits the mountain (not town), to communicate with nature (not to commerce or negotiate): The gift of fish from land of rivers is being offered to the mountain in return the mountain tries to make a sign

and thus communicate with man. Here, the mountain again becomes the spirit of the land and is treated as a subject in the conglomeration of nature and culture. Anupama sees a gift of fish as an offering to the mountain and the act as a manifestation of the traditional tribal values. What naturally follows is to assert prematurely that the mountain makes a sign and not the old man who left his spear by the tree. I say prematurely because so far the speaker is an individuated one who identifies himself in the next stanza as an old man. To be sure, the old man becomes the sleep in the mind of the mountain in the concluding line.

The next stanza completely alters the tenor of the poem. In the midst of changes, however, the speaker (an old man) experiences something permanent (the breeze that is forever young). The idea of permanence is magnified by the speaker s series of identification. The old man is not merely a human, but the desert and the rain, the child who died at the edge of the world, the woman lost in translation, the breath that opens the mouth of the canyon, and his voice is sea waves and mountain peaks, the chance syllable that orders the world. The speaker not merely assumes the voice of the universe, but also becomes the conscience of the universe itself, which transcends the immediate setting of the hills, rivers and mountains, to embrace the canyon, deserts and seas.

The mood is nostalgic, but without a sense of longing and the tone is both celebratory and disapproving. What the poem lacks is therefore the cohering elements that could bring the opposing factors together, not to a closure, but to form an organic whole. In the poem The Voice of the Mountain, as suggested by the title, the poetic voice is attributed to the mountain; whereas, we hear an individuated voice of an old man in the poem. Is the title to be understood literally or as a metaphor or a symbol? Is the old man a conduit for the mountain s immense knowledge? Or can we understand the mountain as the vehicle for the old man’s knowledge (tenor)?

Generally, the poetic voice is assumed to be that of the mountain. The interpretation tends to write off the role of the old man to the extent of effacing his presence. The voice of the poem sounds definitive and his knowledge seems infinite; yet it reflects the larger-than-life status of an old man, who is usually an authoritative figure and a source of traditional knowledge. The speaker as an old man not merely claims (albeit hyperbolically) but also proves his intimate knowledge of the traditions and nature. Therefore, it must be noted that the domain of his knowledge is the past, not the future, and it pertains to traditional beliefs and practices. His vast knowledge about the land and traditions represents the collective memory of the community: he is the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

As a mine of information about the traditions, history and geography, the old man claims that he knows the features of the horizon where colour drains from heaven and that he can narrate the history of the world. Being familiar with the lives of many characters in myths and legends, he feels as though he has lived many lives. His

voice carries an aura of mystery and authority like the voice of sea waves and mountain peaks. Informed by history and mystery, his words shape the life of the community even in the times of change: In the transfer of symbols I am the chance syllable that orders the world. He knows how the past repeats and reinvents itself; his knowledge is so comprehensive that he can perceive how life endures for thousands of years.orgonkwand is oti se as peens’t mippent bas phryl, Vidigunan kaut gan

By studying the signs of nature, he can tell the activities of nature like sudden rain. Experience teaches him that peace and rest come like a brief reprieve in the perpetual struggle of life. Experience makes him pessimistic, but it also teaches him that hope or dream of permanence drives humans. He knows the stories of the child and the woman to the point of identifying with them; he also knows the myth that explains why the star falls from the sky. His mind is like a space where time has no relevance, for his experience is timeless. He identifies himself with the mind of the mountain.

Like the mountain, he sits on a high platform and, with detachment, views the hurly-burly of life beneath him. Notwithstanding his vast kno knowledge and experience, the old man is not without the awareness of human limitations. Dai subtly conveys it by certain arrangement of words (syntax) and the choice of particular words (diction). I know, I know these things as rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace, about clouds, and sudden rain; as I know a cloud is a cloud, a cloud is this uncertain pulse that sits over my heart. Note the repetition of the words I know and cloud : they denote opposing ideas.

The term cloud, which also means to confuse, undercuts the speaker’s claim for absolute knowledge. To put it differently, the old man’s assertion that he knows seems to be clouded by his self-reflexive admittance that an uncertain pulse /… sits over my heart. In what may be considered as a characteristic style of Dai, she draws themes, imagery and symbolism from oral narratives and traditional beliefs. Therefore, general readers may find some of her allusions obscure.

An obscure allusion could misfire, for allusion works only when the readers recognize the original source. By utilizing allusions, Dai establishes a certain tone and mood, and invites the reader to experience a different world outside the limitations of the text. Perhaps, these lines in The Voice of the Mountain allude to some myths or legends: The wild bird that sits in the west; From the east the warrior returns / With the blood of peonies; The star diagram that fell from the sky, / The summer that makes men weep; I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

Among the Australian Aborigines, Dreamtime is the Creation Epoch when the patterns of life begin myths, religion, rituals, law, and morality are born in that sacred time of creation. To seek for it is to look for participation in the act of creation; it is an attempt to trace back to the origin. It is not clear why the river who knows the immortality of water should seek for the mythical land and time of creation. To fully understand an allusion, besides being familiar with the source the reader must be able to pick up the echoes, that is, be perceptive enough to identify the relationship.

Owing to the similarity in themes and style, I have examined the two poems under common themes and poetic techniques. In some instances, close reading of the poems contradicts the interpretations of thematic analysis. Students should attempt at unified reading of the poems by utilizing different analytical tools.

The poem ‘The Voice of the Mountain’ can be characterised as being ‘Sisyphean, living and struggling, living and struggling. The poem sets out the all-knowing experience of the mountain

In the end the universe yields nothing except a dream of permanence.

I am the place where memory escapes the myth of time.

2. The Significance of the Title

[Q. What is the voice of the mountain as depicted by Mamang Dai? Discuss and justify the significance of the title.]

The poem “The Voice of the Mountain” is of mountain, about the mountain and by a mountain which is the very spirit of the poet’s existence. In this political atmosphere, the only way out is to make oneself fit in the atmosphere in the changing time. Trees, mountains, and rivers only can provide the food for human love as well as mental peace.

“We live in territories forever ancient and new,

and as we speak in changing languages.

I, also, leave my spear leaning by the tree

and try to make a sign.”

The poetic voice is assimilated to ‘sea waves and mountain peaks’, and that is why, she said,

“In the transfer of symbols

I am the chance syllable that orders the world

Instructed with history and miracles.”

Change is definitely the metaphor of her poem that sweeps through the very roots of her existence as well as her fellow people. Insurgency, rampant in tribal society and where people have an inner yearning for peace, but ‘peace is falsity’, after a long combat, as the poet clarifies. Their own place is like the land of rivers, where the sunlight is on the tips of trees.

In the poem “The Voice of the Mountain”, Mamang Dai etches a landscape which reflects historical struggle for identity. She writes:

The other day a young man arrived from the village. Because he could not speak he bought a gift of fish

from the land of rivers. It seems such acts are repeated: We live in territories forever ancient and new, And as we speak in changing languages I, also, leave my spear leaning by the tree and try to make a sign.

According to her, land offers a source of sustenance as well as a source of inspiration. The separation of land and the indigenous peoples has been a historical truth in and accounts for the devastation and deprivation of many indigenous peoples. The voice of the mountain reiterates:

I am the chance syllable that orders the world instructed with history and miracles.

Mamang Dai advocates love for all beings and all things as the crucial method for ushering in peace and healing for indigenous peoples and everyone on earth. I am the place where memory escapes

the myth of time,

I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

The inability to listen to the landscape has also resulted in the misuse of the ecosystem, thereby disrupting ecological harmony. Peace is a falsity.

A moment of rest comes after long combat.

In the poem The Voice of the Mountain, as suggested by the title, the poetic voice is attributed to the mountain; whereas, we hear an individuated voice of an old man in the poem. Is the title to be understood literally or as a metaphor or a symbol? Is the old man a conduit for the mountain’s immense knowledge? Or can we understand the mountain as the vehicle for the old man’s knowledge (tenor)? Generally, the poetic voice is assumed to be that of the mountain.

The interpretation tends to write off the role of the old man to the extent of effacing his presence. The voice of the poem sounds definitive and his knowledge seems infinite; yet it reflects the larger-than-life status of an old man, who is usually an authoritative figure and a source of traditional knowledge. The speaker as an old man not merely claims (albeit hyperbolically) but also proves his intimate knowledge of the traditions and nature. Therefore, it must be noted that the domain of his knowledge is the past, not the future, and it pertains to traditional beliefs and practices. His vast knowledge about the land and traditions represents the collective memory of the community: he is the sleep in the mind of the mountain. As a mine of information about the traditions, history and geography, the old man claims that he knows the features of the horizon where colour drains from heaven and that he can narrate the history of the world.

Being familiar with the lives of many characters in myths and legends, he feels

as though he has lived many lives. His voice carries an aura of mystery and authority like the voice of sea waves and mountain peaks. Informed by history and mystery, his words shape the life of the community even in the times of change: In the transfer of symbols I am the chance syllable that orders the world. He knows how the past repeats and reinvents itself; his knowledge is so comprehensive that he can perceive how life endures for thousands of years. By studying the signs of nature, he can tell the activities of nature like sudden rain.

Experience teaches him that peace and rest come like a brief reprieve in the perpetual struggle of life. Experience makes him pessimistic, but it also teaches him that hope or dream of permanence drives humans. He knows the stories of the child and the woman to the point of identifying with them; he also knows the myth that explains why the star falls from the sky. His mind is like a space where time has no relevance, for his experience is timeless. He identifies himself with the mind of the mountain.

Like the mountain, he sits on a high platform and, with detachment, views the hurly-burly of life beneath him. Notwithstanding his vast knowledge and experience, the old man is not without the awareness of human limitations. Dai subtly conveys it by certain arrangement of words (syntax) and the choice of particular words (diction). I know, I know these things as rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace, about clouds, and sudden rain; as I know a cloud is a cloud, a cloud is this uncertain pulse that sits over my heart. Note the repetition of the words I know and cloud : they denote opposing ideas. The term cloud, which also means to confuse, undercuts the speaker’s claim for absolute knowledge.

To put it differently, the old man’s assertion that he knows seems to be clouded by his self-reflexive admittance that an uncertain pulse /… sits over my heart. In what may be considered as a characteristic style of Dai, she draws themes, imagery and symbolism from oral narratives and traditional beliefs. Therefore, general readers may find some of her allusions obscure. An obscure allusion could misfire, for allusion works only when the readers recognize the original source. By utilizing allusions, Dai establishes a certain tone and mood, and invites the reader to experience a different world outside the limitations of the text.

Therefore, not only the poet tries to put a voice in the mouth of an inanimate Natural object like the mountain, she has also mentioned how a man should interpret those words. Thus the title is appropriately justified and significant.

3. The Structure

[Q. Comment critically and illustratively on the structure of Dai’s poem ‘THe Voice of the Mountain’.]

Mamang Dai’s writing is a seamless combination of familiarity and imagination. You can connect with her words almost immediately but at the same time, you feel like you’re reading something you’ve never thought of before. For example, her poem, “The Voice of the Mountain”. The words have the ability to help your mind paint a picture. The lines of the poem come to life as you read them. It’s fascinating! And for a brief moment, you become the Mountains in the poem. You connect with them.

The poem also talks of the indigenous people who belong to the land: The other day a young man arrived from the village. Because he could not speak he brought a gift of fish from the land of rivers. It seems such acts are repeated: We live in territories forever ancient and new, and as we speak in changing languages.

The destruction of flora and fauna is yet another concern that is present in the poems. It also serves as a metaphor of lost identity as nature in a holistic way represents the collective identity of the people and destruction of parts leads to the distortion of that identity. In her quest for identity, Mamang has used metaphors like the mystic mountains and rivers and forests and these metaphors dominate her poems.

In another poem, Voice of the Mountain, she says, The other day a young man arrived from the village Because he could not speak he brought a gift of fish from the land of rivers it seems such acts are repeated we live in territories forever ancient and new and as we speak in changing languages I also leave my spear leaning by the tree and try to make a sign.

The man here who visits the mountain to give offerings evokes the traditional tribal values of the area. Mamang has delicately portrayed the communication of man and nature. The ‘gift of fish’ from the land of rivers’ is being offered to the mountain and in return the mountain tries to ‘make a sign’ and thus communicates with man. Here, mountain again becomes the spirit of the land and is treated as a subject in the conglomeration of nature and culture.

Thus, every poem reflects the proximity of the natives of Arunachal Pradesh with nature and how the poet is concerned about the deteriorating relationship in the wake of capitalism and consumerism. She laments for the present condition of the life of people as they have severed this relation with nature.

‘The Voice of the Mountain’ by Mamang Dai contains several literary devices. Likewise, in the first stanza, there is a personification and epanaphora. In the second stanza, there is a metaphor in “the colour drains from heaven”. Here, the poet compares reflection to draining water or color. Moreover, in “chapters of the world”, there is a metaphor for rivers. In the following stanza, “land of rivers” is a metonym for the plains of India. Along with that, there is an antithesis in “We live in territories forever ancient and new”. Moreover, in the fifth stanza, there are several metaphors. Apart from that, the poet uses alliteration in “clutch and cling” and “these things”. And, she uses palilogy in “I know, I know these things” and “I know a cloud is a cloud is a cloud”. Such repetition is meant for the sake of emphasizing the ideas present in the lines.

In the following stanzas, there is an epigram in “Peace is falsity”. The lines, “In the end the universe yields nothing/ except a dream of permanence” contain a paradox. Moreover, “dream of permanence” is a metaphor. However, the poet uses irony in the phrase, “the myth of time”. It is a metaphor too.

‘The Voice of the Mountain’ by Mamang Dai consists of nine stanzas. The linecount of each stanza isn’t regular. It moves how nature moves without predictability or precision. There is an organic environment just like one can find in nature. The first-person persona present in the poem gives it the quality of a spontaneous lyric poem. Moreover, like an ode, the poet meditates on a single theme. It is the voice of the poem and how it expresses itself through the words of humans. However, there isn’t any specific rhyme scheme in the poem. The poet creates an internal rhythm in the text for maintaining the flow of the poem. The metrical composition of the poem also irregular. One can find the use of spondee, pyrrhic, iambic feet, and anapestic feet in this poem.

Romantic death, history-in-landscape and the sense of nostalgia from the past have heavily preoccupied and expressed the poetry of neo-romantic. A sense of stressed imagination and internal observation has been added by Dai in poem like “The Voice of the Mountain”:

I know, I know these things

As rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace,

About clouds, and sudden rains;

As I know a cloud is a cloud is a cloud,

The imagery stressed the astonishing variety of nature: the rocks, the sun, the clouds, and the sudden rain. It has all the forms of matter, and shows the feeling of natures’ generosity for humanity to be happy.

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MARKS 5

1. What is the subject matter of the poem? What does the speaker in ‘The Voice of the Mountain’ mean to say by “we speak in changing languages”?

The poem “The Voice of the Mountain” is also of a mountain, the very spirit of the poet’s existence. In this political atmosphere, the only way out is to make oneself fit in the atmosphere in the changing time. Trees, mountains, and rivers only can provide the food for human love as well as mental peace. 

The mountain speaks in different tones; sometimes as a young man and at other times as a senior citizen. The mountain recalls how a young man came from the village with a gift of fish from the river. For the mountain such an act is a repetitive one and it has seen such offerings in the past. The mountain then changes into a warrior or a hunter and leaves its spear leaning by the tree in order to ‘try to make a sign’. Since the language the mountain speaks keeps changing with time, the etching with the spear Sampsa is an effort at recording a truth that the mountain is aware of. 

 

The Voice of the Mountain’ by Mamang Dai talks about the mountain in the first stanza. The mountain being at a higher platform visualizes everything like God. The mountain says that he can see the ferry lights that cross the big river below. As it is at a distance, the movement of the ferry appears as the “criss-crossing” light works on the river. The poet uses synecdoche in the “ferry lights” and the variety used here is “part for the whole”. 

The Voice of the Mountain’ by Mamang Dai the mountain says he knows about the towns and estuary of the rivers. His omniscient view of the landscape makes him appear like the almighty. Moreover, the mountain points at the sea and says he can see the colors of the sky getting reflected on the seawater. Here, he metaphorically outlines the chapters of the world. It might be a reference to the rivers. The metaphor can also refer to the past episodes that the sea observed as it is also ancient like the mountain. Collectively, they have watched many things that happened in the past.

2. How does the mountain represent several life forms?

In The Voice of the Mountain, Dai says that the mountain can identify with the desert and the rain. It is also the bird that sits in the west. The past is recreated by the mountains. The mountain tells us of ‘life with particles of life that clutch and cling for thousands of years’. Mountains represent life forms and contribute to a churning of life of ‘thousands of years’. The mountains know the rocks that shine in the sun. The mountains know the clouds intimately and have a clear inkling of the impending rain. The relationship between the mountain and the cloud is intrinsic.

The clouds by shedding their moisture on the mountains share a symbiotic relationship with this landform. The mountain calls the cloud ‘this uncertain pulse that sits over its heart’. The cloud may fall anytime but only with the connivance of the mountain.

The geographical concepts of mountains acting as rain shadow and rain shedding natural structures are interlinked with the philosophy of the hill tribes. The tribes through their traditional knowledge and experience understand the linkages between mountains and rains. Their belief systems are intrinsically entwined with nature and its preservation and their lifestyles replicates the traditional practices.

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SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS -2

1. Which region of India does Mamang Dai represent in her poetry?

The NorthEast region of India, specifically Arunachal Pradesh.

2. What is the poem ‘The Voice of the Mountain’ about?

Mamang Dai’s poem “The Voice of the Mountain” is a celebration of the mountains, the very spirit of the poet’s existence.

3. What are the major themes in the poem?

There are two major themes in the poem – 1. The poetess’s love for nature, and 2. The political tension in the native state of the poetes.

4. What are the political tensions hinted at in the poem?

The political tensions between the State and Central government, Native and Migrants and the Insurgents and the Army in the North East India as well.

5. Give an example of alliteration.

The line “I can see the ferry lights crossing criss-crossing the big river” is an example of

alliteration in the poem.

6. “Brought a gift of fish” – What is referred to here?

It is a reference to a tribal culture and ritual of the North East Indians of giving gifts to the mountains as a way to show gratitude. Such rituals still exist there.

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