‘Vikram Seth was born in Kolkata, West Bengal, India in June 1952. He is the author of novels, books of verse and has received a number of awards. These include the Crossword Book Award, WH Smith Literary Award and Sahitya Academy Award.
Vikram Seth often writes about travel, love, loss and Indian history. His eight books of poetry include Mappings, The Humble Administrator’s Garden and Three Chinese Poets. It was with the publication of A Suitable Boy, a novel, in 1980 that brought him into the public eye. It was followed by another novel, An Equal Music. His best-known novel is likely The Golden Gate, published in 1986, and written entirely in sonnet stanzas.
Top 10 Vikram Seth Poems
This poem is a moving seven stanza piece that is told from the perceptive of a man dying of AIDS. The speaker discusses the impending nature of his death and how its cause, “This thing” in his blood, will not let him go. His illness controls his body and “breaks [his] days in pain”. The speaker tells of the one he loves, and how this person knows the speaker is going to die and won’t “speak of hope or cure” as it would do him no good.
By the end of the poem the speaker’s emotions are get the best of him and he asks his lover to stay with him, and to “Love [him] when [he] is dead”. In the final line, his facade of acceptance falls away and in desperation, the speaker asks someone, anyone, to keep him from dying.
This piece is considered by some to be Vikram Seth’s most famous poem. It is a (somewhat) lighthearted, almost childlike story of a king who tries to do his best for his people, but ends up making a mess and losing his life.
The poem begins with the king trying to build a grand arch. The project is completed but unfortunately, not to the king’s liking. Eventually, after a lot of anger, the king decides to hang the builders. But, the builders pass the blame onto the labourers, and so on, until it appears that everything that went wrong was actually the king’s fault. After consulting a wiseman, the king decides that it is the arch that is to blame, and that it should be hanged. After a series of strange and humorous twists, the king himself is hanged and a melon takes his place on the throne.
What’s in it?
This poem follows a simple AABBCC rhyme scheme and discusses Vikram Seth’s speaker’s infatuation with someone he hasn’t seen in a long time. The speaker is at a simple meeting with a friend when she mentioned the person he loves. When he heard their name he became serious, like a “owlet,” waiting and hoping to hear it again. Soon though, the conversation moves on and the speaker is left pining for more information and the “sirenic sound” of the name once more.
How Rarely These Few Years
‘How Rarely These Few Years’ is a short poem that speaks about the inevitability of death. Vikram Seth appears to be the speaker, and within the text he discusses the relationship he has with his siblings. He makes clear that everything has been in the way lately. Work and fares, or “one thing or another” has kept him and his sister and brother from spending time at their parent’s house.
After setting the scene with these statements, he immediately reminds the reader and his family, that they’ll all be dead eventually. The most poignant line comes at the end though when he speaks about how at some point only one of them will be left alive “To bear it all and go on living”.
‘Sit’ is a simple piece about pausing in the chaos of the world for a moment and enjoy another’s company. The straightforward nature of the syntax and vocabulary make the poem easy and pleasurable to read. Plus, these features speak to the overall theme of the poem. That the world makes life complicated and forces everyone to feel rushed, and that sometimes it is enjoyable to sit down with another person and talk simply.
In this longer poem the Vikram Seth personifies two animals, a frog and a nightingale, in order to tell a moral story to the reader. By the end of the poem a reader should be reminded to feel confident in their own abilities. As well as maintaining the strength to push back against those who doubt them. The animals in ‘The Frog and the Nightingale’ are given the ability to sing.
As one would expect, the nightingale has the superior voice, but is naive enough to be manipulated by the frog. The frog convinces the nightingale that her voice is less than what she thinks, and she is made miserable.
A Humble Administrator’s Garden
This piece is the title poem of Vikram Seth’s 1985 collection. The book contains three sections, and ‘The Humble Administrator’s Garden’ features in the first, titled Wutong. It was inspired by the years the poet spent studying and traveling in China. The title of the book, and the poem comes from one of four famous classical gardens in Suzhou, China.
The Golden Gate
‘The Golden Gate’ is an interesting addition on this list as technically it is a novel. But, it is written in verse form. Since it was published in 1986, Vikram Seth has compared his novel to the famous Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. A work that is renowned for its complexity of rhyme and rhythm. The novel is in total 590 sonnets, of the traditional fourteen lines, with the rhyme scheme ABABCCDDEFEFGG. In fact, every part of the novel is structured as separated sonnets, from the text itself, to the contents and “About” section.
The story is a complicated one, but it follows two characters John and Janet as they move through their lives. They deal with normal life events, marriage, strife, death and anxiety but all throughout, Seth maintains the sonnet form, creating 590 individual poems that come together to form a brilliant novel.
This is one of a few pieces on this list that speaks about nature and its powers. ‘The Wind’ is a very short poem, at only four lines, but it has a memorable impact. The speaker describes his emotional solitude and how there is no “companion” to how he feels. He’s out walking, pushing against the wind as he tries to get wherever he is going. But, in the last line the wind becomes a different kind of companion. He bows to it as he walks into its force.
‘Evening Scene From My Table’ is a calm, meditative poem that speaks on the beauty and pleasure to be found in time spent alone. The speaker in this piece is by himself at a table drinking “unfizzy beer”. Vikram Seth’s speaker looks out from where he’s sitting, and takes note of the creatures going about their lives around him. No one and nothing interacts with him, and he is left to observe and find solace in the “birds and beer”. The poem concludes with a gentled reminder that the sun will go away. Then the bats will fly in dark formations “across a darkened sky.”