‘Upon the Table the Tea Turning Cold’ by Riyas Qurana is a fifty-five line poem that does not follow a specific rhyme scheme but does utilize a number of repeating end rhymes to create a sense of unity from the beginning to end. For example, the end line rhymes “-ee,” and “-able” repeat on a surprising number of occasions.
It begins with a meeting set for the “Past and the Future. The speaker creates a “tea-shop” and prepares for the sit-down. But no one, unsurprisingly, shows up. In fact, there was no meeting scheduled. The poet, and speaker, has told the reader this tale, “just for the sake of telling.” So that the reader could understand his attempts to create a dialogue between the two.
The poet wants to end the poem here, but decides to continue after grabbing a man and a woman off the street and sitting them down at the table with one cup of tea between them. They do not know who should drink the tea and both politely defer to the other. This awkward tension could be seen as the beginnings of love. In fact, the poet states, love must begin this way. The two are symbolic. They represent the past and the future, two contrasting incorporeal beings, that are by default connected and separate.
The man and woman go their separate ways as the tea turns cold on the table. The woman goes to the “Future” and the man “toward the Past.” They both return to where they are comfortable.
This is a melancholy ending for the poet, he did expect it, but it still saddens him. He has chosen to tell this tory in the hopes that more will understand the importance of reconciling the past and future.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Upon the Table the Tea Turning Cold
When the Past and the Future met,
I created anew a tea-shop there.
For, none had promised to come.
It is here that the complication comes to be.
The speaker of this piece begins the poem by announcing a meeting between the “past and the Future.” These two ephemeral bodies were going to finally come together. Perhaps in an effort to reconcile their differences or in the hope of understanding themselves better by learning more about each other. When one understands the past they can predict something about the future just as the past often reflects what will happen in the future.
In an effort to smooth over this meeting the speaker has “created anew a tea-shop there.” This word, “anew,” makes it seem as if this teashop was built once before for a meeting that never happened.
In the shop, the speaker has placed “two chairs,” one for the past and one for the future. It is clear, at least to the speaker, that these two incorporeal ideas will make themselves physically present. These chairs are set out facing one another so that the two bodies might converse. No one shows up though. The speaker says that he, “waited for ages” without anyone coming.
He reveals in the next line that there was actually no meeting planned. He is only telling this story for “the sake of telling.” The speaker adds one extra line here for providing some foreshadowing.
It is here that the complication comes to be.
How to continue the poem
Recounting the poem from an angle unthought of by you
This simple knot
Caused a spark in me.
The next section of the poem begins with the speaker and poet directly speaking to the reader, he is wondering how he is supposed to continue on with the poem in a way that will surprise the readers. He cannot immediately think of something so he is “forced to act” impulsively.
He “grab[s]” at two random people he finds and forces them to “sit in the chairs” that he set out for Past and Future. While these two newcomers were not the originally planned participants, they are able to represent the past and future.
One of the newcomers is male and the other is female. The immediate friction between the two, due to their sexes, is felt. It “Caused a spark” in the speaker. He knows that something will come of this.
Hurriedly I place a lone cup of tea
Upon the table.
is indeed an embarrassing situation between
In an effort to make the best out of this new situation the speaker “Hurriedly” places a “lone cup of tea / Upon the table.”
This single-cup is meant to cause additional friction between the two and place them in an awkward situation in which they are forced to engage. The prospect of a man and a woman sharing a cup of tea could make them be “conceived as lovers.” The speaker takes no further steps at this point to prompt a relationship. While it is immediately clear that they are not lovers, no one attempts to drink from the cup. They each defer to the other, politely telling the other to “drink the tea.”
Nothing happens, the tea is “turning cold upon the table” because no one wants to reach out, take a chance, and engage with the other person. It is “an embarrassing situation between / two Strangers.”
Oh, We know very well.
But, doesn’t this very situation help many
The vapour coming out of the tea-cup upon he table
This marks the climax of the poem. The tea is there untouched, cooling as the two visitors to the teashop awkwardly sit across from one another. This situation is familiar to the speaker and he assumes that it will be familiar to the reader as well, “We know very well.”
He contrasts the awkward feelings surrounding the two by reminding the reader that this “very situation,” doesn’t it “help many” in the “magical game of love?” One must put themselves into these types of places in order to meet other people. The awkwardness comes before love.
The two at the table seem to have had enough for one meeting and rise to “leave for their respective work.” The poet tells the reader that this is where the poem was supposed to, and could have, ended. But he hopes to satisfy the “Tamil viewers.”
Tamil refers to a Dravidian ethnic group, one of the oldest ethnic groups in the world, that live primarily in India. He had to “change the verdict” to what will come in the final lines.
constructed a boundary-line between them.
After remaining silent for too long
As I may have to write it twice
I have given the climax as the title.
The final lines of the poem wrap up the story between these two strangers and “Past” and “Future.” The two have gone their separate ways and the steam or “vapour,” rising from the “tea-cup” has created a boundary “between them.” This boundary is symbolic, it refers to the distance between the past and the future. The poet is describing how no matter what you do, there is no way to permanently reconcile the two different times.
“She,” the female visitor to the teashop is going “towards Future,” while the man is “heading toward Past.” These two elements and their symbolic representatives have set a “melancholic tune” that only a few people can understand. The poet is not disappointed in the result, but sadly resolved to it.