Ganges Next Life — the Poetry of Science, the Holiness of the Hands of the Engineer
The Image of the Ganges
In the essay “The Ganges Next Life,” by Alexander Stille, the image that remains most forcibly in the reader’s mind is that of the Ganges River, itself. In the folds of this body of water, one finds the center of India’s spiritual and commercial life. The water is both purifying to the spirit of a Hindu, yet it is also potentially the center of Indian’s modern commercial life. The water may purify the human soul, yet human beings must also take concrete and scientific steps to ensure that it remain pure and a sustainable source of renewable energy.
Why the image is selected
The power of the image of the Ganges is two fold. The river is not merely beautiful as a natural work of God. It is a piece of the environment infused with significance of a human and a religious nature. Yet because of humanity’s interference, it has become polluted. It is potentially life sustaining to the economy and the soul yet this renewable potential is being destroyed. Veer Bhadra Mishra is like the river itself, a Hindu religious leader and environmental engineer — a paradox of roles in the body of one — and he can no longer wash in the waters of his faith though he hopes to someday do so again, as well as harness these waters to serve his nation’s future.
Annie Dillard has said: “In nature I find grace tangled in a rapture with violence; I find an intricate landscape whose forms are fringed in death; I find mystery, newness, and a kind of exuberant, spendthrift energy.” The power of the image of the water is thus metaphorical on a multi-surface level — it provides renewable human energy in a literal way, but also energy of a different kind. It is, like the human spirit, a source of infinitely renewable energy and a potentially sustainable system of purification for the human body and economy.
Water is meaningless. Water is meaningless, clear, projecting only the face of the gazer into the river. It is clear and tasteless unless human hands for better or for ill adulterate it. This is why water purifies. It is the emptiest of all the elements yet it is the only element that washes us clean, naked — when we go clothed within the water it weighs us down.
Perhaps this is why it is so tempting to ignore the life-sustaining power of water. It seems like something to be taken for granted unless it becomes a nuisance in the form of rain. We see what we want to see in water, or curse it.
The throat grows dry, parched. The air becomes still and dry, and our bodies become parched and dry in the absence of the folds and flow of water. We look around at the water, but because of our carelessness, it has become tainted by mud.
Once we saw God in the living reflection of water, once we saw our best selves and faces and faith. Now we see nothing, and moan its absence. We scorned water, and sought science, progress, but now beg these things to lead us back to what we left — pure water.
Poetry is not something that exists outside of nature. By viewing nature in its truth, namely the fact that water has a potentially purifying aspect to it, as well as provides a renewable source of energy, one finds the truest source of poetry.
Dillard, Annie. “The Wreck of Time: Taking Our Century’s Measure.” The New Humanities Reader. Edited by Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. New York, 2003.
Stille, Alexander. “The Ganges’ Next Life.” The New Humanities Reader. Edited by Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. New York, 2003
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