About the poet:
Vinayaka Krishna Gokak was born on 9th August 1909 in a place called Savanur that formed a part of the Kingdom of Mysore in British India. He was a major writer in the Kannada language, and a scholar of English and Kannada literatures.
He was the fifth writer to be honoured with the Jnanpith Award in 1990 for Kannada language, for his epic Bharatha Sindhu Rashmi. Bharatha Sindhu Rashmi deals with the Vedic age and is perhaps the longest epic narrative in any language in the 20th Century. In 1961, Gokak was awarded the Padmashree from the Government of India for Dyava Prithvi (one of his poetry collections).
‘English Words’ consists of a total of 37 lines. These lines are not separated into stanzas. Here they are divided into meaningful segments for ease of comprehension. The entire poem is addressed to the English language by Gokak.
In first four lines, Gokak says that English words came to the Indian population like the healing act of physicians. Therefore, he equates not knowing English with an illness. Gokak also says that the learning of English almost killed them. This is perhaps a reference to the freedom struggle. English made the Indians “bleed white” probably means that speaking English gave the disadvantageous brown colour of our skin a white tinge – like the colour of the skin of our English colonisers.
In Lines 3-5 , Gokak directly addresses the English and says that their language had a purifying effect on Indians, who were thought to be uncultured and unhygienic by the English colonisers. In the midst of the stormy period of colonisation, the learning of the English language may have seemed dull and difficult at first, but it was ultimately the only source of joy to the Indians.
In Lines 10-11, Gokak continues with the metaphor of darkness and light. He imagines India as a land where only nocturnal creatures like the owl abound, and the coming of English words is akin to the coming of a new dawn, when sunlight spreads all through the darkness and does away with it.
In Lines 19-22, Gokak compares English words with bees and says that their wings have carried them here. These bees have created honey (that is, have led to the composition of great poetry and prose), but must return to their own habitat (or their homeland) in the end. This honey though will remain a resource for the Indian peoples for generations to come. The illumination brought by English words will not be forgotten. Instead it will be cherished fondly.
In last lines, Gokak says that the future of the English language in the Indian subcontinent is a cosmic concern, that is, it is above mere earthly matters. He then cites perhaps the best known lines of the Bible and says that the world began with the Word when only God was there. Now the Word has come down to man. At the end of the world, the Word will still be the only thing that survives, and God will have found his habitation within man. What Gokak means to say is that the English language will survive for ages, and lead man to self-perfection.
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