Summary and Analysis of On The Death of A Poem by Ramanujan: 2022

Introduction to the Poet:

Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan was born in Mysore City on 16th March, 1929 as the son of an astronomer and professor of Mathematics. Not only an Indian poet and scholar of English Literature, but he was also a translator, playwright, folklorist and philologist. He wrote both in English and Kannada, though his academic research ranges across Tamil, Telegu and Sanskrit as well.
Educated at the University of Mysore, his poems are enigmatic in nature showing originality, elegance, refinement and great flair. Though his written work faced a lot of controversial setbacks, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award by the Indian Government in 1983 and the MacArthur Prize Fellowship.
A.K. Ramanujan passed away on July 13,1993 in Chicago as a result of an adverse reaction to anesthesia during a surgery.

The Poem:

‘On the death of a poem’ by A.K.Ramanujan is a wonderful piece of literature written from the innermost corner of the poet’s heart that deals with the intimacy with poems.
The poem deals with the frustration and pain of a poem remaining unnoticed with the element of sorrow for the writer. The poem is also accompanied with a sense of guilt stricken consciousness of the poem. As we dive deep into the metaphorical meaning, the innermost emotions with the poem becomes more evident.

Setting of On The Death of A Poem :

The poem is set on a situation where the poem faces deep agony about a poem’s death. The death of a poem is the death of a thought and creation, the end of days of toil and hard work in building the poem. The associated emotions intricate with the poem are lost.
It is evident from the tone and choice of words that the setting is one of despair, hopelessness and pain associated with a sense of deep sigh.
This poem is an interesting read of a poet’s failure and his attitude towards the poem.

Poetic Devices in On The Death of A Poem :

Images consulting one another to come slowly to a sentence as a conscience stricken jury is a symbolism itself of the failure of the poem to be a renowned and a famous one. It is a symbolism of the wasted efforts of the writer as if in a melancholic disposition. The images aren’t just pictures but the imageries that the poem is made up of.
The images are memories or images of memories too. The symbolism of the images is thus significant.
The images coming together and consulting each other makes the reader imagine that the images are coming and clumping against together, like in a collage.
Further, when the poet says they are like “conscience-stricken jury” one almost feels that the images do not stand out or aren’t exceptionally magnificent, or are too ordinary that the images do not make a significant difference to the poem altogether, thus are guilty.
Through the marvellous usage of appropriate words, Ramanujan portrays the perfect imagery of failure and downfall, making the poem even more interesting and appealing to the readers.
Clearly, ‘Images’ in the poem is personified.
They are an abstract idea given living attributes. They are said to consult one another like a jury.
In addition, as they come together in a sentence, the most important aspect is they ‘come together to a sentence’.
Just like the jury that comes to a decision, the images also come together in a sentence.
Thus, personification is the most important poetic device of “On the death of a poem”.
The images being compared to that of the ‘conscience-stricken jury’ is a metaphor itself. Further, just like the jury comes to a decision, the images come to a sentence. It is, as if, a reference to their power of consultation and finally deciding upon whether they can form a sentence, by their combination.
They are conscious-stricken because they might be the ones without an extraordinary quality to make the sentence a significant one which would constitute the poem, itself.
Thus, it acts as a metaphor.

Summary of On The Death of A Poem :

The poem is a reflection of a poet’s emotions associated with the poem that has failed to gain recognition. The title of the poem is significant as it deals with the failure or death of a poem. As the poem is lacking extraordinary elements it fails to gather fame and thus is said to be ‘dead’.
As we move through the lines, we realise the writer’s despair.
As the first few lines says:
“Images consult
the poet tries to say that images that a poem is made up of, the thoughts and memories that constitute the images which in turn constitute the poem itself is consulting one another.
The purpose of consultation would be cleared soon as we read through the poem.
Next, the poet says, the images consult each other like ‘conscious-stricken jury’. Jury is a group of people who judges to give a verdict. The images are compared with that of a jury that gives the verdict of whether they would fit together in a sentence. They are ‘conscious-stricken’ maybe because they are conscious that they lack the element of significance and magic, that makes the poem renowned in the best form.
Thus, in the end , the poet says they give a verdict of coming together to a sentence, as if the judges coming together to a decision.

Critical Analysis of On The Death of A Poem :

The poem is a heart-rendering cry of a poet on the death of the poem. A poem’s death is nothing but the lost of significance and the beauty of a poem. The poem’s death is the end of all toils that the poet goes through during the creation of the poem. A poem’s death is the end of all turbulent wind of emotion that constitutes each and every sentence, every word and letter of the poem. The death of a poem is the death of emotions and to a poet, it is heart rendering.
The poem says that the images that constitutes the poem: the memories and imaginations associated intricately with the poem are consulting each other. The consultation is yet an attribute that is living and this suggest that the images are not just images but the living, breathing emotions for the poet, they are dear to his heart.
They consult together to come to a decision like a jury. The personification is magnified here. They are also said to be ‘conscience stricken’, which implies that they might lack the fervor, the charm and the elements of glory that needs to bring forth recognition of the poem. Thus, they are conscious-stricken. This brings out the harsh truth that poetry not only consists of emotions but the element of magnification is important too, which the poem might have lacked.
Though the images were ‘conscious-stricken’ still they wanted to come to a sentence. This indicates, the poet’s love for the images in spite of the fact that the images might not glorify the poem. This is perhaps a reference to Ramanujan himself because in spite of the fact that his poems were controversial yet he had never discarded the beautiful thought and mind striking images.
Thus, the poem is a heart-rendering cry of a poet on the face of a poem’s death.

Central Idea of On The Death of A Poem :

The central idea of the poem deals with the human effort which often goes to vain just like a poet’s failure to build a rejuvenating poem. The bond of the poet with the poem is clearly indicated, too. The central idea is reflected in the title itself where the death of a poem is a most heart breaking phenomenon.
The poem is also intimately associated with the theme of failure and a poet’s capability of understanding. In spite of the fact that the title says ‘On the death of a poem’, it is basically the death of the creation of a poet which is achingly moving.
The poem, thus mourns over the ‘conscious-stricken’ images that decide to fit into a sentence in spite of understanding the incapability of creating a marvellous piece of poetry.

Tone of On The Death of A Poem :

The tone of the poem is melancholic as it deals with failure and pessimism. The tone remains so throughout and there is no change.
When the poet says that the images consult each other a tone of suspense is created which soon changes to one of awe as they are compared to that of a jury which is conscience-stricken before producing a verdict.
At last it changes to one of despair and hopelessness and ends in a sigh as the images finally comes together in a sentence.


Though Ramanujan gained controversial opinions about his poems but his contributions to modern literature are magnanimous.The poem ‘On the death of a poem’ holds a remarkable position in literature as it touches the heart of many with its soulful cry portraying the pain of a poet during failure.
Contributor: Bidisha Das

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