Moraes, Dom(inic Frank)

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MORAES, Dom(inic Frank)

Nationality: British. Born: Bombay, India, 19 July 1938; son of journalist and writer Frank Moraes. Education: Jesus College, Oxford (Editor, Gemini, 1958–60), B.A. in English 1959, M.A. Military Service: U.S. Army in Vietnam, 1971–73: Honorary Colonel. Family: Married 1) Judith St. John in 1963 (marriage dissolved), one son;2) Leela Naidu in 1969. Career: Journalist, and scriptwriter and director, BBC and ITV; roving reporter, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 1968–71; managing editor, Asia Magazine, Hong Kong, 1971–73; chief literary consultant, United Nations Fund for Populations, 1973–77. Awards: Hawthornden prize, 1958; Lamont prize, 1960; Overseas Press Citation (USA), 1972; Central Literacy Academy of India award for English, 1994. Agent: Curtis Brown, 162–168 Regent Street, London WlR 5TA, England. Address: 12 Sargent House, Allana Marg, Bombay 39, India.



A Beginning. London, Parton Press, 1957.

Poems. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1960.

Penguin Modern Poets 2, with Kingsley Amis and Peter Porter. London, Penguin, 1962.

John Nobody. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1965.

Poems 1955–1965. New York, Macmillan, 1966.

Bedlam Etcetera. London, Turret, 1966.

Absences. New Delhi, Sterling, 1983.

Collected Poems 1957–1987. New Delhi and New York, Penguin, 1987.

Serendip: Poems. New Delhi and New York, Viking, 1990.

Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Dom Moraes. Madras, Oxford University Press, 1991.


Green Is the Grass (on cricket). Bombay, Asia Publishing House, 1951.

Gone Away: An Indian Journal. London, Heinemann, and Boston, Little Brown, 1960.

My Son's Father: An Autobiography. London, Secker and Warburg, 1968; as My Son's Father: A Poet's Autobiography, New York, Macmillan, 1969.

The Tempest Within: An Account of East Pakistan. New York, Barnes and Noble, 1971.

From East and West: A Collection of Essays. New Delhi, Vikas, 1971.

A Matter of People. London, Deutsch, and New York, Praeger, 1974.

The Open Eyes: A Journey Through Karnataka. Bangalore, Government of Karnataka, 1976.

Mrs. Gandhi. London, Cape, 1980; as Indira Gandhi, Boston, Little Brown, 1980.

Bombay. New York, Time Life, 1980.

Answered by Flutes: Reflections from Madhya Pradesh. Bombay, Asia Publishing House, 1983.

Trishna. Bombay, Perennial Press, 1987.

Sunil Gavaskar: An Illustrated Biography. Madras, Macmillan, 1987.

Rajasthan, Splendour in the Wilderness. New Delhi, Himalayan Books, 1988.

Never at Home. New Delhi, Viking, 1992.

Author of introduction, Gemini: Poems, by Jeet Thayil. New Delhi, Viking, 1994.

Author of introduction, Women, by Prabuddha Das Gupta. New Delhi, Viking, 1996.

Editor, Voices for Life: Reflections on the Human Condition. New York, Praeger, 1975.

Translator, The Brass Serpent, by T. Carmi. London, Deutsch, 1964;Athens, Ohio University Press, 1965.


Manuscript Collections: University of Texas, Austin; State University of New York, Buffalo; University of Arizona, Tucson.

Critical Studies: The Poetry of Encounter: Three Indo-Anglian Poets by Emmanuel Narendra Lall, New Delhi, Sterling, 1983; article in The Hindu (Madras), 29 April 1990; Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Dom Moraes by Bruce King, Madras, Oxford University Press, 1991.

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Dom Moraes began to write poetry at the age of twelve, and by the age of fifteen he had attracted the attention of W.H. Auden. Stephen Spender, whom he calls his mentor, published him in Encounter, and Karl Shapiro in Poetry. Moraes published his first book of poems, A Beginning, when he was only nineteen. This was followed during the next nine years by additional books of poetry. But between 1966 and 1983 Moraes published no poetry at all, although prose works appeared. At last, in 1983, he broke his silence with the publication of Absences, and in 1987 his Collected Poems 1957–1987 appeared.

Moraes has said that poetry haunts him, recurring in his mind as sounds, phrases, or even single words, out of which a poem eventually arises. During the years of his poetic silence he was trying to put down words that had not, he says, haunted him or come to him out of the air. In 1982, however, he found himself suddenly writing poetry again in an altogether new style without trying to master it, and he wrote eleven poems in quick succession. He hastened to publish the poems as Absences, fearing that the elusive muse might as suddenly vanish again. But the poems continued to come, a mystery that Moraes says he cannot explain.

Moraes has explained his methods of composition in this way: "As soon as I have an idea for a poem, I open a notebook at random and write it down. I do the same as further ideas strike me, so that pieces of the poem may be scattered throughout a notebook, interspersed with pieces of other poems. One poem may have parts of it strewn over several notebooks. When I am actually in the process of completing a poem, I work from typescripts, sometimes as many as 30 of them, anyway, too many to keep, so I throw them away." In the foreword to his Collected Poems Moraes says that he regards John Nobody, published in 1965, as a better book than earlier ones "because there was some kind of thought, rather than pure imagination, attempting to direct the poems." Still, it seemed to him that many of the poems in John Nobody did not convey what he had intended at the start, and he has now come to regard the poems written after 1982 as better than the early ones. The new style certainly has greater lucidity.

What distinguishes Moraes among Indian poets writing in English are a powerful organic sensibility, a skillful use of metrical and nonmetrical verse patterns, compressed but still lucid imagery ("malignant bureaucracy / Festooning sores with coloured tape"), and a remarkable ability to create an unusual mood, atmosphere, or unnameable emotion. There is plenty of variety in subject, genre, tone, feeling, and scene. The diction is wide-ranging, evocative, and sensuous. Occasionally there is an unusual word, precisely used ("The nictitation of his drunken eyes"; "the cruses of my eyes"; "vultures / Alate as angels on each corpse").

Wordsworth, on whom Moraes has written a poem, said that poems to which value can be attached are never produced on just any variety of topics but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, has thought long and deeply of his subject. Of Moraes's more than usual organic sensibility there can be no doubt, but many of his poems suffer from a certain intellectual thinness that somewhat diminishes the appeal of their stylistic felicity. The thinness may be a symptom of a lack of cultural or religious conviction. In a poem called "Son," for example, which records the birth of the boy, the speaker refers to the infant as coming through "the burning bush," but the biblical allusion does not add significantly to the meaning.

Moraes has said that "myths nest inside [his] head" and that he is fascinated by history (including, we may add, archaeology), which has the quality of myth for him. ("My imaginative processes operate like this, and I cannot change them.") The interpretative illumination of life and the world that myths have provided to many poets, however, is not conspicuous in Moraes's use of them. Thus, the poem "Merlin" reaches the somewhat disappointing conclusion that Merlin's magic will not work now, so that Merlin wants to die. (Compare Eliot's use of the Cumaean sibyl.) His reading of history is also somewhat lacking in vision and philosophical interpretation. Mythic perception calls for an imagination characterized by a sense of cyclic time and of tradition and for a more than usual capacity to transcend oneself and contemporary reality.

Moraes's book Serendip (1990) was published three years after Collected Poems. The first section is a collection of fourteen-line poems that give a chronological account of certain episodes in the history of Sri Lanka. (Serendip, meaning "island of jewels," was an ancient name for Sri Lanka.) The poems bring out well the strong points of Moraes's poetic craft: graceful phrasing, a sure sense of rhythm, the right image, a wide knowledge of history and myth, and a rich vocabulary, The second section, "Steles," contains poems based on recollections of his past life and the emotions evoked by them. Presiding over this section and the next one, "Barrows," is the thought of death. The tone is one of regret and sadness for a misspent life, but the poet's gift for the right word has luckily survived. The third section also contains many poems based on remote Icelandic myth and history. Perhaps the most successful poems are in the final section, simply called "Other Poems." They are on a variety of themes and in a variety of forms, with a movement that is slow and meditative and with a tone of resignation and gentle melancholy. The images create and focus the emotion precisely. The poet is aware that he is living on the past and in the past, and in "Laureate" there is even an intimation that his poetic powers have declined:

The endless paper yellows down the years.
Once his empowered words, knotted for stress,
Drew his heart outward on a catch of breath
As though he felt a sudden flight of birds,
Constructed out of shreds, cohere and fly
Up from his hands, above astonished heads.

The last poem of the collection, "Future Plans," expresses the hope of a reconciliation with the way things have gone.

—S. Nagarajan

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Moraes, Dom(inic Frank)

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