Vikram Seth Essay - Critical Essays

Vikram Seth Poetry: World Poets Analysis

Vikram Seth is a versatile writer who is at ease in a variety of genres. He is known for his clear and readable style, joyful use of language, irony, and technical mastery. He has made a place for himself as an Indian writing in the English language. Though his published works reflect his versatility, set in London, San Francisco, and China, as well as India, his best-known work is his epic of Indian culture, religion, family life, and postcolonial politics, A Suitable Boy.

Seth’s work can be analyzed in terms of several distinctive factors. One is his multicultural identity. His books of poetry contain material influenced by his residence and familiarity with the literature of Eastern and Western countries and cultures. He is further influenced by literature in translation from Russia and Greece. This cultural diversity is reflected in the variety of his themes and material. Nevertheless, Seth remains ultimately an Indian writer.

A second distinctive factor in Seth’s poetry is his technical mastery of traditional forms of rhyme and meter, unusual in a poet of the modern age. Seth has written that since his academic training was in economics rather than English, he followed his own inclinations and tastes in his own poetry. Verse “in form” is what he reads and recalls, and therefore writes.

Critics have noted the simplicity of style and unassuming tone of his poetry. The sheer joy of some of his use of language; his sense of humor, ease, and fun; his joy in small daily moments; and his strong sense of irony characterize the best of his work. While Seth’s form is traditional, he is thematically a postmodernist. Coming through the irony and humor is a theme of the loneliness of late twentieth century life, the difficulty of forming relationships, the ultimate failure of love as a bond. His familiarity with contemporary idiom and culture further reflects his time and place. He has a postmodern self-consciousness as well, transparently revealing his writing technique and his presence as narrator throughout his work.


Seth’s first published book of poetry reflects mixed feelings of nostalgia for India after studying for years in England and the United States. The book includes translations of poems from Hindi, German, and Chinese. His original work expresses youthful restlessness, the sadness of unfulfilled love, and ambivalent feeling toward family. These lines from “Panipat” show the poet’s sense of being caught between two cultures:

Family, music, faces,Food, land, everythingDrew me back, yet nowTo hear the koyal singBrings notes of other birds,The nightingale, the wren,The blackbird; and my heart’sBarometer turns down....

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