Sri Aurobindo had started working on the earliest draft of Savitri in August 1916. Nirodbaran, who has portrayed how Savitri reached its final form in his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, writes about this draft:
“The draft exists in two sections. The first comprising Book I and a few pages of Book II… Book I is complete, Book II unfinished. The spelling of the three chief characters is: Savithri, Uswapathy, Suthyavan. In the first Book, after a short description of Night and Dawn, there is a very brief account of the Yoga done by Uswapathy, then Savithri is born, grows up and goes out, at Uswapathy’s prompting, to find her mate. She finds Suthyavan. In the meantime Narad comes down to earth and visits Uswapathy’s palace. There is a talk between the two; Savithri returns from her quest and discovery, and a talk takes place among the three.” (pp. 173-174, 1995 edition)
We are happy to announce that Overman Foundation has received permission from Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to publish the earliest draft of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in its online forum. We are extremely grateful to Shri Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, for giving us the said permission.
The first four installments of the earliest draft of Savitri were published in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 4 April, 9 April, 16 April and 23 April 2013 respectively.
The fifth installment—which marks the beginning of Book II of the epic—is published here.
With warm regards,
So she was left alone in the huge wood
By Death the god confronted, holding still
Her husband’s corpse on her abandoned breast.
She measured not her loss with helpless thoughts,
She rose not up to face the dreadful god,
But over him she loved her soul leaned out
From a far stillness. There into some heaven
Of birth and silence lifted all that here
Is hope and sorrow and trembling passion, changed,
Losing their natures and what was once her heart
Became a hushed eternity of love.
Not in her body they grew. A strain delivered
Vibrant great chords of Force by Nature tuned
For her eternal music yet unheard
Which the stars dream of listening as they wheel.
So one day all our nature’s sins shall find
Their strong redemption; slain they shall ascend
Into the purity from which they erred,—
Discords redeemed to help a music large,
Transfigured, lifted up on fiery wings.
Her mortal being seized by dreadful hands
Felt the last agony of passionate change
That was its quivering into godhead. It grew
A high and lonely ecstasy of will
That left her like a mighty eagle poised
In the void: thought perished and her mind seemed slain.
But from a growing secrecy of light
The greater spirit in some world within
Griefless above her, yet herself, unveiled
Its frontal glories and miraculously
Outlined its body of power. Leaned from above
Ancient and strong as on a wind-free summit,
Calm, violent, fiery-footed, puissant-winged,
Over the abyss one brooded who was she.
Sole now that spirit turned its mastering gaze
On life and things as if inheriting
A work unfinished from her halting past
When yet the mind, a passionate learner, toiled
And the crude instruments were blindly moved.
And like a tree recovering from the wind
She raised her noble head. Fronting her eyes
Something stood there unearthly, sombre, grand,
A limitless denial of all being
That wore the wonder of a shape. The Form
Bore the deep pity of destroying gods
In its appalling eyes. Eternal Night
In the dire beauty of an immortal face
Pitying arose, receiving all that lives
Into its fathomless heart for ever. Its limbs
Were monuments of transience and beneath
Brows of unwearying calm large godlike lids
Silent beheld the writhing that is life.
The two opposed each other with their eyes,
Woman and universal god. They seemed
Two equal powers that stand unconquered, left
The last huge-purposed among trivial things,
Scanning each other in the eternal lists
Like vast antagonists before they meet
In world-wide combat to possess alone.
Then to her ears silencing earthly sounds,
Forbidding the heart-strings with its iron cry
Arose a sad and formidable voice
That seemed the whole adverse world’s. “Unclasp,” it said,
“Thy passionate influence and relax, O slave
Of Nature, thy grasp elemental. Wrap no more
This spirit’s body in the abandoned robe
That with its texture coarse concealed the gods.
Entomb thy passion in its living grave,
Confess thy days an error and endure
The inevitable end of hope and love.”
It ceased, she moved not, and it spoke again
Lowering its mighty key to human chords,
“Woman, thy husband suffers.” Sâvithrî
Renounced the lifeless body from her clasp.
Softly she laid it down on the smooth grass,
As oft she had laid her living husband’s head
When from their couch she rose in the white dawn
Called by her daily tasks. So now as called,
Unknowing to what work, because her spirit
Above watched flaming silent still, she rose,
Waiting whatever impulse should arise
Out of the eternal depths and cast its surge.
Then Death the King leaned boundless down, as leans
Night over tired lands, and as if freed
Out of a physical dream, leaving uncared for
His mind forsaken of that poor dead earth,
Another Suthyavân arose and stood
Between the mortal woman and the god.
He was or else he seemed a shape of light
Found shadowy to the feeling out of mind
Which missed the warmth of bright material suns.
Thus each sees what transcends his conscious touch
And dreams things greater than himself are dreams:
Therefore heaven’s shapes are distant to our view,—
The gleam of hopes we hardly dare believe,
Far luminous symbols of a truth unseen
Kept for a happier sense in higher worlds.
So now her senses, though rebuked, believed
The dead corpse real, this a silent shade.
Still for a while was that bright Suthyavân,
Between two realms he stood, not wavering,
But in a quiet strong expectancy
Like one who, sightless, listens for a command.
But now he moved away. Behind him Death
Went slowly like a shadowy herdsman dark
Behind some wanderer from his mournful herds.
And Sâvithrî followed her husband’s steps,
Planting her human feet where his had trod,
Into the silence of that other world.
At first they seemed to her still on earthly soil
To journey strangely with unhuman paces
Through a thick stress of woods. For though to her vision
Only were offered in a spaceless dream
The luminous spirit gliding stilly on
And the great shadow travelling behind,
Her senses felt a vague green world of trees
Surround them and in troubled branches knew
Uncertain treadings of a fitful wind,
Earth stood aloof yet near; it offered her
Its sweetness and its greenness mid a dream,
Its brilliance suave of well-loved vivid hues,
Sunlight arriving at its golden noon,
The birds’ calling or the sweet siege of cries:
She bore dim fragrances, far murmurs touched
But then the god grew mighty and remote
In alien spaces and the soul she loved
Lost its consenting nearness to her life.
They seemed to enlarge away, drawn by some great
Pale distance, from the warm control of earth
And her grown far. Now, now they would escape!
Then flaming from her body’s nest alarmed
Her violent spirit soared at Suthyavân,
As in a terror and a wrath divine
A winged she-eagle threatened in her young.
So with a rush of pinions and a cry
She crossed the borders of dividing sense.
Her trance knew not of sun or earth or world,
She knew not of herself or Sâvithrî;
All was one boundless grasp of unnamed force
And absolute possession,— quivering, seized
Its prey, joy, origin, Suthyavân alone.
But when her mind awoke once more in Time,
Compelled to shape the lineaments of things
And live in borders, the three moved together
Alone in a new world where souls were not,
But only living moods. A strange, still, weird
Country was round her, strange far skies above,
A doubting space where dreaming objects lived
Within themselves their one unchanging thought.
Weird was that road which like fear hastening
To that of which it had most terror, led
Phantasmal between those two conscious rocks
Sombre and high, gates brooding, whose stone thoughts
Lost their huge sense beyond in giant night.
Nearer they grew like dumb appalling jaws,
Waiting upon her road cruel and still,
The muzzle of a black enormous world.
And where the shadowy marches now he touched,
Turning arrested luminous Suthyavân
Looked back with wonderful eyes at Sâvithrî.
Then Death pealed forth his vast abysmal cry:
“Let not the dreadful goddess move thy soul,
Its time-born passion dreamed the strength of heaven,
To enlarge its vehement trespass into worlds
Helpless, where it shall perish like a thought
Safe only in its stumbling limits poor
Where he can crown himself mock sovereign.
Dare not beyond man’s faltering force, but waking
Tremble amid the silences immense
In which thy few weak chords of being die.
Impermanent creatures sorrowful foam of Time,
Your transient loves bind not the eternal gods.”
His dread voice ebbed in a consenting hush
Which grew intense, around, a wide and wordless
Whisper and sanction from the jaws of Night.
The woman answered not. Her naked soul
Stripped of its girdle of mortality
Against fixed destiny and the grooves of Law
Stood up in its sheer will, the primal force.
So like arrested thoughts upon a verge
Where light begins to cease, they stood; vast Night
Beyond desired her soul. Then Sâvithrî
Compelled her foot towards the yawning mouth
And danger of the ageless waste. Moulding
Their grander motion on her human tread
They stirred. All as in dreams went gliding on.
So was the balance of the world reversed;
The mortal ruled, the god and spirit obeyed:
For she behind was leader of the march
And they in front were followers of her will.
They entered the dumb portals of the past,
They left the rock-gate’s doubting walls behind;
The twilit vestibules of a tenebrous world
Received them where they seemed to move and yet
Be still, nowhere advancing, yet to pass,
A dim procession in a picture dim,
Not conscious forms. Then huge and growing night
Cavernous, monstrous, in a strangling mass
Silent, devoured them like a lion’s throat,
The dumb spiritual agony of a dream.
The thought that strives in things failed there, unmade:
They ended, all their dream of living done,
Convinced at last that they had never been.
Huge darkness closed around her cage of sense
As round a bullock in the forest tied
By hunters closes in no empty night.
She saw no more the dim tremendous god,
Her eyes had lost their luminous Suthyavân
But not for this her spirit failed. It knew
More deeply than the bounded senses can
Which seek externally and find to lose,
Its object loved, as when on earth they lived
She felt him straying through the glades, the glades
A scene in her, their clefts her being’s vistas
Offering their secrets to his search and joy,
Because whatever spot his cherished feet
Preferred, must be at once her soul embracing
His body, suffering his tread. Slow years—
Time vacant measured itself by anguish long,—
Like one who walks resisting a black dream
Through an unreal darkness empty and drear
She lived in spite of death, stifled with void
As in a blindness of extinguished souls.
Then tardily a reluctant gleam drew near
Like promise of life to those who lie forgotten
By Nature, cast into her naked night.
The black and writhing gloom widened its coils,—
For now it felt its giant reign attacked—
And suffered shrinking from the approach of hope:
But tyrannous still in its huge soulless strength
Writhing and coiling ruled her struggling lids
Which slowly conquered back their brilliant right.
One felt once more the treading of a god
And out of the dumb darkness Suthyavân
Her husband grew into a luminous shade.
Death missioned forth once more his lethal voice:
“Hast thou beheld thy source, O transient heart?
Knowing from what the dream thou art was made,
Still dost thou always hope to last and love?”
The woman answered not. Her spirit repelled
The voice of Night that knew and Death that thought;
She knew the mighty sources of her life
And knew herself eternal without birth.
(To be continued)
3 Replies to “Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Fifth Installment”
K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran’s notes on the aforesaid lines of “Savitri” are as follows:
• An old version, to which the present one of lines 936-39 seems a new alternative, runs:
Not in her body they grew, but somewhere high
Vibrant great chords of force silently strung.
• Lines 952-53 originally stood:
The greater spirit she had felt, unveiled…
The present version has been deciphered with some uncertainty: a possible reading from seeming variants could be:
The greater spirit in some unborn world
Griefless above her, yet within, unveiled…
• Line 955 has “form” as alternative to “body”, and line 982 “close” to “meet”.
As a sadhak I can only wonder at Savitri
Thank you for the postings.
Sri Aurobindo is so sure when he states:
‘And knew herself eternal without birth.’
All at once is said!