Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Sixth Installment

Dear Friends,

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 five installments of the earliest draft of Savitri were published in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 4 April, 9 April, 16 April, 23 April and 29 April 2013 respectively. The sixth installment is published here.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee

Overman Foundation.





Then the dire god inflicting on her soul
The immortal calm of his tremendous gaze:
“Yet since no victory in heaven’s order is lost
And thou hadst strength to journey on unslain
Through the brute void which never shall forgive
The primal violence that fashioned thought
Forcing the immobile vast to suffer and live,
Thou hast a claim upon the living gods.
The gods who watch the earth with unmoved eyes
And lead its giant stumblings through the void,—
They gave to man the burden of his mind,
And forced on his unwilling heart their fires
He shall not quench, their storms he may not rule.
Troubling his transience with their infinite breath,
They gave him hunger that no food can fill.
He is the cattle of the shepherd gods.
Therefore he feels incurable unrest
Nor knows his cause nor wherefore he was born.
The gods who hope by him to live for ever,
They gave the wisdom that is mocked by Night,
They breathed the courage that is met by Death—
He planning travels still his obscure road,
Tireless his journey that foresees no goal.
Not easily shalt thou, O soul, prevail
Nor lay thy yoke upon eternal Death,
Nor yet thy ancient longing flame fulfilled
The hopes which shake the order of my worlds.
Yet since I am law and life and its rewards
Take from me natural boons which death-bound hearts
Can soar at.” But she spoke, she answered now:
“Why speakest thou of the order of thy worlds
And offerest boons of which thou art the lord?
All I can take in my own strength, O god,
For I have come who am your kindred birth.
Yet that thy words may not have breathed in vain
Since they are flames of the eternal Truth
I bind thee by its Will thou canst not break,
Not for my own joy but the soul I love,
To give on earth whatever Suthyavân,
My husband, waking from the forest’s charm
And from his long pure childhood’s solitude
Desired and had not for his beautiful life.”
Death swayed his dreadful brows in vast assent,
“I give indulgent to the dreams I break
Such close of life as transient men desire
To his blind father. Rich morns and fortunate eves
I give and the brief kingdom he has lost,
To see with gladness of his unsealed gaze
Bright forms of grandsons, beautiful, brave and wise,
And gather them into ungroping arms
And see again the cheerful light of earth.
For that this man desired. Back to thy world
Return swift-footed lest to slay thy life
The great laws thou hast violated, moved,
Open at last on thee their dreadful eyes.”
The woman answered, “Me thou shalt not slay,
Neither with seas nor with celestial flame;
They have no strength to make my being vain:
For in me the invincible goddess lives.
And neither can my mortal purpose fail,
Nor my immortal spirit be destroyed.
My soul exceeds the laws whose might thou vauntst.
My will too is a law, my strength a god
And trembles not before their awful gaze.
Out of thy shadow, give me back again
Into earth’s flowering spaces Suthyavân
In the sweet transiency of human limbs
To do with him my burning spirit’s will.
Else where thou leadst him me too thou shalt lead.
Long I pursued him through the tracts of Time,
Parted and found, breaking the bars of life.
Now I behind him seek whatever night
Or dawn tremendous.” And to her replied
A voice of puissance and tremendous scorn,
The almighty cry of universal Death.
“Frail creature with the courage that aspires,
Hast thou the wings or feet to tread my stars
Which I have made before thy thoughts were formed?
I, Death, created them out of my void
And all that lives within them I made for food
And Love and Strength and Wisdom for my prey.
I, Death, am god and Hunger is my name.
Mortal whose spirit is my wandering breath,
Whose transience was imagined by my smile,
Go clutching thy poor gains to thy hurt bosom
Scourged by my pangs. Turn yet before attempting
Forbidden luminous spaces thou perceive
Lightnings unknown and from the wrath of God
Terrified flee like a forsaken deer
Sobbing and hunted by the shafts of heaven.”
And Sâvithrî made answer, scorn for scorn,
The mortal woman to the dreadful Lord:
“Who is this God, imagined by thy Night,
Contemptuously creating worlds disdained,
Who has anger and treads down high-aiming souls?
Not He who has built His temple in my heart.
The God I adore flames here within my breast,
He has wed me,—to His kiss I bore the worlds.
Who shall prohibit or hedge in His course,
The Wonderful, the Charioteer, the Swift?
Equal my strength behind my husband’s steps,
Whether I press the sword-paved courts of Hell
Or over luminous flowers in Heaven I walk.
The wings of Love have power to fan thy void,
The eyes of Love gaze starlike through the night,
The feet of Love tread naked all the worlds.”
But Death made answer to the human soul:
“O seeker of heaven, by thy earth obscured,
What is thy hope? to what dost thou aspire?
This only is thy keenest earthly joy
For a few more years to please thy faltering sense
With honey of physical longings and embrace
The brilliant idol of a fugitive hour.
And thou, what art thou, soul, thou glorious dream
Of brief emotions made and fluttering thoughts,
A dance of fireflies speeding through the night
Or dragon-wings upon the inconstant stream?
Wilt thou claim immortality, O heart,
Crying against the eternal witnesses
That thou and he are endless powers and last?
One endless watches the inconscient scene
Where all things perish, as the foam the stars.
One is for ever! There no Suthyavân
Changing was born and there no Sâvithrî
Claiming her ancient joy from grief. There Love
Came never with his fretful soul of tears.
No gaze, no heart that throbs, It needs no second
To aid Its being and to share Its joys,
But lives apart immortally alone.
If thou desirest immortality,
Be thou alone. Sufficient to thy days
Live in thyself. Forget the man thou lov’st;
Think him the wandering vision of a dream.”
But Sâvithrî replied for man to Death:
“O Death who reasonest, I reason not;—
Reason that doubts and breaks and cannot build.
I am, I love, I will.” Death answered her:
“Know also! Knowing, thou shalt cease to love
And cease to will, delivered from thy heart.
Then shalt thou rest for ever and be still,
Consenting to the impermanence of things.”
But Sâvithrî replied for man to Death:
“When I have loved for ever, I shall know.
I know my being is a flame self-lit;
I know that knowledge is a vast embrace;
And man was born beneath the monstrous stars
Dowered with a mind and heart to conquer thee.
For one who lives in us, came masked by death.”
Death swayed his awful brows and ceased from speech;
Through the long fading night by her compelled,
Gliding half-seen on their unearthly path,
Phantasmal in the distance moved the three.
But not for long the darkness’ reign endured.
For as they moved all widened, all grew pale.
The dismal twilight brightened now its hues
And soon the sorrow of the Night was dead.
Into a happy misty twilit world
Surprised by a blind joy with gripping hands
She slipped,—vague fields, vague hedges, rainy trees,
An air that dared not suffer too much light
And scenes dim-hearted in a drifting haze
Vague cattle white roamed glimmering through the mist;
Vague spirits wandered with a bodiless cry;
Vague melodies touched the soul and fled pursued
Into harmonious distances unseized
Wishing no goal for their delightful steps.
Through vague ideal lands strayed happily
Or floated without footing or else paced
Led by a low far chanting as of gods
Forms and half-luminous powers. In this sweet chaos
A strange consistency of shapes prevailed;
A victory of initial light was born,
A spirit of purity and elusive presence
Of faery beauty and ungrasped delight
That sweeter seemed than any ecstasy
Earth or all-conquering heaven can quivering seize.
Their bold formations are too absolute;
Carved by an anguish of divine endeavour
They stand up sculptured on the eternal hills
Or quarried from the living rocks of God
Win immortality by perfect form.
They are too clear, too great. This only touched
The flying feet of exquisite desires,
Strange sweet beginnings of perfection, first
Happy imaginings of a heavenly world,
Which rest in a dim passion of pursuit
Thrilled with their first far joys that will not cease.
All in this world was shadowed forth, not limned,
Like shapes of colour in a tinted blur
Or fugitive landscapes of suggested forms,
A glimmering Eden full of faery gleams.
Here in its magic lanes that fled her feet,
Past vanishing hedges, hurrying hints of fields,
Assailed by sweetness of its voices dim,
Treading she found no end. Then turned the god
And cried, “Into a void eternity
Escapes this world, for never has it lived.
Shadowing out glories it shall never seize
It builds up images illusion feeds
With cloudy colours and aerial hues
To escape from the coarse cruelty of things.
Hope begets hope, the old bright vainness new,
Cloud gratifies happy cloud, phantom by phantom
Sweetly is chased. O child of earth, behold
Thy infinite seeming of desires enjoyed!
Vainly thou torturest, vain soul of man,
The hour’s delight to reach infinity’s
Long void and fill its gulfs. Chastise thy heart
With noble knowledge and unhood to see
Thy nature raised into clear living heights,
The Heaven-bird’s view from unimagined peaks.
But if thou give thy spirit to a dream
Soon harsh necessity will smite thee awake.
Coarse, fleeting are the happiest human things.
Thy passion is a sensual want refined,
Thy love a hunger and one day shall cease
By bitter treason, or wrath with cruel wounds
Separate, or thy unsatisfied will to others
Depart, when first love’s joy lies stripped and slain.
Purest delight began and it shall end.
Then shalt thou know thy heart no anchor swinging
Thy happy soul moored in eternal seas.
How can the winging aeons clamp their flight
To one, a helpless wanderer like thyself? Ah, cease!
Vain are the cycles of thy brilliant mind.
Renounce, forgetting hope and joy and tears,
Thy passionate nature in the bosom profound
Where Love lies slumbering on the breasts of peace.”
And Sâvithrî replied to the dim god:
“Another language now thou usest, Death,
Melting thy speech into harmonious pain.
But I forbid thy voice to slay my soul.
Allowed by Heaven and wonderful to man
Passion sweet fiery rhythms chants to Love,
And when the strains are hushed to high-winged souls,
Into empyreans vast its burning breath
Survives beyond, the core of heavenly suns,
A flame for ever pure. Surely I know
One day I shall behold my great sweet world
Put off the dire disguises of the gods,
Unveil from terror and disrobe from sin.
One who has love and lover and beloved
Is the sweet cause of all our bitter griefs.
From the bright vision of his soul a Child
Eternal built himself a wondrous field
And wove the measures of a marvellous dance.
There in its circles and its magic turns
Attracted he arrives, repelled he flees.
Bearing a sweet new face that is the old
His bliss laughs to us or it calls concealed
Like a far-heard, unseen, entrancing flute
From moonlit branches in the throbbing woods
Tempting our angry search and passionate pain.
In the wild devious promptings of his mind
He tastes the honey of tears and puts off joy,
Repenting, and has laughter and has wrath,
And both are a broken music of the soul
That seeks out reconciled its heavenly rhyme.
He for my heart was always Suthyavân.
Has he not lain in wait for me through lives
Unnumbered, in the thickets of the world
Pursued me like a lion through the night
And clasped me like a happy ruthless flame
And touched me like a soft persuading breeze,
Sometimes with wrath and sometimes with sweet peace
Desiring me since first the world began?
And if there is a happier greater God,
Then let him wear the face of Suthyavân
And let his soul be one with him I love,
So let him seek me that I may desire;
Since one heart only beats within my breast
And one God sits there throned. Advance, O Death,
Beyond the phantom beauty of this world,
Of its vague citizens I am not one,
Nor has my heart consented to be foiled.
I cherish, god, the fire and not the dream.”

(To be continued)

2 Replies to “Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Sixth Installment

  1. K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran’s notes on the aforesaid lines of “Savitri” are as follows:

    • Line 1168: “eyes” as alternative to “soul”.
    • Variant for the beginning of line 1229: “And I exceed”.
    • Alternatives to lines 1247—49:

    (1) And Love and Strength and Wisdom for my prey
    And all that lives is a vast Hunger’s food.

    (2) And Love and Strength and Wisdom for my prey.
    All creatures I have made, I eat for food.

    • Line 1366: there seems to be an alternative reading:

    The soul builds images illusion feeds

    • Lines 1367—8: A variant has been attempted:

    With misty colour and aerial hue
    …pictures form of what fair world may be
    Other than the coarse cruelty of things.

    Perhaps “That” was meant to fill the gap in the second line here?

    • Line 1443 has “there” as an alternative to “god”, with both the commas needing to be removed: actually the first comma alone stands deleted. The original version of the line was:

    I cherish, O god, the fire and not the dream.

    and stood without the line which precedes the present one. Looking at the state of the commas, one is left wondering whether the new “god” in place of the old “O god” was meant simply as a substitute or as part of a novel reading:

    I cherish god the fire and not the dream.

    But the non-capitalisation of the “g” gives one pause; for the small “g” goes always with a vocative term applied to Death in this context.

  2. Dear Anurag:
    It is very interesting to come across lines that have grown very familiar. What were the creative inspirations that pressed upon the Mahayogi? Definitely he thought of writing poetry as a means of ascension in his yogic path. An equally tapasvin-yogi who would be familiar with the sublime reaches of Savitri’s diction would be able to explain the phenomenon to us. The world waits for him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *