The 1936-37 version of Savitri: Third and Last Installment

Dear Friends,

We are happy to announce that Overman Foundation has received permission from Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to publish the 1936-37 version 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.

About this version, Nirodbaran writes in his Twelve Years With Sri Aurobindo: “It is only in the version of 1936, sent in instalments privately to Amal [Kiran], that we find for the first time, brief descriptions of the planes, starting with the plane of subtle matter. Later these brief descriptions are amplified and each plane gets a fairly long Canto to itself. In the 1936 version there are no Cantos yet—there are only sections with sub-headings.” (p. 177, 1995 edition)

The first and second installments of the 1936-37 version of Savitri were published in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 27 August and 5 September 2013 respectively. The third and last installment is published here.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.


BOOK I (Contd.)
The Book of Birth

Alone he moved across infinity, [1]
Met by the myriad structures of the Self,
Seeking a clue amid things measureless,
Till there arose what seemed a mountain tier
Of the ascending steps of consciousness,
A ladder of delivering Descent
And rungs which Nature climbs to Deity,
A many-patterned ground of all we are.
Our being here is an entangled web
Made from the borrowed stuff of numberless worlds.
A pittance of their light to earth is cast
And with small straying fragments of their force
Some blind laborious Spirit strives to make
A little image of the mighty Whole.
A calm and luminous Secrecy within
Approves his work for this frail changing sketch,
When once its mystic lines have met their source,
Shall stand out from the background of long Time
A glowing epitome of the eternities,
A little point reveal the infinitudes.
A Seer within him knew an ordered plan
Hidden behind our momentary steps
And this ascent a thread of the great weft.
Assailing range by range the endless tier
He mounted towards an indiscernible End:
Above him was the white immobile Ray,
Around him the eternal silences.
Across a subtle Matter’s reign he drove,
Peopled with types of all our world attempts
And in the attempt half-forms or forms amiss.
Immune from the inertia of our clay,
Plastic and passive to the all-shaping Fire,
Its substance lifted by a larger breath
Embodies the perfection earth demands,
Pursues the heart of beauty to its home,
Captures the fugitive sweetness we desire.
All here we slowly build from gathered parts
Or with long labour stumblingly evolve,
Springs there self-born in its spontaneous right.
A splendour of significant thoughts above,
A cosmos of harmonious forms between,
A chaos of dissolving shades below,
Its roots plunge down to our inconscient base.
Out of its fall our denser Matter comes.
Passed from this fine material paradise
At once he entered great disputed fields
Where Life is master of herself or slave,
Tortured by her own powers or proud and blest.
Above him was a wider radiant air.
A lively ether quick with joy and flame
Uplifted in its vivid floating hues
A gleaming world of strange felicities.
In griefless countries under purple suns
A finer happier sense had there its home,
A fierier force than earthly limbs can house,
A beauty and greatness of unfettered Life.
Free, uncondemned to struggle with her mould
As here in our inapt material frame,

Life there was substance, matrix and content.
No alien Night was here to blind her eyes,
No fall debased the godhead of her steps.
Innocent and candid and divinely pure,
Abandoned to her rapid fancy’s moods,
In the rich coloured riot of her mind
Magician builder of unnumbered forms,
Her law was her unbound creative will.
Overflowing from her own magnificent plane
Here too the mighty gracious Angel poured
Her splendour and her swiftness and her thrill,
Hoping to fill this new fair world with her joy,
Smite with her charm and passion mind and nerve
And force delight on earth’s insensible frame.
But while the magic Breath is on its way,
Before her gifts can reach our prisoned hearts,
A dismal intervention dims her powers
And mars the winged and wonderful passenger;
Its dreadful and misshaping crucible
Turns all her glory into littleness
And all that sweetness to a maimed desire.
A rayless region swallowed him in its swathes.
In strange domains where all is living sense
Unordered, every darkling impulse counts
And random shapeless energies seek for form
Taking each wisp-fire for a guiding sun,
His eyes, piercing a phosphorescent air,
Beheld the secrets of the shifting flux
That rules the thought and passion of our flesh
And throws into earth’s dull tenacity
This ferment of desire that cannot sleep,
These wandering unsure steps and push for change.
Always they hint some nameless joy that flees.
But vain for ever is the sacrifice,
Its priest an ignorance that only makes
Paltry mutations in the altar’s plan
Ana casts blind hopes into a changeless flame.
There are the fountains of our animal self,—
A field of fickle mists and figures and hues
Thronged with bright prompters passionate and small,
Trivial scene-shifters of the human play
Who urge the act, combine the circumstance
And toss man’s frail desires from hand to hand
In their inconsequent and devious game.
Imps with wry limbs and carved beast-visages,
Movers of petty lusts and wraths and hates,
And others fairer but unsouled and poor
Weaving the earth-bound loves that cannot last,
The hopes that fade to drab realities,
Set the mosaic of life’s comedy.
Inordinate their hold on human hearts.
Against all higher Light their stuff rebels,
Instinct and passion are their norm and rule:
Only to Titan strength their will lies prone.
Yet behind all a secret sweetness lives,
An urge of miniature divinity
That planned our nature’s hidden happier scheme,
And sometimes it breaks out through the sordid screen
And kindles a flame’ that makes us half divine.
Our smallest parts have room for deepest needs,
And when the greater Self comes sealike down,
All shall rise up in its delight transformed
And, captured by the unconquerable flood,
Submit to beauty and to light and love.
But first life’s heavenlier path we must create,
Cleaving the darkness with the mystic Fire.
Across the dangerous haze, the pregnant stir
He through the astral chaos smote his road
Besieged by sorceries of its fluent force.
Thence he emerged into pale freer skies
But shadow-swept or dubiously lit,
Where flowed a stream of forms and happenings
Burdened with meanings mind cannot pursue,
Crowded with undertones of Life’s rhythmic cry.
Life laboured in a strange half-real air
Denuded of her sweet munificent suns,
Conscious of fall and her diminished flame,
And, driven by scanted light and faint dream-brush
To use a sparing and impressionist art,
Portrayed her signs in dual twilight hues
On a grey background of incertitude.
Although, checked, barriered in at every step,
Still she remembered her inherent power,
Still strove to embody with her sorcerer’s wand
Her surge of fanciful realities,
Dim renderings of the splendour she had lost,
Beings and shapes and scenes innumerable,
Torch-carriers of her pomp of Space and Time.
For even oppressed, half-blinded, she obeys
A hungry need to lavish everywhere
Her myriad symbol and significance
Of Spirit in its many-mansioned self,
Capturing its great-winged wandering thoughts to dwell
In figures of her million-impulsed Force.
Over vague ever-shifting borders drawn,
He crossed her countless fields and provinces,
And met the leaping springs of death and birth,
Saw thread-beginnings of her skein of works,
And watched her weave her tangled weird design,
The screened and difficult theorem of her clues,
The dance-fantasia of her sequences.
Much marvelling at her skilful intricate craft,
Her puissances that move our heart and sense,
Her mind that toils unsatisfied with its fruits,
Her hundred baffling faces of the Truth
And rash unseizable freaks of leaping change,
Her mutable masks, her broideries of disguise,
He explored her riches more a thousandfold there
Than these poor caskets of earth-make can house.
Then sated with her quick and curious lore,
Out of her daedal lines he sought escape.
For of all things she knew the trace and law,
But hid in forms the being from its own view;
A Wisdom lacked that makes the Spirit free,
And nowhere was assured content or peace.
But neither gate of horn nor ivory
He found, nor postern of spiritual sight.
There was no issue from that dreamlike Space.
Far now from him the larger vivid air
That breathed round her free heart of joy and grace,
The bliss his eyes had glimpsed, his nerves had felt,
Where glowed unrobed [2] by shadow and by mist
Her half-way Paradise of fulfilled desire
For which our suffering mortal nature yearns
As yearns the obscure moth to blazing Light.
Wherever he turned, beat a new flood of scenes:
Endless was the contrivance and the stir;
Each final scheme lapsed to a sequel plan
Of creatures and their doings and events,
Some city of the traffic of bound souls,
Some market of creation and her wares,
As if that turmoil were the whole of things,
And all existence’ sum were only this—
A play without denouement or idea,
A hunger march of lives that have no goal,
The labour of an unaccomplished Force
Tied to her acts in a dim Eternity.
It seemed a tumult of half-realised mights
Awaiting a golden Hand that never came
To raise them to Heaven’s calm sublimities.
Always athwart her crowded eager steps
He felt a hostile and intruding Mind,
Effacing the signposts of her pilgrimage,
Barring with fierce hard disharmonic notes
Her rhythms, its will to afflict, unkey and spoil,
Baffling the half-blind chained divinity
That seeks itself amid the myriad cry
And hued bewildering wonder of her chant,
The uncertain signal of her swift events
And the hieroglyphic of her pageantries.
In field or way, in closed or open ground,
Wherever he went he marked the imminent eyes
And tiger sinuous prowl and come and go
Of armed disquieting bodied Influences
Walking like goddess figures dark and nude,
And ominous beings passed him on the roads
Whose very gaze was a calamity,—
Shapes that were threats alarming the dream-air
And bore a dreadful meaning in their lines
Or could in a moment dangerously change.
These following to find their secret’s core,
In their returning wake he entered dun
Fell suburbs of those cities of dream-Life.
There she displayed, a dark and fallen Spirit,
Overtaken as if by a Gorgon spell
Her perilous face of evil beauty and charm,
Her rapture vision of infernal joys,
Her gargoyle masks obscene and terrible.
Around him pressed in sombre nightmare pomps
Deeds infamous, wild works of ruthless strength,
Scenes foul or cruel, hideous or macabre,
Thoughts that can poison Nature’s heavenliest breath,
Acts that reveal the mystery of Hell.
Beings he met who seemed like earthly men
But bodied all that is subhuman, vile,
Though raised to human scale by the touch of Mind,
Yet lower than the lowest reptile’s crawl,—
Oft, some familiar visage studying,
Discovered suddenly Hell’s trademark there,
Or knew by the inmost sense that cannot err,
Though harboured in a soft or virile frame,
The demon and the goblin and the ghoul.
All too that is low, sordid-thoughted, base,
All that is weak and limp and miserable,
Found there its dismal harsh autonomy.
All lived in its own bond of norm and type
And breathed in dull content its native air,
Arrogant, gibing at more luminous states:
None felt the yearning, the divine release.
Each loved and hugged its dreary autarchy,
Glad of the freedom to be only itself
Or proud of its abysmal absolute.

As thus he journeyed through self-dungeoned realms
And smote from him their clinging influence,
All vanished, blotted, lost in a black haze.
Alone was his spirit now with python Night.
A darkness grim and cold benumbed his heart,
A whispered grey suggestion chilled his mind,
Dragged towards extinction and bleak vacancy,
Life clung to its seat by cords of gasping breath;
And serpent dangers coiled around his feet.
Near him he felt the creeping slow approach
Of an implacable eternity
Of pain inhuman and invincible
No rescue could relieve, no respite soothe.
Now, circling round him like a stealthy foe,
The huge-winged emptiness had become a gulf
As of some swallowing throat and belly of Doom
And, lapping his body with its tenebrous tongue,
Imposed on every tense and aching nerve
A nameless and unutterable fear.
Yet he endured, calmed the vain tremor, broke
The smothering wall of agony and affright,
And saw, his eyes piercing the sevenfold gloom
That guards it from the spear-points of heaven’s stars,
Coiled like a larva in the obscurity
A violent fierce and formidable world
That lives by death and falsehood is its truth
And good a specious bloom of native ill,
And suffering there is Nature’s daily food,
And Thought, a priestess of Perversity,
Reading by opposite signs the eternal script,
In darkling aisles with lurid cresset fires
Performs the ritual of her Mysteries.
It was the gate of a false infinite,
An ancient womb of vast calamitous dreams,
A thicket of Existence’ gods of prey,
In which a monstrous Evil keeps her lair.
Out of the Abyss, when first life’s breath began,
A nameless Power, a shadowy Will arose,
Something that sprang from the stark Inconscient’s sleep,
Unwillingly begotten by the dumb Void:
Immense and alien to our universe,
Disharmonizer of the cosmic style,
Disfiguring the fair intended plan,
It pressed its fierce hegemony on the earth.
An Adversary governed brain and nerve:
Her goad compelled the reason and the flesh
And drives like cattle the half-conscious race.
Incalculable are her strength and ruse;
Her touch is a fascination and a death;
For her the world runs to its agony,
Who slays her victim with his own delight.
Assailed, surprised upon the ill-lit ways,
Intoxicated by a [3] burning grasp
And amorous grown of a [4] destroying mouth,
Offering its all to a vague stupendous Force, [5]
Our self of Life yields up its instruments
To Titan and demoniac Influences
That aggrandise earth-nature and disframe.
Once the grim Pythoness has mastery,
No longer shines the white spiritual Ray
And hushed for ever is the secret Voice;
A name is rased from the recording book,
In ruin ends the epic of the soul.
For terrible agencies the Spirit allows,
And there are subtle and enormous Powers
That shield themselves with the covering Ignorance
To lay their yoke on the world’s groping Mind.
All mounting life a wager and battle is
Between these tortuous and deceiving Mights
And the occult uplifting Harmonist.
Along all Nature’s lines they have set their posts;
Haters of Light, intolerant of peace,
Wherever the Gods act they intervene.
Accepted by the ill-led thought and will,
Admitted to control and form and guide,
Long have they filled earth’s days with dole and bane.
To exclude the dwindling chances of the Gods,
They load the dice of doom with lie and wile,
And since with falsehood they have stamped the globe,
They count creation as their conquered fief
And deem themselves the iron Lords of Time.
Adepts of the illusion and the masque,
The artificers of Nature’s fall and pain
Have built their altars of triumphant Night
In the clay-temple of terrestrial life.
Theirs are the reredos and the mitred priest,
For them the ceremony and the rite,
While twixt the incense and the muttered prayer
All the fierce bale with which the world is racked
Is mixed in the foaming chalice of man’s heart
And poured to them like sacramental wine.
Assuming forms divine they seize and rule.
A siege of fire and shadow are their seats.
There bastioned in their massive walls of gloom
Against the sword of flame, the luminous Eye,
Calm and secure in sunless privacy,
Armoured, protected by their lethal masks,
As in a studio of creative Death,
The giant sons of Darkness sit and plan
The drama of the earth, their tragic stage.
All who would heal the suffering earth must pass
Under the dangerous arches of their power:
For even the radiant children of the Gods
To darken their privilege is and dreadful right.
A warrior in the dateless duel’s strife
Challenging the Shadow with his luminous soul,
He traversed the ambush of the opponent Snake
And faced the enchantments of the demon Sign,
Assaults of Hell endured and Titan strokes,
Bore the fierce inner wounds that are slow to heal,
And walked entangled in the pathways drear;
Cast in their grim morass of swallowing doubt
And shut into pits of error and despair,
He drank their poison draughts till none was left,
Or pinned to the black inertia of our base,
In Matter’s dumb denial gaoled and blind,
Kept still intact his spirit’s radiant truth,
Till, hurried to the last subconscient floor,
He found the secret key of Nature’s change.
A Light went with him, an invisible Hand;
It broke the stereotypes of the Ignorance,
It tore the formats of the primal Night,
Imposed upon dark atom and dim mass
The diamond script of the Imperishable,
The Name, foundation of Eternity,
The song of the celestial joy of Space,
And wrote on each transformed exultant cell
The message of the superconscient Fire.
The Life beat pure in the corporeal frame
And the ensnaring gloom misled no more.
Hell split across its huge disrupt facade,
Night opened and vanished like a gulf of dream,
As if a magic building were done.
Around him was a wide felicitous sky,
Regions of the heart’s happiness set free,
Unmined by the alarm of fleeting Time,
Untouched by grieving fear of the shocks of Fate,
Breathing in sweet secure unguarded ease
Beyond the danger zone of stumbling Will.
It was a realm of the rich satisfied sense,
The birth-claim won of feelings glad and pure,
And like a spotless flaming flight the immune
Life-impulses’ fair-winged magnificent race.
There could the unfettered spirit of delight
Pasture his gleaming sun-herds and moon-flocks
Along the lyric speed of griefless streams
In fragrance of the unearthly asphodel.
Under that arch of smiling glory and peace
Traveller on plateau and on glimmering ridge
He moved in a drift of many-coloured scenes,
Mountains and violet valleys of the Blest,
Deep glens of joy and crooning waterfalls,
And saw below like glowing jewelled thoughts
Rapt dreaming cities of Gandharva kings,
And heard the harping heavenly minstrels pass
In the white-blue moonbeam air of Paradise.
Apart upon Elysian nameless heights,
The summit and core of all that marvellous world,
The shining Edens of the vital Gods
Received him in their deathless harmony.
Of their sweetness ardent and immaculate
No lower note could break the unending charm:
Life’s hopes are there achieved, her aureate combs
Caught by the Honey-eater’s darting tongue,
Her burning guesses changed to ecstasied truths
And liberated all intense desires.
There Love fulfils her gold and roseate dreams
And Strength her crowned and mighty reveries.
Pain’s self compelled transforms to potent joy,
Curing the antithesis twixt heaven and hell.
There by the magic flow of sorrowless hours
His warrior spirit healed its wounded limbs
In the rewarding arms of Energies
That brook no stain and fear not their own bliss.
In scenes forbidden to our pallid sense
Amid miraculous scents and wonder hues
He met the forms that divinise the sight;
Music that can immortalise the mind
And make the heart wide as eternity
Hearing, he captured the inaudible
Cadences that release the occult ear,
Mixed in the radiant pastimes of the Unborn
And, thrilled with the supernal Influences
That build the substance of life’s deeper soul,
Recast his being’s aura in joy-glow.
A scale he found that climbed some fiery height
Of unimagined happiness and even,
In passionate responses half unveiled,
Sometimes the unreached Beyond was mirrored there.
A hint could come of white beatitude.
In sudden moments of revealing flame
A touch supreme surprised the beating heart:
The invasion of immense felicities,
The dire delight that would shatter earthly flesh,
The rapture that the Gods sustain he bore.
Immortal pleasure cleansed him in its waves
And turned his strength to an undying power. [6]


[1] From Sri Aurobindo’s Notes: “These are very long sections and their divisions also are very long, chapters rather than paragraphs…” (12 November 1936) “The subtitle ‘Ascent to Godhead’ covers the two sections, the one just finished and the one now begun… It seems to me that these chapters are growing very long, so put this one as a separate section without a name.” (15 November 1936) “I am not quite sure of the sections (titles) yet—the fourth section is obviously a continuation of the Ascent to Godhead—it is the realisation of Godhead with which it will end—after that the Unknowable Brahman, then the Purushottama and finally the Mother.”(19 May 1937)
[2] Unriven
[3] her.
[4] her.
[5] Power.
[6] From Sri Aurobindo’s Notes: “I have been once more overwhelmed with correspondence, no time for poetry—so the Mind Worlds are still in a crude embryonic form and the Psychic World not yet begun… the whole thing has been lengthening out so much that I expect I shall have to rearrange the earlier part of Savitri, turning the Book of Birth into a Book of Beginnings and lumping together in the second a Book of Birth and Quest.” (5 January 1937)


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