The first honour of presenting and objectively appreciating some of the aspects of the poetry of Sri Aurobindo goes to great Amal Kiran (KD Sethna); this account of his had appeared in 1947 under the title The Poetic Genius of Sri Aurobindo. Although this was based on not much work of the Master-Poet that was published by that time, it had yet another insidedness which could come only because of the close contact he had with Sri Aurobindo, particularly in matters of poetry. That gives acceptable authenticity to his claims and views. Thus while discussing Sri Aurobindo’s Jivanmukta in quantitative Alcaics, Amal writes:
‘Something in the vitality of the style is felt to build for us more than a philosophical structure, yet the full lift and ecstasy get clipped, so to speak, unless we roll out the lines with a deliberate intoning. The slowly breaking suspense at the start, the sudden speeding up, the strange mixture of calm widening and intense penetrating, the grave and ample revealing movement, the tremendous tranced poise — all these become a profound sensation to the soul when the words ring forth in the spaces of consciousness.’
The significant phrase is the “profound sensation to the soul in the spaces of consciousness”. There has to be ready such an audience to receive the poetry of Sri Aurobindo.
[Alcaic, classical Greek poetic stanza composed of four lines of varied metrical feet, with five long syllables in the first two lines, four in the third and fourth lines, and an unaccented syllable at the beginning of the first three lines.]
Amal had also written a comprehensive article that was originally called “Sri Aurobindo as a Poet”. Amal says “Sri Aurobindo found the name rather flat and suggested the proper caption.” The book has now the title Sri Aurobindo – The Poet. What a difference!
Amal writes: “The poetry of Sri Aurobindo is too vast and rich for a mere couple of fair-sized volumes to do full justice to it.” This is true indeed, to do any justice to it. What we witness in the World Sri Aurobindo’s of Poetry is not only the bulk and variety; it is the spirit of beauty-joy-drive that finds the body of inspired and inevitable utterance, a new speech.
2: Poetic Works
The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo runs into 36 volumes with 8 volumes of poetry and poetics, the many-sided aesthetics of poetry. It covers something like twenty thousand pages presenting every kind of cultural, historical, civilisational, societal, philosophical, literary, religious, mystical, occult, psychic, scriptural, purest roundest globality of the spiritual. In them poetry and literary criticism occupy a fairly large space, more than 20 per cent, about four thousand pages of poetry, plays, translations, prospects of future poetry, letters on poetry and of course two mighty epics, Ilion composed in quantitative hexameter and Savitri in blank verse iambic pentameter.
We have Collected Poems running into 750 pages and the epic Savitri another 725 pages of poetic creation, these belonging to so many genres of poetry. There are Plays with 1000 and Translations 630 pages. This makes a full total of about 3105 pages of poetic corpus.
We could also justifiably add prose translations of the verses of the Rig Veda, the Upanishads and the Gita, these trans-creations having the movement and rhythm of most harmonious poetry. In fact, Sri Aurobindo’s prose writings possessing a major part of his expository and revelatory qualities are by themselves, by courtesy, to use Goutam Ghosal’s phrase, nothing but poetry in sublime prose. We have to be perceptive to it, to enjoy the Rasa, the essence.
Yet Sri Aurobindo as a poet and a critic has remained practically unknown to the literary or cultural or academic world. In India very few have prepared themselves to receive the vibrant beats and thrills of the sense and movement and rhythm of his compositions in English; elsewhere very often his spiritual vision and action stand as a mental block to the intellectual mind. What should be most included, that remains the most excluded optimum.
Nobody reads his poetry— leave aside study it. It is true that thousands of copies of Savitri have been sold out during the last seventy years, and will continue to be sold, but hardly is Savitri read as a poem, as a poem by itself, a literary work per se, a creative opus, a fate suffered over millennia of years by the poetry of the Rig Veda. Rather Savitri has become a dharma-grantha, a sacred religious book, a scripture, recited and chanted individually or in groups of devotees, very piously done in various parts of the Aurobindonian world.
True also, during the last seventy years a few of PhD theses dealing with Savitri have come out; but the huge mass of his poetry, his shorter poems, narratives, reflective and mystical compositions, his dramas, his translations, are unknown if are not strange to the teachers and the scholars, to the learned academic schools all where. Sri Aurobindo the Poet in Savitri is unknown to us, the same way is the poetry of the Rig Veda.
It may be a fact that nobody reads poetry these days, a universal actuality of modern times, perhaps a civilisational disquiet or unease, if not a civilisational malaise. It is disappointingly sad, but it is very much so in the present-day life-psychology. Surely, there are Departments of English Literature, and these do flourish in a big way; but they have the least idea of this voluminous poetic creation of Sri Aurobindo. “Why?” That question needs to have an answer.
3: A question arises
Related to it there could be another pertinent question. Should Sri Aurobindo be taken to the academic world? Yes he should be, if English poetry is a subject of academic studies in these great institutions. But not just because of his 3000 pages of poetic writings, certainly not for that reason. Apply any test of sound literary criticism, old or new, and one will find every satisfaction in them, the gladness of a deep or speeding creation.
Yet there is something far more than that; there is the new art of expression, there is the new spirit of love and joy and beauty and lyricism, there is the winging of many-coloured birds, and countless birds of countless variety, in many a colourful sky of marvel and surprise, of sense and sound and sight. There is the new stream of inspiration that flows and floods these pages and pages, its mellifluence in every little phrase and idiom; there are the perfect revelations of aesthetic enjoyment and promises in them.
Sri Aurobindo was the third son of Swarnalata and Dr Krishna Dhan Ghose and was born on 15 August 1872 in the early hours of that Thursday in an aristocratic area of Calcutta. He was brought up in a highly Anglicised atmosphere at home, to the extent that he did not know even his mother tongue, Bengali. His father intended to bring up his children in the perfect style and manner of the English society, adopting its ways of life and thinking. Hence five-year old Auro was put in Loreto Convent School in Darjeeling which was otherwise exclusively meant for English children. In 1879, at the age of seven he, along with his brothers, was taken to England where he mostly stayed for the next fourteen years with an English family. In September 1884 Auro was admitted to St Paul’s School in London and had his education there until July 1890. Later in the same year, in October, he joined King’s College at Cambridge. He had perfect British education.
Never during the entire period did young Sri Aurobindo come in contact with the traditional Indian life or culture. At the same time, in England, he “never was taught English as a separate subject but picked it up like a native in daily conversation. Before long he was spending much of his time reading. Almost from the start, he devoted himself to serious literature. As a ten-year-old he read the King James Bible.”
Soon the attentive and wakeful student mastered half a dozen European languages, including Greek and Latin in which he scored the highest marks ever obtained in a school examination. Not only languages; he knew intimately and incomparably well the literature and culture that dominated European life and history for centuries. These classical themes later found great expression in his poetic writings, e.g., Perseus the Deliverer as a play and Ilion as an epic in Homeric quantitative hexameter based on the naturalness of temperament of the English language. Here it may be mentioned, en passant, that Sri Aurobindo wrote that drama, with a Grecian theme, during his most hectic political activities in Bengal. It was published in 1907 in the weekly Bande Mataram.
After his return to India in 1893 Sri Aurobindo straightaway joined the State services of Baroda, accepting the invitation of Sayajirao Gaekawar. But, more importantly, he plunged into the mainstream of Indian life and literature and cultural ethos even as he learnt several native languages including classical Sanskrit.
Here in the following is a quick running list of Sri Aurobindo’s poems, plays and translations written right from his early days till just a couple of weeks before his self-willed withdrawal on 5 December 1950. This itself is pretty daunting and what will be needed is committed patience to delve into it. But, assuredly, in much larger measures will be the rewards of it.
5: Poetic Corpus
England and Baroda (1883-1898)
Light, Songs to Myrtilla, O Coïl, Coïl, Goethe, The Lost Deliverer, Charles Stewart Parnell, His Jacet, Lines on Ireland, On a Satyr and Sleeping Love, A Rose of Women, Saraswati with the Lotus, Night by the Sea, The Lover’s Complaint, Love in Sorrow, The Island Grave, Estelle, Radha’s Complaint in Absence, Radha’s Appeal, Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Madhusudan Dutt, To the Cuckoo, Envoi,
Poems (Circa 1891-1898)
To a Hero-Worshipper–I, To a Hero-Worshipper–II, Phaethon, The Just Man,
Incomplete Poems (Circa 1891-1892)
Thou Bright Choregus, Like a White Statue, The Vigil of Thaliard,
Baroda circa 1898-1902
Urvasie, Love and Death, Khaled of the Sea, Uloupie;
O Face that I have Loved, I Cannot Equal, O Letter Dull and Cold, My Life is Wasted, Because thy Flame is Spent, Thou didst Mistake, Rose, I have Loved, I have a Hundred, Lives Still there is, Something I have a Doubt, To Weep because a Glorious Sun, What is this Talk
Short Poems(Circa 1900-1901)
The Spring Child, A Doubt, The Nightingale, Euphrosyne, A Thing Seen, Epitaph, To the Modern Priam, Song, Epigram, The Three Cries of Deiphobus, Perigone Prologuises, Since I have seen your Face, So that was why, World’s Delight,
Baroda and Bengal (Circa 1900-1909)
Invitation, Who, Miracles, Reminiscence, A Vision of Science, Immortal Love, A Tree, To the Sea, Revelation, Karma, Appeal, A Child’s Imagination, The Sea at Night, The Vedantin’s Prayer, Rebirth, The Triumph-Song of Trishuncou, Life and Death, Evening, Parabrahman, God, The Fear of Death, Seasons, The Rishi, In the Moonlight, To the Boers, Vision, To the Ganges, Suddenly Out from the Wonderful East, On the Mountains,
Reflections of Srinath Paul, Raj Bahadoor, on the Present Discontents
The Mother of Dreams, An Image, The Birth of Sin, Epiphany, To R., Transiit, Non Periit, Perfect thy Motion, A Dialogue,
Narrative Poems (1910)
Baji Prabhou, Chitrangada,
The Rakshasas, Kama, The Mahatmas,
Pondicherry (Circa 1910-1920)
Two Poems in Quantitative Hexameters:Ilion, Ahana,
The Descent of Ahana–I, The Descent of Ahana–II, The Meditations of Mandavya,
Thou Who Controllest, Sole in the Meadows of Thebes, O Will of God, The Tale of Nala–I, The Tale of Nala–II,
Baroda and Pondicherry (Circa 1902-1936)
Musa Spiritus, Bride of the Fire, The Blue Bird, A God’s Labour, Hell and Heaven, Kamadeva, Life, One Day,
Pondicherry (Circa 1927-1947)
The Bird of Fire, Trance, Shiva, The Life Heavens, Jivanmukta, In Horis Aeternum, Transformation, Nirvana, The Other Earths, Thought the Paraclete, Moon of Two Hemispheres, Rose of God,
Ocean Oneness, Trance of Waiting, Flame-Wind, The River, Journey’s End, The Dream Boat, Soul in the Ignorance, The Witness and the Wheel, Descent, The Lost Boat, Renewal, Soul’s Scene, Ascent, The Silence — Beyond the Silence, The Tiger and the Deer, Man the Enigma, The Infinitesimal Infinite, The Cosmic Dance,
Sonnets (Circa 1934-1947)
Man the Thinking Animal, Contrasts, The Silver Call, Evolution – I, The Call of the Impossible, Evolution – II, Man of the Mediator, Discoveries of Science, All here is Spirit, The Ways of the Spirit–I, The Ways of the Spirit–II, Science and the Unknowable, The Yogi on the Whirlpool, The Kingdom Within, Now I have Borne, Electron, The Indwelling Universal, Bliss of Identity, The Witness Spirit, The Hidden Plan, The Pilgrim of the Night,Cosmic Consciousness, Liberation–I, The Inconscient, Life-Unity, The Golden Light, The Infinite Adventure, The Greater Plan, The Universal Incarnation, The Godhead, The Stone Goddess, Krishna, Shiva, The Word of the Silence, The Self’s Infinity, The Dual Being, Lila, Surrender, The Divine Worker, The Guest, The Inner Sovereign, Creation, A Dream of Surreal Science, In the Battle, The Little Ego, The Miracle of Birth, The Bliss of Brahman, Moments, The Body, Liberation – II, Light, The Unseen Infinite, “I”, The Cosmic Spirit, Self, Omnipresence, The Inconscient Foundation, Adwaita, The Hill-top Temple, The Divine Hearing, Because Thou Art, Divine Sight, Divine Sense, The Iron Dictators, Form, Immortality, Man, the Despot of Contraries, The One Self, The Inner Fields,
Lyrical Poems (Circa 1934-1947)
Symbol Moon, The World Game, Who Art Thou that Camest, One, In a Mounting as of Sea-tides, Krishna, The Cosmic Man, The Island Sun, Despair on the Staircase, The Dwarf Napoleon, The Children of Wotan, The Mother of God, The End, Silence is All–I, Silence is All–II, Silence is All–III, Silence is All–IV,
Poems Written as Metrical Experiments
O Pall of Black Night, To the Hill-tops of Silence, Oh, but Fair was her Face, In the Ending of Time, In Some Faint Dawn, In a Flaming as of Spaces, O Life, thy Breath is but a Cry, Vast-winged the Wind Ran, Winged with Dangerous Deity, Outspread a Wave Burst, On the Grey Street, Cry of the Ocean’s Surges,
Nonsense and “Surrealist” Verse,
A Ballad of Doom, Surrealist, Surrealist Poems–I, Surrealist Poems–II,
Incomplete Poems from Manuscripts (Circa 1927-1947)
Thou Art myself, Vain, they have Said, Pururavus, The Death of a God–I, The Death of a God–II, The Inconscient and the Traveller Fire, I Walked Beside the Waters, A Strong Son of Lightning, I made Danger my Helper, The Inconscient, The Gleam Konarak, Bugles of Light, The Fire King and the Messenger, God to thy Greatness, Silver Foam, Torn are the Walls, O ye Powers, Hail to the Fallen, Seer deep-hearted, Soul, My Soul–I, Soul, My Soul–II, I am Filled with the Crash of War, In the Silence of the Midnight, Here in the Green of the Forest, Voice of the Summits,
Poems in Greek and in French
Greek Epigram, Lorsquerienn’existait, Sur les grandssommetsblancs,
The Viziers of Bassora (A Romantic Comedy), Rodogune (A Dramatic Romance), Perseus the Deliverer (A Drama), Eric (A Dramatic Romance), Vasavadutta (A Dramatic Romance);
Incomplete and Fragmentary Plays (1891-1915)
The Witch of Ilni (A dream of the woodlands),The House of Brut (A Play), The Maid in the Mill or Love Shuffles the Cards (A Comedy),The Prince of Edur, The Prince of Mathura, The Birth of Sin (A Drama),Fragment of a Play,
Occult Idylls, The Phantom Hour, The Door at Abelard–I, The Door at Abelard–II, The Door at Abelard–III,
Incomplete and Fragmentary Stories (1891-1912)
Fictional Jottings, Fragment of a Story, The Devil’s Mastiff, The Golden Bird,
Translations from Sanskrit
Pieces from the Ramayana
Speech of Dussaruth to the assembled States-General of his Empire, An Aryan City, A Mother’s Lament, The Wife, An Aryan City, The Book of the Wild Forest, The Defeat of Dhoomraksha,
SabhaParva or Book of the Assembly-Hall
Canto I: The Building of the Hall, Canto II: The Debated Sacrifice, Canto III: The Slaying of Jerasundh,
UdyogaParva: Two Renderings of the First Adhyaya,Passages from Adhyayas 75 and 72
The Bhagavad Gita
Chapter I,Chapter II, Chapter III, Chapter IV, Chapter V, Chapter VI, Opening of Chapter VII, A Later Translation of the Opening of the Gita
Vidula–I,Vidula–II, Vidula–III, Vidula–IV,
Vikramorvasie or The Hero and the Nymph, In the Gardens of Vidisha or Malavica and the King: Act I, The Birth of the War-God (1916-18), Skeleton Notes on the Kumarasambhavam, The Line of Raghou, The Cloud Messenger,
The Century of Life, Invocation, On Fools and Folly, Love’s Folly, The Middle Sort, Obstinacy in Folly, On the Same, Obstinacy in Vice, Folly’s Wisdom, A Little Knowledge, Pride of Littleness, Facilis Descensus, The Great Incurable, Bodies without Mind, The Human Herd, A Choice, On Wisdom, Poets and Princes, True Wealth, The Man of Knowledge, Fate and Wisdom, The Real Ornament, The Praises of Knowledge, Comparisons, Worldly Wisdom, Good Company, The Conquests of Sovereign Poetry, Rarities, The Universal Religion, Great and Meaner Spirits, The Narrow Way, On Pride and Heroism, Lion-Heart, The Way of the Lion, A Contrast, The Wheel of Life, Aut Caesar aut Nullus, Magnanimity, The Motion of Giants, Mainak, Noble Resentment, Age and Genius, On Wealth, The Prayer to Mammon, A Miracle, Wealth the Sorcerer, Two Kinds of Loss, The Triple Way of Wealth, The Beauty of Giving, Circumstance, Advice to a King, Policy, Thu Uses of High Standing, Remonstrance with the Suppliant, The Rainlark to the Cloud, To the Rainlark, On the Wicked, Evil Nature, The Human Cobra, Virtue and Slander, Realities, Seven Griefs, The Friendship of Tyrants, The Hard Lot of the Courtier, The Upstart, Two Kinds of Friendship, Natural Enmities, On Virtue, Description of the Virtuous, The Noble Nature, The High and Difficult Road, Adornment, The Softness and Hardness of the Noble, The Power of Company, The Three Blessings, The Ways of the Good, Wealth of Kindness, The Good Friend, The Nature of Beneficence, The Abomination of Wickedness, Water and Milk, Altruism Oceanic, The Aryan Ethic, The Altruist, Mountain Moloy, On Firmness, Gods, The Man of High Action, Ornaments, The Immutable Courage, The Ball, Work and Idleness, The Self-Reliance of the Wise, On Fate, Fate Masters the Gods, A Parable of Fate, Fate and Freewill, Ill Luck, Fate Masters All, The Follies of Fate, The Script of Fate, On Karma, Action be Man’s God, The Might of Works, Karma, Protection from behind the Veil, The Strength of Simple Goodness, Foresight and Violence, Misuse of Life, Fixed Fate, Flowers from a Hidden Root, Miscellaneous Verses, Definitions, A Rarity, The Flame of the Soul, The Conqueror, The Hero’s Touch, The Power of Goodness, Truth, Woman’s Heart, Fame’s Sufficiency, Magnanimity, Man Infinite, The Proud Soul’s Choice, The Waverer, Gaster Anaides, The Rarity of the Altruist, Statesman and Poet The Words of the Wise, Noblesse Oblige, The Roots of Enjoyment, Natural Qualities, Death, not Vileness, Man’s Will, The Splendid Harlot, Fate, The Transience of Worldly Rewards,
Other Translations from Sanskrit
Opening of the Kiratarjuniya, Bhagawat, Bhavani,
Translations from Bengali
Vaishnava Devotional Poetry, Radha’s Complaint in Absence, Radha’s Appeal, Karma, Appeal, Twenty-two Poems of Bidyapati, Selected Poems of Bidyapati, Selected Poems of Nidhou, Selected Poems of Horo Thacoor, Selected Poems of Ganodas,
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Hymn to the Mother, Bande Mataram, Bande Mataram, Anandamath,
Songs of the Sea,
Disciples and Others
Hymn to India – Dwijendralal Roy; The Pilot – Atulprasad Sen; Mahalakshmi – Anilbaran Roy; The New Creator – Aruna; Lakshmi – Dilip Kumar Roy; Aspiration – Dilip Kumar Roy; Farewell Flute – Dilip Kumar Roy; Uma – Dilip Kumar Roy; Faithful – Dilip Kumar Roy; Since thou Hast called me – Sahana; A Beauty Infinite – Jyotirmayi; At the day-end – Nirodbaran; The King of Kings – Nishikanto;
Translations from Tamil
Andal, Andal: The Vaishnava Poetess, To the Cuckoo, I Dreamed a Dream, Ye Others, Nammalwar, Nammalwar: The Supreme Vaishnava Saint and Poet, Nammalwar’s Hymn of the Golden Age, Love-Mad, Kulasekhara Alwar, Refuge, Tiruvalluvar,
Translations from Greek
Two Epigrams, On a Satyr and Sleeping Love, A Rose of Women, Opening of the Iliad, Opening of the Odyssey, Hexameters from Homer,
Translations from Latin
Hexameters from Virgil and Horace, Catullus to Lesbia,
Part One: Books I-III
The Book of Beginnings: Canto I: The Symbol Dawn; Canto II: The Issue; Canto III: The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Soul’s Release; Canto IV The Secret Knowledge Canto; V The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Spirit’s Freedom and Greatness
The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds: Canto I, The World-Stair; Canto II, The Kingdom of Subtle Matter Canto; III, The Glory and Fall of Life Canto; IV, The Kingdoms of the Little Life; Canto V, The Godheads of the Little Life; Canto VI, The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Life; Canto VII, The Descent into Night; Canto VIII, The World of Falsehood, the Mother of Evil and the Sons of Darkness; Canto IX, The Paradise of the Life-Gods; Canto X, The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind; Canto XI, The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Mind Canto; XII, The Heavens of the Ideal; Canto XIII, In the Self of Mind; Canto XIV, The World-Soul; Canto XV, The Kingdoms of the Greater Knowledge
The Book of the Divine Mother: Canto I, The Pursuit of the Unknowable; Canto II, The Adoration of the Divine Mother; Canto III, The House of the Spirit and the New Creation; Canto IV, The Vision and the Boon
Part Two: Books IV-VIII
The Book of Birth and Quest: Canto I, The Birth and Childhood of the Flame; Canto II, The Growth of the Flame; Canto III, The Call to the Quest; Canto IV, The Quest
The Book of Love: Canto I, The Destined Meeting-Place; Canto II, Satyavan; Canto III, Satyavan and Savitri
The Book of Fate: Canto I, The Word of Fate; Canto II, The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain
The Book of Yoga: Canto I, The Joy of Union; the Ordeal of the Foreknowledge of Death and the Heart’s Grief; Canto II, The Parable of the Search for the Soul; Canto III, The Entry into the Inner Countries; Canto IV’ The Triple Soul-Forces; Canto V’ The Finding of the Soul; Canto VI’ Nirvana and the Discovery of the All-Negating Absolute; Canto VII, [The Discovery of the Cosmic Spirit and the Cosmic Consciousness]
The Book of Death: Canto III, Death in the Forest
Part Three: Books IX-XII
The Book of Eternal Night: Canto I, Towards the Black Void; Canto II, The Journey in Eternal Night and the Voice of the Darkness
The Book of the Double Twilight: Canto I, The Dream Twilight of the Ideal; Canto II, The Gospel of Death and Vanity of the Ideal; Canto III, The Debate of Love and Death; Canto IV, The Dream Twilight of the Earthly Real
The Book of Everlasting Day: Canto I, The Eternal Day: The Soul’s Choice and the Supreme
Epilogue: The Return to Earth
The subdivision of Savitri can be put as follows: Parts I-III; Books 1-12; in all 49 Cantos; Sections totaling to 159. In the first edition of Savitri that came out in 1950 (Part I) and 1951 (Parts II and III in a single volume) has a total number of 23,811 lines. The number of lines in Part I is 11,674, describing essentially the Yoga of King Aswapati, the strong Forerunner of Divine Life upon earth. The other two Parts present Savitri, the living power of the incarnate Word, in 12,137 lines. In terms of the number of lines both of these are on par. The Revised Edition based on Archival researches was brought out in 1993 and has a total number of 23,837 lines. In it there are a number of verbal and punctuation changes vis-à-vis the earlier editions. But, regrettably, most of the data on the basis of which these changes were made has not been disclosed. In addition to these 23,837 lines there are several unused passages in the documents which have not found their places in the final text. If these are also included, the total number will cross 24,000 lines.
Thus Savitri is a grand orchestral composition with a thousand instruments and voices chanting the Ode to the supreme Word, in a metre that is the divine Gayatri. The Sanskrit Gayatri metre has 24 syllables in two parts, 16 + 8, the rhythm in which move the celestial worlds. Each syllable of it has now in Savitri a thousand lines, the divine multiplicity entering into the divine possibilities of the Spirit, the breath and blaze of manifesting Power of Life.
6: Sri Aurobindo — The Poet
This then is Sri Aurobindo,Sri Aurobindo — The Poet. It is therefore not necessary to hail him as KavīSamrāta,the King of Poets, Kavī who is a Seer-Poet as the Rig Veda says, Samrāta the King, Poet Laureate, or even Poet Fame.
While defending the diction of a line, Sri Aurobindo wrote to Amal:
I still consider the line a very good one and it did perfectly express what I wanted to say — as for “baldness”, an occasionally bare and straightforward line without any trailing of luminous robes is not an improper element. E.g. “This was the day when Satyavan must die”, [||2.42||] which I would not remove from its position even if you were to give me the crown and income of the Kavi Samrat for doing it. [21 May 1937]
The line scans in a simple way:
This was| the day| when Sat|+ya+van| must die|
— pyrrhic-iamb=iamb=pyrrhic-iamb, the central iamb balancing the pair of pyrrhic-iambs on either side. The pyrrhic in both provides the following iamb mighty importance, significantly telling of the day on which the decreed death must occur, a death which “has” to befall, “Satyavan has to die”.“This was the day when Satyavan must die”, “This was the day when Satyavan must die”, — the line peals with insistent measure and force throughout the epic, it tolling from the Campanile of Heaven.
On another occasion Sri Aurobindo wrote to Amal:
These things are a question of design; a line has to be viewed not only in its own separate value but with a view to its just place in the whole. [22 May 1937]
Yet there are learned professional critics who disparagingly say that either Sri Aurobindo is not a poet at all or else has problems in English, and they say all this without detailing their reasons for problems they see in his creations in English, he who had perfect knowledge as a native. Amal responds: “But it is quite another matter to speak of Sri Aurobindo, who was educated in England from his seventh to his twenty-first year, as having ‘problems’ in English as such in the whole course of his crowning poetic performance.”
But an agonisingly poorer criticism comes from Kathleen Raine, the British poetess and critic of yesteryears. She is puzzled how one whose native tongue is not English can ever write genuine poetry in English. While writing to Amalshe dismisses Sri Aurobindo as a poet: “Only one thing troubles me: why do you write in English? You write of the land of India, subtilised, in an almost physical sense, by the quality of life that has been lived here; is not the same thing true of language? Have you not, in using English, exiled your poetic genius from India, to which it must belong, without making it a native of England, for English learned as a foreign language can never nourish the invisible roots of poetry. I feel this even about Tagore, and so did Yeats. I do not believe that we can — or if we could, that we have the right to — write poetry in a language other than our own.” [5 August 1961]
The only answer against this constricted Island mentality could be, Sri Aurobindo has liberated English from the hold of the English! And just imagine, we are not aware of it! A new spirit with a new power of expression, in the subtlety of sense and sound and sight is now walking into our houses and our countries and our continents. These continents with their oceans stretch far beyond their physical boundaries. It is the overhead afflatus, the force of creative power by which what the word sees is realised in the dynamics of bright and calm movements of life. No wonder, there has to be a readiness of ours, there has to be our preparation to let it work in us.
The Future Poetry by Sri Aurobindo first appeared serially in the monthly Arya, between December 1917 and July 1920 in thirty-two instalments. But this was never published in a book form during his life; in the 1940s he wanted to considerably update and expand it in several directions, but never found time for it. The adjective “future” in the title needs right perception of the issues involved; it is often taken in a casual facile manner. But if The Future Poetry written more than a hundred years ago essentially speaks of the “inspired and inevitable” word, the mantric utterance of the Rig Veda, the Rig Veda in which it is already present, —that “future” is as long ago as some ten thousand years. If so then what is to be understood by the adjective “future”? We could see it in some brief detail in the following.
7: Department of Poetry
During the 1930s, till November 1938,Sri Aurobindo ran what academically may be called the Department of Poetry in the Ashram. In it young and keen disciple-poets took lessons in poetry under him. Some of the disciple-‘students’ of the Department, just to mention a few, were: Arjava, Amal Kiran, Dilip Kumar Roy, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Nishikanto, Nirodbaran, Jyotipriya. They used to send their poetry compositions to him and he used to guide them. His comments and suggestions in pretty good detail, the turn of the phrase, the rhythm, the style, the image, the thought, and lines which had qualities, including their sources of inspiration, and new possibilities of expression made an elaborate attempt in bringing out the essential and necessary character of writings moving towards “inspired and inevitable” utterance. Voluminous literature has grown around it, in thousands of letters, notes, comments. It is in them that we first find this new phrase, what Sri Aurobindo calls the Overhead Poetry. This entire valuable treasure is just remaining in the cold storage of the Archives; it needs to be fully and systematically organised. There are most valuable comments made by Sri Aurobindo on the poetry of Arjava, John Chawick, his English disciple, and they must become a part of his Complete Works. Amal had noted down those comments in his copy of Arjava’s Poems published in 1942; that Amal’s copy is with me and I treasure it much which will have its greater satisfaction when it sees the light of the day.
In the Arya series of The Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo speaks of the essential power of the poetic word, that which makes us see, not just makes us think or feel, that as the primary aesthetic sense; he speaks of “three intensities” of poetic expression of the deepest spiritual reality. These become possible only when they “meet and become indissolubly one, a highest intensity of rhythmic movement, a highest intensity of interwoven verbal form and thought-substance, of style, and a highest intensity of the soul’s vision of truth. All great poetry comes about by a unison of these three elements… ” He continues:
‘…the poet has to make us live in the soul and in the inner mind and heart … and for that he must first make us see by the soul, in its light and with its deeper vision … He is, as the ancients knew, a seer and not merely a maker of rhymes, not merely a jongleur, rhapsodist or troubadour, and not merely a thinker in lines and stanzas. He sees beyond the sight of the surface mind and finds the revealing word, not merely the adequate and effective, but the illumined and illuminating, the inspired and inevitable word, which compels us to see also. To arrive at that word is the whole endeavour of poetic style.’
There is a certain power of revelation in which one looks beyond the image at more than what through the image is seized. One sees beauty even in the formless that stands beyond sight, hears sounds coming from silence. This is a sensitivity, a new aesthetic receptiveness; doors open to joys that come from beyond. The intuitive revelatory abundances flood us.
The sources of poetic inspiration can be from various places, spiritual, mystical, occult, inner worlds, lyrical, psychic, life-forces, strong physical actions, with some deeper power of vision and creation, character of rhythm and expression, with the right word at the right place, the mot juste, and the right sound, the son droit or the son juste, the substance drawn from any plane, physical, vital-emotional, mental full of sense, thought, psychic-occult, or spiritual, with the living breath of life that has its creative force rushing with the dynamism of joy.
8: Overhead Aesthesis
In this later formulation of the æsthetic theory of poetry, in the 1930s, in his Overhead Aesthesis, Sri Aurobindo describes four planes from where the poetic inspiration can come: Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuition, and Overmind, the last which is the birthplace of the inspired and inevitable Word carrying with it the strongest mantric power. And yet there could be higher possibilities waiting to enter into the luminously-harmoniously evolved speech and utterance. It is the climbing of our speech on that ladder of ascension.
Not only thoughts and images, but also many sounds go to make the body of the poem, they running through its nerves and tissues and fibres, thrilling its soul of joy. One is reminded of Mallarmé’sle Musicien de Silence who is also le Musicien de Son. After having counted all the sounds in the World-Soul, what one wonders at is, that, curiously, they all become countless! Style and technique are an integral part of the poet’s inspiration and one has to go wholly by its force; obviously any critical appreciation has to be cognisant of it. In fact it is inspiration itself, with its own flawless prosody, which brings style and technique. It is the spirit that determines all these, the spirit to which we can prepare ourselves to receive its gifts.
Overhead Poetry is an utterance that comes from some higher plane carrying with it its rhythm and tonal resonance, with undertones and overtones, rich with harmonics, as much as its substance and flavour. It is a creative word that sets into motion new faculties of perception; also it initiates the surge of new ideas and their forces to shape our lives in their likeness. In terms of a Savitri-phrase, it is “a voice that carries the sound of infinity”.
To enter into the spirit of Overhead Poetry and enjoy it, one has to have another kind of aesthetic sensibility. An intuitive association with things and images and sounds puts us in direct contact with it. A new spirit in poetry can be appreciated only with a new taste.
Such are the expectations from the poetry of the future, from the poet reaching the Truth-Word with the Truth-Force in the Truth-Joy and Truth-Beauty of the creative spirit. Intense Yoga of the Overhead Aesthetics needs be practised if there is to be that driving inspiration behind all our poetic engagements. Although The Future Poetry was given more than a hundred years ago, and it is revealed on such an immense scale in later sonnets and Savitri with massive astounding triumph, it is yet to see the day of its arrival in a wider acceptance, acceptance of this creative utterance and glory and preciousness in the aspiring spirit of man. In any case, the deepest sense of the vision and inspiration will not remain standing still until that rushes in with the naturalness of a widening speeding river of joy, in the songs of the birds, or in meditative climbs of the mountains reaching the realms of peace and light and rapture, their summits of wonder and height in the speaking silence of the topaz sky.
Here is poetry which also seems to arrive, Narad-like in the Book of Fate, from some high summit inaccessible to our immediate aesthetic awareness, coming from a superior world of intensively creative peace, a creative peace that is also luminous and dynamic. It comes in the glory and marvel and joy from across those silent bounds where it has its immortal birth; even as it comes, so does it bring in its swift rushing raging speedy measure of rhapsody the honeyed flow of mellifluence to flood our souls in ever-growing amazement, flood our souls to bring wonders of yield. In its rapture we are taken to the home of delightful adorability itself. The soul of this intense poetry is celestial mādhurya, sweetness, but it is mādhurya with sāmarthya, strength and power. That is the urge of the human soul for utterance.
9: A poetic appreciation
Here is a competent poetic appreciation of the poetry of Savitri by Goutam Ghosal, [http://savitri.in/books/goutam-ghosal/savitri-some-aspects-of-its-style]:
‘In describing the figures of Satyavan or Savitri in Book Five, Sri Aurobindo leaves much for us to imagine. The poet wishes his readers to have a sense of the Sattwic image of an Indian Rishi. He takes for granted this sense or knowledge in his reader as he makes Satyavan appear against the forest verge in the canto Satyavan. It is a very deliberate description, which images the spiritual nature of Satyavan; even the particularised aspects like “wish”, “brow”, “limbs”, “open face”, etc., are not quite expressive to all readers. The line “A tablet of young wisdom was his brow” must be received in the proper light. A person’s brow is quite often indicative of his wisdom.’
Freedom’s imperious beauty curved his limbs. ||102.10||
Thus the limbs express a dominating beauty, which arises out of freedom. One has to imagine
The joy of life was on his open face. ||102.10||
Thus wisdom, beauty and joy of life,—all contribute to the image of the “open face”. The next lines bring in more of such indicative imagery. Sri Aurobindo’s detractors would feel elated in calling such images vague and pompous. But then, the Seer-Poet is certainly not less intelligent than William Walsh and Adil Jussawala. He knows what he is doing. Contrary to Jussawala’s view of Savitri as an “onion” opening to nothingness, I find, every image of the poem intellectually scrutinised by the Master. Some supreme archetype of intellect is always at play. Let us check the next three lines:
His look was a wide daybreak of the gods,
His head was a youthful Rishi’s touched with light,
His body was a lover’s and a king’s. ||102.11||
All the three aspects—“look”, “head” and “body”—are deliberately chosen. A very powerful intellectual mind supervises this inspired poetry. These three aspects are related to the advanced consciousness of Satyavan. The image of the “Rishi” exactly expresses the man matured through hell and fire. The “light” on his head symbolises an enlightened Rishi. The images that describe his body—“lover’s” and the “king’s”—speak of a spiritual aristocracy. They mean the man who is a master of true love and also the man whose royal consciousness is projected on his external figure.
In the canto Satyavan and Savitri we see that same apparent vagueness as the poet describes his heroine. Savitri, in Satyavan’s eyes is a “Sunlight moulded like a golden maid.” The initiated reader knows instantly that the poet is here describing the daughter of Light. As Satyavan goes on to narrate his case history to Savitri, Sri Aurobindo discovers the poetry of supreme inevitability in his unexpected and unusual bringing together of words and phrases—
I caught for some eternal eye the sudden
Kingfisher flashing to a darkling pool;
A slow swan silvering the azure lake,
A shape of magic whiteness, sailed through dream;
Leaves trembling with the passion of the wind
And wandering wings nearing from infinity
Lived on the tablets of my inner sight;
Mountains and trees stood there like thoughts from God. ||103.36||
Such lines are rare even in the world’s greatest poets. They drop in from higher levels of consciousness and not all poets can maintain this kind of inspiration throughout a large structure. One should not forget that Sri Aurobindo has to narrate the external events, the very mundane affairs, and in the expository parts he has to use his thinking mind and logic. That is why he is not in a position to record such wonderful revelations throughout his epic. The apparently colourless passages are relevant in their contexts. There are times when Sri Aurobindo has to explain terms like Virāta and Hiraṇyagarbha. Such passages should not be condemned as poetic falls.
There is an obvious dramatic quality in this canto as Savitri is emotionally charged up by Satyavan’s speech and wishes him to speak more about the history of his consciousness.
And Savitri musing still replied to him:
“Speak more to me, speak more, O Satyavan,
Speak of thyself and all thou art within;
I would know thee as if we had ever lived
Together in the chamber of our souls.” ||103.48||
The directive verb “speak” used thrice is expressive of the passionate urgency of the heroine, who has found her soul-mate at last. Poetry is in the vibration of Savitri’s thoughts. In To a Distant Friend Wordsworth repeats the same directive verb twice in the sestet indicating the urgency of his call for a response from his friend. But, this vibration is not there in Wordsworth. Savitri expresses here the soul of her emotion. She uses “speak” for the fourth time in the next line— “speak till a light shall come into my heart”—and then three lines later reaches the culmination of this emotional wave. It is a very quiet utterance, but one can easily feel the emotion behind it.
It knows that thou art he my spirit has sought
Amidst earth’s thronging visages and forms
Across the golden spaces of my life. ||103.50||
This is the climactic point of that particular emotion arising out of an eternal meeting.
10: There are silences
There are silences so deep one can hear the journeys of the soul, and it is these which give meaning and substance to the creative spirit, of beauty, in a world of truth and joy. It grows in abundance of subtleties and suggestions that constitute multi-tonal harmonies of silence. Given to the blue-bright omniscient hush inspiration streams forth unceasingly, and music transcends mortal songs. In yoga-tapasyā of the poet the unutterable finds utterance.
There is the enthralling rapidity of the rhythm, spreading to the end on the left, if there is an end, spreading to the end on the right, if there is an end, in every direction, there is the flaming affluence in it, topaz richness, the purple glow, the pace and seal of aristocracy. The poet is hearing the sound of music in the transcendent and is eminently triumphantly jubilant to bring it down to this golden summer earth, cetteterredoréed’été, this golden summer earth, cetteterredoréed’été. It is not just Overmind poetry, which truly it is; it is the poetry overflowing with the luminous essence of the originating Delight, with the smiling liquidity of Joy, Ānanda-rasa in its thousand streams inundating the transcendent, flooding the universal, oceaning the terrestrial-individual.
It is that Ānanda-rasa which prompts Narad to rush to the earth with the Word of Fate, the Ānanda-rasa which he himself drinks with his glistening brow, wide and sun-bright. The terrific Future is going to open out to the wonders of the Spirit, and he is preparing himself to participate in it, the wonder of divine life in a divine body on earth. Meeting Savitri after she finding Love is that exceptional occasion and he hurries to seize it. He has cast his lot for this new life. That indeed is his urging attraction for this golden summer earth, cetteterredoréed’été, rushing towards the gnostic prospects. That is the glory of the name of Vishṇu.
It is actually the blazing incarnate Word itself: logopoeic, — it expresses ideas of the real; melopoeic, — it has the music of silence as much as the silence of music; phanopoeic, — the forms and contours of the invisible stand out like shining gods and goddesses in front of us, they full of action to promote every effort of the aspiring soul. It is Mantric, the Word of Truth-Beauty-Delight-Life-Spirit in its crowded force of realisation.
In Savitri’s Book of Fate, Book Six, Canto Two, Narad’s speech in the fiery blaze of poetry comes directly from the Home of Truth, comes from a plane far above our climb, far beyond these narrow reaches. It comes from “a supermind which sees things in their innermost and largest truth by a spiritual identity and with a lustrous effulgency and rapture and its native language is a revelatory, inspired, intuitive word limpid or subtly vibrant or densely packed with the glory of this ecstasy and lustre.”
Not only did he, a spiritual being in heaven, materialise himself and enter the palace of Aswapati in ancient Madra; his utterance brought the very presence of his Vishṇu upon earth, Vishṇu the Conqueror of the Worlds with his three strides, the third being Tridhātu, Sachchidānanda. That is the real gain of such poetry, the presence of Vishṇu upon earth.
Unlike he who had to after the visit finally de-materialise and return to his home in Paradise this poetry, however, is going to stay here permanently, stay for ever, stay to work out the miracle, miracles after miracles, the exceptional miracles of “transfiguration and ecstasy”.
11: Of poetic diction
In an evening session with his attendants Sri Aurobindo observed: “You can go back to Shakespeare for the hundredth time. That is the test. … Only TS Eliot will live, but as a minor poet only. … The moderns have all got diction but it has no value without rhythm. They have no rhythm.” [The Evening Talks: 26th March 1943]
Apropos of it, look at the last section of The Waste Land telling us what the Thunder said:
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
The jungle crouched, humped in silence,
Then spoke the thunder
Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed
Which is not to be found in our obituaries
Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
In our empty rooms
Dayadhvam: I have heard the key
Turn in the door once and turn once only
We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aethereal rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands
I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih
This is a perfect example of what Sri Aurobindo had said about the moderns who have all got diction but without rhythm, it having no value. “They have no rhythm,” he said. The diction is bold, strong, with a tremendous enterprise of modernism and innovation behind it, very knowledgeable and scholarly, supported by the metropolitan life-force, but on the whole there is nothing of the occult-psychic or the mystic-spiritual in it. The work looks like a figure in Plaster of Paris, Mannequin, without living breath, an abstract-intellectualised body that has no shining creative soul inside it. Here bytes and decibels are too high, even dulling and deafening as they are. Not that there are no gains; but poetry cannot be greatly and intensely appealing should it lack all the three essential elements, sight-sound-sense, vision-rhythm-substance. Excessive stress on the thought-stuff alone, contents, meaning, sense can rob it of the truth, make it all without beauty, without deeper joy of the life and spirit.
The Waste Land by any measure is a landmark departure from the past, though nobody reads it much these days. It needs multi-probing Internet sources to trace a plethora of allusions. There is Italian, there is French, Sanskrit, German, Greek, Latin, and what not. Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina quando fiam uti chelidon — Then he hid himself in the fire that refines him when we use chelidon. The disappointment is, even after tracing all allusions through Internet and bringing them together it hardly gives rise to that to which one can go again and again, as one would to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30. It is all diction, beat and boom without music and resonance, without captivating rhythm. “Eliot’s poem is like a street in Rome or Athens; one layer of history upon another upon another.”
Far long before Aristotle the classical poets never had the problem of diction; always there was the natural spontaneity. It was continually the word that held or carried the substance, and much more than that; it was unceasingly the substance that had the perfect word for it to be expressed. And the word had a triple body, of sense and sound and sight fused into one, in one glad fire, a roaring fire, a body with the flame of truth-beauty-joy inside it. While one or the other may be prominent at a given moment, the presence of all the three had the evocative power of the fullest and most perfect poetry.
We may look at the question of poetic diction and rhythm in the light of Sri Aurobindo:
‘The importance of metre arises from the fact that different arrangements of sound have different spiritual and emotional values… . In these different arrangements of syllabic sound metre forms the most important, at least the most tangible element… . Inspiration itself seems hardly so much a matter of ideas or feeling as of rhythm. Even when the ideas or the feelings are active, they will not usually run into the right form, the words will not take their right places, the syllables will not fall into a natural harmony. But if one has or succeeds in awaking the right metrical mood, if the metrical form instead of being deliberately created, creates itself or becomes, a magical felicity of thought, diction and harmony attends it and seems even to be created by it… . When the metre comes right, everything else comes right.’
Thus in the temple a thousand bells chime in the sonority of multi-toned harmony and joy, the sounds of silence all where that, which even the deaf can hear.
Here is one amazing sweet and glad example from Savitri:
In her covert lanes, bordering her chance field-paths
And by her singing rivulets and calm lakes
He found the glow of her golden fruits of bliss
And the beauty of her flowers of dream and muse.||52.15||
As if a miracle of heart’s change by joy
He watched in the alchemist radiance of her suns
The crimson outburst of one secular flower
On the tree of sacrifice of spiritual love.||52.16||
Let us scan these lines:
In her cov|+ert lanes,|bor+der+ing| her chance| field-paths|
And by| her sing|+ingriv|+u+lets and| calm lakes|
He found| the glow| of her gold|+en fruits| of bliss|
And the beau|+ty of| her flow+ers| of dream| and muse.|
As if| a mir|+a+cle of| heart’s change| by joy|
He watched| in the al|+che+mistra|+di+ance| of her suns|
The crim+son| out+burst| of one| sec+u+lar| flow+er|
On the tree| of sac|+ri+fice| of spir+it|+u+al love.|
In a total of 40 syllables in these 8 lines — disyllabic: 16 iambs, 5 pyrrhics, 2 spondees, 2 trochees; trisyllabic: 8 anapæsts, 2 dactyls, 2 tribrachs, 3 amphibrachs — we have an unusually large number 15 of trisyllabic feet, they kind of giving a rapidity to the movement.
This is a beautiful passage, lyrically very exquisite, enchanting, one of the rarest finest moments in the poetry of Savitri, with the rushing joy of the Romantic. There is the wondrous explosion of the glow; there are Life’s golden fruits of bliss, the peaches of joy, and flowers of dream and muse, there is the splendour of royalty and magnificence and colourfulness, there is the secular flower with crimson outburst. And this is on a tree of sacrifice, Life’s submission to follow the command of her Beloved, her Lord, the Supreme, she there engaged in doing things in his Will, in the delight of the Creator himself. Least she is concerned with any dogma or rite or ritual, never tied to the seven sacramental stipulations or to binding of any kind; there is no imposition but a commitment to fulfil the underlying Urge. It is the deepest soul’s calm wonderful longing.
Diction started coming into the picture with literary poetry, literature for the sake of literature, Horace’s Art for Art’s sake, l’Art pour l’Art, which in fact is constrained and artificial. If the poetry of the Rig Veda or of the Upanishads or of the Gita, or of the immortal epics, is the utterance of the spirit in a speech coming from the seer-poets, kavīs, who are also men of knowledge, vipras, the hearers of the truth-word, satyasrutah, another element, which may be called literary æsthetics, is grandly enchanting in the works of master-poets like Kalidasa.
One is coming from above with bright oceanic spontaneity and rush, an unstoppable afflatus, inspiration in the sound of luminosity, rich brilliance in the creative hush.The other is the lyrical zooming of the bird of delight to reach the skies of joy and wonder above skies of wonder and joy. The latter when gets more and more intellectualised starts speaking of diction and syntax and figures of speech, or else speaks of alternatives, “a sacrament or a confidence game or both or neither”. But it is the movement of ascension that must seize the upper word in its rhythmic flight and perfection and harmony and melody, winging blue above felicitous blue, like the soul inviting the oversoul to rush into each other. That is the fulfilment of the vernacular poetry. That is what is meant by “future” in The Future Poetry.
12: The peaches of joy
In the esoteric theory it is the descent of the Transcendental Speech, ParāVāṇī or ParāVāk, into the language of the mental being, it occurring through the stages of Pashyanti,Madhyamā to Vaikhari, the Seeing, the Middle into the human Speech, the Speech of the Mental Being. What The Future Poetry is proposing is climbing up of Vaikhari to the higher grades, it in an attempt to get the three intensities in our expression, highest intensity of rhythmic movement, highest intensity of thought-substance, and the highest intensity of soul-vision. When can that happen? It can happen when the Mantra sinks in Yoga’s ear:
As when the mantra sinks in Yoga’s ear,
Its message enters stirring the blind brain
And keeps in the dim ignorant cells its sound;
The hearer understands a form of words
And, musing on the index thought it holds,
He strives to read it with the labouring mind,
But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:
Then, falling silent in himself to know
He meets the deeper listening of his soul:
The Word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:
Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body’s self
Are seized unalterably and he endures
An ecstasy and an immortal change;
He feels a Wideness and becomes a Power,
All knowledge rushes on him like a sea:
Transmuted by the white spiritual ray
He walks in naked heavens of joy and calm,
Sees the God-face and hears transcendent speech:… ||98.58||
That is Future Poetry. Sri Aurobindo has not only theorised but also worked out its possibility with Savitri as an example. That is what he meant when he said he was using Savitri as a means of ascension. And imagine these dum-dums saying that Sri Aurobindo had problems with his English while writing Savitri! What Sri Aurobindo was showing with Savitri as an example through English, should also happen in the case of other ready vernaculars. Not only for poetry, it should happen in the case of all questing fine arts where the fire of human aspiration rises in its ardour and in its trueness. There has to be the future music, future painting, future drama, future dance, future choreography, future architecture, future furniture, future horticulture, future flower-arrangement, future harvesting of fields, every creative human activity, — yes, every expression of form, beauty on the path of ascension led by the glowing topaz flame of psychic and spiritual hope and longing, beauty experiencing and realising beauty that wears a form or else beauty that needs no form to be, formless beauty, form-beauty as much as formless-beauty. That is human aspiration in the delight of the spirit plunging into every dynamism of life.
If the ancient-most poetry is the poetry of the Rig Veda it was in a language that had come from above. Its roots are in the transcendental Spirit, ūrdhwa-mūlah, as the Gita would say. The birth of original Sanskrit was in it, up there. It was the Language of the sun-luminous Gods, Deva-Bhāshā, with its own vision and rhythm and substance, and beauty and power, its metres governing the movements of the celestial objects and spheres, it has its own grammar and syntax and prosody. The Rishis of the Rig Veda were directly in contact with those Gods and needed no Pāṇini’sAṣṭādhyāyī to make them understood toeach other.
But when did such Sanskrit begin? That is a difficult question, nigh impossible to answer. India is very famous for not keeping any historical records of events to guide us through the passages of æonic time. But the Gita speaks of Ushanā; the Teacher tells that among the poets he was Ushanāthe poet. The Rig Veda does not have any hymn attributed to him, nor is he mentioned anywhere else except originally by Vāmadeva who in an ecstatic state proclaims himself to be Ushanā poet, I am Ushanā, the poet.[IV:26:1] Vāmadevaspeaks of “our ancient forefathers”, possibly they belonging to the past Eras, to earlier Manavantaras about whom we have absolutely no knowledge. It is also said that Sāma Veda was much larger in volume and existed in those days; Sri Krishna says, among the Vedas I am Sāma Veda. It is there, in some deep Past, we have to see Sanskrit. It is from it came down other languages in the working of Overmind in the cosmic extensions. Now these languages have to climb up, climb to acquire the glory and beauty, and the sweetness of the Word, the Rig Vedic brahma, the Word that was in the beginning, and the Word that was with God, and the Word that was God. That is Future Poetry.
A letter to R. Y. Deshpande by Dr. Prithwindra Mukherjee
Thank you for disturbing me in my COVID meditation, with a gift of your exceptionally well developed inner equipments and painstaking external method of determining the impressive quantities (bulk+variety+spirit, leading to the inevitable utterance > the new speech) and the qualities of SRI AUROBINDO THE POET.
Thank you for the friendly beginning with the “Jîvanmukta” structure leading to the intoning effect attained in a manner similar to obtaining fire with flint by friction.
You are quite justified in pointing out how thousands of copies of Savitri sold out since its publication to become a mere dharma-grantha, instead of a due appreciation for its poetic values.
Before asking “Should Sri Aurobindo be taken to the academic world ?” and replying affirmatively, it would be worth your enterprise to give a thorough list of PhD and other papers that have been written down the decades, on Savitri : to begin with the pathfinding research by Premâ Nandakumâr in 1962.
Your attempt is pioneering to situate the geographical spot of a publication along with its chronological composition (p4). On p.10, you reach the core of your investigation: SRI AUROBINDO-THE POET. You have not forgotten the Poet’s ever smiling face aglow with wit like the “Crown and income of the Kavi Samrāț” On p.11 you have forgotten Arunâ and Sâhânâ.
Running 84+, I would like to wait till sharing with you the treasure hidden in Amal’s copy of Poems (1942) by Arjava with Sri Aurobindo’s comments.
You could add the Link leading to Goutam Ghosal’s “Poetic appreciation” on the last page, too.
There is a slow return to love for reading poetry. High time to decide “Should Sri Aurobindo be taken to the academic world ?” Get this exhaustive document translated and published in all available languages. That will solve a good deal of enigma invented by Kathleen Raine & Co.
Season’s Greetings to worship the Mother.
9 November 2020, Paris.
About the Author: Born on 17 April 1931 RY Deshpande is a professor, philosopher, author, poet and inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. After graduating from Osmania University, Hyderabad, he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai as a research physicist in 1955 and worked in this organization till 1957. In 1957 he joined the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai where he worked till 1981 and headed several Atomic Energy and Space Projects in Advance Technology with Dr. Raja Ramanna. Having received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1964, he worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California USA from 1964 to 1965. He has some fifty research papers published in national and international scientific journals. He was also an examiner for a number of Ph.D. theses in the field of Solid State Physics. In 1981 Deshpande joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. For thirty years, he taught physics and a few other subjects such as Astrophysics, Savitri, The Future Poetry, Science and Society at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. For eight years he was the associate Editor of Mother India, a Monthly Review of Culture, published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. During 2007-2008 Deshpande was the editor of a web-magazine titled Science-Culture-Integral Yoga founded in Los Angeles. His published works in prose and poetry include titles like Sri Aurobindo and the New Millennium, Vyasa’s Savitri, The Ancient Tale of Savitri, “Satyavan Must Die”, All Life is Yoga, Nagin-bhai Tells Me, The Rhododendron Valley, All is Dream-Blaze, Under the Raintree, Paging the Unknown, The Wager of Ambrosia, Savitri: Notes and Comments, Elements and Evolution, Sri Aurobindo’s Narad, The Birth of the Sun-God, Hymns to Becoming, These Mountains, The Secret Knowledge, Savitri Talks: The Symbol Dawn, Islam’s Contribution to Science, Big Science and India, Running Through Savitri, A Look at the Symbol Dawn: Observations-Comments-Discussions, Savitri: The Poetry of Immortality, and Sanatana Dharma: An Aurobindonian Perspective to name a few. He has also edited the following books: Nirodbaran: Poet and Sadhak, Amal Kiran: Poet and Critic and Perspectives of Savitri.
6 Replies to “The World of Sri Aurobindo’s Poetry by R. Y. Deshpande”
This magnificent piece was initially mailed to me 2 weeks back and I was overwhelmed by the details he was leaving for the posterity. He has chalked out the entire map of Sri Aurobindo’s poetic world! Amazing! Unparalleled dedication to, and perception of, Sri Aurobindo’s poetry. Pranam!
Professor RY Deshpande has done a commendable work by exploring the world of Sri Aurobindo’s Poetry from diverse perspectives –
Surendra S Chouhan – SAICE ’69
More than sixty years ago, I asked Sanat Banerjee: “Since when has Sri Aurobindo been recognized as a poet ?”
The reply was accompanied by a bland smile which could hurt: “Never !”
Every day since then I wished this injustice to be revised.
Fortunately there were “sensible” souls like KRS Iyengar and VK Gokak.
Your initiative corresponds to one of such pious dreams.
En avant for Cambridge !
Thanks a lot for sharing.
Sincere Regards and Thanks
Thanks a lot.