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At the Feet of The Mother

Correspondence 1931, May

May 13, 1931

I read the German of myself before reading your letter and was cast into an astonished perplexity by its warmth and cold for a long moment. I certainly think, if they translate, they should be assisted by an expert in English to keep the right temperature — otherwise there may be some other hair-raising effects of the kind.

Tagore’s appreciation is indeed a confirmation worth having of your poetic achievement — there could not be a surer seal upon it.

*   *   *

May 17, 1931

I am afraid Kiran De is not at all ready for Yoga — as the Mother saw on the first day. Your own observations confirm this view of him and his letter shows that even mentally he cannot rise to the height — how can this Yoga be given to one who understands only the ethical life and not at all what the divine life can be? Temperamentally he is too weak and depressed to put the burden of Yoga on him — it might result in a breakage. But I don’t want to depress and discourage him still farther — so please do not tell him what I write — give him my written answer (enclosed) and let that speak for itself… It seems from your condition “plied with questions” that you can now form some idea of what the Romans meant when they described as “putting to the question” their legal process of cross-examination under torture. I have no objection to your calling Nolini au secours if he is ready for the operation in your place. But I suppose you will get relief soon.

*   *   *

May 18, 1931

Khitish Sen’s[1] enthusiasm seems rather to be for Pondicherian poetry than for Pondicherian Yoga — the latter shines for him only by the reflected light of the former. I will try to glance through his translations if you send them, in spite of the desperate shortness of time at my disposal just now.

*   *   *

May 22, 1931

Udayshankar[2] must certainly be a great artist in his line; the photographs are admirable.

Suhrawardy has imagination and occasionally a subtle felicity of feeling, language and rhythm; but his technique is chaotic and his execution very unequal. There are lines in this poem that sound like flimsy sentimental album verse and there are others that have a strange and fine originality, as in the fourth verse.

Older than the moon or forest she is,
Yea, older than the gray slow winding brook,
A picture of one that kings have loved
Fallen from a curious book

That is as fine in execution as conception; in the rest the execution does not equal the conception. I liked better the little poem you translated — that was perfect in its own kind.

“Bindsome” is, I suppose, an invention on the lines of “tiresome” and “winsome”; a poet is entitled to invent such words at his own risk and peril. Brocade is extraordinarily daring — unless he means “brocaded” dressed in brocade, and then he ought to have said “brocaded”; but otherwise it is a trouvaille [coinage] of audacious felicity, provided he can make the English language absorb so violent a turn given to the word. There is no reason why the poem should not be published in the Orient.

*   *   *

May 26, 1931

Your poem is very pretty in feeling and music, but is it not rather long for a song?

I will answer you about doubt and dance and Suhrawardy, but time lacks tonight.

*   *   *

May 29, 1931

I have no objection to your sending my comment to Udayshankar, although it seems to me of a too slight and passing character to be of any importance. Still, if you think he will really value it so much, you can send it. But surely it is rather too slight for Bharatavarsha.

I do not quite catch the sense of your proposal that I should see his dancing from the next room. It looks as if you thought I had acquired the siddhi of seeing through walls and doors. I assure you that I have not got so far. If he were to dance in the court downstairs, it would be different, but then what would he do with the palm and other plants? — even if Timirbaran[3] like another Orpheus were to make them move and join the troupe, I fear he would find them rather cumbersome. However, I suppose neither his visit nor Suhrawardy’s is for tomorrow, so we will leave these things where they belong — on the lap of a shadowy and uncertain future.

As for Suhrawardy, you can if you like send the complimentary portion of my remarks with perhaps a hint that I found his writing rather unequal, so that it may not be all sugar. But the phrases about “album poetry” and chaotic technique are too vivid — being meant only for private consumption — to be transmitted to the writer of the poems criticised; I would for that have expressed the same view in less drastic language. As I have already said once, I do not like to write anything disparaging or discouraging for those whom I cannot help to do better. I received much poetry from Indian writers for review in the Arya, but I always refrained because I would have had to be very severe. I write only about Harindranath because there I could sincerely and I think justly write unqualified praise.

It was, by the way, rather paradoxical or epigrammatic — I don’t know which — to write of Suhrawardy at once that “he was in Paris” and that he “ended his life in a tragedy” — it sounded like a new version of “He, being dead, yet liveth.” I presumed you meant a moral, not a physical ending; but if he is coming to India to give University lectures, there must be also morally something that survives. It is only when the soul is lost — or all the faculties — that it can be said of a man yet living that his life is ended. However, I see that you propose to throw light on the mystery hereafter.

Poetry can start from any plane of consciousness, although like all art — or, one might say, all creation — it must always come through the vital if it is to be alive. And as there is always a joy in creation, that joy along with a certain enthousiasmos[4]— not enthusiasm, if you please, but ānandamaya āveśa [blissful inrush of the creative force] — must always be there, whatever the source. But your poetry differs from the lines you quote. Suhrawardy writes from a purely vital inspiration, Shakespeare ditto (though he puts a vital feeling in the form of a passionate thought), Tagore in these lines ditto, and in the last case from a rather light and superficial vital. Your inspiration, on the contrary, comes from the linking of the vital creative instrument to a deeper psychic experience, and it is that which makes the whole originality and peculiar individual power and subtle and delicate perfection of your poems. It was indeed because this linking-on took place that the true poetic faculty suddenly awoke in you; for it was not there before, at least on the surface. The joy you feel, therefore, was no doubt partly the simple joy of creation, but there comes also into it the joy of expression of the psychic being which was seeking for an outlet since your boyhood. It is this that justifies your poetry-writing as a part of your Sadhana.

I find I have left myself no place or time in this letter for doubt and scepticism. You have not lightened my task by throwing Julian Huxley’s ingeniously worded absurdity at me. What I wanted to point out was that what you seem to mean by scepticism is something quite different from what the Mother meant when she spoke to you about it. However, that must wait for another spare half-hour.

*   *   *


[1] Justice Khitish Chandra Sen, a poet and litterateur. He translated into English Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem to Sri Aurobindo.

[2] Udayshankar (8 December 1900 – 26 September 1977), a renowned dancer and choreographer. He joined London’s Royal College of Arts and completed the five-year course in three years, obtained ARCA degree and diploma in composition. He met Anna Pavlova and at her request composed two pieces on Indian themes. He shared the stage with her. She inspired him to follow Eastern tradition of dance and not Western. He rediscovered India’s richness, learned Kathakali with Shankaran Namboodiri and adapted Western theatrical techniques to traditional Indian dance. He did several tours in Europe and America in the early 1930s with famous musicians, among them his younger brother Ravi Shankar, Allauddin Khan and Ali Akbar Khan along with Timirbaran. In 1939 he founded the Udayshankar Cultural Centre in Almora.

[3] A famous Bengali musician, who headed a troupe in Calcutta. He was the conductor of the orchestra that accompanied Udayshankar’s dance.

[4] The Greek word means “to be inspired or possessed by a god.”

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