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At the Feet of The Mother

Correspondence 1932, June (I)

June 1932?

The last sonnet is improved by the changes….

I have as yet only had time to glance through your poem, but it seems to me one of the most beautiful you have written.

I don’t think I was ill-pleased with Anilbaran’s article on Tagore as a poet of suffering — though that is not perhaps the whole of Tagore. But the poet is sensitive to criticism and he took Anilbaran’s stricture on this part of his poetry rather ill, a controversy threatened that was likely to be a little acrimonious — especially as I think he was hurt by the criticism coming from here. That is why I asked Anilbaran not to reply to Tagore’s retort — thinking it more important to preserve kindliness of feeling between him and us than to stress a point that was already sufficiently clear. There was a great necessity for Bengali poetry finding an escape out of the Tagorean atmosphere — that I had always felt — but that was already coming. I agree with… [incomplete].

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June 2, 1932

[…] I can’t agree with your statement about Sanskrit ā, e, o, that they are long by stylisation only! In fact, I don’t quite understand what this can mean, for in Sanskrit ā at least is the corresponding long to the short vowel a and is naturally as long as the devil — and the other two are in fact no better. The difference between e and ai and o and au is the difference between long and ultra-long, not between short and long. Take for instance the Sanskrit phrase yena tena prakāreṇa [done in slapdash manner]; I can’t for the life of me see how anyone can say that the ye, te, re or the there are naturally short to the ear, but long by stylisation. The classical languages (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin) are perfectly logical, coherent and consistent in the matter of quantity: they have to be because quantity was the very life of their rhythm and they could not treat longs as shorts and shorts as longs as it is done, at every step, in English. Modern languages can do that because their rhythm rests on intonation and stress, quantity is only a subordinate element, a luxury, not the very basis of the rhythmic structure. In English you can write “the old road runs” pretending that “road” is short and “runs” is long, or “a great hate” — where the sound corresponding to Sanskrit e (great hate) or that corresponding to Sanskrit o (old road) is made short or long at pleasure; but to the Sanskrit, Greek or Latin ear it would have sounded like a defiance of the laws of Nature. Bengali is a modern language, so there this kind of stylisation is possible, for there e can be long, short or doubtful.

All this, not to write more about stylisation, but only as a protest against foreign modern ideas of language sound on an ancient language. Bengali can go on its way very freely, without that, Sanskritising when it likes, refusing to Sanskritise when it doesn’t like.

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June 9, 1932

I can only say that whether by tapasya or surrender does not matter, the one thing is to be firm in setting one’s force to the goal. Once one has set one’s feet on the way, how can one draw back from it to something inferior? If one keeps firm, falls do not matter; one rises up again and goes forward. If one is firm towards the goal, there can be on the way to the Divine no eventual failure. And if there is something within you that drives, as surely there is, falterings or falls or failure of faith make no eventual difference. One has to go on till the struggle is over and there is the straight and open and thornless way before us.

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June 10, 1932

I don’t think you need fear that my patience will be exhausted — for it is founded upon something else that is inexhaustible.

Of course the Mother was right; she always is when she sees things, though people take a long time sometimes to recognise it. But what has been put into the vital receptacle by life can be got out by reversing it, turning it towards the Divine and not towards yourself. You will then find that the vital is an excellent instrument as it is a bad master.

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June 10, 1932

I fully agree with Anilbaran’s estimate of your poem, but I do not quite see the necessity of making it an exact replica of the Mayavada [illusionist] philosophy according to Shankara. It is the bhāva of the Maya conception of the universe and the thought and vision supported by the bhāva that you are expressing, not the set metaphysical concepts of the Adwaita.

Of course if you set out to poetise Shankara, there is much in the poem that would have to be barred out. Priya [beloved] and nāth [lord] would not do. On the other hand antaryāmi [inner guide] and prabhu [master] could remain; Shankara himself would not have avoided these two words, I believe. Not love exactly, but bhakti is permissible even for the Mayavadi at a certain stage before he has become too impersonal, too identified with the Paramātma [the Supreme Soul] for any duality to exist just as till then a restricted karma is also admissible. It is allowed as a means of turning away from the world to the Supreme. The Ishwara [the Lord] is there as a projection of the Brahman into Maya and as such you can use him as a bridge to cross from the darkness into the Light. At least that, I think, is the doctrine, though perhaps an extreme and very aggressive Mayavadi might object to it as too lenient a compromise.

As for the considerable touches of my “philosophy” which have got in there, I don’t think they affect the main strand of the poem which is expressive of the illusory character of this world and not of the entire negative absoluteness of the Absolute. But they do colour the conception of the Divine in the poem and make it other than the bare and quite featureless Parabrahman of Shankara.

I think you are right in your plea that you are expressing the view and feeling of an aspirant to Nirvana, not one who is already “extinguished” but one who is turning away from the world to the Beyond. There is another thing to be said that the Maya concept is not the exclusive property of the Shankara credo and elsewhere it has a more emotional and religious form than it has there, not so sternly intellectual and severe.

I have not yet had time to compare your new Vaishnav with the old one. I will see tomorrow.

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June 14, 1932

It would be a mistake to silence the poetic flow on principle — the creative habit is a tonic to the vital and keeps it in good condition and the practice of sadhana needs a strong and widening vital for its support. There is no real incompatibility between the creative power and silence; for the real silence is something inward and it does not or at least need not cease when a strong activity or expression rises to the surface.

Your Tantrik was too big for me to swallow and digest him in a day, but he is as remarkable as he is big; I don’t know whether he is not the best of the three. I have not yet been able, as I hoped, to make a comparative study of the two Vaishnavs; I shall let you know my opinion when I have done it.

I had always the regret that the line of possibility opened out by Michael [Madhusudhan] was not carried any farther in Bengali poetry; but after all it may turn out that nothing has been lost by the apparent interruption. Magnificent as are the power and swing of his language and rhythm, he was rather empty in substance, and a development in which subtlety, fineness and richness of thought and feeling could learn to find a consummate expression was very much needed. More mastery of colour, form, design was a necessity — and this has now been achieved and added to the ojas [essential energy] can fulfil what Madhusudhan left only half-done. I think these new poems of yours promise to make that fusion, and indeed there is more than the promise. It is good that your poetic energy has turned in that direction.

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If the mind and the vital can feel and accept the soul’s sheer love for the Divine for His own sake, then the sadhana gets its full power and many difficulties disappear.