To read inspired poetry lifts us above ourselves to realms of beauty, delight and power, — closer to divinity. In reading Savitri, however, we can experience what the Mother said once to Norman Dowsett: “For the opening of the psychic, for the growth of the consciousness and even of the improvement of English, it is good to read one or two pages of Savitri every day.” (Amal Kiran, Our Light and Delight; 2nd ed., p. 193). We also become aware of the depths of our own being.
True, we constantly soar upwards, ascending to levels of consciousness far beyond our normal ken. We can reach to terrestrial, universal and even cosmic states of consciousness. I believe we also touch the transcendental level too.
Let us study how the Mother herself looked at this self-transforming and world-revealing epic. This is what she observed while talking to Satprem on 18 Sept. 1962:
I am going to take the whole section of Savitri (to start with, I’ll see later) from “The Debate of Love and Death” to the point where the Supreme Lord makes his prophecy about the earth’s future; it’s long — several pages long. Thus is for my own satisfaction…
I am not doing it to show it to people or to have anyone read it, but to remain in Savitri’s atmosphere, for I love that atmosphere…
I know that light. I am immediately plunged into it each time I read Savitri. It is a very, very beautiful light.
So I am going to see.
First of all, I’ll concentrate on it just as Sri Aurobindo said it in English, using French words. Then I’ll see if something comes without changing anything — that is, if the same inspiration he had comes in French. It will be an interesting thing to do. If I can do one, two, three lines a day, that’s all I need: I will spend one hour every day like that.
I don’t have anything in mind. All I know is that being in that light above gives me great joy. For it is a supramental light — a supramental light of aesthetic beauty, and very, very harmonious. (Mother’s Agenda, pp. 347-348)
Once, for the second of December program, the Mother chose a passage from Savitri, book eleven. Svetlana was directing the performance and I believe she must have asked the Mother to guide us by reading out the whole portion herself. The Mother agreed and called the few of us with Svetlana at noon to the Darshan room. I distinctly remember her seated in her chair with a table lamp at her side since the shutters were closed to avoid outside noise. Vishvanath-da was there to record the Mother’s reading so that later we could practise by listening to it.
There was a short silence as we sat on the floor in front of her. She smiled and said softly: “Let us read to Sri Aurobindo.” I found this so sweet and touching. She then began to read the oft-heard passage beginning with this line: “Choose, Spirit, thy supreme choice not given again.” Whenever she pronounced the word ‘Lord’ there was such tenderness in her voice that I felt she was addressing Sri Aurobindo himself. After she had finished I remember her giving a Divine Grace flower to each of us. Little did I realize at the time how great was the Grace we had just received!
Here are some extracts from letters to Narad from Amal Kiran:
What Huta told you about reading or reciting Savitri must have been a directive from the Mother — or something mixed with it from what I may have said: ‘Slowly, clearly, precisely,’ it is very fine advice… Read slowly with an awareness that there is a metre, i.e. long syllables, short syllables and a combination of them. Metre means that there is a design, a pattern and the fact that poetry is divided into lines means that each line has to be felt in a certain shape. So there must be a short pause after each line even if the sense of the line continues into the next… We must not forget that Savitri is poetry, generally of five metrical beats: that is, it is by and large iambic pentameter. One must be aware of this fact and also of the variations played upon this base. Of course one must be familiar with the usual stress in English words. The voice must not fall into any sing-song. English poetry is to be read and not sung, but since it is metrical in a marked way, some sense of the metre must come through. Then there is the matter of end-stopped lines and of enjambment, that is the sense of one line running over to the next… So, whether end-stopped or made to flow over, there must be in different ways a ‘delay’ between line and line. The length of the delay is to be decided by the reciter’s sense of his subject.
The very raison d’etre of the division into lines is the need to show each line in its own weight in the metre chosen. Savitri is special in its meaning and message. It has a certain rhythm which is at the same time like all other poetry and yet with a subtle difference. And its special character makes it what Sri Aurobindo calls Overhead Poetry — that is, poetry that comes from planes of consciousness above the mind.” (Mother India, Nov. 2011, pp. 964-965)
Savitri is a crystallization of the Universal Mother in an earthly personality for the Earth’s luminous future represented by Satyavan. Everything may be seen as symbolic. From the time of the rishis, deep experiences were expressed in double terms: an inner one for the initiate and an outer for the outer ear. Sri Aurobindo does call Savitri ‘a legend and a symbol.’
It is worth recalling what the Mother wrote when asked what was the true method to study the works of Sri Aurobindo:
The true method is to read a little at a time, with concentration, keeping the mind as silent as possible, without actively trying to understand, but turned upwards, in silence, and aspiring for the light. Understanding will come little by little.
And later, in one or two years, you will read the same thing again and then you will know that the first contact had been vague and incomplete, and that true understanding comes later, after having tried to put it into practice. (Collected WM, Vol. 12, p. 206).
Following these suggestions in our reading of Savitri, we surely will progress more rapidly on the path, while also enjoying more fully its wonderful divine atmosphere.
[originally published in Collaboration, Vol. 37, No. 1, p. 31]