In this English talk on Sri Aurobindo’s writings, we take up the second volume of CWSA (The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo) “Collected Poems”.
Collected Poems (CWSA 2)
If we consider the Writings of Sri Aurobindo as his Word-body, as indeed it is, then the volume of collected poems is like a beautiful garland of gems and jewels adorning his heart. Each is a pearl brought out of some deepest depths whose beauty can be compared only to another one brought out by him. Stringed together on the thread of Light they shine as masterpieces of the most sublime poetry ever written in English Literature. If it sounds like an exaggeration, let us read just a few lines from the very first poem written and published at the tender age of 10. The poem is titled Light and when read with the background of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works it may well seem prophetically autobiographical. The very opening stanza is a marvel as if the Creator Himself was describing the act of creation.
From the quickened womb of the primal gloom,
The sun rolled, black and bare,
Till I wove him a vest for his Ethiop breast,
Of the threads of my golden hair;
And when the broad tent of the firmament
Arose on its airy spars,
I pencilled the hue of its matchless blue,
And spangled it around with stars.
The last pearl is part of a poem left incomplete as if symbolically indicating that the work is yet in progress, the work of bringing the Superconscient Fire into the human abyss.
Voice of the summits, leap from thy peaks of ineffable splendour,
Wisdom’s javelin cast, leonine cry of the Vast.
Voice of the summits, arrow of gold from a bow-string of silence!
Leap down into my heart, blazing and clangorous dart!
Here where I struggle alone unheeded of men and unaided,
Here by the darkness down-trod, here in the midnight of God.
I have come down from the heights and the outskirts of Heaven
Into the gulfs of God’s sleep, into the inconscient Deep.
All I had won that the mind can win of the Word and the wordless,
Knowledge sun-bright for ever and the spiritual crown of endeavour,
Share in the thoughts of the cosmic Self and its orders to Nature,
Cup of its nectar of bliss, dreams on the breast of its peace.
This is around 1947 whence the world was reeling under the chilling after effects of the second world war and the partition of India among many other revolutionary movements that were to change the face of earth forever. Was it the Creator going down into the gulfs of creation to bring the Light? In a certain sense poetry is most often the expression springing from some soul-depths. It is the cry of the soul of something it has seen or experienced and lived and become. Taken thus the collection of nearly 300 poems are, one way or the other, autobiographical. They describe scenes of his inner life, – who knows even some past lives. He remarked once when someone wanted to write his biography that ‘his life had not been on the surface for men to see.’ It was indeed crowded with visions of the sublime as well as battles with the forces of the abyss that held earth’s glorious fate a captive to their darkness. These poems reveal inner states, the glorious ascents and the luminous moments as well as the precipitous battles with the titanic forces.
Some are more directly autobiographical when a profound realization is being described such as Nirvana, Parabrahman, The Bliss of Brahman, The Golden Light, Transformation, and many others. Or when the poem is woven around a physical event such as the Godhead arising out of his body when his carriage was on the verge of a dangerous accident or The stone-goddess describing the vision of the World Mother when he visited the shrine along the banks of river Narmada. Others, especially the longer narrative poems such as Baji Prabhou, Chitrangada and others based on certain slices of legends and history such as Love and Death reveal the themes that moved the heart of the Seer and the Yogi.
Then there is Ahana, a masterpiece whose rhythm flows like the gurgling Yamuna overlapping the Ganga and together intertwined around the lost river Saraswati providing for us the nectar of the gods for us to drink deep from the poet’s cup and share, even if for the moment the beauty of his soul. Or the epic based on the unwritten chapter of the Trojan war as if providing the missing piece of Homer but with a greater perfection of rhythm and substance, complete though left incomplete, the nearly one hundred thirty pages long masterpiece in quantitative hexameter, Ilion. The vividness and clarity of description, the eye for details transports one to that moment as if we were not just reading but actually revisiting the scene of history but with a new vision lent to us by the master-poet.
The list is long. It includes sonnets and epigrams and new metrical experiments. For example one of these poems composed in a new metrical experiment brings out with a rare force the wideness of his vision that encompassed the entire cycle of birth and death and rebirth through which creation passes from time to time.
In the ending of time, in the sinking of space
What shall survive?
Hearts once alive,
Beauty and charm of a face?
Nay, these shall be safe in the breast of the One,
Nothing ends, all but began.
The vibration of these poems shall echo in the cavern of man’s heart until man is made ready to truly receive these rarest treasures of given to man out of a deep compassion by the Master Poet or to use the Indian word Rishi, seer-poets who saw the Truth and expressed it in a body of word and sound symbols carrying within them the rhythms of the higher Spheres. They are mystic poems expressing some of the profoundest truths of existence. Even when the images are common they are being crafted and seen through the eye of the mystic inner sense and released into words through the higher poetic intelligence that climbs beyond thoughts or surges from the depths of the inmost soul. The poems are not just a delight to the ears and the heart but a delight to the soul. It is indeed ambrosia of the gods served to us in the beaker of words by none else but the Lord of Delight himself. As he himself reveals in another poem,
What then of the word, O speaker?
What then of the thought, O thinker?
Thought is the wine of the soul and the word is the beaker;
Life is the banquet-table as the soul of the sage is the drinker….
How shalt thou know the Word when it comes, O seeker?
How shalt thou know the Light when it breaks, O witness?
I shall hear the voice of the God within me and grow wiser and meeker;
I shall be the tree that takes in the light as its food, I shall drink its nectar of sweetness.