Sri Aurobindo's letters on Savitri - Part 1
There is a previous draft, the result of the many retouchings of which somebody told you;
but in that form it would not have been a "magnum opus" at all. Besides, it would have been
a legend and not a symbol. I therefore started recasting the whole thing; only the best passages
and lines of the old draft will remain, altered so as to fit into the new frame.
No, I do not work at the poem once a week; I have other things to do. Once a month perhaps, I look at the new form of the first book and make such changes as inspiration points out to me - so that nothing shall fall below the minimum height which I have fixed for it.
Savitri is blank verse without enjambment (except rarely) - each line a thing by itself and arranged in paragraphs of one, two, three, four, five lines (rarely a longer series), in an attempt to catch something of the Upanishadic and Kalidasian movement, so far as that is a possibility in English. You can't take that as a model - it is too difficult a rhythm-structure to be a model. I shall myself know whether it is a success or not, only when I have finished two or three books. But where is the time now for such a work? When the supramental has finished coming down, then perhaps.
Don't make prophecies. How do you know that Savitri is or is going to be supramental poetry? It is not, in fact - it is only an attempt to render into poetry a symbol of things occult and spiritual.
Possibly1 - but in this world certainties are few. Anyhow in the effort to quote I have
succeeded in putting the first few hundred
1Sri Aurobindo was asked: "Will you be able after all to give quotations from Savitri?
I really wish you could."
lines into something like a final form - which is a surprising progress and very gratifying to me even if it brings no immediate satisfaction to you.
What you write about your inspiration is very interesting. There is no invariable how - except that I receive from above my head and receive changes and corrections from above without any initiation by myself or labour of the brain. Even if I change a hundred times, the mind does not work at that, it only receives. Formerly it used not to be so, the mind was always labouring at the stuff of an unshaped formation... . The poems come as a stream beginning at the first line and ending at the last-only some remain with one or two changes, others have to be recast if the first inspiration was an inferior one. Savitri is a work by itself unlike all the others. I made some eight or ten recasts of it originally under the old insufficient inspiration. Afterwards I am altogether rewriting it, concentrating on the first book and working on it over and over again with the hope that every line may be of a perfect perfection - but I have hardly any time now for such work.
That is very simple1. I used Savitri as a means of ascension. I began with it on a certain mental level, each time I could reach a higher level I rewrote from that level. Moreover I was particular - if part seemed to me to come from any lower levels I was not satisfied to leave it because it was good poetry. All had to be as far as possible of the same mint. In fact Savitri has not been regarded by me as a poem to be written and finished, but as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one's own yogic consciousness and how that could be made creative. I did not rewrite Rose of God or the sonnets except for two or three verbal alterations made at the moment.
1 The question was: "We have been wondering why you should have to write and rewrite you
poetry --- for instance, Savitri ten or twelve times --- when you have all the inspiration at your
command and do not have to receive it with the difficulty that faces budding Yogis like us."
Savitri was originally written many years ago before the Mother came, as a narrative poem in two parts. Part I Earth and Part II Beyond (these two parts are still extant in the scheme1) each of four books - or rather Part II consisted of three books and an epilogue. Twelve books to an epic is a classical superstition, but the new Savitri may extend to ten books - if much is added in the final version it may be even twelve2. The first book has been lengthening and lengthening out till it must be over 2000 lines, but I shall break up the original first four into five, I think - in fact I have already started doing so. These first five will be, as I conceive them now, the Book of Birth, the Book of Quest, the Book of Love, the Book of Fate, the Book of Death. As for the second Part, I have not touched it yet. There was no climbing of planes there in the first version - rather Savitri moved through the worlds of Night, of Twilight, of Day - all of course in a spiritual sense - and ended by calling down the power of the Highest Worlds of Sachchidananda. I had no idea of what the supramental World could be like at that time, so it could not enter into the scheme. As for expressing the supramental inspiration, that is a matter of the future.
Savitri is represented in the poem as an incarnation of the Divine Mother... This incarnation is supposed to have taken place in far past times when the whole thing had to be opened, so as to "hew the ways of Immortality".
The poem was originally written from a lower level, a mixture perhaps of the inner mind, psychic, poetic intelligence, sublimised vital, afterwards with the Higher Mind, often illumined and intuitivised, intervening. Most of the stuff of the first book is new or else the old so altered as to be no more what it was; the best of the old has sometimes been kept almost intact because it had already
1 In the present version, there are three parts
2 As is actually the case now
the higher inspiration. Moreover, there have been made several successive revisions each trying to lift the general level higher and higher towards a possible Overmind poetry. As it now stands there is a general Overmind influence, I believe, sometimes coming fully through, sometimes colouring the poetry of the other higher planes fused together, sometimes lifting any one of these higher planes to its highest or the psychic, poetic intelligence or vital towards them.
I don't think about the technique because thinking is no longer in my line. But I see and feel for it
when the lines are coming through and afterwards in revision of the work. I don't bother about details
while writing, because that would only hamper the inspiration. I let It come through without
interference; only pausing if there is an obvious inadequacy felt, in which case I conclude that
it is a wrong inspiration or inferior level that has cut across the communication. If the inspiration
is the right one, then I have not to bother about the technique then or afterwards, for there comes
through the perfect line with the perfect rhythm inextricably intertwined or rather fused into an
inseparable and single unity; if there is anything wrong with the expression that carries with it an
imperfection in the rhythm, if there is a flaw in the rhythm, the expression also does not carry
its full weight, is not absolutely inevitable. If on the other hand the inspiration is not throughout
the right one, then there is an after examination and recasting of part or whole. The things I lay
most stress on then are whether each line in itself is the inevitable thing not only as a whole but
in each word; whether there is the right distribution of sentence lengths (an immensely important
thing in this kind of blank verse); whether the lines are in their right place, for all the lines
may be perfect, but they may not combine perfectly together - bridges may be needed, alterations
of position so as to create the right development and perspective etc., etc. Pauses hardly exist
in this kind of blank verse; variations of rhythm as between the lines, of caesura, of the
distribution of long and short, clipped and open syllables, manifold constructions of vowel
and consonant sounds, alliteration, assonances, etc., distribution into one line, two line,
three or four or five line, many line sentences, care to make each line tell by itself in its own
mass and force and at the same time form harmonious whole sentence -
these are the important things. But all that is usually taken care of by the inspiration itself, for as I know and have the habit of the technique, the inspiration provides what I want according to standing orders. If there is a defect I appeal to headquarters, till a proper version comes along or the defect is removed by a word or phrase substitute that flashes - with the necessary sound and sense. These things are not done by thinking or seeking for the right thing - the two agents are sight and call. Also feeling - the solar plexus has to be satisfied and, until it is, revision after revision has to continue. I may add that the technique does not go by any set mental rule for the object is not perfect technical elegance according to precept but sound - significance filling out the word - significance. If that can be done by breaking rules, well, so much the worse for the rule.
I can never be certain of newly written stuff (I mean in this Savitri) until I have looked at it again after an interval. Apart from the quality of new lines, there is the combination with others in the whole which I have modified more than anything else in my past revisions.
Allow me to point out that whatever I did in a jiffy would not be any more than provisionally final. It is not a question of making a few changes in individual lines, that is a very minor problem; the real finality only comes when all is felt as a perfect whole, no line jarring with or falling away from the level of the whole though some may rise above it and also all the parts in their proper place making the right harmony. It is an inner feeling that has to decide that... . Unfortunately the mind can't arrange these things, one has to wait till the absolutely right thing comes in a sort of receptive self-opening and calling-down condition. Hence the months.
I have done an enormous amount of work with Savitri. The third section has been recast - not rewritten - so as to give it a more consistent epic swing and amplitude and elevation of level. The
fourth section, the Worlds, is undergoing transformation. The "Life"; part is in a way finished, though I shall have to go over the ground perhaps some five or six times more to ensure perfection of detail. I am now starting a recasting of the "Mind" part of which I had only made a sort of basic rough draft. I hope that this time the work will stand as more final and definitive.
I have been kept too occupied with other things to make much headway with the poem - except that I have spoiled your beautiful neat copy of the "Worlds" under the oestrus of the restless urge for more and more perfection; but we are here for World - improvement, so I hope that is excusable.
I have not been able to make any headway with Savitri - owing to lack of time and also to an appalled perception of the disgraceful imperfection of all the sections after the first two. But I have tackled them again as I think I wrote to you and have pulled up the third section to a higher consistency of level; the "Worlds" have fallen into a state of manuscript chaos, corrections upon corrections, additions upon additions, rearrangements on rearrangements out of which perhaps some cosmic beauty will emerge!
You will see when you get the full typescript [of the first three books) that Savitri has grown to an enormous length so that it is no longer quite the same thing as the poem you saw then. There are now three books in the first part. The first, the Book of Beginnings, comprises five cantos which cover the same ground as what you typed but contains also much more that is new. The small passage about Aswapati and the other worlds has been replaced by a new book, the Book of the Traveller of the Worlds, in fourteen cantos with many thousand lines. There is also a third sufficiently long book, the Book of the Divine Mother. In the new plan of the poem there is a second part consisting of five books: two of these, the Book of Birth and Quest and the Book of Love, have been
completed and another, the Book of Fate, is almost complete. Two others, the
Book of Yoga and the Book of Death, have still to be written, though a part
needs only a thorough recasting. Finally, there is the third part consisting
of four books, the Book of Eternal Night, the Book of the Dual Twilight, the
Book of Everlasting Day and the Return to Earth, which have to be entirely
recast and the third of them largely rewritten. So it will be a long time
before Savitri is complete.
In the new form it will be a sort of poetic philosophy of the Spirit and of Life much profounder in its substance and vaster in its scope than was intended in the original poem. I am trying of course to keep it at a very high level of inspiration, but in so large a plan covering most subjects of philosophical thought and vision and many aspects of spiritual experience there is bound to be much variation of tone: but that is, I think, necessary for the richness and completeness of the treatment.
I am not at all times impervious to criticism; I have accepted some of yours and changed my lines accordingly; I have also though not often accepted some adverse criticisms from outside and remoulded a line or a passage from the [poem] here and there. But your criticisms are based upon an understanding appreciation of the poem, its aim, meaning, method, the turn and quality of its language and verse technique. In your friend's judgments I find an entire absence of any such understanding and accordingly I find his criticisms to be irrelevant and invalid. What one does not understand or perceive its meaning and spirit, one cannot fruitfully criticise.
I am afraid I am too much preoccupied with the constant clashes with the world and the devil to write anything at length even about your new poems [The Adventure of the Apocalypse]: a few lines must suffice. In fact as I had to explain the other day to Dilip, my only other regular correspondent, my push to write letters or to new literary production has dwindled almost to zero - this apart from Savitri and even Savitri has very much slowed down and I am
only making the last revisions of the First Part already completed; the other two parts are just now in cold storage.