Sri Aurobindo's letters on Savitri - Part 4

Sri Aurobindo
...the cosmic drowse of ignorant Force
Whose moved creative slumber kindles the suns
And carries our lives in its somnambulist whirl.1

I am not disposed to change "suns" to "stars" in the line about the creative slumber of the ignorant Force; "stars" does not create the same impression and brings in a different tone in the rhythm and the sense. This line and that which follows it bring in a general subordinate idea stressing the paradoxical nature of the creation and the contrasts which it contains, the drowsed somnambulist as the mother of the light of the suns and the activities of life. It is not intended as a present feature in the darkness of the Night.


As if a childlike finger laid on a cheek
Reminding of the endless need in things
The heedless Mother of the universe,
An infant longing clutched the sombre Vast.2

Your objection to the "finger" and the "clutch" moves me only to change "reminding" to "reminded" in the second line. It is not intended that the two images "finger laid" and "clutch" should correspond exactly to each other; for the "void"3 and the "Mother of the universe" are not the same thing. The "void" is only a mask covering the Mother's cheek or face. What the "void" feels as a clutch is felt by the Mother only as a reminding finger laid on her cheek. It is one advantage of the expression "as if" that it leaves the field open for such variation. It is intended to suggest without saying it that behind the sombre void is the face of a mother. The two other "as if"'s 4 have the same motive and I do not find them

1 p.1.
2 An earlier version of p. 2, lines 19-22
3 Sri Aurobindo has somehow come to use "void" instead of the "Vast" that is actually there in the line. It may be mentioned that, in the passage where this line and the other three occur, the Vast is also called the void.

As if a soul long dead were moved to live...
As if solicited in an alien world...

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jarring upon me. The second is at a sufficient distance from the first and it is not obtrusive enough to prejudice the third which more nearly follows... Your suggestion "as though" (for the third) does not appeal to me: it almost makes a suggestion of falsity and in any case it makes no real difference as the two expressions are too much kin to each other to repel the charge of reiteration.


As if solicited in an alien world
With timid and hazardous instinctive grace,
Orphaned and driven out to seek a home,
An errant marvel with no place to live,
Into a far-off nook of heaven there came
A slow miraculous gesture's dim appeal.1

You have made what seems to me a strange confusion as regards the passage about the "errant marvel" owing to the mistake in the punctuation which is now corrected. You took the word "solicited" as a past participle passive and this error seems to have remained fixed in your mind so as to distort the whole building and sense of the passage. The word "solicited" is the past tense and the subject of this verb is "an errant marvel" delayed to the fourth line by the parenthesis "Orphaned etc." This kind of inversion, though longer than usual, is common enough in poetical style and the object is to throw a strong emphasis and prominence upon the line, "An errant marvel with no place to live." That being explained, the rest about the gesture should be clear enough.

I see no sufficient reason to alter the passage; certainly, I could not alter the line beginning "Orphaned..."; it is indispensable to the total idea and its omission would leave an unfilled gap. If I may not expect a complete alertness from the reader, - but how without it can he grasp the subtleties of a mystical and symbolic poem ? - he surely ought to be alert enough when he reads the second line to see that it is somebody who is soliciting with a timid grace and it can't be somebody who is being gracefully solicited; also the line "Orphaned etc." ought to suggest to him at once that it is some orphan who is soliciting and not the other way round: the delusion of the past participle passive ought to be dissipated long before he

1 P. 3.

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reaches the subject of the verb in the fourth line. The obscurity throughout, if there is any, is in the mind of the hasty reader and not in the grammatical construction of the passage.

A slow miraculous gesture dimly came.

Man alive, your proposed emendations1 are an admirable exposition of the art of bringing a line down the steps till my poor "slow miraculous" above-mind line meant to give or begin the concrete portrayal of an act of some hidden Godhead finally becomes a mere metaphor thrown out from its more facile mint by a brilliantly imaginative poetic intelligence. First of all, you shift my "dimly" out of the way and transfer it to something to which it does not inwardly belong, make it an epithet of the gesture or an adverb qualifying its epithet instead of something that qualifies the atmosphere in which the act of the Godhead takes place. That is a preliminary havoc which destroys what is very important to the action, its atmosphere. I never intended the gesture to be dim, it is a luminous gesture, but forcing its way through the black quietude it comes dimly. Then again the bald phrase "a gesture came" without anything to psychicise it becomes simply something that "happened", "came" being a poetic equivalent for "happened", instead of the expression of the slow coming of the gesture. The

1 The suggested emendations of the original line which belonged to the 1936 version but apropos of which the comments by Sri Aurobindo are very pertinent in general to his art were :

Miraculous and dim
Miraculously dim          a gesture came.
Dimly miraculous
Miraculous and slow

The emendations were not suggested as improvements in any way on the line Which was splendid (though Sri Aurobindo himself subsequently altered it to

A slow miraculous gesture's dim appeal

because of a new interrelation in the final expanded recast of his poem). They were only a hypothetical desperate resort in the interests of a point which is made clear in the footnote at the end of the next item. The object was to see if a certain change in the manner of adjective-use was possible so that a technical variety might be introduced in the passage of which the line in question was a part. The emendations unfortunately involved, among other things, the omission of one or another of the descriptive terms used by Sri Aurobindo. But variants not involving this were also offered for discussion, as the footnote already referred to will show.

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words "slow" and "dimly" assure this sense of motion and this concreteness to the word's sense here. Remove one or both whether entirely or elsewhere and you ruin the vision and change altogether its character. That is at least what happens wholly in your penultimate version and as for the last its "came" gets another meaning and one feels that somebody very slowly decided to let out the gesture from himself and it was quite a miracle that it came out at all! "Dimly miraculous" means what precisely or what "miraculously dim" - it was miraculous that it managed to be so dim or there was something vaguely miraculous about it after all? No doubt they try to mean something else - but these interpretations come in their way and trip them over. The only thing that can stand is the first version which is no doubt fine poetry, but the trouble is that it does not give the effect I wanted to give, the effect which is necessary for the dawn's inner significance. Moreover, what becomes of the slow lingering rhythm of my line which is absolutely indispensable?


Then a faint hesitating glimmer broke.
A slow miraculous gesture dimly came,
The persistent thrill of a transfiguring touch
Persuaded the inert black quietude
And beauty and wonder disturbed the fields of God.
A wandering hand of pale enchanted light
That glowed along a fading moment's brink
Fixed with gold panel and opalescent hinge
A gate of dreams ajar on mystery's verge.

Can't see the validity of any prohibition of double adjectives in abundance. If a slow wealth-burdened movement is the right thing, as it certainly is here1 in my judgment, the necessary means have to

1 The first two lines here are different from those that in the present version precede the rest of the passage (p. 3). The version on which Sri Aurobindo commented is that of 1936. But the comment which is concerned with the use of double adjectives does not lose its essential force when the place in which the passage now stands demands that it should begin:

Into a far-off nook of heaven there came
A slow miraculous gesture's dim appeal.

Only one pair of adjectives out of four closely occurring "doubles" drops out.

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be used to bring it about - and the double adjective is admirably suited for the purpose.... Do not forget that Savitri is an experiment in mystic poetry, spiritual poetry cast into a symbolic figure. Done on this rule, it is really a new attempt and cannot be hampered by old ideas of technique except when they are assimilable. Least of all by a standard proper to a mere intellectual and abstract poetry which makes "reason and taste" the supreme arbiters, aims at a harmonised poetic intellectual balanced expression of the sense, elegance in language, a sober and subtle use of imaginative decoration, a restrained emotive element etc. The attempt at mystic spiritual poetry of the kind I am at demands above all a spiritual objectivity, an intense psychophysical concreteness. I do not know what you mean exactly here by "obvious" and "subtle". According to certain canons, epithets should be used sparingly, free use of them is rhetorical, an "obvious" device, a crowding of images is bad taste, there should be subtlety of art not displayed but severely concealed - Summa ars est celare artem. Very good for a certain standard of poetry, not so good or not good at all for others. Shakespeare kicks over these traces at every step, Aeschylus freely and frequently, Milton whenever he chooses. Such lines as

With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire1


Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the shipboy's eyes and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge2

(note two double adjectives in three lines in the last) - are not subtle or restrained, or careful to conceal their elements of powerful technique, they show rather a vivid richness or vehemence, forcing language to its utmost power of expression. That has to be done still more in this kind of mystic poetry. I cannot bring out the spiritual objectivity if I have to be miserly about epithets, images, or deny myself the use of all available resources of sound-significance. The double epithets are indispensable here and in the exact order

1 Milton, Paradise Lost, I.46-48
2 Shakespeare 2 Henry IV, III.i

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in which they are arranged by me. You say the rich burdened movement can be secured by other means, but a rich burdened movement of any kind is not my primary object, it is desirable only because it is needed to express the spirit of the action here; and the double epithets are wanted because they are the best, not only one way of securing it. The "gesture" must be "slow miraculous" - if it is merely miraculous or merely slow, that does not create a picture of the thing as it is, but of something quite abstract and ordinary or concrete but ordinary - it is the combination that renders the exact nature of the mystic movement, with the "dimly came" supporting it, so that "gesture" is not here a metaphor, but a thing actually done. Equally a pale light or an enchanted light may be very pretty, but it is only the combination that renders the luminosity which is that of the hand acting tentatively in the darkness. That darkness itself is described as a quietude, which gives it a subjective spiritual character and brings out the thing symbolised, but the double epithet "inert black" gives it the needed concreteness so that the quietude ceases to be something abstract and becomes something concrete, objective, but still spiritually subjective.... Every word must be the right word, with the right atmosphere, the right relation to all the other words, just as every sound in its place and the whole sound together must bring out the imponderable significance which is beyond verbal expression. One can't chop and change about on the principle that it is sufficient if the same mental sense or part of it is given with some poetical beauty or power. One can only change if the change brings out more perfectly the thing behind that is seeking for expression - brings out in full objectivity and also in the full mystic sense. If I can do that, well, other considerations have to take a backseat or seek their satisfaction elsewhere.1


1 The point discussed by Sri Aurobindo is a genuine and important one but it may be mentioned that the question which elicited the discussion gave rise to this precise point by some carelessness of phrasing. As Sri Aurobindo himself was informed later, the slight suspicion of "obviousness of method" referred not to the closely repeated use of double adjectives but to the manner in which two epithets had been thus used - that is, without any separation of one from the other and immediately before a noun. An alternative - "A gesture slow, miraculous, dimly came" - was suggested, but admittedly the revelatory suspense in Sri Aurobindo's line was spoiled by the "gesture" being mentioned too soon. Also, "Miraculous, slow, a gesture dimly came" would blurt out things in its own way. "Yes, that is it," wrote Sri Aurobindo. And his general remark was: "The epithets are inseparable from the noun, they give a single impression which must not be broken up by giving a separate prominence to either noun or epithets."

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In the passage about Dawn your two suggestions I find unsatisfying. "Windowing hidden things"1 presents a vivid image and suggests what I want to suggest and I must refuse to alter it; "vistaing" brings in a very common image and does not suggest anything except perhaps that there is a long line or wide range of hidden things. But that is quite unwanted and not a part of the thing seen. "Shroud" sounds to me too literary and artificial and besides it almost suggests that what it covers is a corpse which would not do at all; a slipping shroud sounds inapt while "slipped like a falling cloak"2 gives a natural and true image. In any case, "shroud" would not be more naturally continuous in the succession of images than "cloak".


I am afraid I shall not be able to satisfy your demand for rejection and alteration of the lines about the Inconscient3 and the cloak any more than I could do it with regard to the line about the silence and strength of the gods.4 I looked at your suggestion about adding a line or two in the first case, but could get nothing that would either improve the passage or set your objection at rest. I am quite unable to agree that there is anything jargonish about the line any more than there is in the lines of Keats,

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.5

That amounts to a generalised philosophical statement or enunciation and the words "beauty" and "truth" are abstract metaphysical terms to which we give a concrete and emotional value because they are connected in our associations with true. and beautiful things of which our senses or our minds are vividly aware. Men have not learnt yet to recognise the Inconscient on which the whole material world they see is built, or the Ignorance of which their

1 P. 3.
2 ibid.
3 P. 2
4 P. 16
5 Ode to a Grecian Urn

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whole nature including their knowledge is built; they think that these words are only abstract metaphysical jargon flung about by the philosophers in their clouds or laboured out in long and wearisome books like The Life Divine. But it is not so with me and I take my stand on my own feeling and experience about them as Keats did on his about truth and beauty. My readers will have to do the same if they want to appreciate my poetry, which of course they are not bound to do.

Is it really a fact that even the ordinary reader would not be able to see any difference between the Inconscient and Ignorance unless the difference is expressly explained to him? This is not a matter of philosophical terminology but of common sense and the understood meaning of English words. One would say "even the inconscient stone" but one would not say, as one might of a child, "the ignorant stone". One must first be conscious before one can be ignorant. What is true is that the ordinary reader might not be familiar with the philosophical content of the word Inconscient and might not be familiar with the Vedantic idea of the Ignorance as the power behind the manifested world. But I don't see how I can acquaint him with these things in a single line, even with the most illuminating image or symbol. He might wonder, if he were Johnsonianly minded, how an Inconscient could be teased or how it could wake Ignorance. I am afraid, in the absence of a miracle of inspired poetical exegesis flashing through my mind, he will have to be left wondering. I am not set against adding a line if the miracle comes or if some vivid symbol occurs to me, but as yet none such is making its appearance.1

In the other case also, about the cloak, I maintain my position. Here, however, while I was looking at the passage an additional line occurred to me and I may keep it:

The darkness failed and slipped like a falling cloak
From the reclining body of a god.

But this additional line does not obviate your objection and it was

1 What the commentator wished for was some symbolic suggestion as in other phrases of Sri Aurobindo's that made the Inconscient a black dragon or a black rock. As an alternative he desired a further touch of vividness to drive home the distinction between the Inconscient and Ignorance, as in another line in Savitri:

And the blind Void struggles to live and see.

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not put in with that object. You have, by the way, made a curious misapplication of my image of the careful housewife; you attribute this line to her inspiration.1 A careful housewife is meticulously and methodically careful to arrange everything in a perfect order, to put every object in its place and see that there is no disharmony anywhere; but according to you she has thrust a wrong object into a wrong place, something discordant with the surroundings and inferior in beauty to all that is near it; if so, she is not a careful housewife but a slattern. The Muse has a careful housewife, - there is Pope's, perfect in the classical or pseudo-classical style or Tennyson's, in the romantic or semi-romantic manner, while as a contrast there is Browning's with her energetic and rough-and-tumble dash and clatter.

You ask why in these and similar cases I could not convince you while I did in others. Well, there are several possible explanations. It may be that your first reaction to these lines was very vivid and left the mark of a samskar which could not be obliterated. Or perhaps I was right in the other matters while your criticism may have been right in these, - my partiality for these lines may be due to an unjustified personal attachment founded on the vision which they gave me when I wrote them. Again, there are always differences of poetical appreciation due either to preconceived notions or to different temperamental reactions. Finally, it may be that my vision was true but for some reason you are not able to share it. For instance, you may have seen in the line about the cloak only the objective image in a detailed picture of the dawn where I felt a subjective suggestion in the failure of the darkness and the slipping of the cloak, not an image but an experience. It must be the same with the line,

The strength, the silence of the gods were hers.

You perhaps felt it to be an ordinary line with a superficial significance; perhaps it conveyed to you not much more than the stock phrase about the "strong silent man" admired by biographers, while to me it meant very much and expressed with a bare but

1 The line meant is not the additional but the original single one, and the image Sri Aurobindo refers to is in his statement: "The mystic Muse is more of an inspired Bacchante of the Dionysian wine than an orderly housewife."

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sufficient power what I always regarded as a great reality and a great experience.

Then through the pallid rift that seemed at first
Hardly enough for a trickle from the suns
Outpoured the revelation and the flame.1

Your "barely enough", instead of the finer and more suggestive "hardly", falls flat upon my ear; one cannot substitute one word for another in this kind of poetry merely because it means intellectually the same thing; "hardly" is the mot juste in this context and, repetition or not, it must remain unless a word not or only juste but inevitable comes to replace it.... On this point I may add that in certain contexts "barely" would be the right word, as for instance, "There is barely enough food left for two or three meals", where "hardly" would be adequate but much less forceful. It is the other way about in this line.

A lonely splendour from the invisible goal
Almost was flung on the opaque Inane. 2

No word will do except "invisible". I don't think there are too many "I's" - in fact such multiplications of a vowel or consonant assonance or several together as well as syllabic assonances in a single line or occasionally between line-endings (e.g. face-fate) are an accepted feature of the technique in Savitri. Purposeful repetitions also, or those which serve as echoes or key notes in the theme.

Air was a vibrant link between earth and heaven.3

1 P. 3.
2 P. 4.
3 P. 4. The question was: I notice that you have changed "twixt" to "between" when substituting "link" for "step" in the line,

Air was a vibrant step twixt earth and heaven.

Is it merely because twelve lines earlier "twixt" has been used ?

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No, it is because "link twixt", two heavy syllables (heavy because ending with two consonants) with the same vowel, makes an awkward combination which can only be saved by good management of the whole line - but here the line was not written to suit such a combination, so it won't do.


I think you said in a letter that in the line

Our prostrate soil bore the awakening ray1

"soil" was an error for "soul". But "soil" is correct; for I am describing the revealing light falling upon the lower levels of the earth, not on the soul. No doubt, the whole thing is symbolic, but the symbol has to be kept in the front and the thing symbolised has to be concealed or only peep out from behind, it cannot come openly into the front and push aside the symbol.


The former pitch2 continues, as far as I can see, up to Light, then it begins to come down to an intuitivised Higher Mind in order to suit the change of the subject, but it is only occasionally that it is pure Higher Mind - a mixture of the intuitive or illumined is usually there except when some truth has to be stated to the philosophic intelligence in as precise a manner as possible.


1P. 5
2The question referred to the whole shorter and somewhat different 1936 version of the opening of Savitri and sought to compare the planes of two passages concerned solely with the Dawn, in the first of which a direct luminosity was discerned and in the second a shift to the Higher Mind. Sri Aurobindo's answer is quoted because it seems applicable in general whereever in Savitri the Higher Mind comes into play.

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["It's passive flower of love and doom it gave".] Good Heavens! how did Gandhi come in there? Passion-flower, sir - passion, not passive.1

Draped in the leaves' vivid emerald monotone.2

Five [feet], the first being taken as a dactyl. A little gambol like that must be occasionally allowed in an otherwise correct metrical performance.


Miltonism? Surely not. The Miltonic has a statelier more spreading rhythm and a less direct more loftily arranged language. Miltonically I should have written not

The Gods above and Nature sole below
Were the spectators of that mighty strife 3


Only the Sons of Heaven and that executive
She Watched the arbitrament of the high dispute.
Never a rarer creature bore his shaft.4

Yes, like Shakespeare's

...rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge.

Mine has only three sonant r's, the others being inaudible - Shakespeare pours himself 5 in a close space.


1 P. 7.
2 P. 13.
3 ibid.
4 P. 14. The question asked was: Is the r-effect deliberate?

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All in her pointed to a nobler kind.1

It is a "connecting" line which prepares for what follows. It is sometimes good technique, as I think, to intersperse lines like that (provided they do not fall below standard), so as to give the intellect the foothold of a clear unadorned statement of the gist of what is coming, before taking a higher flight. This is of course a technique for long poems and long descriptions, not for shorter things or lyrical writing.


I refuse entirely to admit that that is poor poetry. It is not only just the line that is needed to introduce what follows but it is very good poetry with the strength and pointed directness, not intellectualised like Pope's, but intuitive, which we often find in the Elizabethans, for instance in Marlowe supporting adequately and often more than adequately his "mighty lines". But the image must be understood, as it was intended, in its concrete sense and not as a vague rhetorical phrase substituted for a plainer wording, - it shows Savitri as the forerunner or first creator of a new race. All poets have lines which are bare and direct statements and meant to be that in order to carry their full force; but to what category their simplicity belongs or whether a line is only passable or more than that depends on various circumstances. Shakespeare's

To be or not to be, that is the question2

introduces powerfully one of the most famous of all soliloquies and it comes in with a great dramatic force, but in itself it is a bare statement and some might say that it would not be otherwise written in prose and is only saved by the metrical rhythm. The same might be said of the well-known passage in Keats which I have already quoted:

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

The same might be said of Milton's famous line,

1 P. 14
2 Hamlet III.i

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Fall'n Cherub! to be weak is miserable.1

But obviously in all these lines there is not only a concentrated force, power or greatness of the thought, but also a concentration of intense poetic feeling which makes any criticism impossible. Then take Milton's lines,

Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade
Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair?2

It might be said that the first line has nothing to distinguish it and is merely passable or only saved by the charm of what follows; but there is a beauty of rhythm and a bhava or feeling brought in by the rhythm which makes the line beautiful in itself and not merely passable. If there is not some saving grace like that then the danger of laxity may become possible. I do not think there is much in Savltri which is of that kind. But I can perfectly understand your anxiety that all should be lifted to or towards at least the minimum Overhead level or so near as to be touched by its influence or at the very least a good substitute for it. I do not know whether that is always possible in so long a poem as Savitri dealing with so many various heights and degrees and so much varying substance of thought and feeling and descriptive matter and narrative. But that has been my general aim throughout and it is the reason why I have made so many successive drafts and continual alterations till I felt that I had got the thing intended by the higher inspiration in every line and passage. It is also why I keep myself open to every suggestion from a sympathetic and understanding quarter and weigh it well, rejecting only after due consideration and accepting when I see it to be well-founded. But for that the critic must be one who has seen and felt what is in the thing written, not like your friend who has not seen anything and understood only the word surface and not even always that; he must be open to this kind of poetry, able to see the spiritual vision it conveys, capable too of feeling the Overhead touch when it comes, - the fit reader.


1 Paradise Lost. I,157
2 Lycidas, 67-69

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Near to earth's wideness, intimate with heaven,
Exalted and swift her young large-visioned spirit
Voyaging through worlds of splendour and of calm
Overflew the ways of Thought to unborn things.
Ardent was her self-poised unstumbling will;
Her mind, a sea of white sincerity,
Passionate in flow, had not one turbid wave.
As in a mystic and dynamic dance
A priestess of immaculate ecstasies
Inspired and ruled from Truth's revealing vault
Moves in some prophet cavern of the gods,
A heart of silence in the hands of joy
Inhabited with rich creative beats
A body like a parable of dawn
That seemed a niche for veiled divinity
Or golden temple door to things beyond.
Immortal rhythms swayed in her time-born steps;
Her look, her smile awoke celestial sense
Even in earth-stuff and their intense delight
Poured a supernal beauty on metfs lives.
The great unsatisfied godhead here could dwell:
Vacant of the dwarf self's imprisoned air
Her mood could harbour his sublimer breath
Spiritual that can make all things divine.
For even her gulfs were secrecies of light.
At once she was the stillness and the word,
A continent of self-diffusing peace
As ocean of untrembling virgin fire.
In her he met a vastness like his own,
His high warm subtle ether he refound
And moved in her as in his natural home.

This passage1 is, I believe, what I might call the Overmind Intuition at work expressing itself in something like its own rhythm and language. It is difficult to say about one's own poetry, but I think I have succeeded here and in some passages later on in catching that

1 This description of Savitri in whom the God of Love found "his perfect shrine" was subsequently expanded from its original 31 lines of the 1936 version to 51 (pp. 14-16).

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very difficult note; in separate lines or briefer passages (i.e. a few lines at a time) I think it comes in not unoften.1


I am unable to accept the alterations you suggest2 because they are romantically decorative and do not convey any impression of directness and reality which is necessary in this style of writing. A "sapphire sky" is too obvious and common and has no significance in connection with the word "magnanimity" or its idea and "boundless" is somewhat meaningless and inapt when applied to sky. The same objections apply to both "opulence" and "amplitude"; but apart from that they have only a rhetorical value and are not the right word for what I want to say. Your "life's wounded wings of dream" and "the wounded wings of life" have also a very pronounced note of romanticism and do not agree with the strong reality of things stressed everywhere in this passage. In the poem I dwell often upon the idea of life as a dream, but here it would bring in a false note. It does not seem to me that magnanimity and greatness are the same thing or that this can be called a repetition. I myself see no objection to "heaven" and "haven"; it is not as if they were in successive lines; they are divided by two lines and it is surely an excessively meticulous ear that can take their similarity of sound at this distance as an offence. Most of your other objections

1 The statement was in reply to the question: "Are not these lines which I regard as the ne plus ultra in world-poetry a snatch of the sheer Overmind?" Considering Sri Aurobindo's remark in 1946 about his attitude ten years earlier - "At that time I hesitated to assign anything like Overmind touch or inspiration to passages in English or other poetry and did not presume to claim any of my own writing as belonging to this order" - and considering also that several lines of other poets which he had hesitated about were later adjudged by him to be from the Overmind, it seems certain that this passage which he had ascribed to the Overmind Intuition, a plane defined by him as not Overmind itself but an intermediate level, would have been traced by him to the supreme source if he had been privately asked about it again.

2 The alterations were suggested with reference to an additional passage between lines 20 and 21 in the description of Savitri as originally written in 1936. The passage was more or less the same as at present on p. 15, between lines 15 and 34 there, except that after line 21 and before line 28 stood the following:

As to a sheltering bosom a stricken bird
Escapes with tired wings from a world of storms,
In a safe haven of splendid soft repose
One could restore life's wounded happiness,
Recover the lost habit of delight, ...

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hang upon your over scrupulous law against repetitions....! consider that this law has no value in the technique of a mystic poem of this kind and that repetition of a certain kind can be even part of the technique; for instance, I see no objection to "sea" being repeated in a different context in the same passage or to the image of the ocean being resorted to in a third connection. I cannot see that the power and force or inevitability of these lines is at all diminished in their own context by their relative proximity or that that proximity makes each less inevitable in its place.

Then about the image about the bird and the bosom I understand what you mean, but it rests upon the idea that the whole passage must be kept at the same transcendental level. It is true that all the rest gives the transcendental values in the composition of Savitri's being, while here there is a departure to show how this transcendental greatness contacts the psychic demand of human nature in its weakness and responds to it and acts upon it. That was the purpose of the new passage and it is difficult to accomplish it without bringing in a normal psychic instead of a transcendental tone. The image of the bird and the bosom is obviously not new and original, it images a common demand of the human heart and does it by employing a physical and emotional figure so as to give it a vivid directness in its own kind. This passage was introduced because it brought in something in Savitri's relation with the human world which seemed to me a necessary part of a complete psychological description of her. If it had to be altered, - which would be only if the descent to the psychic level really spoils the consistent integrality of the description and lowers the height of the poetry, - I would have to find something equal and better, and just now I do not find any such satisfying alteration.

As for the line, about the strength and silence of the Gods,

[The strength, the silence of the gods were hers1]

that has a similar motive of completeness. The line about the "stillness" and the "word"

[At once she was the stillness and the word,]

give us the transcendental element in Savitri, for the Divine Savitri

1 P.16

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is the word that rises from the transcendental stillness; the next two lines

[A continent of self-diffusing peace,
An ocean of untrembling virgin fire]

render that element into the poise of the spiritual consciousness; this last line brings the same thing down to the outward character and temperament in life. A union of strength and silence is insisted upon in this poem as one of the most prominent characteristics of Savitri and I have dwelt on it elsewhere, but it had to be brought in here also if this description other was to be complete. I do not find that this line lacks poetry or power; if I did, I would alter it.


I doubt whether I shall have the courage to throw out again the stricken and "too explicit" bird into the cold and storm outside; at most I might change that one line, the first, and make it stronger. I confess I fail to see what is so objectionable in its explicitness; usually, according to my idea, it is only things that are in themselves vague that have to be kept vague. There is plenty of room for the implicit and suggestive, but I do not see the necessity for that where one has to bring home a physical image.


I have altered the bird passage and the repetition of "delight"1 at the end of a line; the new version runs -

As might a soul fly like a hunted bird,
Escaping with tired wings from a world of storms,
And a quiet reach like a remembered breast,
In a haven of safety and splendid soft repose
One could drink life back in streams of honey-fire,
Recover the lost habit of happiness,

1 An earlier line, not far from the one ending with the word "delight" in the first version of the Bird passage, had been pointed out as ending with the same word -

Even in earth-stuff, and their intense delight...

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Feel her bright nature's glorious ambiance,
And preen joy in her warmth and colour's rule.

The suggestion you make about the "soul" and the "bird" may have a slight justification, but I do not think it is fatal to the passage.1 On the other hand there is a strong objection to the alteration you propose; it is that the image of the soul escaping from a world of storms would be impaired if it were only a physical bird that was escaping: a "world of storms" is too big an expression in relation to the smallness of the bird, it is only with the soul especially mentioned or else suggested and the "bird" subordinately there as a comparison that it fits perfectly well and gets its full value.

The word "one" which takes up the image of the "bird" has a more general application than the "soul" and is not quite identical with it; it means anyone who has lost happiness and is in need of spiritual comfort and revival. It is as if one said: "as might a soul like a hunted bird take refuge from the world in the peace of the Infinite and feel that as its own remembered home, so could one take refuge in her as in a haven of safety and like the tired bird reconstitute one's strength so as to face the world once more."


My remarks about the Bird passage are written from the point of view of the change made and the new character and atmosphere it gives: I think the old passage was right enough in its own atmosphere, but not so good as what has replaced it: the alteration you suggest may be as good as that, but the objections to it are valid from the new viewpoint.


1 The suggestion was: "Although your new version carries a subtle multiform image more in tune, in my opinion, with the general vision of the rest of the description of Savitri, 'one' who is himself a soul is compared to 'a soul' acting like a bird taking shelter, as if to say: 'A soul who is doing so-and-so is like a soul doing something similar' - a comparison which perhaps brings in some loss of surprise and revelation."

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As to the sixfold repetition of the indefinite article "a" in this passage, one should no doubt make it a general rule to avoid any such excessive repetition, but all rules have their exception and it might be phrased like this, "Except when some effect has to be produced which the repetition would serve or for which it is necessary." Here I feel that it does serve subtly such an effect; I have used the repetition of this "a" very frequently m the poem with a recurrence at the beginning of each successive line in order to produce an accumulative effect of multiple characteristics or a grouping of associated things or ideas or other similar massings.

Almost they saw who lived within her light
Her playmate in the sempiternal spheres
Descended from its unattainable realms
In her attracting advent's luminous wake,
The white-fire dragon bird of endless bliss
Drifting with burning wings above her days.1

Yes; the purpose is to create a large luminous trailing repetitive movement like the flight of the Bird with its dragon tail of white fire.


All birds of that region are relatives.2 But this is the bird of eternal Ananda, while the Hippogriff is the divinised Thought and the Bird of Fire is the Agni-bird, psychic and tapas. All that however is to mentalize too much and mentalising always takes most of the life out of spiritual things. That is why I say it can be seen but nothing said about it.


1 P. 16. The question was: "Is an accumulating grandiose effect intended by the repetition of adjective-and-noun in four consecutive line-endings?"

2 The question was: "In the mystical region is the dragon bird any relation of your Bird of Fire with 'gold-white wings' our your Hippogriff with 'face lustered, pale-blue lined? And why do you write: 'What to say about him? One can only see'?"

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But joy cannot endure until the end.
There is a darkness in terrestrial things
That will not suffer long too glad a note.1

I do not think it is the poetic intelligence any more than Virgil's Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt 2, which I think to be the Higher Mind coming through to the psychic and blending with it. So also his 0 passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem.3

Here it may be the intuitive inner mind with the psychic fused together.

One dealt with her who meets the burdened great.4

Love? It is not Love who meets the burdened great and governs the fate of men! Nor is it Pain. Time also does not do these things - it only provides the field and movement of events. If I had wanted to give a name, I would have done it, but it has purposely to be left nameless because it is indefinable. He may use Love or Pain or Time or any of these powers but is not any of them. You can call him the Master of the Evolution, if you like.


1 Pp. 16-17. The question was: "Are these lines the poetic intelligence at its deepest, say, like a mixture of Sophocles and Virgil? They may be the pure or the intuitivised higher mind."
2 Aeneid, I.462. In 1946 Sri Aurobindo put the source of this line's inspiration much higher than he does here. See p.810.
3 Aeneid, I.199
4 The context of the line on p.17 is

One dealt with her who meets the burdened great.
Assigner of the ordeal and the path
Who chooses in this holocaust of the soul
Death, fall and sorrow as the spirit's goads,
The dubious godhead with his torch of pain
Lit up the chasm of the unfinished world
And called her to fill with her vast self the abyss.

The question was: "Who is 'One' here? Is it Love, the godhead mentioned before? If not, does this 'dubious godhead with his torch of pain' correspond to 'the image white and high of god-like Pain' spoken of a little earlier? Or is it Time whose 'snare' occurs in the last line of the preceding passage?"

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Her spirit refused struck from the starry list
To quench in dull despair the God-given light.

I omitted any punctuation1 because it is a compressed construction meant to signify refused to be struck from the starry list and quenched in dull despair etc, - the quenching being the act of consent that would make effective the sentence of being struck from the starry list.


This truth broke in in a triumph of fire.2

The line you object to on account of forced rhythm "in a triumph of fire" has not been so arranged through negligence. It was very deliberately done and deliberately maintained. If it were altered the whole effect of rhythmic meaning and suggestion which I intended would be lost and the alterations you suggest would make a good line perhaps but with an ordinary and inexpressive rhythm. Obviously this is not a "natural rhythm", but there is no objection to its being forced when it is a forcible and violent action that has to be suggested. The rhythm cannot be called artificial, for that would mean something not true and genuine or significant but only patched up and insincere: the rhythm here is a turn of art and not a manufacture. The scansion is iamb, reversed spondee, pyrrhic, trochee, iamb. By reversed spondee I mean a foot with the first syllable long and highly stressed and the second stressed but short or with a less heavy ictus. In the ordinary spondee the greater ictus is on the second syllable while there are equal spondees with two heavy stresses, e.g. "vast space" or in such a line as

He has seized life in his resistless hands.

1 A question was put to Sri Aurobindo: "Any punctuation missing? Perhaps a dash after 'refused' as well as after 'list' ?" In the final version, (p.19) these lines have been expanded to:

Her spirit refused to hug the common soil,
Or, finding all life's golden meanings robbed,
Compound with earth, struck from the starry list,
Or quench with black despair the God-given light.

2 p.21

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In the first part of the line the rhythm is appropriate to the violent breaking in of the truth while in the second half it expresses a high exultation and exaltation in the inrush. This is brought out by the two long and highly stressed vowels in the first syllable of "triumph" and in the word "fire" (which i n the elocution of the line have to be given their full force), coming after a pyrrhic with two short syllables between them. If one slurs over the slightly weighted short syllable in "triumph" where the concluding consonants exercise a certain check and delay in the voice, one could turn this half line into a very clumsy double anapaest, the first a glide and the second a stumble; this would be bad elocution and contrary to the natural movement of the words.


Certainly, Milton in the passages you quote1 had a rhythmical effect in mind; he was much too careful and conscientious a metrist and much too consummate a master of rhythm to do anything carelessly or without good reason. If he found his inspiration stumbling or becoming slipshod in its rhythmical effects, he would have corrected it.


In the two passages ending with the same word "alone"2 I think there is sufficient space between them and neither ear nor mind

1 And they bowed down to the Gods of their wives...
Burned after them to the bottomless pit...

2 P. 32

There knowing herself by her own termless self,
Wisdom supernal, wordless, absolute
Sat uncompanioned in the eternal Calm,
All-seeing, motionless, sovereign and alone.

With a gap of 61 lines occurs the passage (pp. 33-34)

The superconscient realms of motionless peace
Where judgment ceases and the word is mute
And the Unconceived lies pathless and alone.

The point raised was that, though "alone" was very fine in both cases, the occurrence of both in the context of a particular single whole of spiritual experience might slightly blunt for the reader the revelatory edge in the second case.

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need be offended. The word "sole" would flatten the line1 too much and the word "aloof" would here have no atmosphere and it would not express the idea. It is not distance and aloofness that has to be stressed but uncompanioned solitude.

Beyond life's arc in spirit's immensities.2

"'Spirit' instead of 'spirit's'" might mean something else, the word "spirit" as an epithet is ambiguous - it might be spiritistic and not spiritual.

The calm immensities of spirit Space.
The golden plateaus of immortal Fire
The moon-flame oceans of unfallen bliss

"Immensities" was the proper word because it helped to give the whole soul-scape of those worlds - the immensities of space, the plateaus of fire, the oceans of bliss. "Infinities" could just replace it, but now something has to be sacrificed. The only thing I can think of now is

The calm immunity of spirit Space...3

"Immunities" in the plural is much feebler and philosophically abstract - one begins to think of things like "quantities" - naturally

1 All-seeing, motionless, sovereign and alone.

2 P. 44. It may be noted that Sri Aurobindo's comment here is related only to a certain type of context, as is evident from the line apropos of which the very next comment is made.

3 Owing to the close occurrence of the word "immensities" in another line, "immunity" was here used. At present the original word has been restored in a new context (p.47) and the line comes at the end instead of at the beginning of the sequence:

Still regions of imperishable Light,
All-seeing eagle-peaks of silent Power
And moon-flame oceans of swift fathomless Bliss
And calm immensities of spirit Space.

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it suggested itself to me as keeping up the plural sequence but it grated on the sense of spiritual objective reality and I had to reject it at once. The calm immunity was a thing I could at once feel. With immunities the mind has to ask: "Well, what are they?"

And of the Timeless the still brooding face,
And the creative eye of Eternity.1

As to the exact metrical identity in the first half of the two lines, it was certainly intentional, if by intention is meant not a manufacture by my personal mind but the spontaneous deliberateness of the inspiration which gave the lines to me and an acceptance in the receiving mind. The first halves of the two lines are metrically identical closely associating together the two things seen as of the same order, the still Timeless and the dynamic creative Eternity both of them together originating the manifest world: the latter halves of the lines diverge altogether, one into the slow massiveness of the "still brooding face", with its strong close, the other into the combination of two high and emphatic syllables with an indeterminate run of short syllables between and after, allowing the line to drop away into some unuttered endlessness rather than cease. In this rhythmical significance I can see no weakness.

As if the original Ukase still held back.

I have accented on the first syllable as I have done often with words like "occult", "divine". It is a Russian word and foreign words in English tend often to get their original accent shifted as far backward as possible. I have heard many do that with "ukase".2


1 P. 41
2 This note of Sri Aurobindo's has been entered here for its intrinsic interest. The line in question runs at present (p. 75):

He read the original ukase kept back

page 774

Resiled from poor assent to Nature's terms.1

It ["resiled"] is a perfectly good English word, meaning originally to leap back, rebound (like an elastic) - so to draw back from, recoil, retreat (in military language it means to fall back from a position gained or to one's original position); but it is specially used for withdrawing from a contract, agreement, previous statement. It is therefore quite the just word here. Human nature has assented to Nature's terms and been kept by her to them, but now Aswapathy resiles from the contract and the assent to it made by humanity to which he belonged. Resiled, resilient, resilience are all good words and in use.

The incertitude of man's proud confident thought.2

"Uncertainty" would mean that the thought was confident but uncertain of itself, which would be a contradiction. "Incertitude" means that its truth is uncertain in spite of its proud confidence in itself,

Aware of his occult omnipotent source,
Allured by the omniscient Ecstasy,
He felt the invasion and the nameless joy.3

I certainly won't have "attracted" [in place of "allured"] - there is

1 P. 77 Sri Aurobindo's note apropos of this line was written when the line occurred in a context which contained no other phrases elaborating its sense. At present a further line follows:

The harsh contract spurned and the diminished lease

2 P. 78
3 These lines, to a comment on which Sri Aurobindo has replied, are the 1937 version. At present (p.79) the third line joins up with a passage immediately preceding the other two, thus:

A force came down into his mortal limbs,
A current from eternal seas of Bliss;
He felt the invasion and the nameless joy.

And the other two begin a new passage which continues after them:

A living centre of the Illimitable
Widened to equate with the world's circumference,
He turned to his immense spiritual fate.

But Sri Aurobindo's remarks do not lose their essential pertinence and force or their larger general implications.

page 775

an enormous difference between the force of the two words and surely "attracted by the Ecstasy" would take away all my ecstasy in the line - nothing so tepid can be admitted. Neither do I want "thrill" [in place of "joy"] which gives a false colour - precisely it would mean that the ecstasy was already touching him with its intensity which is far from intention.

Your statement that "joy" is just another word for "ecstasy" is surprising. "Comfort", "pleasure", "joy", "bliss", "rapture", "ecstasy" would then be all equal and exactly synonymous terms and all distinction of shades and colours or words would disappear from literature. As well say that "flashlight" is just another word for "lightning" - or that glow, gleam, glitter, sheen, blaze are all equivalents which can be employed indifferently in the same place. One can feel allured to the supreme omniscient Ecstasy and feel a nameless joy touching one without that joy becoming itself the supreme Ecstasy. I see no loss of expressiveness by the joy coming in as a vague nameless hint of the immeasurable superior Ecstasy.


That ["to blend and blur shades owing to technical exigencies"] might be all right for mental poetry - it won't do for what I am trying to create - in that, one word won't do for the other. Even in mental poetry I consider it an inferior method. "Gleam" and "glow" are two quite different things and the poet who uses them indifferently has constantly got his eye upon words rather than upon the object.

And driven by a pointing hand of Light
Across his soul's unmapped immensitudes.1

1 P. 80. The word "immensitude" occurs also on pp. 237 and 524;

A little gift comes from the Immensitudes...
In their immensitude signing infinity...

page 776

I take upon myself the right to coin new words. "Immensitudes" is not any more fantastic than "infinitudes" to pair "infinity".

["Would you also use 'eternitudes' ?"] Not likely! I would think of the French eternuer and sneeze.

The body and the life no more were all.

I still consider the line a very good one and it did perfectly express what I wanted to say. I don't see how I could have said it otherwise without diminishing or exaggerating the significance. As for "baldness", an occasionally bare and straightforward line without any trailing of luminous robes is not an improper element. E.g.

This was the day when Satyavan must die,1

which I would not remove from its position even if you were to give me the crown and income of the Kavi Samrat for doing it. If I have changed here, it is because the alteration all round it made the line no longer in harmony with its immediate environment.

Not at all ["bareness for bareness's sake"]. It was bareness for expression's sake, which is a different matter... It was "juste1'' for expressing what I had to say then in a certain context. The context being entirely changed in its sense, bearing and atmosphere, it was no longer juste in that place. Its being an interloper in a new house does not show that it was an interloper in an old one. The colours and the spaces being heightened and widened this tint which was appropriate and needed in the old design could not remain in the new one. These things are a question of design; a line has to be seen not only in its own separate value but with a view to its just place in the whole.2


1 P.10
2 The passage originally stood:

A cosmic vision looked at things through light:
Atomic now the shapes that loomed so large.
Illusion lost her aggrandising lens:
The body and the life no more were all,
The mind itself was only an outer court,
His soul the tongue of an unmeasured fire.

The passage then became;

A cosmic vision looked at things through light:
Illusion lost her aggrandising lens,
Atomic were her shapes that loomed so large
And from her failing hand her measures fell:
In the enormous spaces of the Self.
The living form seemed now a wandering shell;
Earth was one room in his million-mansioned house,
The mind a many-frescoed outer court,
His soul the tongue of an unmeasured fire.

At present some of the lines have changed places in the poem and the passage as it stands on page 82 is not quite the same.

page 777

As to the title of the three cantos about the Yoga of the King,1 I intended the repetition of the word "Yoga" to bring out and emphasise the fact that this part of Aswapathy's spiritual development consisted of two Yogic movements, one a psycho-spiritual transformation and the other a greater spiritual transformation with an ascent to a supreme power. The omission which you suggest would destroy this significance and leave only something more abstract. In the second of these three cantos there is a pause between the two movements and a description of the secret knowledge to which he is led and of which the results are described in the last canto, but there is no description of the Yoga itself or of the steps by which this knowledge came. That is only indicated, not narrated; so, to bring in "The Yoga of the King" as the title of this canto would not be very apposite. Aswapathy's Yoga falls into three parts. First, he is achieving his own spiritual self-fulfilment as the individual and this is described as the Yoga of the King. Next, he makes the ascent as a typical representative of the race to win the possibility of discovery and possession of all the planes of consciousness and this is described in the Second Book: but this too is as yet only an individual victory. Finally, he aspires no longer for himself but for all, for a universal realisation and new creation. That is described in the Book of the Divine Mother.


1 Book I. Canto 3: The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Soul's Release.
Canto 4: The Secret Knowledge.
Canto 5: The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Spirit's Freedom and Greatness.

page 778

Largior hie campos aether et lumine vestit
Purpureo, solemque suum, sua sidera norunt.1

I don't know ["what plane is spoken of by Virgil"], but purple is a light of the Vital. It may have been one of the vital heavens he was thinking of. The ancients saw the vital heavens as the highest and most of the religions also have done the same. I have used the suggestion of Virgil to insert a needed line.

And griefless countries under purple suns.2
Here too the gracious mighty Angel poured
Her splendour and her swiftness and her thrill,
Hoping to fill this new fair world with her joy.3

No, that ["pours" instead of "poured"] would take away all meaning from "new fair world" - it is the attempted conquest of earth by life when earth had been created - a past event though still continuing in its sequel and result.


The Mask is mentioned not twice but four times in this opening passage4 and it is purposely done to keep up the central connection of the idea running through the whole. The ambassadors wear this grey Mask, so your criticism cannot stand since there is no separate mask coming as part of a new idea but a very pointed return to the principal note indicating the identity of the influence throughout. It is not a random recurrence but a purposeful touch carrying a psychological meaning.


1 "Here an ampler ether spreads over the plains and clothes them in purple light, and they have a sun of their own and their own stars."
2 P. 120.
3 An earlier version of P. 130. lines 4-6
4 Pp. 202-203.

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And overcast with error, grief and pain
The soul's native will for truth and joy and light.1

The 'two trios are not intended to be exactly correspondent; "joy" answers to both "grief" and "pain" while "light" is an addition in the second trio indicating the conditions for "truth" and "joy".

All evil starts from that ambiguous face.

Here again the same word "face" occurs a second time at the end of a line2 but it belongs to a new section and a new turn of ideas. I am not attracted by your suggestion; the word "mien" here is an obvious literary substitution and not part of a straight and positive seeing: as such it sounds deplorably weak. The only thing would be to change the image, as for instance,

All evil creeps from that ambiguous source.

But this is comparatively weak. I prefer to keep the "face" and insert a line before it so as to increase a little the distance between the two faces:

Its breath is a subtle poison in men's hearts.

As to the two lines with "no man's land"3 there can be no capital in the first line because there it is a description while the capital is needed in the other line, because the phrase has acquired there the force of a name or appellation. I am not sure about the hyphen; it could be put but the no hyphen might be better as it suggests that no one in particular has as yet got possession.


1 P. 203.
2 P. 205. line 21 The first occurrence is ten lines earlier

All beauty ended in an aging face.

3 Pp. 206, 211.

page 780

The cliche you object to...'he quoted Scripture and Law' was put in there with fell purpose and was necessary for the effect I wanted to produce, the more direct its commonplace the better. However, I defer to your objection and have altered it to

He armed untruth with Scripture and the Law.1

I don't remember seeing the sentence about

Agreeing on the right to disagree

anywhere in a newspaper or in any book either; colloquial it is and perhaps for that reason only out of harmony in this passage. So I substitute

Only they agreed to differ in Evil's paths.2
Often a familiar visage studying...
His vision warned by the spirit's inward eye
Discovered suddenly Hell's trademark there.3

It is a reference to the beings met in the vital world, that seem like human beings but, if one looks closely, they are seen to be Hostiles; often assuming the appearance of a familiar face they try to tempt or attack by surprise, and betray the stamp of their origin - there is also a hint that on earth too they take up human bodies or possess them for their own purpose.

Bliss into black coma fallen, insensible.4

Neither of your scansions can stand. The best way will be to spell "fallen" "fall'n" as is occasionally done and treat "bliss into" as a dactyl.


1 P. 207.
2 P. 208.
3 P. 215.
4 P. 221.

page 781

Bliss into black coma fallen, insensible,
Coiled back to itself and God's eternal joy
Through a false poignant figure of grief and pain
Still dolorously nailed upon a cross
Fixed in the soil of a dumb insentient world
Where birth was a pang and death an agony,
Lest all too soon should change again to bliss.

This has nothing to do with Christianity or Christ but only with the symbol of the cross used here to represent a seemingly eternal world-pain which appears falsely to replace the eternal bliss. It is not Christ but the world-soul which hangs here.

Performed the ritual of her Mysteries.1

It is "Mysteries" with capital M and means "mystic symbolic rites" as in the Orphic and Eleusinian "Mysteries". When written with capital M it does not mean secret mysterious things, but has this sense, e.g. a "Mystery play".


An evolution from the Inconscient2 need not be a painful one if there is no resistance; it can be a deliberately slow and beautiful efflorescence of the Divine. One ought to be able to see how beautiful outward Nature can be and usually is, although it is itself apparently "inconscient" - why should the growth of consciousness in inward Nature be attended by so much ugliness and evil

1 p. 221.
2The question was in reference to a passage in the 1936 version which in the present one is much enlarged and runs from "It was the gate of a false infinite" to "None can reach heaven who has not passed through hell" (pp. 221-227): "The passage suggests that there was an harmonious original plan of the Overmind Gods for earth's evolution, but that it was spoiled by the intrusion of the Rakshasic worlds. I should, however, have thought that an evolution, arising from the stark ineonscient's sleep and the mute void, would hardly be an harmonious plan. The Rakshasas only shield themselves with the covering 'Ignorance', they don't create it. Do you mean that, if they had not interfered, there wouldn't have been resistance and conflict and suffering? How can they be called the artificers of Nature's fall and pain?"

page 782

spoiling the beauty of the outward creation? Because of a perversity born from the Ignorance, which came in with Life and increased in Mind - that is the Falsehood, the Evil that was born because of the starkness of the Inconscient's sleep separating its action from the secret luminous Conscience that is all the time within it. But it need not have been so except for the overriding Will of the Supreme which meant that the possibilities of Perversion by inconscience and ignorance should be manifested in order to be eliminated through being given their chance, since all possibility has to manifest somewhere: once it is eliminated the Divine Manifestation in Matter will be greater than it otherwise could be because it will combine all the possibilities involved in this difficult creation and not some of them as in an easier and less strenuous creation might naturally happen.


"From beauty to greater beauty, from joy to intenser joy, by a special adjustment of the senses" - yes, that would be the normal course of a divine manifestation, however gradual, in Matter. "Discordant sound and offensive odour" are creations of a disharmony between consciousness and Nature and do not exist in themselves, they would not be present in a liberated and harmonised consciousness for they would be foreign to its being, nor would they afflict a rightly developing harmonised soul and Nature. Even the "belching volcano, crashing thunderstorm and whirling typhoon" are in themselves grandiose and beautiful things and only harmful or terrible to a consciousness unable to meet or deal with them or make a pact with the spirits of Wind and Fire. You are assuming that the manifestation from the Inconscient must be what it is now and here and that no other kind of world of Matter was possible, but the harmony of material Nature in itself shows that it need not necessarily be a discordant, evil, furiously perturbed and painful creation - the psychic being if allowed to manifest from the first in Life and Mind and lead the evolution instead of being relegated behind the veil would have been the principle of a harmony out-flowing; everyone who has felt the psychic at work within him, free from the vital intervention, can at once see that this would be its effect because of its unerring perception, true choice, harmonic action. If it has not been so, it is because the dark Powers have

page 783

made life a claimant instead of an instrument. The reality of the Hostiles and the nature of their role and trend of their endeavour cannot be doubted by any one who has had his inner vision unsealed and made their unpleasant acquaintance.

And the articles of the bound soul's contract.1

Liberty is very often taken with the last foot nowadays and usually it is just the liberty I have taken here. This liberty I took long ago in my earlier poetry.


They wouldn't be heavens if they were not immune2 - a heaven with fear in it would be no heaven. The Life-Heavens have an influence on earth and so have the Life-Hells, but it does not follow that they influence each other in their own domain. Overmind can influence earth, so can the hostile Powers, but it does not follow that hostile Powers can penetrate the Overmind - they can't: they can only spoil what it sends to the earth. Each power of the Divine (life like mind and matter is a power of the Divine) has its own harmony inherent in the purity of its own principle - it is only if it is disturbed or perverted that it produces disorder. That is another reason why the evolution could have been a progressing harmony, not a series of discords through which harmony of a precarious and wounded kind has to be struggled for at each step; for the Divine Principle is there within. Each plane therefore has its heavens; there are the subtle physical heavens, the vital heavens, the mental

1 P. 231.
2 The question apropos of the canto called "The Paradise of the Life-Gods", pp. 233-37, ran: "Is the plane of the Life-Heavens perfectly immune? Is there no attack at times from the Life-Hells, no visitor from them thrusting in ? The Life-Heavens do have an influence on earth, don't they? And as the Life-Hells too have, don't they ever clash in the subtle worlds?... And what exactly is the basis of the vital harmony ? On the Overhead planes there is the consciousness of the One everywhere, but that can't happen here."

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heavens. If Powers of disharmony got in, they would cease to be heavens.

There Love fulfilled her gold and roseate dreams
And Strength her crowned and mighty reveries.1

"Gold and roseate dreams" cannot be changed. "Muse" would make it at once artificial. "Dreams" alone is the right word there. "Reveries" also cannot be changed, especially as it is not any particular "reverie" that is meant. Also, "dream" at the beginning of a later line1 departs into another idea and is appropriate in its place; I see no objection to this purposeful repetition. Anyway the line cannot be altered. The only concession I can make to you is to alter the first.2

All reeled into a world of Kali's dance.3

It is "world", not "whirl". It means "all reeling in a clash and confusion became a world of Kali's dance."

Knowledge was rebuilt from cells of inference
Into a fixed body flasque and perishable.4

"Flasque" is a French word meaning "slack", "loose", "flaccid" etc. I have more than once tried to thrust in a French word like this, for instance, "A harlot empress in a bouge" - somewhat after the manner of Eliot and Ezra Pound.


1 P.235

2 Adoring blue heaven with their happy dreams.

This line on the same page 234 ends now with the word "hymn".

3 P. 255.
4 P. 267.

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For Truth is wider, greater than her forms.
A thousand icons they have made of her
And find her in the idols they adore;
But she remains herself and infinite.1

"They" means nobody in particular but corresponds to the French "On dit" meaning vaguely "people in general". This is a use permissible in English; for instance, "They say you are not so scrupulous as you should be."


"Depths" will not do,2 since the meaning is not that it took no part in what came from the depths but did take part in what came from the shallows; the word would be merely a rhetorical nourish and take away the real sense. It would be easy in several ways to avoid the two "it"s coming together but the direct force would be lost. I think a comma at "it" and the slight pause it would bring in the reading would be sufficient. For instance, one could Write "no part it took", instead of "it took no part", but the direct force I want would be lost.

Travestied with a fortuitous sovereignty.3

I am unable to follow your criticism. I find nothing pompous or bombastic in the line unless it is the resonance of the word "fortuitous" and the many closely packed "t"s that give you the impression. But "fortuitous" cannot be sacrificed as it exactly hits the meaning I want. Also I fail to see what is abstract and especially mental in it. Neither a travesty nor sovereignty are abstract things and the images here are all concrete, as they should be to express

1 P. 276
2 P. 283 The reply is to: "Would it be an improvement if one of the two successive 'it's in

In the world which sprang from it it took no part

is avoided? Why not put something like 'its depths' for the first 'it'?"
3 P. 285

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the inner vision's sense of concreteness of subtle things. The whole passage is of course about mental movements and mental powers, therefore about what the intellect sees as abstractions, but the inner vision does not feel them as that. To it mind has a substance and its energies and actions are very real and substantial things. Naturally there is a certain sense of scorn in this passage, for what the Ignorance regards as its sovereignty and positive truth has been exposed by the "sceptic ray" as fortuitous and unreal,

That clasped him in from day and night's pursuit.1

I do not realise what you mean by "stickiness", since there are only two hard labials and some nasals; is it that combination which makes you feel sticky, or does the addition of some hard dentals also help? Anyhow, sticky or not, I am unwilling to change anything.

I do not want to put "day's" and "night's"; I find it heavy and unnecessary. It ought to be clear enough to the reader that "day and night" are here one double entity or two hounds in a leash pursuing a common prey.


"Lulling" will never do. It is too ornamental and romantic and tender. I have put "slumber" in its place.2


1 P. 289.
2 P. 294. The suggestion offered to Sri Aurobindo was: "Your line,

In a stillness of the voices of the world,

is separated by twenty lines from

In the formless force and the still fixity.

So there is no fault here in 'stillness', but an added poetic quality might come if 'stillness' were avoided and some such word as 'lulling' used, especially as the line before runs:

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A Panergy that harmonised all life.1

I do not think the word "Panergy" depends for its meaning on the word "energies" in a previous line. The "Panergy" suggested is a self-existent total power which may carry the cosmic energies in it and is their cause but is not constituted by them.


I have wholly failed to feel the poetic flatness of which you accuse the line

All he had been and all that now he was.

No doubt, the diction is extremely simple, direct and unadorned but that can be said of numberless good lines in poetry and even of some great lines. If there is style, if there is a balanced rhythm (rhyme is not necessary) and a balanced language and significance (for these two elements combined always create a good style), and if the line or the passage in which it occurs has some elevation or profundity or other poetic quality in the idea which it expresses, then there cannot be any flatness nor can any such line or passage be set aside as prosaic.


Your new objection to the line,

All he had been and all that now he was,

is somewhat self-contradictory. If a line has a rhythm and expressive turn which makes it poetic, then it must be good poetry; but I suppose what you mean is fine or elevated poetry. I would say that my line is good poetry and is further uplifted by rising towards its

1 P. 300 The point raised was: "That 'Panergy' is a fine coinage, but, by following the word 'energies' in the third line before it, does it not become a little bit obvious, losing its mysterious suggestion? I dare say 'energies' helps to make it clear, but is it necessary to prepare it ? Will not a better effect be produced by springing it suddenly upon the reader, preparing it only indirectly by using some synonym for 'energies' in the other line?"

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subsequent context which gives it its full poetic meaning and suggestion, the evolution of the inner being and the abrupt end or failure of all that had been done unless it could suddenly transcend itself and become something greater. I do not think that this line in its context is merely passable, but I admit that it is less elevated and intense than what precedes or what follows. I do not see how that can be avoided without truncating the thought significance of the whole account by the omission of something necessary to its evolution or else overpitching the expression where it needs to be direct or clear and bare in its lucidity. In any case the emended version - "All he had been and all towards which he grew"1 - cures any possibility of the line being merely passable as it raises both the idea and the expression through the vividness of image which makes us feel and not merely think the living evolution in Aswapathy's inner being.


1 P. 307

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