January 26, 2006

Universal and personal

But I remain puzzled by the biggest "undiscovered" poet in English who's hiding in plain sight: Aurobindo Ghose. Not many modern poets have written epic poems. Savitri is in a class by itself. It's been turned into an opera, studied as a mystical text by thousands of Aurobindo's followers, but I've never come across a critical discussion of it as poetry. Yet by any rational measure, it's a phenomenal work:
  • Sheer number of lines (23,837)
  • Number of times rewritten (I believe it was six)
  • Scope of subject (a myth from the Vedas)
  • Length of time continuously in print (since 1951)

It's easy to see why Savitri is hard to approach. Vedic myths aren't exactly the common coin of Western culture. And I have to admit, I haven't read it all the way through. I actually made my way in it with the help of a friend's outline of the plot. And yet any fragment of it I have picked up I have savored. Whether it appealed entirely to my rational mind, every bit of it that I've looked at has appealed deeply to me esthetically and perhaps on other levels too. For example, this excerpt strikes me as universal, and personal in the best literary sense:

  • A silence sealed the irrevocable decree,
  • The word of Fate that fell from heavenly lips
  • Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse
  • Unless heaven's will itself could change its course.
  • Or so it seemed: yet from the silence rose
  • One voice that questioned changeless destiny,
  • A will that strove against the immutable Will.
  • A mother's heart had heard the fateful speech
  • That rang like a sanction to the call of death
  • And came like a chill close to life and hope.
  • Yet hope sank down like an extinguished fire.
  • She felt the leaden inevitable hand
  • Invade the secrecy of her guarded soul
  • And smite with sudden pain its still content
  • And the empire of her hard-won quietude.

Then, of course, there's the sheer awe I feel at the idea that he sustained such limpid imabic pentameter (blank verse) for more than 23,000 lines. Reading Savitri is kind of like reading The Lord of the Rings. You savor it as much for the awesome effort as the plot. posted by Rachel Dacus @ 11:53 AM Location:Northern California, United States Wednesday, January 25, 2006 Neglected poets

No comments:

Post a Comment