September 07, 2006

Of stunning spiritual resonance

What's Supramental, 24,000 Lines Long, and a Bit Purple?
Wednesday, September 06, 2006 posted by Gagdad Bob at 8:15 AM 5 comments
One Cosmos Under God by Robert W. Godwin
Continuing with the theme of desert island books, another one I would like to take along is Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem, Savitri, which attempts to pack the entirety of his yogic journey and spiritual vision into a mere 724 pages and 24,000 lines. Yes, it has the distinction of being the longest poem in the English language, on which he spent some 30-40 years working, right up until the moment of his death in 1950. Even after 1945, as he began losing his eyesight, he continued dictating it to an assistant line by line.
When I mentioned last week that I was suffering from brain fatigue and running low on ideas, occasional commenter Tusar suggested that I conduct a line by line analysis of Savitri. Right. Even doing ten lines a day would require some seven years. That’s why I need to have it on the desert island, so I finally have the time to finish it.
Savitri is not meant to be an ordinary poem, but an example of what Aurobindo called “overmental poetry,” using language in such a way as to rhythmically make present the plane of consciousness described in the poem. As he explained it, “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 from the same mint.” The poem was not written merely for aesthetic reasons, but “as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one’s own yogic consciousness...”
The poem revolves around a simple story taken from the Mahabarata, that of the childless sage, Aswapathy, who is granted the boon of a daughter, Savitri, regarded as an incarnation of the Divine Mother. She marries Satyavan, the son of an exiled king, even though he is fated to die after one year. They spend a difficult but happy year together living in the forest, before Satyavan is visited by Yama, the God of Death. Savitri carries on a lengthy debate with Yama, and he is so enchanted that he restores Satyavan’s life. Thus, the story is ultimately an allegory of conjugal love conquering death.
But the canvas of the poem is the entirety of cosmic evolution, encompassing all the planes of consciousness, from inconscient matter to the divine realms above. Aswapathy, for example, represents a symbol of the human soul descended on earth from divine heights, gripped by death and ignorance but trying to re-ascend by acquiring knowledge of the eternal Self. In short, he is a metaphor for the spiritual journey of the aspiring soul, while Savitri is symbolic of the logos, or divine word. The characters are not intended to be personal but universal symbols of living and conscious cosmic forces.
I noticed that one reviewer on amazon mentioned that there are parts of Savitri that will strike modern ears as rather overly ornate and “purple.” True, but this is an artifact of Aurobindo’s education at Cambridge in the late 19th century, when that was the poetical fashion of the day. But at the same time, you can open the book to most any page and find passages of stunning spiritual resonance, at least if you are open to the effect.
As a matter of fact, in my poetic little metamythall in the opening section of One Cosmos (page 7), I was trying in my own inscrutable way to evoke the following opening lines of Savitri, which similarly attempt to describe the unknowable state of affairs prior to time, space, or even God (for God only knows himself through creation): It was the hour before the Gods awake...

No comments:

Post a Comment