July 02, 2009

The Life Divine should sometimes also be read aloud

THE POETRY OF SRI AUROBINDO:

MANTRA, METRICS AND MEANING

BY ROD HEMSELL

Sri Aurobindo has devoted twenty years of yogic force to writing poetry that he thought could change things, change minds and bring down god into the lives of men. It was a very serious undertaking. He has written guidelines to help us, as well as the poems. If we are going to make use of these poems, then we first of all have to do something which he said is very far from our training and conditioned abilities. No age, he says, has been farther removed from the ability to appreciate, understand, and use this kind of poetry. We should take that seriously. We have to read and to hear the poem. […]

That’s why The Life Divine should sometimes also be read aloud. There are passages in The Life Divine where he is paraphrasing the Bhagavad-Gita and there are paragraphs and full pages of pure Upanishadic speech. If you are trying to read it line by line and para by para with your mind to figure out what he is saying, I assure you, you will miss all of it. [...] One of the points that I hope will penetrate everyone’s understanding is that it is necessary to dwell upon these poems and listen to them very un-interpretively, nonmentally. […]

He says in the essay that goes along with these experimental poems, On Quantitative Metre, that this is a new transformational mantric poetry, which conveys directly to the hearing the meaning. Here he stops being theoretical and philosophical, or teaching in the conventional sense, and he takes on the role of transmitting from the infinite hearing the sound, which changes us; the vibrational structure of the disciple is informed and altered by the sound. The only way to understand this is to practice it. With Sri Aurobindo poetry becomes practice. These poems were not written for The Literary Review or for mass circulation. We are here in this continuum of exposure in order to discover something that is not well known, and it is quite extraordinary. […]

Another thing that I recommend, even though it doesn’t get you where you want to be, is that it is useful as an exercise from time to time to go through a poem line by line; read aloud through it a couple of times and note the metrics, the metric structure. You will run into things that are difficult and you will not be able to figure it out. Then after a few more times it starts to shift, and finally you find the groove. This is just a demonstration that the truth of the poem, with respect to either the structure or the meaning, does not appear immediately in the consciousness, even if there is a very subtle receptivity, because the sound weight is the thing Sri Aurobindo is using. It is the tool he uses to change the vibrational structure of the being. There is a shift, you can feel the presence at one level, and ultimately you can pass into the absolute identity with what he is seeing. That is the outcome he wants. A new consciousness begins to understand something new. He doesn’t want us to get the idea. Everybody can get the idea. […]

If we practice Sri Aurobindo’s yoga of poetry, it can be very similar to a daily or weekly visit to the Matrimandir chamber. You can take a Canto of Savitri, or one or two short poems dealing with a certain spiritual consciousness, and immerse yourself in those poems for half an hour or an hour and you are transported into a completely different vibrational range. It can be a practice like going to the Matrimandir occasionally to become transparent. I have no doubt that Sri Aurobindo intended that. His poems are attempts to capture a certain vibration that carries a consciousness of a reality and he has concentrated on communicating these various planes and types of experience in the poems. So, we will know at a certain moment that we have received that intention. Then you can go back to it and gradually familiarize yourself with that way of seeing. And it is very specific. […]

We have to remember that Sri Aurobindo has been practicing this Supramental Yoga for twenty years, pulling this force down into his body, and there is nothing else but that. It‘s illimitable energy. He is conveying that; this is his experience. We need to be aware that Sri Aurobindo’s poetry is about energies, qualities, ideas that are beyond our normal range.

Imagine harmonizing in sound all the richness of cosmic emotion. That is Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the poetry of the future, which he was in fact to write himself. For these ideas were written in 1922, and Savitri was composed especially between 1930 and 1950. This is the type of mantric poetry that he is trying to achieve in the poems that we have just read, also written between 1930 and 1950. The long essay on quantitative metre that we have been studying was written in 1942, when he was already well into the writing of Savitri, and both are elaborations of what he had envisioned two decades earlier.

The silence becomes the background of the sonic subtleties and tonalities but, they are always there against the Silence in the background, not in the foreground. Establishing that Silence in that poem, that immobility, that touch of immortality is the backround for this intuitive exploration of all the subtleties of existence. There are no reactions in that, there is only bringing to light everything that is there in existence, painful, or joyful, or beautiful or terrible. […]

The poetry shows you a vision through metaphor and simile of something like we saw in Shelley’s description of the battle of good and evil: first there was the storm roiling around and then there was a calmness in the middle of the storm and then there came the two symbolic creatures fighting in the air until finally one falls into the sea and swims into the bosom of the soul herself sitting on a rock at the water’s edge. We have a powerful metaphor of this battle of good and evil raging around us, especially at that time when the French Revolution was going on, being observed from above and from within by the poet. So in Savitri also, we find line after line, page after page, utilizing exactly this form and expressing this kind of spiritual view of things. Shelley wasn’t telling us about the French Revolution; he was telling us about the Eagle and the Snake, about the universal forces of Evil and Good, and especially about his deep inner vision and feeling of those things. […]

Those who know Greek and who have understood Sri Aurobindo’s close affinity to the Greek poets – Amal Kiran being one of those, – have recognized that Sri Aurobindo was equally a master of Greek and Latin as he was of Sanskrit and English. When you study Ilion you find out all about the gods of the Greeks, in great detail. Sri Aurobindo was unbelievably closely attuned to that realm of beings, those realities. He commented somewhere that reading Homer in the original was literally to bring the gods down from Mount Olympus, to make them live. He did it. He reincarnated the whole pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses in this book called Ilion. It is amazing, it is extraordinary. It raises another question for me that is closely aligned with the later chapters of The Life Divine and our evolutionary exploration, where at one point Sri Aurobindo goes into a very elaborate and totally incomprehensible description of the planes of existence above the physical, the vital, and the mental. […]

One of the things that is possible through a mantric epic overmind poetry is a glimpse of the meaning of time, the reality itself, a glimpse of the reality of power itself, a glimpse of the reality of beauty itself. (These are more interesting than time we suppose.) A glimpse of the reality of love itself. I would suggest that one of the reasons why Sri Aurobindo was preoccupied with Ilion is exactly this. He was interested in communicating these realities. His whole experiment with poetry was to create a language that makes it possible to do that. Now, as we also learned in the early stages of this course, this is a poetry of sound. You absolutely cannot hear the meaning of Ilion by reading the page.

The big question then is, how does it sound? Not, what does it mean? What is the sound of the meaning of time? If it is possible to know the answer to that question, then this poem Ilion says it. So it is important. And it belongs to Sri Aurobindo’s very particular, special art and theory of poetry. We at least should have a grasp of it in our bank of stored impressions, which fade surprisingly quickly. And then, fortunately it also exists on the page, so we can recover it from time to time.

1 comment:

  1. Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

    http://www.YogaVidya.com/gita.html

    ReplyDelete