October 11, 2015

Prema Nandakumar all ears amid the Romantics

Amid the leaves the inmate voices called
Prema Nandakumar 
Mother India, October 2015

Half a century ago, our introduction to the Romantics was sumptuous and complete... In effect, I can say I bid goodbye to my collegiate education with a musical, memorable bang: the Romantics... Probably this togetherness in appreciation among the poets is what has kept me close to the Romantics, for there is a touch of the spiritual in it, a going beyond one's own 'self'...

Such was my early initiation into English poetry that became a lifelong honeymoon... But the years since graduation remained a blaze as far as poetry was concerned because I had chosen Savitri for my doctoral research... That love for English poetry that I gained in my early years was made a permanent way of life when I came into the charmed world of Sri Aurobindo's writings. › English › Works of Other Authors "What exactly does the epithet 'romantic' mean? ... The two terms, Classical and Romantic, have caused havoc in literary criticism ... Dr. Prema Nandakumar

The plane of Romanticism is not easily defined: it is actually a mix of intellectual reflection and rainbow tinted emotion, though we may view it with some accuracy as belonging to the plane of creative Intelligence. The post-Elizabeth Romantic phase reveals this very well, for the scientific temper had complicated the creative process. Speaking of the modern intelligence, Sri Aurobindo says that it "sets more comprehensively to work, opens itself to all manner of the possibilities of truth and to a crowding stream and mass of interests, a never satisfied minuteness of detail, an endless succession of pregnant generalisations."

The French Revolution and after saw the Romantic Movement grow lush with inspirations from Rousseau. Sri Sethna notes a vital connection between Rousseau's mystical experiences of his mind being "dazzled by a thousand lights" and Wordsworth's "forgers of daring tales". An electric freedom marks the best writings of the English Romantics. 'Kubla Khan' is the high water-mark of this Movement and Coleridge's poem was hailed by Sri Aurobindo as "a genuine supraphysical experience caught and rendered in a rare hour of exaltation with an absolute accuracy of vision and authenticity of rhythm". Thus do we enter the world of mysticism and spirituality.

The rest of Classical and Romantic may be termed as, aftercourses. The mystic vein in the great Romantics is a first step towards spiritual poetry of the future. Certainly it is neither a 'loss of nerve' (as F.L. Lucas would have it) nor decadence if poets choose to twang the lyra mystica.

Though he wanders happily over such a widespread subject with the help of his closeness to other languages and daunting scholarship, Sri Sethna never lets go his firm hold on the Aurobindonian approach to the two terms. There is an enviable clarity as well as a bubbling enthusiasm that spills through the cold print in this handsome publication. One can only imagine the Delight that must have pervaded the classroom when the chapters were being delivered as lectures by the author. It is well the Ashram has chosen to publish the lectures and make them available to a larger audience outside Pondicherry. For,Classical and Romantic is a perfect guide for the pedagogue who has to deal with graduate courses in English literature in India's sprawling academia.
— Dr. Prema Nandakumar
Critic and Freelance Writer
April 1999

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