A Perspective on Poetic Artistry
Savitri is well-known as the supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual vision. In it, lofty Himalayan grandeur and plunging Pacific depths are given in soul-stirring poetry. Quotations are taken from these heights and depths, treatises are devoted to them, and scholars as well as lay readers pause at these powerful passages.
The poet’s afflatus continues in-between. Like the meadows at the foothills of the Himalayas and the beaches at the edges of the Pacific, metaphors of Kalidasan beauty and connections of windowed insight complete the poetic landscape. Savitri In-Between is a collection of such lines.
Do not read this collection to get the essence of Savitri or its story-line or its message or its most powerful expression. For that, read all of Savitri or one of the many summaries of it. What you will find here are simply all the in-between lines that best show the meticulous poetic artistry poured by Sri Aurobindo into Savitri.
While reading Savitri, it is easy to overlook the in-between lines because one gets enraptured by the summits. Yet there is poetic beauty everywhere and this collection invites you to enter into Savitri through a mezzanine doorway from the avenue of poetic craftsmanship.
To illustrate the method of selection, consider this powerful passage from one of the summits of Savitri, in Book I, Canto IV.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has called out of the Silence his mute Force
Where she lay in the featureless and formless hush
Guarding from Time by her immobile sleep
The ineffable puissance of his solitude.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has entered with his silence into space:
He has fashioned these countless persons of one self;
He lives in all, who lived in his Vast alone;
Space is himself and Time is only he.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Immune,
One who is in us as our secret self,
Our mask of imperfection he has assumed,
He has made this tenement of flesh his own,
His image in the human measure cast
That to his divine measure we might rise;
Then in a figure of divinity
The Maker shall recast us and impose
A plan of godhead on the mortal’s mould
Lifting our finite minds to his infinite,
Touching the moment with eternity.
This transfiguration is earth’s due to heaven:
A mutual debt binds man to the Supreme:
His nature we must put on as he put ours;
We are sons of God and must be even as he:
His human portion, we must grow divine.
Our life is a paradox with God for key.
This stunning passage obviously is not of an “in-between” nature and hence it is not included as a block in the lines compiled in this collection. Yet, in the middle of this passage is a revealing metaphor:
He has made this tenement of flesh his own
which does belong to this collection, and is included.
Another summit of Savitri is the passage in Book I, Canto II beginning with the line:
Near to earth’s wideness, intimate with heaven
Again, this passage is not included as a block in this collection, but several exquisite similes and metaphors from it are included:
A body like a parable of dawn …
A magnanimity as of sea or sky …
As might a soul fly like a hunted bird …
A continent of self-diffusing peace …
Line selection is subjective and is based on poetic artistry and craftsmanship recognized by an inner feel. Yet, though subjective, the experience is available to all who approach Savitri to appreciate its poetry.
Most of the selections display distinctive literary devices. For example, six out of the eight selections from Book I, Canto I are similes or metaphors:
As if a childlike finger laid on a cheek
Reminded of the endless need in things
Like a vague smile tempting a desert heart
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
Air was a vibrant link between earth and heaven
The wide-winged hymn of a great priestly wind
Arose and failed upon the altar hills
The high boughs prayed in a revealing sky
The calm delight that weds one soul to all,
The key to the flaming doors of ecstasy
Awake she endured the moments’ serried march
Nature descriptions are used by the poet at the beginning or the end of many significant passages to carry the reader into and out of those summits and depths. One of the selections in Book I, Canto I is such a nature description, with personification:
Dawn built her aura of magnificent hues
Another nature description, also with personification, is at the end of the entire collection:
Night, splendid with the moon dreaming in heaven
In silver peace, possessed her luminous reign
The remaining eighth selection from Book I, Canto I is a packed epigram, many of which occur throughout Savitri:
A fire has come and touched men’s hearts and gone
Another selection criterion is the expression of the core of a human emotion. For example, in Book VII, Canto I, Savitri’s cry to Satyavan:
O lover of my soul, give more, give more
And in Book VI, Canto I the despair of Savitri’s mother, the Queen:
As one she cried who in her heavy heart
Labours amid the sobbing of her hopes
The selections not only stand apart in the original, but are also substantially self-sufficient. The pithiest such expressions are chosen, sometimes just a few noncontiguous lines from a longer passage and sometimes just fragments of a line such as this one from Book II, Canto VII:
… sown grain of living death
Not only does this merely five-word phrase have the device of an oxymoron but also is it packed with enormous meaning and multiple suggestions. It evokes the cycle of life with the seed growing into a living plant which creates more seeds before it eventually dies. This is not just an act of wild Nature, but rather a “sown grain” which evokes a deliberate, planed act of a mental agency.
An example of a line from Book I, Canto I which has the literary device of personification and stands apart as a significant expression, but is not selected for this collection is:
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
As mentioned before, all selections and omissions are subjective. This one calls for surrounding context, and when the four line passage that includes this line is considered, it demands yet more context, about the “divine Event”:
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’ marge
The content of the poetry has not been given special consideration with respect to selection. For example, consider the term “divine” here, and in the earlier quotation the term “God”:
We are sons of God and must be even as he
These terms are used unconventionally in Savitri: gods signify forms and powers that humankind or Nature can evolve to become, as this line exhorts. Despite their exalted content, these lines are not in the selection for reasons already given. The following line with the term “God” is included in the collection because of the connotations of the word “loiters”:
In Nature’s instrument loiters secret God
Similarly, many other terms such as Beauty or Power or Love or Pain or Fate or Death are used in specialized ways. These two lines in the collection from Book VI, Cantos I and II, respectively, exemplify such themes:
Death is the gardener of this wonder-tree …
Fate is a balance drawn in Destiny’s book …
Every theme is considered equally in this all-encompassing quest with a perspective on poetic artistry and craftsmanship throughout Savitri.
While this collection presents the selected lines in the order in which they appear in Savitri, it can be read in any order. No special background in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy or Indian mythology or English poetry or any other subject is needed of readers of this collection. All that is needed is a fair knowledge of English, feel for the artistry in the expression, and willingness to reflect upon the astonishing and fecund stream of poetry.
All quotations are from the First Edition of Savitri republished by Savitri Foundation on 29 March 2012. Unless absolutely required to preserve meaning, punctuation has been removed for simpler presentation.
Compiled by Akash Deshpande