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At the Feet of The Mother

Correspondence 1931, July

July 2, 1931

Yes, your poem is very good, as usual; and the metre is very beautiful. I admire, admire.

I took drishtihārā as “blind”; I am not versed enough in the subtleties of the language to pronounce whether the average reader would find it ambiguous; perhaps he would. But if alakshita [unnoticed] is clearer, it is less vividly poetic.

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July 7, 1931

I return Pratibha’s[1] poems. Yes, they are indeed full of promise, there is a sweetness in the rhythm and a sincerity of poetic style which, if developed, may come to something of very real value.

I shall comment on your translations (Baudelaire and Shelley) tomorrow; as it is already 2.30 a.m., I have no time just now.[2]

I hope the undesirable feeling of which you speak will have disappeared by tomorrow — you ought certainly not to give it a full week’s life! If the cause is only what you state, there is no rational or irrational reason why it should last so long.

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July 11, 1931

Your translations.

1. Translation of Baudelaire,[3] very good, third and fourth verse superb. Literalness here does not matter so long as you are faithful to the spirit and the sense. But I don’t think you are justified in inserting indriyer [of the senses] — volupté here means a bold and intense pleasure of the higher vital, not the lesser pleasure of the senses, — it is the volupté you do actually get when you rise, whether inwardly or outwardly like the aviators into the boundless heights.

2. Shelley.[4] Good poetry, but as a translation vulnerable in the head and the tail. In the head because, it seems to me that your se dhan [that treasure] and tā bali [that’s why] lays or may lay itself open to the construction that human love is a rich and precious thing which the poet unfortunately does not possess and it is only because of this deplorable poverty that he offers the psychic devotion, less warm and rich and desirable, but still in its own way rare and valuable! I exaggerate perhaps, but, still if it is at all open to a meaning of this kind, then it says the very reverse of Shelley’s intended significance. For in English “What men call love” is strongly depreciatory, and can only mean something inferior, something that is poor and not rich, not truly love. Shelley says in substance, “Human vital love is a poor inferior thing, a counterfeit of true love, which I cannot offer to you. But there is a greater thing, a true psychic love, all worship and devotion, which men do not readily value, being led away by the vital glamour, but which the heavens do not reject, though it is offered from something so far below them, so maimed and ignorant and sorrow-vexed as the human consciousness which is to the divine consciousness as the moth is to the star, as the night is to the day. And will you not too accept this from me, you who in your nature are kin to the heavens, you who seem to me to have something of the divine nature, to be something bright and happy and pure far above the “sphere of our sorrow?” Of course all that is not said, but only suggested, but it is obviously the spirit of the poem. As to the tail, I doubt whether your last line brings out the sense of “something afar from the sphere of our sorrow.” If I make these criticisms at all, it is not because your version is not good, but because you have accustomed me to find in you a power of rendering the spirit and sense of your original while turning it into fine poetry in its new tongue which I would not expect or exact from any other translator.

3. Amal. I think here you have not so much rendered the English lines into Bengali as translated Amal into Dilip. Is not that the sense of your plea for Bengali colour and simile? Amal’s lines are not easily translatable, least of all, I imagine into Bengali. There is in them a union or rather a fusion of high severity of speech with exaltation and both with a pervading intense sweetness which it is almost impossible to transfer bodily without loss into another language. There is no word in excess, none that could have been added or changed without spoiling the expression, every word just the right revelatory one — no [overtones?], no ornamentations, but a sort of suppressed burning glow; no similes, but images which have been fused inseparably into the substance of the thought and feeling — the thought itself perfectly developed, not idea added to idea at the will of the fancy, but perfectly interrelated and linked together like the limbs of an organic body. It is high poetic style in its full perfection and nothing of all that is transferable. You have taken his last line and put in a lotus face and made divine love bloom in it, — a pretty image, but how far from the glowing impassioned severity of phrase, “And mould thy love into a human face”! So with your madhura gopane [in sweet secrecy] and the “heart to heart words intimate.” I do not suppose it could have been done otherwise, however, or done better; and what you write now is always good poetry — which is what I suppose Tagore meant to say when he wrote “Tomār ār bhay nāi” [You have no more fear.]

And after all I have said nothing about Huxley or Baudelaire!

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July 25, 1931

Your poem is magnificent in energy and beauty. Only, comparing its flame-force with the moth-like fragility of the little piping love-piece that provoked it, this poor Ananda might perhaps complain that you are guilty of crushing a butterfly with a thunderbolt. However, the complaints of the victim do not count in these cases; the gods probably hold that he ought to consider himself happy to be the occasion for so fine an outburst.

P.S. By the way is it true that there is an article by Tagore in one of the Bengali magazines in which he praises your poetry?

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July 31, 1931

I renounced the attempt to read Bijoychandra’s highly decorative Bengali handwriting — there are problems that are interesting but for which one has no time. I fell back on your letter, but I am at a loss about B’s genealogical tree. I presume however that the two chiefs are the chief of the Big Side and the Little Side respectively, and that that is the Rajbangsha. But who or where is the Raja? Is he also of the Big Side? or does he form a super-Big Side all by himself? It does not seem to me that B. has shed any further light on her reasons for embracing or dallying with Yoga.

As for Sarat Chatterji you know the difficulty with me is time and just now before the 15th I have less time than ever. But if you like to take the chance, you can send me the small story of which you speak. As for writing anything in appreciation, I don’t know; we will leave it for fate to decide. Meanwhile he ought to find your musical tribute sufficiently satisfying.

By the way, what on earth is yati bhanga [metrical fault or breach]? I have been wondering off and on since I read the (sufficiently patronising) criticism in the often defunct Bijali.[5]

Congratulations on the sparkles and the dreams. Are they dreams, though, or experiences on one of the inner planes? I think I have told you that the sparkles usually indicate an opening of the doors of the inner consciousness.

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[1] Wife of famous Bengali writer Sri Buddhadev Basu, herself an eminent writer of Bengali novels.

[2] Sri Aurobindo spent most of his nights answering the disciple’s letters.

[3] Baudelaire’s poem, “Élévation”.

[4] This refers to Shelley’s well-known poem:

I can give not what men call love,
But wilt thou accept not
The worship the heart lifts above
And the Heavens reject not—
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?

[5] A journal published by Barin.

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