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At the Feet of The Mother

Correspondence 1932, January (II)


I shall go through Prabodh Sen’s letter, but it may take me some time. What is the exact scope of the discussion with Anilbaran,[1] is it that he does not recognise the reality of the mātrā vṛtta[2] as a separate principle of Bengali metre? That I suppose was the position before. Originally, indeed there was only one stream recognised, — that I remember very well, for it was the time when I was learning and assiduously reading Bengali literature; at that time what you now call svara vṛtta[3] was regarded as mere popular verse or an old irregular verse form. Afterwards with the advent and development of Tagore’s poetry, one began to hear of two recognised principles of Bengali metre, svara (I was going to say kṣara) and akṣara[4]. Is it Anilbaran’s contention that only these two are real and legitimate? Whatever it be Anilbaran is a born fighter and if you tell him that all the Mahârathis[5] are against him and his smashing defeat a foregone conclusion, he will only gallop faster towards the battle. My own difficulty is that I have not yet grasped the principle of the mātrā vṛtta — what is it that determines the long or the short mātrā in Bengali? Satyen Dutta’s dealings with it I can follow (…)

*   *   *


I don’t think I can suggest any corrections in Suhrawardy’s letter, except perhaps that “awe-struck importance’’ ought strictly to be “awe-striking”, since it is not the importance but the people who feel it who are awe-struck or want to be. The rest I find perfectly correct and well-written.

The “symbol” explanation is certainly one of the weakest of the many weak concessions that have been made to “Western rationalism” by Indian apologists who try to save their case by giving away nine-tenths of it. In a certain sense the gods are symbols, I suppose, but in that sense everything and everybody is a symbol, including the said surrenderful apologists themselves (…)

*   *   *

January 4, 1932

I am not competent in respect to the technique of Bengali poetry. I can only follow my feeling, what I call the inner ear — so on this point I can say nothing beyond my own feeling. In your first poems written here I thought that your rhythmic movement departed sometimes from the norm — I suppose that is what they mean by chhanda bhanga [a break in the metre]? — but on a second reading my impression was, more often than not, that there was a (rhythmic) justification for the departure. I do not know whether Buddhadev is referring to these poems or to others written before the opening of your poetic faculty here, which were poor both in expression and in rhythm. In any case, there can surely be no exception taken to your rhythm now; your mastery seems to me complete. I suppose in this province Tagore’s verdict can be taken as final.

On the general question the truth seems to me to be very simple. It is quite true that fine or telling rhythms without substance (substance of idea, suggestion, feeling) are hardly poetry at all, even if they make good verse. But that is no ground for belittling beauty or excellence of form or ignoring its supreme importance for poetic perfection. Poetry is after all an art and a poet ought to be an artist of word and rhythm, even though necessarily, like other artists, he must also be something more than that, even much more. I hold therefore that harshness and roughness, karkaśatā, are not merits, but serious faults to be avoided by anyone who wants his work to be true poetry and survive. One can be strong and powerful, full of sincerity and substance without being harsh, rough or aggressive to the ear. On one side Swinburne’s later poetry is a mere body of rhythmic sound without a soul, but what of Browning’s constant deliberate harshness and roughness which deprives much of his work of the claim to be poetry — it is already much discredited and it is certain that posterity will carefully and with good reason forget to read it? Energy enough there is and abundance of matter and these carry the day for a time and give fame, but it is only perfection that endures. Or if the cruder work lasts, it is only by association with the perfection of the same poet’s work at his best. I may say also that if mere rhythmic acrobacies of the kind to which you very rightly object condemn a poet’s work to inferiority and a literature deviating on to that line to decadence, the drive towards a harsh strength and rough energy of form and substance may easily lead to another kind of undesirable acrobacy and an opposite road towards individual inferiority and general decadence. Why should not Bengali poetry go on to the straight way of its progress without running either upon the rocks of roughness or into the shallows of mere melodies? Austerity of course is another matter — rhythm can be either austere to bareness or sweet and subtle, even luxurious — perfection can be attained in either of these extreme directions if the mastery is there.

As for rules — rules are necessary but they are not absolute; one of the chief tendencies of genius is to break old rules and make departures which create new ones. English poetry of today luxuriates in movements which to the mind of yesterday would have been anarchic license, chhanda bhanga, yet it is evident that has led to discoveries of new rhythmic beauty with a very real charm and power and opened out possible lines of growth, — however unfortunate many of its results may be. Not the formal mind, but the ear must be the judge.

I do not think the appreciation of poetry like yours is dependent on a new technique; it is as you say, something in the composition of the nature which responds or does not respond to the new note that determines the rejection or the acceptance. At the same time the development of this new note — the impression of a deeper yogic or mystic experience in poetry — may very well demand for its fullness new departures in technique, a new turn or turns of rhythm, but subtle in their difference rather than aggressive.

*   *   *

January 12, 1932

Your poem is very melodious and beautiful. I will explain it to the Mother this morning. It does not quite coincide with the scheme of the dance suggested by the Mother, as I heard it from her; but I have yet to ask her.

I did not receive the poem of Buddhadev you mention, but you sent me some before in which certainly there was no harshness. I was answering to what his karkaśatā might mean; to austerity (in its place, not as a general rule) I have no objection.

My letter to you is finished in a way, but still to be revised and copied.

*   *   *

January 12, 1932

It is indeed a very fine stanza in which you have embodied what the Mother wrote.[6] I will ask her about the translation in French.

There is just one point left. The greater part of your song — which, I prefer to say, the Mother finds very good, — expresses the seeking, but there were in the Mother’s scheme certain things that had to happen after that finding. (1) the immobility of wonder and ecstasy at the first revelation, (2) the first adoration (prostration), (3) the offering — of flowers, jewels, (4) the chant or expression of adoration, (5) the realisation that enough has not been done and the entire self-giving. To put all that verbally into the song would make it too long; but can the music be so arranged that Sahana can go through the indication of these movements leading up to the close in that magnificent last stanza?

*   *   *

January 1932

(“Radha’s Prayer,” composed by Mother for Sahana.)

La prière de Radha à Krishna

“Ô toi que j’ai, à première vue, reconnu comme le Seigneur de mon être, comme mon Dieu, accepte mon offrande!

“Ā Toi toutes mes pensées, toutes mes émotions, tous les sentiments de mon cœur, toutes les sensations, tous les mouvements de ma vie, chaque cellule de mon corps, chaque goutte de mon sang. Je suis tienne, absolument, intégralement tienne, tienne sans réserve. Ce que tu voudras de moi, je le serai. Que tu décides ma vie ou ma mort, mon bonheur ou ma peine, mon plaisir ou ma souffrance, tout ce qui me viendra de toi sera le bienvenu. Chacun de tes dons sera toujours pour moi un don divin apportant avec lui la Félicité Suprême.”[7]

*   *   *


[1] Anilbaran Roy (3 July 1890 – 3 November 1974), a professor of Philosophy. At the call of Deshbandhu C. R. Das he joined politics and became one of the leaders of the Freedom Struggle as waged by Mahatma Gandhi, and went to jail. Later on he gave up Gandhi’s ideal and turned to Sri Aurobindo. He joined Sri Aurobindo on May 24 1926.

[2] System of metrical measure depending on differentiating alphabetical letters into long and short.

[3] System of versification measured by the number of letters in each foot.

[4] System of versification in which the number of letters and not the sounds is taken into account.

[5] Great fighters.

[6] Probably a letter about a “Radha-dance” which Sahana was preparing and which Dilip was to accompany. Mother encouraged and helped Sahana.

[7] Translation (the second paragraph is in Mother’s translation):

Radha’s Prayer

“O You, whom at first sight I recognized as the Master of my being, as my God, accept my offering!

“Every thought of my mind, each emotion of my heart, every movement of my being, every feeling and every sensation, each cell of my body, each drop of my blood, all, all is Yours, Yours absolutely, Yours without reserve, You can decide my life or my death, my happiness or my sorrow, my pleasure or my pain; whatever You do with me, whatever comes to me from You will lead me to Divine Rapture.”

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