On the occasion of Amal-kiran’s eighty-sixth birthday fourteen years ago Sonia Dyne had offered him a bouquet of flowers from an English garden:
Send to him snowdrops that the sun’s cool kiss
The bunch is still fresh and fragrant carrying the authentic inspiration that had prompted her to express the jubilation which becomes hundredfold brighter and richer today. In the Ramayana there is an episode describing the garland of flowers the Rishis of the Matangavana had left with Shabari to put at the feet of the Avatar. It perhaps remains sparkling-new and sweet-scented even today,—because it was charged with their tapasya. There is an element of it in the English and that must be very endearing to Amal. His love for the language is something which, to enter into the spirit of Sri Aurobindo’s works, into their vastness and spiritual sublimity, we should always cherish with keener warmth and enthusiasm. We must acquire both intuitive and professional command over it. All the shades and nuances of English poetry Amal knows with absolute thoroughness even as they become an aspect of his creative personality. Everything from Canterbury Tales to Savitri flows in his blood-streams. Once I told Amal that he will be carrying English poetry along with him to the next life which he with a confirming smile seemed to savor. It has become a part of his psychic being. A polymath he is and there is nothing to doubt in it, but it is only with poetry that his flame of diamond zeal rises to sky above purple-blue sky in its flight towards truth and beauty and delight.
Once the Mother mentioned that Amal’s personal number is 15. It reduces to 1+5=6, the number corresponding to “The New Creation”. This is symbolised by the commonly known flower tuberose or Nishigandha. But the Mother considered his flower to be the one she named “ Krishna’s Light in the Mind”. A certain cosmicity of intellectual perception shines through all his writings, acquiring even spiritual intensity in his poetry.
While reviewing Amal-kiran’s collected poems The Secret Splendour in the Hindu of 27 September 1994 K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar has the following to say. Amal is a “lyric genius whose sensitive responses to English and French poetry have filled his poems with honeyed delight. He can coerce us into entering the worlds of the spirit with effortless ease… The pain-defying Ananda that marks these poems is a welcome gift for a world wallowing in self-pity. Sri Aurobindo’s comments add to the value of this lyra mystica and give us a clear idea of how fine poems are shaped on a creative anvil.”
Yes, “creative anvil”. Amal had graduated himself with flying colours from the poetry department that was run by Sri Aurobindo during the 1930s. His batchmates were wonderful giants like Arjava (Arjavananda was the name given to the British logician-poet J. A. Chadwick by Sri Aurobindo ), Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Dilip Kumar Roy, Nishikanto, Nirodbaran, Jyotirmayi—just to name a few. Reflecting on a joint photo of Amal and Harin belonging to this period, this is what Amal says: “Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, already famous, and Amal-kiran still in the world’s background but with Sri Aurobindo’s grand certificate in his pocket. Harindranath looks sweetly satisfied, with a calm smile on his handsome clean-shaven front-face, a sense of extraordinary achievement happily tracing it, whereas his companion rather lanky and somewhat taller, with a tiny moustache and a close-cut fringe of beard, appears to strain his gaze towards a future” which, to quote Meredith, “lends a yonder to all ends.” Harin, “overburdened with the favours of the goddess,” was already famous with his The Feast of Youth which was reviewed by Sri Aurobindo himself in the November 1918 issue of the Arya. In the early time his poetry was full of “imagination, beauty and colour of phrase and a moving sentiment” with a promise of great mystic-spiritual efflorescence. But the promise remained unfulfilled. One wonders whether the gift of the goddess was not frittered away. The mystic possibility was squandered and only the tinsel gave joy to the emotional-vital. The roots were not deep enough. About his best mystical creations during the three years of stay in the Ashram, Sri Aurobindo says that Harin’s “poems came from the inner mind centre, some from the Higher Mind—other planes may have sent their message to his mind to put in poetic speech, but the main worker was the poetic intelligence which took what was given and turned it into something very vivid, coloured and beautiful,—but surely not mystic…” The domains of spiritual speech or else of the deeper psychic utterance stayed unexpressed in him.
It is here we see the distinctive advance made by Amal in the poetry workshop of the Master. When Harin left the Ashram in 1933 he sold his bicycle to his young poet-friend Amal who used it on the quiet streets of Pondicherry of those days. But on the via mystica he had gone far ahead crossing the boundaries of our space and time. To appreciate the niceties of poetic expression let us take the following comment of Sri Aurobindo made in one his letters to him: “The poetry of the Illumined Mind is usually full of play of lights and colours, brilliant and striking in phrase, for illumination makes the Truth vivid—it acts usually by a luminous rush. The poetry of Intuition may have a play of colour and bright lights, but it does not depend on them—it may be quite bare; it tells by a sort of close intimacy with the Truth, an inward expression of it. The Illumined Mind sometimes gets rid of its trappings, but even then it always keeps a sort of lustrous robe which is its characteristic.” This is well illustrated by Amal’s poem Agni, for example:
Not from the day but from the night he’s born,
Sri Aurobindo comments: “The last six lines… have a breath of revelation in them; especially the image ‘my heart has grown his glimmering East’ and the extreme felicity of ‘the yearning curves of life are lit to a smile’ have a very intense force of revealing intuitively—and on a less minute, larger scale there is an equal revealing power and felicity in the boldness and strength of the image in the last three lines. These six lines may be classed as ‘inevitable’, not only separately but as a whole. The earlier part of the poem is also fine, though not in the same superlative degree—the last two lines have something of the same intuitive felicity, though with slighter less intense touches, as the first two of the (rhymeless) sestet—especially in the ‘alchemic touch’ of the ‘minstrel hands’. Lines 2 to 5 have also some power of large illumination.”
The occurrence of ‘alchemy’ in Amal’s sonnet entitled Sky-Rims has a fine history which immediately illustrates the care with which Sri Aurobindo attended to details with respect to mot juste in poetic compositions. He appreciated the poem very much except, writes Amal, “for the last line which seemed insufficiently shot with revelatory turn of sight and sound. To fill the lacuna I invoked the Muse day after day. Harin was a close friend at that time and he too sportingly took up the challenge for me. Actually the fault of the non-revelatory was that it ran: ‘To yet another revelatory dawn!’ Sri Aurobindo found the adjective of my choice ‘flat and prosaic, at any rate here.’ The best I could do at the end of several experiments was: ‘To yet another ecstasy of dawn.’ Sri Aurobindo’s comment was: ‘It is better than anything yet proposed. The difficulty is that the preceding lines of the sestet are so fine that anything ordinary in the last line sounds like a sinking or even an anticlimax. The real line that was intended to be there has not yet been found.’ I made one more attempt and wrote to Sri Aurobindo: ‘I have got Harin to put his head together with mine. He has come up with ‘lambency of dawn’. A good phrase, no doubt—but I wonder if it suits the style and atmosphere and suggestion in my sonnet. After over a fortnight of groping I have myself struck upon: ‘To yet another alchemy of dawn!’ Do you like my ‘alchemy’? Sri Aurobindo replied: ‘That is quite satisfactory—you have got the right thing at last.’ ” The Fire-worshipper passed the Fire-test, Agni-Parikshā. What Harin had in his pocket and Amal didn’t—the “grand certificate”—he now got with letters calligraphed in gold.
About Agni the Fire-God Amal writes: “If I visualise in his role of all-refiner as a splendour in front of me, I thrust my dross out of my body and feel liberated from it. As a Parsi, dubbed ‘fire-worshipper’ in religious classification, I had been accustomed to face in temple or at home the urn bearing the golden bouquet of flames flying up, sustained by logs of fragrant sandalwood. This fire addressed as ‘Son of God’ in the Avesta, the Zoroastrian scripture, symbolised the Divine Presence in the midst of the world, in the midst of each living creature, an ‘objective correlative’ of the ineffable secrecy in the human heart.” The true nature of this God was revealed to him by Sri Aurobindo after his arrival at the Ashram in December 1927. Agni is the immortal in the mortal leading us on the upward climbing slopes of Heaven—even as in the Aurobindonian experience he comes down into us and shapes our thought and feeling and will in his own splendour and amethyst sovereignty. He makes those who are receptive to him living centres of blue-and-gold infinitudes. A conscious effort on our part is needed. But rare is such a conscious effort and rarer yet the guiding Light leading us on the path. “The yearning curves of life are lit to a smile” only when is present the incarnate Divine amongst us.
But the yearning soul of a poet is always in search of the smile of beauty held in its embrace by the truth of the creative spirit. Arthur Rimbaud had made a pertinent insightful discovery, that one must be a seer, that one must make oneself a seer. He held that “the poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses.” The last phrase is somewhat puzzling. Rimbaud’s own life was a question mark in spite of his association with Paul Verlaine who had introduced him to the nineteenth century literary circles of Paris . Rimbaud was a “mystical thief of fire” and believed in purification by dissolution. It is acceptable that we must not depend upon the senses because their faulty workings invariably cause distortions in our understanding. Their disbandment is therefore perfectly justified. Instead we should always employ higher and keener instruments of perception. In the context of spiritual poetry it certainly implies making the mind silent in order to receive the Word carrying with it the excellences of sight and sound and sense. It is this which becomes consistent with Rimbaud’s concept of the ultimate quest, of knowing the self and the soul. His Le Bateau Ivre—The Drunken Boat— “the most influential French lyric of the nineteenth century”—is undoubtedly a fine exposé of his poetic ideas. But he had no recipe to offer as to how to become a seer. A commentator of Rimbaud’s poetry has an Indian theory for it. But the “derangement of senses” by the severe practices of five forbidden things of the Tantra, by avoiding meat, fish, wine, mudra—a hallucinogenic seed—and not indulging in sexual intercourse, as is at times suggested cannot take us to the drunken boat for a felicitous literary voyage across the strange seas of thought. The uniqueness of Sri Aurobindo’s Department of Poetry lies precisely in its founding a new aesthesis of the spirit and making it a part of the creative experience itself. He sees its springs in the grades of consciousness climbing all the way up to the Overmental regions. These can also plunge into the inner depths and give a kind of occult density charged with the glow of some hidden sun, meet the “Fire burning on the bare stone” or, to use Amal’s somewhat surrealistic phrase, be in possession of a diamond burning upward in the roofless chamber walled by the ivory mind. Not only does the Master see and locate all these inner and upward-ascending grades; he also asserts that their powerful or else revelatory currents have to rush in our well-prepared mind and heart and soul and spirit. The discipline of poetry itself thus turns into a field of work for making progress of every kind, literary, aesthetic, occult, spiritual. Artistic perfection carrying with it authentic emotional felicity at that time starts acquiring the qualities of the expressive soul itself. Mystical experience then just becomes one aspect of its rich and many-dimensional possibilities.
We have a good glimpse of it in AE’s (George William Russell) The Vesture of the Soul . When he says
…I could not guess
…The royal robe I wear
he somehow gets in contact with that mystical source of inspiration. “AE at his highest inspiration is,” writes Amal, “as great as Yeats but he hasn’t Yeats’s subtly rich incantation-effect…. AE has his own music even as he has his own moods. But there is a spell-binding by words, which Yeats commands very often and AE very seldom. AE can be delicate and intuitive, colourful and revelatory: what he does not have as a rule is that verbal spell-binding—an art which to those who are sensitive to the soul of words is most precious…. Yet to make Yeats the touchstone of poetry is misguiding; for the spell-binding art of subtly rich incantation is one of the rare modes of poetry and does not comprise all the poetic modes.” Amal the critic is in his glorious shades here. As a furious critic he can also be devastating.
But first let us take another example of this aesthesis of the spirit, of Arjava’s Moksha dated 25 August 1933 . Its middle stanza is as follows:
Each man is wildered myriadly by outsight and surface tone
In his copy of Arjava’s Poems published in 1939 Amal makes the following note: “I have not been able to trace the comment, but I remember that Sri Aurobindo praised the poem very highly and remarked about lines 7 and 8 [lines 3 and 4 in the above quote] that they had come perhaps from some of the highest levels of inspiration that had been reached in the world’s poetic history. Afterwards he wrote to me that they originated in: ‘Illumined Mind with an Intuitive element and a strong Overmind touch.’ ( 7 March 1934 ) These lines can be considered what Sri Aurobindo regarded as ‘Mantra’ in the spiritual sense.”
But what is Mantra? Let us read what Amal wrote apropos of it in one of his letters in 1990: “All great literature is at the same time sculpture and music. In Savitri and The Life Divine there is not only artistic rhythm: there is also the wing-beat of the Mantra, the significant sound that lives in a modulated phrase as if it entered it—whether ideatively or imaginally—from a vast of wisdom above the human mind and a depth of exaltation beyond the human heart. Without the ear sensitively responding along with the attentively answering eye, the life-thrill of the superhuman planes from which the words come will not be sufficiently caught in our being. The Mantra, in order to make its impact in full, requires to be realized in its vibration no less than in its message. Perhaps you will wonder if philosophy can be Mantric. All depends upon the source of it. In the Overmind, whence the Mantra hails, Truth and Beauty are one and it is Gods and Goddesses that covertly move in the steps of sentences like the one with which The Life Divine opens its procession of logical vision: ‘The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thought and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation,—for it survives the longest periods of skepticism and returns after every banishment,—is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality.’ ”
The rustle of movements of Gods and Goddesses is felicitous and sweet-scented in the sweep of Mantric prose, but in the powerful rhythmic swing and sway of Mantric poetry it becomes the charged Word that ushers in divine experience even in the most objective realities in which we live. We are not only put in contact with them; we also see that they bring about a transforming miracle in us. Even the body’s cells respond to their greatness in luminosity of the truth-existent. Does not incarnate Savitri stand in front of us in her assuring grandeur and sweetness and beauty in the following, one who has come as the radiant Word to express divinity in the world?
As in a mystic and dynamic dance
This patter of Time’s marring steps across the solitude
In spite of the bewildering conditions of man, his outward-looking viewpoints, surface tones, his engirdling clamours and fragmentary moods, there is something magical in
This patter of Time’s marring steps across the solitude
Such height of inspiration! Such wholesomeness and integrality of harmony that can give to Time’s marring steps assuring bliss of the Alone! In the preface to Arjava’s works his yogi-friend Sri Krishna Prem has the following to say: “For Arjava… Nature was a shrine in which each form seen in the flickering firelight of the senses was a shadow of realities that lay within, shining in the magical light of the secret Moon which was the Master-Light of all his seeing….” How true!
Contrast this to Keki N Daruwalla’s tribute to Nissim Ezekiel—A Poet of the Heart that appeared in the Hindu dated 1 February 2004 : “ He was a poet of the heart, of failure, of doubt, of ‘the unquiet mind, the emptiness within,’ someone who revelled in rodent-like explorations of love. Though he was an academic and read a lot, he was not ‘barricaded from/The force of flower or bird’ by what he read. He showed the others how to break away from the pseudo-spiritual, pseudo-philosophical poem brimming with sonorous Miltonicisms. Imagine what would have happened to Indian poetry in English if poets had followed in the footsteps of Sri Aurobindo, that great savant and revolutionary, but a terminal poetic disaster?” Here are rootless self-styled professionals arrogant to the degree who, as Keats would say “Standing apart in giant ignorance” pass judgments about matters for which they have never developed sensibilities. That great savant and revolutionary but not reckoned as a poet or critic, “the greatest brain on the planet” as Bernard Shaw seems to have said about Sri Aurobindo, is a challenge to their academic standing and prestige and therefore must be ridiculed for self-promotion. Such peddlers of excellence simply take pride in aesthetics transplanted from the alien soil.
Does one become authentically spiritual by “revelling in rodent-like explorations of love”? And what is pseudo-spiritual in Sri Aurobindo? This is neither to understand spirituality nor poetry. And what is Miltonic in him? Let us take just a few lines with which Paradise Lost opens and see the vast difference that exists between the two:
Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
…What in me is dark
Here is Milton ’s blank verse, writes Amal, “in a philosophico-religious mood conveying strongly-cut imaged ideas in a tone of exalted emotion with the help of words that have a powerful stateliness and a rhythm that has a broad sweep. But Milton ’s substance… is ‘mental, mentally grand and noble’ and his ‘architecture of thought and verse is high and powerful and massive, but usually there are no subtle echoes there, no deep chambers: the occult things in man’s being are foreign to his intelligence.’… Something in the rhythm remains unsupported by the sight and the word.” In Milton spiritual things do not “reveal their own body, as it were, and do not utter themselves in their own tongue: they are reflected in the mental imagination and given forceful speech there.” Mantra is altogether unknown to Milton . Modernism does not have even that music of Milton .
Long ago Sri Aurobindo himself said that the rise of Modernism was necessary against the Victorian type. He wrote: “It is the most unlovely and uninspiring period of the English spirit. Never was the aesthetic sense so drowned in pretentious ugliness, seldom the intelligence crusted in such an armoured imperviousness to fine and subtle thinking, the ebb of spirituality so far out and low... Poetry flourishes best when it is the rhythmical expression of the soul of its age, of what is greatest and deepest in it, but still belongs to it and the poetry of this period suffers by the dull smoke-laden atmosphere in which it flowered; … there is still something sticky in its luxuriance, a comparative depression and poverty in its thought, a lack in its gifts, in its very accomplishment a sense of something not done.” Something had to be done and Modern Poetry attempted that. But modernism was an out-and-out reaction against traditions, even against future possibilities. Therefore, when Sri Aurobindo leaps from traditions into the Overhead, he at once gets bypassed in the current aesthesis. Obviously, this is a passing phase and the aesthesis will have to change and gather itself into a future form. Daruawallas and their ilk may fail to see it but it is inevitable. After all, Modern Poetry has not delivered the goods and man’s deepest aspirations have remained unfulfilled. “Empty and barren is the sea,” but it must find new waters and new tides. Kathleen Raine’s realisation that
Behind the tree, behind the house, behind the stars
is also her hope. And she is a lady who never considered Sri Aurobindo to be a poet. In the hasteful modernity what we have lost is the calm and self-assuring music of the spheres. With the telescope of the mind what we see are only glimmerings of the distant fireflies, what we have probed are the surface details of the subconscient. But nowhere is there poetry. The Western critic is just an adult of the city and is bereaved of his mother. Indians ape him. For Meredith poetry is the overflow of our inmost in the sweetest way. Will we get it? Ogden Nashe proclaims that
Brightness falls from the air
are “some of the most delicately magical lines in the English language.” Do we respond to their charm? The modern mind has no patience for that; that is its tragedy.
Sri Aurobindo’s modernism does not rest at all in the sordid and the ugly. In him there is a kind of assimilated richness. He exploits, so to say, everything that can tellingly if not revealingly serve his purpose. Kalidasian moods of seasons and the featurelessness of Nirvana, for example, are as important to it as Homeric similes or the correlative expressions of the Modernists. It is so because his epics or short lyrical verses come from an original source of inspiration inaccessible to us. That incapacity of ours cannot be a reflection on the quality of his creations. Thus Savitri is full of Rasas—Madhura, Karuna, Vatsalya, Adbhuta, Veera, Bibhatsa, Shanta, etc. Quintessentially, however, it is founded on the Shanta. It is in this great Silence that the Epic was born—Silence the true home of Overhead Poetry. To really appreciate it one has to enter into it. Poetry is not only image and symbol; it is also sound and silence; if there is sight’s sound, there is also sound’s sight. And when leMusicien deSilence becomes one with leMusicien de Son we have an unsurpassable marvel. Listen to Ezra Pound: “When we know more of overtones we shall see that the tempo of every masterpiece is absolute, and is exactly set by some further law of rhythmic accord. Whence it should be possible to show that any given rhythm implies about it a complete musical form, perfect, complete. Ergo, the rhythm set in a line of poetry connects its symphony, which, had we a little more skill, we could score for orchestra.” If one is deaf to these sounds, to these rhythmic accords, to these happinesses rushing from the creative possibilities of the inevitable Word, then what can the creative poet do? In the Overhead Poetry as given to us by Sri Aurobindo what we have are the perfect rhythm and thought-substance and soul-vision fused into one, the supreme Mantra itself.
Sri Aurobindo wrote prophetically, long ago, that the future poetry “transcending the more intellectualised or externally vital and sensational expression” would speak “wholly in the language of an intuitive mind and vision and imagination, intuitive sense, intuitive emotion, intuitive vital feeling, which can seize in a peculiarly intimate light of knowledge by a spiritual identity the inmost thought, sight, image, sense, life, feeling of that which it is missioned to utter. The voice of poetry comes from a region above us, a plane of our being above and beyond our personal intelligence, a supermind which sees things in their inmost and largest truth by a spiritual identity and a lustrous effulgency and rapture and its native language is a revelatory, inspired, intuitive word limpid or subtly vibrant or densely packed with the glory of this ecstasy.” He saw five suns of truth-beauty-delight-life-spirit in the sky of poetry waiting for us to receive their glow and warmth. Our creative endeavour should be to open ourselves to them.
Students who graduated themselves from Sri Aurobindo’s Department of Poetry received magnificences of these suns in Sri Aurobindo’s plenty. “The silent wonders of eternity” that were waiting for the inspired utterance suddenly found in rock-hewn images the quivering lips that speak of the blue skies and the golden truths. We witness the ear of ears and the eye of eyes waking to the subtleties of sense and sound, marvelling at the mystery of God’s creation even in Time. Not only did Sri Aurobindo himself write seizing “the absolute in shapes that pass”; he also encouraged actively and positively his disciples who came forward to participate in such an apocalyptic adventure. Amal-kiran was one among the most prominent practitioners of this new poetry, Poetry of the Future. He invoked heaven’s light in the inner chamber and called out the occult fire from the depths of the being to take the form of the deeply expressive and intuitive Word. His was the Hymn of Affirmation welcoming the Aurobindonian Muse, a chant in the praise of Ahana of the Eternal. Glory to the New Dawn appearing on the poetic horizon!