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object: - Some General Remarks
book class:Letters On Poetry And Art
author class:Sri Aurobindo
subject class:Integral Yoga
media class:chapter

11 Sep 1934

I fear I dont approve of any article on the Ashram poetsleast of all a dithyramb of this too splendiferous kind. I shall give my reasons when I have had time to look at it againat present I am slowly recovering from the electric shock it gave me.

11 September 1934
11 Nov 1934

Prithwi Singh was telling me that cultivation of literature here hasnt much sense, since none will be able to get first class, or outclass Tagore. He must always remain the only brilliant star in literature. Others wont even get a chance to shine by his side, not to speak of outshining him. Only Dilip can be somehow given a second class privilege, but that too for his prose, and not for poetry. He further asserts that Yoga has no power to bring any pursuitliterature, painting, etc. to a height of perfection.

I dont agree with Prithwi Singh. If a man has a capacity for poetry or anything else, it will certainly come out and rise to greater heights than it would have done elsewhere. Witness Dilip who was unable to write poetry till he came here though he had the instinct and the suppressed power in him, Nishikanta whose full flow came only here, Arjava, Punjalal whose recent poems in Gujarati seem to me to have an extraordinary beautythough I admit that I am no expert there. Harin wrote beautifully before but the sovereign excellence of his recent poetry is new. There are others who are developing a power of writing they had not before. All that does not show that Yoga has no power to develop capacity. I myself have developed many capacities by Yoga. Formerly I could not have written a line of philosophynow people have started writing books about my philosophy to my great surprise. It is not a question of first class or second class. One has to produce ones best and developthe class if class there must be will be decided by posterity. Tagore himself was once considered second class by any number of people and the nature of his poetry was fiercely questioneduntil the Nobel prize and consequent fame ended their discussions. One has not to consider fame or the appreciation of others, but do whatever work one can do as an offering of ones capacity to the Divine.

11 November 1934

I look at these things from a more impersonal or, if you like, a personal-impersonal point of view. There is on one side my effort at perfection, for myself and others and for the possibility of a greater perfection in a changed humanity: on the other side there is a play of forces some favouring it but more trying to prevent it. The challenge I speak of comes from these forces. On one side it is a pressure from the pro-forces saying Your work is not good enough; learn to do better; on the other it is a pressure from the contrary forces saying Your work? It is a delusion and error,a poor mediocre thing, and we will trample and break it to pieces. Part of the work was an attempt to inspire a poetry which would express first the aspiration and labour towards the spiritual or divine and afterwards its realisation and manifestation. There are many who write poetry in the Ashram under this impulse but in the languages which I know best (English perfectlyat least I hope soBengali a little), there were four here whose work seemed to me to contain already in a fairly ample way the ripe possibility of the thing I wantedyourself [Dilip Kumar Roy], Arjava, Amal, Harin. (I do not speak of Nishikanta and others because they are new or emergent only). There are some Gujarati poets but I do not know the poetic language and technique in that tongue well enough to form an indubitable judgment. These four then I have encouraged and tried to push on towards a greater and richer expression: I have praised but there was nothing insincere in my praise. For some time however I have received intimations from many quarters that my judgment was mistaken, ignorant, partial and perhaps not wholly sincere. It began with your poetry even at the time of Anami and the forces at play spoke through some literary coteries of Bengal and reached here through reviews, letters etc. There has been much inability to appreciate Arjavas poetry, Yeats observing that he had evidently something to say but struggled to say it with too much obscurity and roughness. Amals work is less criticised, but A. E.s attitude towards it was rather condescending as to an Indian who writes unexpectedly well in English. Finally, there is the ignoring or rejection of Harins work by this array of authoritiesthere are as good authorities on the other side, but that is irrelevant. That makes the issue complete and clear. If I have made so big a mistake, then the whole thing is a hallucinationI am an incompetent critic of poetry, at least of contemporary poetry, and my pretension to inspire cannot stand for a moment. Personally that would not matter to me, for personally I have my own feeling of these things and what it may be in the eyes of others makes no differencejust as it makes no difference to me if my own poetry is really no poetry, as Anandashanker and so many others think and may from their own viewpointthere are a million possible viewpoints in the worldbe justified in thinking. But for my work it does matter. I recognise in it the challenge of the forces and, once I recognise that in whatever field, I never think myself entitled to ignore it. If it is a challenge to do better (from the favourable forces), I must see that and get it done. If it is a challenge from the other forces, I must see that too and know how far it is justifiable or else what can be put against it. That is what I have always done both in my own Yoga looking carefully to see what was imperfect in the instrumentation of my own consciousness as a vehicle of the manifestation and working to set it right or else maintaining what was right against all challenge. So I began to do it here. Instead of reading rapidly through Harins poems every day, I began to weigh and consider looking to see what could be justly said from Krishnaprems viewpoint and what could be fairly said from mine. I took Krishnaprems criticism because it is the only thing I have that is definite and, though his technical strictures are obviously mistaken, the general ones have to be weighed even though they are far from conclusive. But this is a work for my personal use,its main object is not a weighing of Harins work but of my own capacity and judgment and that is too personal in scope for me to lay before others. That is why I said I was not writing it to circulate.

I have written all this to explain to you that you have not pained or hurt or displeased me, nor has Krishnaprem either. It would be childish to be displeased with someone because his opinions on literature or a particular piece of literature are not identical with my own at every point. I may also say that I was not displeased with you for your letter. I was a little disappointed that you should have gone back to mental doubts or to vital feelings after you had started so well for something else. But these temporary reversions are too common on the path to the Divine for me to be displeased or discouraged. The work I have to do for myself or for the world or for you or others can only be achieved if I have love for all and faith for all and go firmly on till it is done. It is why I urge you to do the same, because I know that if one does not give up, one is sure to arrive. That is the attitude you had started to take, to go quietly on and give time for the right development however slow. I want you to return to that and keep to it.

By the way, what I have written about the poetry is just for yourself, because it is too personal to me to be made general.

December 1934
29 Dec 1934

It was not with any intention of bringing in personal matters that I mentioned names and examples in my letter. The personal merits or demerits of the external human instrumentthe frail outer manare irrelevant and have no importance when one considers the value or power of the Word. What matters is the truth of the Inspiration and the power of what it utters. I was not saying either that this poetryI try to avoid names this timeappeals to everybody; I was referring to those whom it did touch and especially to certain incidents within my personal observation and knowledge.

I am keeping Krishnaprems letter. I dont know that it is very advisable for me to give my view: if I do so I will try to restrict myself to general considerations about poetry and literature. I will only say that my opinions about this poetry or yours or Amals or Arjavas are personal to myself and nobody need attach any value to them if his own do not agree. As they are personal, what others think, however eminent they may be, cannot make any difference. I experience a certain beauty, power or charm, an expression of things I feel and know in the occult or spiritual province with what seems to me a great or a sufficient breath of poetry in it. I do not expect all or many to share my feeling and I do not need it. I can understand Krishnaprems strictures or his reservations (without endorsing, refuting or qualifying them) but I have had the same view about very great poets like Shelley or Spenser at one time, so that does not seriously touch my feeling that this is poetry of beauty and value. Also I do not make comparisonsI take it by itself as a thing apart in its own province. I know of course that my old schoolfellow Binyon and others in England have spoken in this connection of Keats and Shelley; but I do not myself feel the need of that comparative valuation. After all one can only give ones own view of contemporary poetry,we must leave it to Tagores viva-mnava (posterity?) to decide.

29 December 1934
30 Jan 1935

Amal is rather fond of high notes in his criticism, (an essay he sent long ago on the Ashram poetswhat a phrase!made me aghast with horror at its Pindaricor rather Swinburneantone, it gave me an impression that Homer and Shakespeare and Valmiki had all been beaten into an insignificant jelly by our magnificent creations.) He is also sometimes too elaborately ingenious in his hunt for detail significances. But what he says is usually acute and interesting and, when he drives his pen instead of letting it gallop away with him, he can write exceedingly well.

His selection from your poems is not so surprising. Everyone reacts to poetry in his own way and except with regard to long established favourites from the classics few would make the same choice. Give ten good critics the task of selecting the best lines of Shakespeare, avoiding stock passages, and the ten will each make a different listand probably Shakespeare himself would disagree with all the ten. That must be still more the case with a contemporary poet where all is new stuff with no indications except ones own personal reactions. I myself do not agree with your condemnation of these pieces to the W. P. B.

30 January 1935

Take this Poetry business. It has always been rare for me to write any poetry without a heavy dose of mental exercise. I have not, except once or twice, felt some force coming down and delivering a poem out of me, even a worthless one, in a second. You yourself had to concentrate for 4 or 5 hours a day for so many years, after which everything flowed in a river. But I am not Sri Aurobindo! I am not born with such a will and determination. Since I cant spend so much labour, I have to conclude that such big things are not for me.

As there are several lamentations today besieging me, I have very little time to deal with each separate Jeremiad. Do I understand rightly that your contention is this, I cant believe in the Divine doing everything for me because it is by my own mighty and often fruitless efforts that I write or do not write poetry and have made myself into a poet? Well, that itself is patant, magnificent, unheard of. It has always been supposed since the infancy of the human race that while a verse-maker can be made or self-made, a poet cannot. Poeta nascitur non fit, a poet is born not made, is the dictum that has come down through the centuries and millenniums and was thundered into my ears by the first pages of my Latin Grammar. The facts of literary history seem to justify this stern saying. But here in Pondicherry we have tried, not to manufacture poets, but to give them birth, a spiritual, not a physical birth into the body. In a number of instances we are supposed to have succeededone of these is your noble selfor if I am to believe the man of sorrows in you, your abject, miserable, hopeless and ineffectual self. But how was it done? There are two theories, it seemsone that it was by the Force, the other that it was done by your own splashing, kicking, groaning Herculean efforts. Now, sir, if it is the latter, if you have done that unprecedented thing, made yourself by your own laborious strength into a poet (for your earlier efforts were only very decent literary exercises), then, sir, why the deuce are you so abject, self-depreciatory, miserable? Dont say that it is only a poet who can produce no more than a few poems in many months. Even to have done that, to have become a poet at all, a self-made poet is a miracle over which one can only say Sabash! Sabash! without ever stopping. If your effort could do that, what is there that it cant do? All miracles can be effected by it and a giant self-confident faith ought to be in you. On the other hand if, as I aver, it is the Force that has done it, what then can it not do? Here too faith, a giant faith is the only logical conclusion. So either way there is room only for Hallelujahs, none for Jeremiads. Q.E.D.

By the way what is this story about my four or five hours concentration a day for several years before anything came down? Such a thing never happened, if by concentration you mean laborious meditation. What I did was four or five hours a day pranayamwhich is quite another matter. And what flow do you speak of? The flow of poetry came down while I was doing pranayam, not some years afterwards. If it is the flow of experiences, that did come after some years, but after I had stopped the Pranayam for a long time and was doing nothing and did not know what to do or where to turn once all my efforts had failed. And it came as a result not of years of Pranayam or concentration, but in a ridiculously easy way, by the grace either of a temporary guru (but it wasnt that, for he was himself bewildered by it) or by the grace of the eternal Brahman and afterwards by the the grace of Mahakali and Krishna. So dont try to turn me into an argument against the Divine; that attempt will be perfectly ineffective.

I am obliged to stopif I go on, there will be no Pranam till 12 oclock. So send your Jeremiad back tonight and I will see what else to write. Have written this in a headlong hurryI hope it is not full of lapsus calami.

I send you back the Jeremiad, Sir. My observations are reserved.

To continue. The fact that you dont feel a force does not prove that it is not there. The steam-engine does not feel a force moving it, but the force is there. A man is not a steam-engine? He is very little better, for he is conscious only of some bubbling on the surface which he calls himself and is absolutely unconscious of all the subconscient, subliminal, superconscient forces moving him. (This is a fact which is being more and more established by modern psychology though it has got hold only of the lower forces and not the higher, so you need not turn up your rational nose at it.) He twitters intellectually (= foolishly) about the surface results and attributes them all to his noble self, ignoring the fact that his noble self is hidden far away from his own vision behind the veil of his dimly sparkling intellect and the reeking fog of his vital feelings, emotions, impulses, sensations and impressions. So your argument is utterly absurd and futile. Our aim is to bring the secret forces out and unwalled into the open so that instead of getting some shadows or lightnings of themselves out through the veil or being wholly obstructed they may pour down and flow in a river. But to expect that all at once is a presumptuous demand which shows an impatient ignorance and inexperience. If they begin to trickle at first, that is sufficient to justify the faith in a future downpour. You admit that you once or twice felt a force coming down and delivering a poem out of me (your opinion about its worth or worthless ness is not worth a cent, that is for others to pronounce). That is sufficient to blow the rest of your Jeremiad into smithereens; it proves that the force was and is there and at work and it is only your sweating Herculean labour that prevents you feeling it. Also it is the trickle that gives assurance of the possibility of the downpour. One has only to go on and by ones patience deserve the downpour or else, without deserving, stick on till one gets it. In Yoga itself the experience that is a promise and foretaste but gets shut off till the nature is ready for the fulfilment is a phenomenon familiar to every Yogin when he looks back on his past experience. Such were the brief visitations of Ananda you had some time before. It does not matter if you have not a leechlike tenacityleeches are not the only type of Yogins. If you can stick anyhow or get stuck that is sufficient. The fact that you are not Sri Aurobindo (who said you were?) is an inept irrelevance. One needs only to be oneself in a reasonable way and shake off the hump when it is there or allow it to be shaken off without clinging to it with a leechlike tenacity worthy of a better cause.

All the rest is dreary stuff of the tamasic ego. As there is a rajasic ego which shouts What a magnificent powerful sublime divine individual I am, unique and peerless (of course there are gradations in the pitch,) so there is a tamasic ego which squeaks What an abject, hopeless, worthless, incapable, unluckily un endowed and uniquely impossible creature I am,all, all are great, Aurobindos, Dilips, Anilkumars (great by an unequalled capacity of novel-reading and self-content, according to you), but I, oh I, oh I! Thats your style. It is this tamasic ego (of course it expresses itself in various ways at various times, I am only rendering your present pitch) which is responsible for the Man of Sorrows getting in. Its all boshstuff made up to excuse the luxury of laziness, melancholy and despair. You are in that bog just now because you have descended faithfully and completely into the inert stupidity and die-in-the-mudness of your physical consciousness which, I admit, is a specimen! But so after all is everybodys, only there are different kinds of specimens. What to do? Dig yourself out if you can; if you cant, call for ropes and wait till they come. If God knows what will happen when the Grace descends, that is enough, isnt it? That you dont know is a fact which may be baffling to yourwell, your intelligence, but is not of great importanceany more than your supposed unfitness. Who ever was fit, for that matterfitness and unfitness are only a way of speaking; man is unfit and a misfit (so far as things spiritual are concerned)in his outward nature. But within there is a soul and above there is Grace. This is all you know or need to know and, if you dont, well, even then you have at least somehow stumbled into the path and have got to remain there till you get haled along it far enough to wake up to the knowledge. Amen.

20-21 January 1936
14 Mar 1937

How is it that people find my poetry difficult? Dilip used to say that it usually passed a little over his head. I suspect that only Nolini and Arjava get the hang of it properly. Of course many appreciate when I have explained it to thembut otherwise they admire the beauty of individual phrases without grasping the many-sided whole the phrases form. This morning Premanand, Vijayrai and Nirod read my Agni. None of them caught the precise relevances, the significant connections of the words and phrases of the opening lines:

  Not from the day but from the night hes born,
  Night with her pang of dreamstar on pale star
  Winging strange rumour through a secret dawn.
  For all the black uncanopied spaces mirror
  The brooding distance of our plumbless mind.

In the rest of the poem too they generally failed to get the true point of felicity which constitutes poetic expression. My work is not surrealist: I put meaning into everything, not intellectualism but a coherent vision worked out suggestively in various detail. Is there some peculiarity in my turn of imagination or in my English, which baffles Indian readers especially?

It is precisely because what you put in is not intellectualism or a product of mental imagination that your poetry is difficult to those who are accustomed to a predominantly mental strain in poetry. One can grasp fully only if one has some clue to what you put in, either the clue of personal experience or the clue of a sympathetic insight. One who has had the concrete experience of the consciousness as a night with the stars coming out and the sense of the secret dawn can at once feel the force of these two lines, as one who has had experience of the mind as a wide space or infinity or a thing of distances and expanses can fathom those that follow. Or even if he has had, not these experiences, but others of the same order, he can feel what you mean and enter into it by a kind of identification. Failing this experience, a sympathetic insight can bring the significance home; certainly, Nolini and Arjava who write poems of the inner vision and feeling must have that, moreover their minds are sufficiently subtle and plastic to enter into all kinds of poetic vision and expression. Premanand and Vijayrai have no such training; it is natural that they should find it difficult. Nirod ought to understand, but he would have to ponder and take some trouble before he got it; night with her labour of dream, the stars, the bird-winging, the bird-voices, the secret dawn are indeed familiar symbols in the poetry he is himself writing or with which he is familiar; but his mind seeks usually at first for precise allegories to fit the symbols and is less quick to see and feel by identification what is behind themit is still intellectual and not concrete in its approach to these things, although his imagination has learned to make itself their transcribing medium. That is the difficulty, the crux of imaged spiritual poetry; it needs not only the fit writer but the fit audienceand that has yet to be made.

But what about Dilip? Arjavas poems simply frighten him but mine too he finds difficult. Everybody feels at home in Harins poetry, though I am sure that often, if I catechised them, I would find the deepest felicities missed. Perhaps my tendency to pack too much meaning into my words becomes a difficulty in others, but would they have the same difficulty with Bengali poetry?

Dilip wrote to me in recent times expressing great admiration for Arjavas poems and wanting to get something of the same quality into his own poetic style. But in any case Dilip has not the mystic mind and visionHarin also. In quite different ways they receive and express their vision or experience through the poetic mind and imaginationeven so because it expressed something not usual, Dilips poetry has had a difficulty in getting itself recognised except by people who were able to give the right response. Harins poetry deals very skilfully with spiritual ideas or feelings through the language of the emotion and the poetic imagination and intelligenceno difficulty there. As regards your poetry, it is indeed much more compressed and carefully packed with substance and that creates a difficulty except for those who are alive to the language or have become alive to subtle shades, implications, depths in the words. Even those who understand a foreign language well in the ordinary way, find it sometimes difficult to catch these in its poetry. Indications and suggestions easy to catch in ones own tongue are often missed there. So probably your last remark is founded.

14 March 1937
15 Mar 1937

I hope people wont misunderstand what you have remarked about the mystic mind [in the above letter]. Ones not having the mystic mind and vision does not reflect upon ones poetic excellence, even as a singer of the Spirit. As regards Harin, you had said long ago that he wrote from several planes [see page 476]. And surely his Dark Well poems come from a source beyond the poetic intelligence?

I used the word mystic in the sense of a certain kind of inner seeing and feeling of things, a way which to the intellect would seem occult and visionaryfor this is something different from imagination and its work with which the intellect is familiar. It was in this sense that I said Dilip had not the mystic mind and vision. One can go far in the spiritual way, have plenty of spiritual experiences, spiritual knowledge, spiritual feelings, significant visions and dreams even without having this mystic mind and way of seeing things. So too one may write poetry from different planes or sources of inspiration and expressing spiritual feelings, knowledge, experiences and yet use the poetic intelligence as the thought medium which gives them shape in speech; such poems are not of the mystic type. One may be mystic in this sense without being spiritualone may also be spiritual without being mystic; or one may be both spiritual and mystic in one. Poems ditto.

I had not in view the Dark Well poems when I wrote about Harin. I was thinking of his ordinary way of writing. If I re member right, the Dark Well poems came from the inner mind centre, some from the Higher Mindother 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 in the sense given above.

15 March 1937

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