Sri Aurobindo - The Poet
Poems written in England – Before 1893
Sri Aurobindo was once asked, in 1939, during the course of a conversation by one of his disciples: “When did you begin to write poetry?” He answered: “When my two brothers and I were staying at Manchester. I wrote for the Fox family magazine….”
The magazine which Sri Aurobindo had referred to was the Fox’s and the poem of Sri Aurobindo, titled ‘Light’, which was deeply inspired by P. B. Shelley’s ‘The Cloud’, was published in the very first issue of 11 January 1883.
Here are some lines from the poem ‘Light’:
I waken the flowers in the dew-spangled bowers,
The birds in their chambers of green,
And mountain and plain glow with beauty again,
As they bask in their matinal sheen.
O, if such the glad worth of my presence on earth,
Though fitful and fleeting the while,
What glories must rest on the home of the blessed,
Ever bright with the Deity’s smile.
Songs to Myrtilla
‘Songs to Myrtilla’, published in 1895 at Baroda, was Sri Aurobindo’s first book of verse. It contains poems written mostly when he was 18 to 20 years in age (1890-1892). These youthful poems, mainly secular, rich in experiment and form, bear the impress of Sri Aurobindo’s mind in those formative years and reveal a classical restraint and sense of structure.
Here are some lines from the poem ‘Aethon’ which is a part of the book, ‘Songs to Myrtilla’:
Sunshine and dew
Each morn delicious life renew.
The year is but a masque of flowers,
Of light and song and honied showers.
In the soft springtide comes the bird
Of heaven whose speech is one sweet word….
Poems written in Baroda (1893 – 1906)
I have a hundred lives
Aurobindo Ghose, in Baroda, wrote these powerful lines in a sonnet titled ‘I have a hundred lives’, 1900-1901:
I have a hundred lives before me yet
To grasp thee in, O spirit ethereal,
Be sure I will with heart insatiate
Pursue thee like a hunter through them all.
In it, we see the young man who had come from England as a rationalist and agnostic already awakening to, under the influence of the atmosphere of his homeland, the sense of a divine Presence and a destined realization.
To the Sea
This poem ‘To the Sea’ uses the image of a sea to bring out our innate soul strength against the opposition of world forces.
Published in the Modern Review in June 1909, it was written in the Baroda days between 1900-1906.
Here are some daring lines from the poem:
Nor cling like cowards to the easy shore.
Come down and know
What rapture lives in danger and o’erthrow.”
Yes, thou great sea,
I am more mighty and outbillow thee.
On thy tops I rise;
’Tis an excuse to dally with the skies.
During the Baroda days, Sri Aurobindo wrote the short poem ‘A Tree’ which beautifully expresses the struggle of all aspiring souls, through the imagery of a tree:
A tree beside the sandy river-beach
Holds up its topmost boughs
Like fingers towards the skies they cannot reach,
This is the soul of man. Body and brain
Hungry for earth our heavenly flight detain.
Poems written in Bengal (1906 – 1910)
Sri Aurobindo’s note on ‘Baji Prabhou’:
“This poem is founded on the historical incident of the heroic self-sacrifice of Baji Prabhou Deshpande, who to cover Shivaji’s retreat, held the pass of Rangana for two hours with a small company of men against twelve thousand Moguls.”
This poem was conceived and written in Bengal during the period of political activity.
Here are some lines from the poem that emanates the uplifting heroism of the great warrior, Baji Prabhou:
… not in this living net
Of flesh and nerve, nor in the flickering mind
Is a man’s manhood seated. God within
Rules us, who in the Brahmin and the dog
Can, if He will, show equal godhead. Not
By men is mightiness achieved; Baji
Or Malsure is but a name, a robe,
And covers One alone.
‘Invitation’ is a poem of adventure and freedom of consciousness, written by Sri Aurobindo during 1908-1909 while he was confined to solitary imprisonment in Alipore jail. Sri Aurobindo invites the readers to feel and be moved by the limitless freedom, power and intensity of the Spirit within, in spite of the difficult situations that we face in the world – an invitation to walk besides him in the inner journey:
Here are some more powerful lines from the poem:
With wind and the weather beating round me
Upto the hill and the moorland I go.
Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
Wade through the brook and tramp through the snows?
‘Who’ is one of Sri Aurobindo’s best‐loved short poems. It certainly does lead us directly into the mysteries of existence in such a delightful and apparently simple way‐‐the way of the soul. This poem was also one of the gems that emerged during his confinement in Alipore jail.
Here are some more lines from the poem which bring forth its mystical element:
In the blue of the sky, in the green of the forest,
Whose is the hand that has painted the glow?
When the winds were asleep in the womb of the ether,
Who was it roused them and bade them to blow?
Poems Written in Pondicherry (1910-1950)
The sonnet, Godhead, is about an experience Sri Aurobindo had during the first year of his stay in Baroda. He had just arrived from England and was working for the Maharaja of Baroda. One day, Sri Aurobindo was driving from Camp Road in Baroda and had just reached the side of the public gardens when his carriage was threatened with an accident. At that moment he had a vision of the Godhead surging up from within and thereby averting the danger.
In 1939, when he was in Pondicherry, he wrote a sonnet describing the above experience. In his own words, Sri Aurobindo describes the chronology of his experiences of the Self:
" … [About his experience of the Self:] I knew nothing about, never bargained for, didn't understand either…. This began in London, sprouted the moment I set foot on Apollo Bunder, touching Indian soil, flowered one day in the first year of my stay in Baroda, at the moment when there threatened to be an accident to my carriage."
Here are some esoteric lines from the poem:
I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim,
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
In me, enveloping me the body of Him.
Above my head a mighty head was seen,
A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
In the vast circle of its sovereignty.
Sri Aurobindo wrote the sonnet titled Nirvana in August 1934 at Pondicherry, in which he narrates the experience of Nirvana he had with the help of Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, a yogi and bhakta he had met in Baroda in January 1908:
"Nirvana," explained Sri Aurobindo, "in my liberated consciousness turned out to be the beginning of my realisation, a first step towards the complete thing, not the sole true attainment possible or even a culminating finale. It came unasked, unsought for, though quite welcome. I had no least idea about it before, no aspiration towards it, in fact my aspiration was towards just the opposite, spiritual power to help the world and to do my work in it, yet it came – without even a 'May I come in 'or a 'By your leave.' It just happened and settled in as if for all eternity or as if it had been really there always. And then it slowly grew into something not less but greater than its first self."
Here is the full poem:
All is abolished but the mute Alone.
The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
Flow, a cinema’s vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.
Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
Replaces all,—what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.
The sonnet ‘Krishna’ by Sri Aurobindo, dated 15 September 1939, speaks of his experience of and identity with Sri Krishna, the Divine Lover.
Earlier, when Sri Aurobindo was imprisoned in Alipore jail in 1908-09, he entered into a major spiritual realisation of seeing Sri Krishna everywhere. He spoke about it later, during his famous Uttarpara speech. Here are some lines from that speech, which echo his experience:
“I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell, but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Srikrishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Srikrishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover. This was the first use of the deeper vision He gave me.”
Here is the full poem ‘Krishna’:
At last I find a meaning of soul’s birth
Into this universe terrible and sweet,
I who have felt the hungry heart of earth
Aspiring beyond heaven to Krishna’s feet.
I have seen the beauty of immortal eyes,
And heard the passion of the Lover’s flute,
And known a deathless ecstasy’s surprise
And sorrow in my heart for ever mute.
Nearer and nearer now the music draws,
Life shudders with a strange felicity;
All Nature is a wide enamoured pause
Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.
For this one moment lived the ages past;
The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.
Sri Aurobindo wrote this sonnet on 26 July 1938. It is related to his spiritual experience of the cosmic consciousness, of experiencing the Divine (as Vasudeva, as Sri Krishna) in all beings and all that is, when he was imprisoned in Alipore jail during 1908-1909.
Sri Aurobindo later narrated to a disciple Dr Manilal:
“… as I look around this room, I see everything as the Brahman. No, it is not mere thinking, it is a concrete experience. Even the wall, the books are Brahman. I see you no more as Dr. Manilal but as the Divine living in the Divine. It is a wonderful experience."
Sri Aurobindo had disclosed how the whole experience began during his trial at court, during his speech at Uttarpara on 30 May 1909:
"I looked and it was not the Magistrate whom I saw, it was Vasudeva, it was Narayana who was sitting there on the bench. I looked at the Prosecuting Counsel and it was not the Counsel for the prosecution that I saw; it was Sri Krishna who sat there . . . and smiled."
Here is the full poem ‘Cosmic Consciousness’:
I have wrapped the wide world in my wider self
And Time and Space my spirit’s seeing are.
I am the god and demon, ghost and elf,
I am the wind’s speed and the blazing star.
All Nature is the nursling of my care,
I am the struggle and the eternal rest;
The world’s joy thrilling runs through me, I bear
The sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.
I have learned a close identity with all,
Yet am by nothing bound that I become;
Carrying in me the universe’s call
I mount to my imperishable home.
I pass beyond Time and life on measureless wings,
Yet still am one with born and unborn things.