Evaluation of Sri Aurobindo as a Poet

Sri Aurobindo is an outstanding figure in Indo-Anglian literature. He represents a new poetic consciousness which seeks to create a more refined instrument to express the new version and experience. So his noetry has a distinction of its own in its rhythm and language.
Sri Aurobindo was born in Calcutta on 15 August 1872. His Wner,Krishnadhan Ghose, was a popular civil surgeon, while his mother, Swarnalata Devi, was a daughter of Rishi Rajnarain Bose, one of the great men of the Indian renaissance in the nineteenth century who embodied the new composite culture of the country that was at once Vedantic, Islamic and European. On the other hand, Krishnadhan had a pronounced partiality for the Western way of life. Having himself had his medical education at Aberdeen, he desired that his children should, if possible, go one better even and be wholly insulated from the contamination of Indian ways.

If Krishnadhan had sent his son, not to the Loretto Convent School at Darjeeling and thence to Manchester, London (St. Paul’s) and Cambridge (King’s), but to ‘native’ schools and colleges at Calcutta, Sri Aurobindo might have early mastered his mother tongue, Bengali, and become in the fulness of time another Bankim Chandra or Rabindranath, wielding with suppleness,grace and power the most dynamic of modern Indian languages. But his translation to England in 1879 (along with his two elder brothers, Manmohan the future poet and Benoy Bhushan) and his stay there for a period of about fourteen years made English his mother tongue for all practical purposes, and he came to acquire a complete mastery over that difficult language as if verily born to that heritage.

At Manchester, Sri Aurobindo was taught privately by the Rev. William H. Drewert and Mrs. Drewett who grounded him well hi English, Latin, French, and history; at St. Paul’s, Dr. Walker the High Master himself took a deep interest in Sri Aurobindo’s education and pushed him rapidly hi his Greek studies. It was a fruitful period, and Sri Aurobindo, besides securing the Butterworth Prize in Literature and the Bedford Prize in History, won a scholarship that enabled him to proceed to King’s. At Cambridge he made a notable impression on Oscar Browning, passed the I.C.S. open competitive examination (although he couldn’t finally join the Service), and secured a First in classical tripos at the end of his second year.
To his proficiency in the classics and English was now added a growing acquaintance with German and Italian, and also some knowledge of Sanskrit and Bengali. He read widely, spoke often at the Majlis, and wrote poetry. He left England at last in February 1893, having received an appointment in the service of the Maharaja of Baroda. Sri Aurobindo passed the next thirteen years at Baroda. He was employed in various departments, but he finally gravitated towards the Baroda College. He taught French for a time, and ultimately became Professor of English and Vice-Principal. During these years Sri Aurobindo fast achieved the feat of re-nationalizing himself. His mind had returned from “Sicilian olivegroves” a n d “Athenian lanes” to the shores of the Ganges, to Saraswati’s domains. He gained a deeper insight into Sanskrit and Bengali, and cultivated besides Marathi and Gujarati. He read with avidity, and he wrote copiously.
The political scene in India depressed nun, and he contributed a series of trenchant articles to the columns of Indu Prakash under the telling caption ‘New Lamps for Old’. But the time was inopportune yet for political action, and after this first burst of self-expression he withdrew into silence. Yet his pen was not idle; politics may be taboo for the tune being, but not literature. And so ‘New Lamps for Old’ was followed by a series of articles on the art of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Already in these early prose writings we can mark the
sinuosity and balance, the imagery and colour, the trenchancy and sarcasm that were to distinguish the maturer prose writings of the ‘Bandema-taram’ period. The Baroda period was the significant seed-time of Sri Auro-bindo’s life, for he seems to have pursued his varied interests— teaching, poetry, even politics—simultaneously. Songs to Myrtilla appeared in 1895, and was followed next year by the narrative poem, Urvasie. He completed also Love and Death, another long poem, besides the first draft of Savitri. Some of his blank verse plays too—notably Perseus the Deliverer—belong to this period.

Drawn slowly to the centre of revolutionary politics in Bengal, in 1905 Sri Aurobindo wrote Bhavani Mandir, ‘A Handbook for Revolutionaries dedicated to the service of Bhavani’, which caused deep concern to the bureaucracy. In April 1906 he attended the Barisal Political Conference and took the plunge into politics at last. This meant his leaving the Baroda College, but other arduous duties awaited him in Calcutta. In August 1906, he assumed charge as Editor of the Bandemataram, a new English daily started by Bepin Chandra Pal. A year later he was arrested in connection with the publication picertain articles in his paper, but was later honourably acquitted Romain Holland saw in Sri Aurobindo the foremost of Indian thinkers, the greatest synthesis that has yet been realized of the genius of Asia and the genius of Europe, the last of the great Rishis who held in his hand, “in firm unrelaxed grip, the bow of creative energy”. 

The poet, J. A. Chadwick (Arjava), wrote in 1936 of Sri Aurobindo’s Consciousnessp Considered merely as a poet and critic of poetry, Sri Aurobindo would still rank among the supreme masters of our time. His poetical output represents the creative effort of about sixty years and, on a modest estimate, may run to some three thousand pages Sri Aurobindo’s poetry stands a class apart in Indo-English poetry and offers scope for critical reassessment. George Sampson has referred to Sri Aurobindo as “more famous as an exponent of Indian nationalism than as a poet. K.R.S.Iyengar has made a substantial and balanced contribution to Aurobindonian criticism. He realises that a new kind of poetry like Sri Aurobindo’s “demands a new mentality in the recipient as well as in the writer.

Throughout his long career, amid all the many-faceted achieve-rents he never abandoned his first love, poetry. He has given us poetry—-lyrical, narrative, dramatic, epic, which, in volume and in variety, in quantity and in quality can be compared with the work of the greatest poets who have enriched the poetical literature of the world. But he is not a widely-known poet, partly because his aim was not success and personal fame, but to express spiritual truth and experience of all kinds in poetry. He tried to use the English tongue for the highest spiritual expression The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga related only to an individual self-development, in The Human Cycle originally published under the title of Psychology of Social Development, he has indicated how these truths affect the evolution of human society. In The Ideal of Human Unity he has taken the present trend of mankind towards a closer unification and tried to appreciate its tendencies and show what is wanting in them in order that real human unity may be achieved. He extended the application of this very approach to the sphere of international politics in his The Ideal of Human Unity.

His poetic career spreads over a period of sixty years from 1890 to 1950 during which he has enriched the realm of letters by a ‘royal quantity of quality’. In the words of V. K. Gokak, he is undoubtedly “the most outstanding Indo-Anglian writer for volume as well as for variety.”4 The two volumes of’Collected Poems and Plays’, the multi-aspected epic Savitri with its 24,000 lines, narrative poems, a large body of philosophical poems besides the clusters of lyrics represent the creative effort of about sixty years and give the impression of the enormous poetic stature of Sri Aurobindo – the poet.
The poem beautifully expresses Sri Aurobindo’s belief that the transformation of man into superman is possible only if two requisites are there-the aspiring call from below and the Divine Grace from above. In a number of poems like Thought the Paraclete, Rose of and The Bird of Fire, Sri Aurobindo has transcribed his mystical experiences and achieved in English verse something equivalent to the Mantra He makes us see what he himself has seen—visions of close spiritual communion. While Thought the Paraclete 1$ a vision or revelation of an ascent through spiritual plane& Rose of God with the most famous of mystical symbols presents the Divine Glory and Reality. It is signiificant to note that Sri Aurobindo has dealt with mystical experiences in a way different from other mystic poets. He has not clothed them in human symbols and allegories, in images and figures of earthly and secular life. He presents them in their nakedness, just as they are seen and realised, and therefore appear obscure to the common human understanding.

But there are poems like God’s Labour which, with, lucidity and ease of expression outline and explain the central beliefs. The poem reveals the poet’s beliefs of God, of the problem of evil and suffering in the world and of man’s evolution to greater and more glorious heights.