Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol - Sri Aurobindo

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Savitri is Sri Aurobindo‘s major poetic work, an epic in blank-verse of about 24,000 lines in which a tale from the Mahabharata becomes a symbol of the human soul‘s spiritual quest and destiny.

„The tale of Satyavan and Savitri“, Sri Aurobindo noted, „is recited in the Mahabharata as a story of conjugal love conquering death“. Sri Aurobindo has widened the original legend and turned it into a symbol in which the soul of man, represented by Satyavan, is delivered from the grip of death and ignorance through the love and power of the Divine Mother, incarnated upon earth as Savitri.

Sri Aurobindo worked on this poem for more than thirty years. When a disciple asked why he kept rewriting it, he replied: „That is very simple. I used Savitri as a means of ascension. I began it on a certain mental level, each time I could reach a higher level I rewrote it from that level. . . In fact Savitri has not been regarded by me as a poem to be written and finished, but as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one‘s own yogic consciousnes and how that could be made creative.“

The Mother considered Savitri to be „the supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo‘s vision“ and called it „that marvellous prophetic poem which will be humanity‘s guide towards its future realisation.“

An extract from a letter on Savitri

The structure of the pentameter blank verse in Savitri is of its own kind and different in plan from the blank verse that has come to be ordinarily used in English poetry. It dispenses with enjambment or uses it very sparingly and only when a special effect is intended; each line must be strong enough to stand by itself, while at the same time it fits harmoniosly into the sentence or paragraph like stone added to stone; the sentence consists usually of one, two, three or four lines, more rarely five or six or seven: a strong close for the line and a strong close for the sentence are almost indispensable except when some kind of inconclusive cadence is desirable; there must be no laxity or diffusiveness in the rhythm or in the metrical flow anywhere,—there must be a flow but not a loose flux. This gives an added importance to what comes at the close of the line and this placing is used very often to give emphasis and prominence to a key phrase or a key idea, especially those which have to be often reiterated in the thought and vision of the poem so as to recall attention to things that are universal or fundamental or otherwise of the first consequence—whether for the immediate subject or in the total plan. It is this use that is served here by the reiteration at the end of the line.

I have not anywhere in Savitri written anything for the sake of mere picturesqueness or merely to produce a rhetorical effect; what I am trying to do everywhere in the poem is to express exactly something seen, something felt or experienced; if, for instance, I indulge in the wealth-burdened line or passage, it is not merely for the pleasure of the indulgence, but because there is that burden, or at least what I conceive to be that, in the vision or the experience. When the expression has been found, I have to judge, not by the intellect or by any set poetical rule, but by an intuitive feeling, whether it is entirely the right expression and, if it is not, I have to change and go on changing until I have received the absolutely right inspiration and the right transcription of it and must never be satisfied with any a peu pres or imperfect transcription even if that makes good poetry of one kind or another . . .

Savitri is the record of a seeing, of an experience which is not of the common kind and is often very far from what the general human mind sees and experiences. You must not expect appreciation or understanding from the general public or even from many at the first touch as I have pointed out, there must be a new extension of consciousness and aesthesis to appreciate a new kind of mystic poetry. Moreover if it is really new in kind, it may employ a new technique, not perhaps absolutely new, but new in some or many of its elements; in that case old rules and canons and standards may be quite inapplicable.... We have to see whether what is essential to poetry is there and how far the new technique justifies itself by new beauty and perfection, and a certain freedom of mind from old conventions is necessary if our judgement is to be valid or rightly objective.
– Sri Aurobindo

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