Sri Aurobindo — The Kavi

Overview of the Webinar

WELCOME NOTE: Dr. Sampadanada Mishra

Dr Sampadananda started the session by stating that this webinar’s topic of discussion is focused on Sri Aurobindo’s poetry, his vision of poetry and his thoughts on poetic criticism. He mentioned that Sri Aurobindo’s poetic aspect is not studied widely or explored and that Sri Aurobindo’s The Future Poetry is full of insights. He said that it not only talks about the overhead poetry but also about great poets of his time, poetic criticism, about the deeper vision of poetry and also about the practical aspects. Sri Aurobindo took a challenge upon himself and experimented translating Meghaduta of Kalidasa in a particular English meter which could not have been naturalised in English. He added that there is abundance of insight, constructive feedback, criticism and messages that you can get from The Future Poetry of Sri Aurobindo. Many of them became great poets under his guidance. He concluded by mentioning that Sri Aurobindo gave great importance to nationalism and literature in his poetry and

also believed in listening to the breath of the spirit within which has no boundaries and that which has the great power to impact human consciousness and bring new revolution. Hence, The Future Poetry must be studied thoroughly in universities, academic fields and be used for the research purposes.

With this note, Dr Sampadananda Mishra welcomed the guests and audience to the webinar.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Professor Goutam Ghosal

Dr Goutam Ghosal started with Dr R Y Deshpande’s words that The Future Poetry is not the complete manifest of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry but that we also have to take into consideration his letters to

K D Sethna to understand what he says. He mentioned that the word ’Kavi’ in ancient classic Sanskrit meant ‘maker of prose and verse’ where as Vedic Sanskrit described ‘Kavi’ as ‘he who saw and sang’ which indicated that the thinking mind was not there but a singer. Stating that ‘Poet Singer’ is how

Sri Aurobindo described Rabindranath Tagore and that musical poetry is part of mantric poetry.

Dr Ghosal said that we also have to understand that there are different kinds of visions which can be revelation, prayer, magic or incantation and that this definitely was against T S Eliot’s poetry, who was one of his contemporaries. He added that Sri Aurobindo places poetry at the center of knowledge and that he is primarily a poet and politician and not a philosopher. Sri Aurobindo’s writings are from his experience and he has written more than 50,000 thousand lines which composes of narratives, verses, sonnets, epics, plenty of prose and structures. ‘Language is intellectual and logic but we can see that there was something else which was supporting him beyond the language’, Dr Ghosal said.We can see examples in The Synthesis of Yoga how Sri Aurobindo has written prose by courtesy.Though it is logical, its structure is based on the poetry. Something must be revealed without the intervention of the intellectual. Sri Aurobindo fell between two ages, the modern and Victorian which affected his poetic style. Referring to Sri Aurobindo’s The Future Poetry as a mine of gold and diamonds. Dr Ghosal said that it is thick with reference and unless someone is habituated with Sri Aurobindo’s language, it is difficult to understand and that it does not come by intellect. The Future Poetry comes as the last of the series and as a final statement of Sri Aurobindo. Hence, it is convincing that he places poetry at the centre

of knowledge, the divine agni, the Vedic fire which purifies the consciousness. Hence the emphasis that one should read all the major books of Sri Aurobindo and only then The Future Poetry can be understood. Dr Ghosal said that we can also see a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo’s limitation as an ordinary man when he uses the word supermind instead of overmind in The Future Poetry which indicates some confusion and that he somehow blends ancient and classical Sanskrit.The vision comes to him as thought images and not as revelation which leads Sri Aurobindo to becoming a visionary poet.

Dr Ghosal mentioned that Sri Aurobindo gave resistance to post-colonial and European poets but not to the American poets and that The Future Poetry is like a slap to the Europeans. Sri Aurobindo writes that he sees gradations of beauty in John Keats’s poetry who was popular for his sensuous beauty

in poetry. Sri Aurobindo emphasises that we are not subordinates and that violence is not Indian ethos which is expressed in the dramas of Kalidasa which is benign, calm, soft, loving and kind thereby rejecting the comparison with the age of Elizabeth in England which was more violent. Sri Aurobindo was a leading critic of Shakesphere. He has given us great aesthetics of Shakesphere and called him the

virat and Hiranyagarbha. Lawrence Buell said that a poet is he who sees integrity of the whole landscape

—inner and outer, higher and lower which is how Sri Aurobindo’s poetry is.We can see how the American poets—Henry Thoreau,Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson were all similar to

Sri Aurobindo in poetry and hence Sri Aurobindo had more resistance to the European poets but not to the American poets.

Dr Ghosal mentioned that in the second chapter of The Future Poetry, Sri Aurobindo says that the Rishi has returned again—The one who can see everything as a whole, that lyric will be the future form and this idea gets denied constantly. Sri Aurobindo objectivised subjectivity in his poetry reemphasizing that everything comes from his experience. Everything will come from the spirit and the spirit will define the form.There are two styles—one is ‘mind in style’ which has a preview of the structure whereas the second, ‘soul in style’ doesn’t even know where it would lead to and end.The charm of Sri Aurobindo is in his ability to combine both the styles.Talking about intellect and intuition, Blake in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell says if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything to man would be seen as it is which is infinity. Man is closed up due to too much of interference of the brain, like Sethna says, ‘Brain clamped mentality’. Most of the modern poets are closed up.

Giving some modern Indian poet references, Dr Ghosal said that Urdu poet, Shakeel Badayuni was the closest to Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics and practice whose poems were always revealing and not manufac- tured. Some of the works of Shakti and Harindranath Chattopadhyay were also mentioned. The key- note concluded with this description of Kavi and mantric poetry which is a poetry of incantation that which comes from infinity and goes into the infinity which cannot be predicted and not thought about.

Presidential Remarks by Dr. R Y Deshpande

Dr R Y Deshpande started by noting that very few people know Sri Aurobindo as a poet and that

most of them dismiss him as a poet giving the example of Kathleen Raine. He said that this needs to be corrected because it is important to study Sri Aurobindo not just as poet but also his poetic literature, poetic criticism and new poetic aestheticism. It should be taken not only across the world but also within all our being. Dr Deshpande pointed out that 8 out of the 36 volumes of his complete works are dedicated to poetry and poetic creation and that this 25% of his poetic work occupies a great place in his writings. It is daunting to understand his 36 volumes and for that one needs to be prepared and the question is ‘are we ready for this kind of a task?’. Even his prose writings are prose by courtesy and hence poetic. Are we ready to plunge into this kind of an ocean and pick the pulse? Sri Aurobindo’s

The Future Poetry comes down to the mantra which is already present in the Rig Veda. In that case, what is ‘the future poetry’ that is to be understood? Classical poetry comes from above, from a different plane by the contact with the overmind plane. In contrast to that, the spirit of evolution of man—

of climbing up from vernaculars which is the nature of trying to go upward, we have to attain that future aspect of poetry. Sri Aurobindo intended such a poetry to enter the body of the vernacular. He chose English for his experiment and succeeded and showed that it is possible through Savitri. He demonstrated Savitri as a means of ascension, that it is possible, it is that future poetry that we are looking for. Dr Deshpande said that vision, rhythm and movement are very important aspects for

poetry and its expression. He added that the dynamism that comes in that movement which enters into our soul mind and body movements. But our mental being is always trying to understand what is Rig Veda or The Gita wanting to convey. Its not above the Victorian modernism, classical or romantism style that has to come.Though they are necessary and to be assimilated as part of complete thinking. Based on that, new creation has to emerge from within us and also to receive from above down into us.

If this happens, then it fulfils the task of subscribing ourselves to ‘the future poetry’.This is what Sri Aurobindo meant. He did not want to go back to Rig Veda or Gita but that vernacular should catch that phrase which will bring out the truth, joy, power and the spirit itself it front of us.To fulfil this agenda, Sri Aurobindo opened a department of poetry in 1970. Dr Deshpande said that many poets and people worked in that department for this cause which can bring us the confidence to walk the path.The need is for the mind and soul to be in silence and move on higher and higher.The question is how many people practice and are committed to this kind of future poetry. Dr Deshpande ended his remark by saying that there is a need to carry this vision of poetry by Sri Aurobindo to be studied in universities to bring in more awareness and also that seminars like this also would help in creating this awareness. It is also important to be concerned about applying Sri Aurobindo in every walk of life. If that can be carried out, then we would fulfil the objective of this movement, he concluded.

Dr Sampadananda Mishra, adding to the discussion said that Sri Aurobindo has said in The Future Poetry that for the poetry to become mantra should have three intensities. Its not particular language, any language can be uplifted from the state of inertia, ordinary state to the level of mantra.The three intensities that are required are rhythm, substance or style and the soul’s vision.


Dr Sarani Ghosal, moderator for the session introduced the theme for the panel discussion. She started by mentioning that Sri Aurobindo said he was a poet and a politician first and a yogi later but many have dismissed him as a poet.There were lot of controversies among the contemporary poets led by P Lal who used derogatory remarks about Sri Aurobindo after reading Savitri. Many unfortunately still ask the question—Is he a poet and if so of what kind? Shishir Ghosh says that Sri Aurobindo’s poetry is more of a byproduct from his many roles that he played and also that he wanted publicity but Sri Aurobindo was busy writing poems and reviving poetics of ancient India for modern readers. Dr Ghosal pointed out that during his stay in England, Sri Aurobindo wrote few poems that were published in an anthology by name—Songs of Metal Heart which did not receive enough critical

attention. Poems like Rose I Have Loved which he wrote after his marriage has the same theme of Savitri. So, the thematic similarities were there in his early and later poems. It’s the expression that became clearer and more comprehensive with maturity. Dr Ghosal said that Sri Aurobindo’s The Future Poetry

is a seminal text which establishes him as a poet critic and that he critics in detail the western poetry and relates it to the Indian poetry and poetics thereby presenting his own theory of poetry and poetics which is an integration of eastern and western. She added that therefore, Sri Aurobindo is also a theoretician who can be taken up for critical framework of any literary research. The Future Poetry was revised twice and the first edition was published in 1963. Sri Aurobindo believed that the poet knows the totally of the universe, the fragmented vision is alien to the poet.Taking cue from James H. Cousins, Sri Aurobindo expands this metaphor further in his poetic manifest, The Future Poetry which also imbibes the incantation of the poetry from the ancient Vedic period. It can also be composed in any language and not only in Sanskrit. For example, Rabindranath Tagore composed in Bengali, Kabir in vernacular Hindi, Rumi in Persian and Whitman in English.Vedic hymns had shown Sri Aurobindo the way. Sri Aurobindo defines Kavi as the integral seer of truth who sees the total life—the mundane and spiritual. He also follows the Vedic definition of Kavi as Vipra—Sage, an inspired wise seer who spends

considerable time immersed in contemplating the world beyond the form. He, by the virtue of the soul’s vision of the truth translates vibration and light for others. Poetry is a realisation that takes place in the heart of the seer. Sri Aurobindo’s mantric poetry captures the vision in combination of the sound value, thought value and soul value.The soul value offers an aesthetic delight or Ananda which purifies the consciousness of the readers which is a very classical way of describing a poet. It elevates the egoistic state to the chitha shuddhi which is an advanced form of Aristotle’s notion of catharsis.This way, Sri Aurobindo defines Kavi by integrating the Vedic definition, classical and Aristotle’s definitions.

Dr Ghosal said that Abhinavagupta mentioned the 9 rasas of which the 9th was the Shantam Rasa which has the greater significance since this is the very beginning and the ending of everything. Savitri includes all the 9 rasas starting with the wonder and consists of humour and peace. Hence, Dr Ghosal pointed out that Sri Aurobindo can be placed in many disciplines including the feminist discourse.

Dr Ghosal mentioned that mantric poetry originates with the overmind. Intuition is the guide to such poetry.Various planes and supermind were later defined by Sri Aurobindo in his letters to K D Sethna. The Future Poetry shows us the possibility of going above and beyond which is possible if we look inward.

Dr Ghosal concluded by saying that there is enough proof that Sri Aurobindo is relevant even today as a poet by citing the example of the Nobel prize winner for literature in 2020 who has used words like celestial in her work and that the language is also a substance which will find its proper form and how to address itself.

Dr Ramaswami Subramony gave his note by stating that poetry comes from regions higher than mind and that as long as we are limited to the body, we are in ignorance. At the supramental mind is the harmony, he stated. Even the incomplete statement is a fact which leads to the complete fact. Mantric poetry is framed in the heart and not constructed by the brain. Silence is of more importance than the spoken words. Mantra is the highest level of poetic utterance. Subramony Bharathi studied the Rig Veda under Sri Aurobindo and he wrote poems which became highly mystical and vedantic. Dr Ramaswami also added that Sri Aurobindo has translated Tamil bhakti poems to English understanding that our own poets had also reached higher levels writing poems from the over mind. Hence, the future poetry will express the supramental truth.

Dr Debapriya Goswami spoke on the controversies around Sri Aurobindo as a poet and started by stating that Sri Aurobindo was not accepted as poet and had to face a lot criticism in our country and abroad. She said that the controversy started in early 1940 and was identified by K D Sethna.

C R Munday raised a number of objections on Sri Aurobindo that he does not require such attention. She added that in India, there were many budding modern poets who were against Sri Aurobindo. Professor P Lal pioneered in writing against Sri Aurobindo saying that he did not find anything worthy and his impact on people was high during a time of post-Independence in India. P Lal had said that a poetic revival cannot be brought with a poet here and there indirectly suggesting to his followers that Sri Aurobindo is not worthy. He even has written poetry on that aspect.This damage which was done through anthologies and that introduction of Sri Aurobindo has continued till today.Till today there is a reluctance to study

Sri Aurobindo as a poet. Dr Goswami mentioned that Sri Aurobindo believed that the same poem can have different responses from different people and this view was against the standardisation of taste but there was no one to stand up and raise the voice against such standardisation which was a confusing idea. Dr Goswami said that this is how the controversy was built against Sri Aurobindo as a poet and this needs to be corrected.

One of the points that was discussed during the session was ‘What can we do to popularize

Sri Aurobindo as a poet pan India?’. Some of the suggestions that came up as part of this discussion were:

  • Sri Aurobindo’s Foundations of India Culture must be taught in all schools and
  • The Life Divine and essays in Vande Mataram should be taken to
  • Writings of Sri Aurobindo must be taught and introduced in a better
  • It is important to explore revival of ancient languages and hence make it possible for revival and understanding of Sri This injustice has to be stopped and that we have to establish that he was not less than a modern poet.

Dr Deshpande gave his remarks on the session by stating that his perception and candid remark is that Sri Aurobindo was coming in the way of the fame of those (the poets) who dismissed him as a

poet. He stated that people like Kathleen Raine believed that he was not a poet just because his native language was not English. It is not the English language but the English mind that needs to go away.

He added that though Sanskrit is important which has come from above to below but what we are now attempting is rising from below. Sri Aurobindo has tried to bring this into the English language and experimented in his works. Dr Deshpande concluded the session by stating that Sri Aurobindo has demonstrated that it is possible in English to raise up from below and hence if it is possible in one

vernacular there are possibilities in other vernacular languages.Therefore, we have to ignore all the critics and give importance to raising from below to the higher possibilities.

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