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Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo

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Amal says that he wanted to make a metrical experiment by a sort of combination of iambic and anapaest. You Write that after Amal's correction of N K's poem, it is surprisingly perfect. Can it be called, a poem, with so many irregular variations? Or would it be called free verse, with some metrical arrangement?

What on earth do you mean? Iambics and anapaests can be combined in English verse at any time, provided one does not set out to write a purely iambic or a purely anapaestic metre. Mixed anapaest and iamb make a most beautifully flexible lyric rhythm. It has no more connection with free verse than the constellation of the Great Bear has to do with a cat's tail. Free verse indicates verse free from the shackles of rhyme and metre, but rhythmic (or trying to be rhythmic) in one way or another. If you put rhymes, that will be considered a shackle and the “free” will kick at the chain. The rhythm and metrical arrangement is perfect on the iamb-anapaest basis. I only wanted to know whether that was what Amal intended. For the rhyme scheme of the poem is that of a sonnet and in English the sonnet is always written in iambic pentameter – the combination of a lyrical metre with sonnet rhyme scheme is a novel adventure.

If Nishikanta can learn the English metre, he will produce some splendid poems. What do you say?

Possibly and even probably – only he must learn also what is and is not possible in English poetic style.

I hope you didn't fail to notice in Nishikanta's poem – “With profuse success, each pot of my every dot fulfils,” word for word a translation by him of his Bengali line – prati bindura prati ādhāra.

Amal and I had a hearty laugh!

Yes, it was a stroke of genius.

Amal said “Better send N K's poem, as if is, to Sri Aurobindo and ask him whether it would not be better to write such poems in free verse.”

Free verse would very likely be the death of his new possibility. His genius runs naturally into rhyme.

But don't you agree that it is a very striking piece with much original imagery?

It is indeed a remarkable effort, full of beauty and power. You will see that by some changes (for the sake of metre and correct language and style) it becomes a poem of great original beauty.

It seems to be better than the previous one – both in force and imagery and yet it doesn't seem to be so oriental. Am I right?

You are right; it is much more possible in English.

I believe that Nishikanta will profit immensely if he tries to learn the metre.

Yes. This one I have turned into a very flexible amalgam of iambs, trochees and anapaests. It gives to my eye a very attractive and original effect.

I have grave doubts about the success of the orientals in the field of English poetry. It is very difficult for us to enter into the subtleties of English language; and our oriental nature is also unappealing to the Westerners.

What you say is no doubt correct, but on the other hand it is possible that the mind of the future will be more international than it is now. In that case the expression of various temperaments in English poetry will have a chance.

Look at Harm's poetry. We're so ecstatic over it here, but outside he hardly gets a good audience; not even K seems to like his poetry.

I don't think I can put as much value on K's literary judgments as on his comments on Yoga etc. Some of his criticisms astonished me. For instance he found fault with Harm for using rhymes which Shelley uses freely in his best poems.

You must remember also that Karin's poetry has been appreciated by some of the finest English writers like Binyon and De la Mare. But anyway all growing writers (unless they are very lucky) meet with depreciation and criticism at first until people get accustomed to it. Perhaps if Harin had published his poems under the name let us say of Harry Chatto, he would have succeeded by this time and no one would have talked of Oriental inaptness.

I always look with pity at our people trying poetic exercises in English, except Harin, and always think of Michael Madhusudan's failure. But I suppose you think otherwise, because you have a big trump up your sleeve – the Supermind.

My aim is not personal glory, but to arrive at the expression of spiritual truth and experience of all kinds in poetry. The English tongue is the most wide-spread – if it can be used for the highest spiritual expression, that is worth trying.

How do you explain Nishikanta's miraculous (???)/cat? He can't speak at all correctly in English, whereas he writes wonderful poetry!

That has nothing to do with it. Speech and Poetry come from two quite different sources – Remember Goldsmith who wrote like an angel and talked like a parrot.

You can't say that it is all due to Yoga. He has been here only for a year and D for so many years, yet the difference between them as poets, is striking. I can understand your yogic success in his Bengali poetry, because the field was ready, but the opening of his channel in English has staggered me. I can't explain if it is your success or his.

What do you mean by Yoga? There is a Force here in the atmosphere which will give itself to anyone open to it. Naturally it will work best when the native language is used – but it can do big things through English if the channel used is a poetic one and if that channel offers itself. Two things are necessary – no personal resistance and some willingness to take trouble about understanding the elementary technique at least so that the transcription may not meet with too many obstacles. Nishikanta has a fine channel and with a very poetic turn in it – he offers no resistance to the flow of the force, no interference of his mental ego, only the convenience of his mental individuality. Whether he takes the trouble for the technique is another matter.

I had written to you that Nishikanta bows in front of your photograph before he sits down to write, and that I am ready to bow a hundred times, if that is the trick. You answered that it depends on how one bows. Methinks it does not depend on it. Even if it did I don't think Nishikanta knows it. Or was it in his past life that he knew it?

Well, there is a certain faculty of effacing oneself and letting the Universal Force run through you – that is the way of bowing. It can be acquired by various means, but also one may have the capacity for doing it in certain directions by nature.


1935 12 10 Exact Writting Letter Nirodbaran