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Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo

The Complete Set

If by “widening” you mean that I have made a mighty or even a fractional conscious personal effort, well, that's just not it.

No, I did not mean that.

And with all my widening, I can't get even a glimpse of the Presence?

But you don't widen! If you did (I suppose you are too lazy to do so) you would get a glimpse and more.

The laws of its coming and going are as unknown as Einstein's law of Relativity. It comes of its own sweet will, at its own sweet hour. I feel Peace, Bliss and I write – “A Peace has taken my soul”, and you say I have widened.

Of course. If you hadn't widened, how could the blessed thing get in? Of course, whether you widened yourself or it widened you and forced its way, is another matter.

It goes as it comes.

It always does, you know. But it comes back too, if you allow it.

The tragedy is that I know nothing of its reason of arrival and departure...

No reason. Only unreason or superreason. Keep your end up and it will arrive again, and some day perhaps after jack-in-the-boxing like that sufficiently, one day it will sit down and say “Here I am for good. Send for the priest and let us be married.” With these things that is the law and the rule and the reason and rhyme of it and everything.

At times I think why the devil do I bother my head with poetry? Poetry, poetry, poetry! Have I come here for blessed poetry?

You haven't. But the poetry has come for you. So why shout?

I know that success in English poetry is as far away as the stars in heaven in spite of your remark to the contrary, though I must confess to having some contentment in writing.

Rubbish! the stars in heaven don't stroll in and pay a visit – nor do they stroll out again.

Now let me tell you how an Englishman named Thompson visiting our Ashram, looks at our versification in his tongue which has thrown cold water on it.

I am not interested in the looks of your Englishman.

Thompson's tongue has thrown cold water on it – or what? This sentence is almost as unintelligible as Thompson's own English.

He had a heated discussion with Dilip and said he could not understand at all why we Easterners should write poetry in English, deserting our own tongue.

Is his understanding of such immense importance? I might just as reasonably ask him why Westerners like him should go to practise an Eastern thing like spirituality or Yoga leaving their own parliaments, factories and what not. But not being Thompson in intelligence, I don't ask such absurd questions.

He seems to know definitely that we shan't be able to handle English as an Englishman would – its tradition, its expressions, etc.

A Thompson, like his father Tom, also his uncles Dick and Harry, must of course be omniscient.

He asks: “Suppose an Englishman were to write a poem in Bengali, what would you say?”

It would depend on the Englishman and how he did it.

Dilip argued: “The Gitanjali of Tagore was appreciated and highly praised by many English poets. Conrad's prose ranks as high as any great English writer's. Sarojini Naidu and some others were praised by Gosse, Binyon and De la Mare.”

Add Santayana whose prose is better than most Englishmen's.

Thompson rejoined: “Well, the merits of the latter people you mention were extra-literary. Show the works of the Indians to people like Eliot and see.” God knows what he means.

I don't think God knows.

What the blazes does all this nonsense mean? The latter people like Binyon and De la Mare have no literary merit or literary perception and Eliot has? Eliot is a theorist, a man who builds his poetry according to rule. God save us from such fellows and their opinions.1

As for Tagore, his work is said to have been appreciated because it was “derivative”, (though what exactly he means by “derivative”, I don't know. I suppose he means a translation).

What difference does that make? The English Bible is a translation, but it ranks among the finest pieces of literature in the world.

As for Conrad, according to Thompson, he is a Westerner, and surely there is a greater difference in tradition, expression, feeling between an Easterner and an Englishman than between an Englishman and another European.

In other words, any Western tradition, expression, feeling – even Polish or Russian – can be legitimately expressed in English, however unEnglish it may be, but an Eastern spirit, tradition or temper cannot? He differs from Gosse who told Sarojini Naidu that she must write Indian poems in English – poems with an Indian tradition, feeling, way of expression, not reproduce the English mind and turn, if she wanted to do something great and original as a poet in the English tongue.

He objects to our making even an experiment in English versification.

How terrible! Then of course everybody must stop at once. I too must not presume to write in English – for I have an Indian mind and spirit and am that dreadful Indian thing, a Yogi!

I can't say that he is absolutely wrong except in disfavouring even an experiment.

Nobody ever is absolutely wrong. There is an infinitesimal atom of truth even in the most imbecile or lunatic proposition ever made.

I think that however much we2 may try, we shan't be able to enter into the subtleties of a foreign tongue; so we run the risk of writing un-English English.

Who is this we?

Many Indians write better English than many educated Englishmen.

I believe he would waive his objection in your case.

How graciously kind of him! After all perhaps I can continue to write in English. Only poor Amal will have to stop. He can't write a line after the cold water of Thompson's tongue.

I don't know that any Englishman could write pucca Bengali. It would sound and “sense” un-Bengali Bengali.

It would if he had not thoroughly mastered the Bengali tongue. It is true that few Englishmen have the Indian's linguistic turn, plasticity and ability.

Of course if you say that our aim is not success or Shelleyan heights, but only to give voice to our spiritual experiences in a tongue so widely spoken, nothing remains to be said.

Shelleyan heights are regarded, I believe, by Eliot as very low things or at least a very bad eminence.

But even for expressing spirituality or whatever may be the object, we must try to make the vehicle as perfect as possible.

Who said not except the unparalleled T?

Now, is there any chance for it? T (an Englishman, mind you) says “None.” And you?

How can my opinion have any value against that of an Englishman – especially when that Englishman calls himself T?

As I said at the beginning I have no interest in T's opinions and set no value by them. Even the awful fact of his being an Englishman does not terrify me. Strange, isn't it? I have seen some lucubrations of his meant to be spiritual or Yogic and they are the most horrible pretentious inflated circumlocutionary bombastic would-be-abysmally-profound language that I have seen. For a man who talks of English style, tradition, expression, feeling, idiom, it was the worst production and most unEnglish possible. Few Indians could have beaten it. And the meaning nil. Also he is the gentleman who finds that there is “very little spirituality” in India. So hats off to T (even though we have no hats), and for the rest silence.

As for the question itself, I put forward four reasons why the experiment could be made: (1) The expression of spirituality in the English tongue is needed and no one can give the real stuff like Easterners and especially Indians. (2) We are entering an age when the stiff barriers of insular and national mentality are breaking down (Hitler notwithstanding), the nations are being drawn into a common universality with whatever differences, and in the new age there is no reason why the English should not admit the expression of other, minds than the English in their tongue. (3) For ordinary minds it may be difficult to get over the barrier of a foreign tongue, but extraordinary minds (Conrad etc.) can do it. (4) In this case the experiment is to see whether what extraordinary minds can do, cannot be done by Yoga. Sufficit – or as Ramchandra eloquently puts it “Nuff said!”

I don't know what to do about N's polyuria. There is no apparent reason to account for it. We can make a laboratory examination of his urine, without his knowledge.

How to do that? My objection to his knowing the results, if bad, is that his physical consciousness accepts all suggestions of illness, instead of reacting sinks down under the illness and prolongs it interminably. If the results are good, it is another matter. There is also something in his underconsciousness that likes to be ill so that it may be complaining and supine.



1 Note: Sri Aurobindo's whole estimate of Eliot is naturally not summed up in a remark made in 1936. Although this remark touches on a point which he evidently thought important in relation to Eliot, he could say about some passages read out to him at a later date: “This is poetry.” About some others he said, “The substance is good but there's no poetry.” He also appreciated certain pieces of criticism by Eliot, apropos of which he remarked that Eliot was better as a critic than as a poet.


2 Sri Aurobindo underlined “we”.











1936 02 28 Exact Writting Letter Nirodbaran