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Sri Aurobindo

Collected Poems

SABCL - Volume 5

III. Longer Poems

The Rishi

(King Manu in the former ages of the world, when the Arctic continent still subsisted, seeks knowledge from the Rishi of the Pole, who after long baffling him with conflicting side-lights of the knowledge, reveals to him what it chiefly concerns man to know.)


Rishi who trance-held on the mountains old

Art slumbering, void

Of sense or motion, for in the spirit’s hold

Of unalloyed

Immortal bliss thou dreamst protected! Deep

Let my voice glide

Into thy dumb retreat and break that1 sleep

Abysmal. Hear!

The frozen snows that heap thy giant bed

Ice-cold and clear,

The chill and desert heavens above thee spread

Vast, austere,

Are not so sharp but that thy warm limbs brook

Their bitter breath,

Are not so wide as thy immense outlook

On life and death:

Their vacancy thy silent mind and bright


But ours are blindly active and thy light

We have forgone.


Who art thou, warrior armèd gloriously

Like the sun?

Thy gait is as an empire and thine eye



King Manu, of the Aryan peoples lord,

Greets thee, Sage.


I know thee, King, earth to whose sleepless sword

Was heritage.

The high Sun’s distant glories gave thee forth

On being’s edge:

Where the slow skies of the auroral North

Lead in the morn

And flaming dawns for ever on heaven’s verge

Wheel and turn,

Thundering remote the clamorous Arctic surge

Saw thee born.

There ’twas thy lot these later Fates to build,

This race of man

New-fashion. O Watcher with the mountains wild,

The icy plain,

Thee I too, asleep, have watched, both when the Pole

Was brightening wan

And when like a wild beast the darkness stole

Prowling and slow

Alarming with its silent march the soul.

O King, I know

Thy purpose; for the vacant ages roll

Since man below

Conversed with God in friendship. Thou, reborn

For men perplexed,

Seekest in this dim aeon and forlorn

With evils vexed

The vanished light. For like this Arctic land

Death has annexed

To sleep, our being’s summits cold and grand

Where God abides,

Repel the tread of thought. I too, O King,

In winds and tides

Have sought Him, and in armies thundering,

And where Death strides

Over whole nations. Action, thought and peace

Were questioned, sleep,

And waking, but I had no joy of these,

Nor ponderings deep,

And pity was not sweet enough, nor good

My will could keep.

Often I found Him for a moment, stood

Astonished, then

It fell from me. I could not hold the bliss,

The force for men,

My brothers. Beauty ceased my heart to please,

Brightness in vain

Recalled the vision of the light that glows

Suns behind:

I hated the rich fragrance of the rose;

Weary and blind,

I tired of the suns and stars; then came

With broken mind

To heal me of the rash devouring flame,

The dull disease,

And sojourned with this mountain’s summits bleak,

These frozen seas.

King, the blind dazzling snows have made me meek,

Cooled my unease.

Pride could not follow, nor the restless will

Come and go;

My mind within grew holy, calm and still

Like the snow.


O thou who wast with chariots formidable

And with the bow!

Voiceless and white the cold unchanging hill,

Has it then

A mightier presence, deeper mysteries

Than human men?

The warm low hum of crowds, towns, villages,

The sun and rain,

The village maidens to the water bound,

The happy herds,

The fluting of the shepherd lads, the sound

Myriad of birds,

Speak these not clearer to the heart, convey

More subtle words?

Here is but great dumb night, an awful day

Inert and dead.


The many’s voices fill the listening ear,

Distract the head:

The One is silence; on the snows we hear

Silence tread.


What hast thou garnered from the crags that lour,

The icy field?


O King, I spurned this body’s death; a Power

There was, concealed,

That raised me. Rescued from the pleasant bars

Our longings build,

My wingèd soul went up above the stars

Questing for God.


Oh, didst thou meet Him then? in what bright field

Upon thy road?


I asked the heavenly wanderers as they wheeled

For His abode.


Could glorious Saturn and his rings of hue

Direct thy flight?


Sun could not tell, nor any planet knew

Its source of light,

Nor could I glean that knowledge though I paced

The worlds2 beyond

And into outer nothingness have gazed.

Time’s narrow sound

I crossed, the termless flood where on the Snake

One slumbers throned,

Attempted. But the ages from Him break

Blindly and Space

Forgets its origin. Then I returned

Where luminous blaze

Deathless and ageless in their ease unearned

The ethereal race.


Did the gods tell thee? Has Varuna seen

The high God’s face?


How shall they tell of Him who marvel at sin

And smile at grief?


Did He not send His blissful Angels down

For thy relief?


The Angels know Him not, who fear His frown,

Have fixed belief.


Is there no heaven of eternal light

Where He is found?


The heavens of the Three have beings bright

Their portals round,

And I have journeyed to those regions blest,

Those hills renowned.

In Vishnu’s house where wide Love builds his nest,

My feet have stood.


Is he not That, the blue-winged Dove of peace,

Father of Good?


Nor Brahma, though the suns and hills and seas

Are called his brood.


Is God a dream then? are the heavenly coasts

Visions vain?


I came to Shiva’s roof; the flitting ghosts

Compelled me in.


Is He then God whom the forsaken seek,

Things of sin?


He sat on being’s summit grand, a peak

Immense of fire.


Knows He the secret of release from tears

And from desire?


His voice is the last murmur silence hears,

Tranquil and dire.


The silence calls us then and shall enclose?


Our true abode

Is here and in the pleasant house He chose

To harbour God.


In vain thou hast travelled the unwonted stars

And the void hast trod!


King, not in vain. I knew the tedious bars

That I had fled,

To be His arms whom I have sought; I saw

How earth was made

Out of His being; I perceived the Law,

The Truth, the Vast,

From which we came and which we are; I heard

The ages past

Whisper their history, and I knew the Word

That forth was cast

Into the unformed potency of things

To build the suns.

Through endless Space and on Time’s iron wings

A rhythm runs

Our lives pursue, and till the strain’s complete

That now so moans

And falters, we upon this greenness meet,

That measure tread.


Is earth His seat? this body His poor hold

Infirmly made?


I flung off matter like a robe grown old;

Matter was dead.


Sages have told of vital force behind:

It is God then?


The vital spirits move but as a wind

Within men.


Mind then is lord that like a sovereign sways

Delight and pain?


Mind is His wax to write and, written, rase

Form and name.


Is thought not He who has immortal eyes

Time cannot dim?


Higher, O King, the still voice bade me rise

Than thought’s clear dream.

Deep in the luminous secrecy, the mute

Profound of things,

Where murmurs never sound of harp or lute

And no voice sings,

Light is not, nor our darkness, nor these bright


In the deep steady voiceless core of white

And burning bliss,

The sweet vast centre and the cave divine

Called Paradise,

He dwells within us all who dwells not in

Aught that is.


Rishi, thy thoughts are like the blazing sun

Eye cannot face.

How shall our souls on that bright awful One

Hope even to gaze

Who lights the world from His eternity

With a few rays?


Dare on thyself to look, thyself art He,

O Aryan, then.

There is no thou nor I, beasts of the field,

Nor birds, nor men,

But flickerings on a many-sided shield

Pass and3 remain,

And this is winged and that with poisonous tongue

Hissing coils.

We love ourselves and hate ourselves, are wrung

With woes and toils

To slay ourselves or from ourselves to win

Shadowy spoils.

And through it all, the rumour and the din,

Voices roam,

Voices of harps, voices of rolling seas,

That rarely come

And to our inborn old affinities

Call us home.

Shadows upon the many-sided Mind

Arrive and go,

Shadows that shadows see; the vain pomps wind

Above, below,

While in their hearts the single mighty God

Whom none can know,

Guiding the mimic squadrons with His nod

Watches it all –

Like transient shapes that sweep with half-guessed truth

A luminous wall.


Alas! is life then vain? Our gorgeous youth

Lithe and tall,

Our sweet fair women with their tender eyes

Outshining stars,

The mighty meditations of the wise,

The grandiose wars,

The blood, the fiery strife, the clenched dead hands,

The circle sparse,

The various labour in a hundred lands,

Are all these shows

To please some audience cold? as in a vase

Lily and rose,

Mixed snow and crimson, for a moment blaze

Till someone throws

The withered petals in some outer dust,

Heeding not,–

The virtuous man made one with the unjust,

Is this our lot?


O King, sight is not vain, nor any sound.

Weeds that float

Upon a puddle and the majestic round

Of the suns

Are thoughts eternal,– what man loves to laud

And what he shuns;

Through glorious things and base the wheel of God

For ever runs.

O King, no thought is vain; our very dreams

Substantial are;

The light we see in fancy, yonder gleams

In the star.


Rishi, are we both dreams and real? the near

Even as the far?


Dreams are we not, O King, but see dreams, fear

Therefore and strive.

Like poets in a wondrous world of thought

Always we live,

Whose shapes from out ourselves to being brought

Abide and thrive.

The poet from his vast and labouring mind

Brings brilliant out

A living world; forth into space they wind,

The shining rout,

And hate and love, and laugh and weep, enjoy,

Fight and shout,

King, lord and beggar, tender girl and boy,

Foemen, friends;

So to His creatures God’s poetic mind

A substance lends.

The Poet with dazzling inspiration blind,

Until it ends,

Forgets Himself and lives in what He forms;

For ever His soul

Through chaos like a wind creating storms,

Till the stars roll

Through ordered space and the green lands arise,

The snowy Pole,

Ocean and this great heaven full of eyes,

And sweet sounds heard,

Man with his wondrous soul of hate and love,

And beast and bird,–

Yes, He creates the worlds and heaven above

With a single word;

And these things being Himself are real, yet

Are they like dreams,

For He awakes to self He could forget

In what He seems.

Yet, King, deem nothing vain: through many veils

This Spirit gleams.

The dreams of God are truths and He prevails.

Then all His time

Cherish thyself, O King, and cherish men,

Anchored in Him.


Upon the silence of the sapphire main

Waves that sublime

Rise at His word and when that fiat’s stilled

Are hushed again,

So is it, Rishi, with the Spirit concealed,

Things and men?


Hear then the Truth. Behind this visible world

The eyes see plain,

Another stands, and in its folds are curled

Our waking dreams.

Dream is more real, which, while here we wake,

Unreal seems.

From that our mortal life and thoughts we take.

Its fugitive gleams

Are here made firm and solid; there they float

In a magic haze,

Melody swelling note on absolute note,

A lyric maze,

Beauty on beauty heaped pell-mell to chain

The enchanted gaze,

Thought upon mighty thought with grandiose strain

Weaving the stars.

This is that world of dream from which our race

Came; by these bars

Of body now enchained, with laggard pace,

Borne down with cares,

A little of that rapture to express

We labour hard,

A little of that beauty, music, thought

With toil prepared;

And if a single strain is clearly caught,

Then our reward

Is great on earth, and in the world that floats

Lingering awhile

We hear the fullness and the jarring notes


Then travel forwards. So we slowly rise,

And every mile

Of our long journey mark with eager eyes;

So we progress

With gurge of revolution and recoil,

Slaughter and stress

Of anguish because without fruit we toil,

Without success;

Even as a ship upon the stormy flood

With fluttering sails

Labours towards the shore; the angry mood

Of Ocean swells,

Calms come and favouring winds, but yet afar

The harbour pales

In evening mists and Ocean threatens war:

Such is our life.

Of this be sure, the mighty game goes on,

The glorious strife,

Until the goal predestined has been won.

Not on the cliff

To be shattered has our ship set forth of old,

Nor in the surge

To founder. Therefore, King, be royal, bold,

And through the urge

Of winds, the reboant thunders and the close

Tempestuous gurge

Press on for ever laughing at the blows

Of wind and wave.

The haven must be reached; we rise from pyre,

We rise from grave,

We mould our future by our past desire,

We break, we save,

We find the music that we could not find,

The thought think out

We could not then perfect, and from the mind

That brilliant rout

Of wonders marshal into living forms.

End then thy doubt;

Grieve not for wounds, nor fear the violent storms,

For grief and pain

Are errors of the clouded soul; behind

They do not stain

The living spirit who to these is blind.

Torture, disdain,

Defeat and sorrow give him strength and joy:

’Twas for delight

He sought existence, and if pains alloy,

’Tis here in night

Which we call day. The Yogin knows, O King,

Who in his might

Travels beyond the mind’s imagining,

The worlds of dream.

For even they are shadows, even they

Are not,– they seem.

Behind them is a mighty blissful day

From which they stream.

The heavens of a million creeds are these:

Peopled they teem

By creatures full of joy and radiant ease.

There is the mint

From which we are the final issue, types

Which here we print

In dual letters. There no torture grips,

Joy cannot stint

Her streams,– beneath a more than mortal sun

Through golden air

The spirits of the deathless regions run.

But we must dare

To still the mind into a perfect sleep

And leave this lair

Of gross material flesh which we would keep

Always, before

The guardians of felicity will ope

The golden door.

That is our home and that the secret hope

Our hearts explore.

To bring those heavens down upon the earth

We all descend,

And fragments of it in the human birth

We can command.

Perfect millenniums are sometimes, until

In the sweet end

All secret heaven upon earth we spill,

Then rise above

Taking mankind with us to the abode

Of rapturous Love,

The bright epiphany whom we name God,

Towards whom we drove

In spite of weakness, evil, grief and pain.

He stands behind

The worlds of Sleep; He is and shall remain

When they grow blind

To individual joys; for even these

Are shadows, King,

And gloriously into that lustre cease

From which they spring.

We are but sparks of that most perfect fire,

Waves of that sea:

From Him we come, to Him we go, desire


And so long as He wills, our separate birth

Is and shall be.

Shrink not from life, O Aryan, but with mirth

And joy receive

His good and evil, sin and virtue, till

He bids thee leave.

But while thou livest, perfectly fulfil

Thy part, conceive

Earth as thy stage, thyself the actor strong,

The drama His.

Work, but the fruits to God alone belong,

Who only is.

Work, love and know,– so shall thy spirit win

Immortal bliss.

Love men, love God. Fear not to love, O King,

Fear not to enjoy;

For Death’s a passage, grief a fancied thing

Fools to annoy.

From self escape and find in love alone

A higher joy.


O Rishi, I have wide dominion,

The earth obeys

And heaven opens far beyond the sun

Her golden gaze.

But Him I seek, the still and perfect One,–

The Sun, not rays.


Seek Him upon the earth. For thee He set

In the huge press

Of many worlds to build a mighty state

For man’s success,

Who seeks his goal. Perfect thy human might,

Perfect the race.

For thou art He, O King. Only the night

Is on thy soul

By thy own will. Remove it and recover

The serene whole

Thou art indeed, then raise up man the lover

To God the goal.


Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volume 2.- Collected Poems.- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2009.- 751 p.

1 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: thy


2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: world’s


3 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: or