SABCL - Volume 5
VI. Poems in New Metres
The Bird of Fire and Trance.
These two poems are in the nature of metrical experiments. The first is a kind of compromise between the stress system and the foot measure. The stanza is of four lines, alternately of twelve and ten stresses. The second and fourth line in each stanza can be read as a ten-foot line of mixed iambs and anapaests, the first and third, though a similar system subject to replacement of a foot anywhere by a single-syllable half-foot could be applied, are still mainly readable by stresses.
The other poem is an experiment in the use of quantitative foot measures1. It is a four-line stanza reading alternately
| | |
and | | |
It could indeed be read otherwise, in several ways, but read in the ordinary way it would2 lose all lyrical quality and the soul of its rhythm.
The Bird of Fire is the living vehicle of the gold fire of the Divine Light and the white fire of the Divine Tapas and the crimson fire of Divine Love – and everything else of the Divine Consciousness.
Shiva – The Inconscient Creator.
The quantitative metre of Trance is suited only for a very brief lyrical poem. For longer poems I have sought to use it as a base but to liberate it by the introduction of an ample number of modulations which allow a fairly free variation of the rhythm without destroying the consistency of the underlying rhythmic measure. This is achieved in Shiva by allowing as the main modulations (1) a paeon anywhere in place of an amphibrach, (2) the substitution of a long for a short syllable either in the first or the last syllable of an amphibrach, at will3, (3) the substitution of a dactyl for an initial amphibrach, (4) the substitution of a long instead of short syllable in the middle of the final anapaest, both this and the ultimate syllable to be in that case stressed in reading, e.g.,
deathless | and lone head.
The4 suppression of the full value of long syllables to make them figure as metrical shorts has to be avoided in quantitative metre.
A face on the cold dire mountain peaks
Grand and still; its lines white and austere
Match with the unmeasured snowy streaks
Cutting heaven, implacable and sheer.
The Inconscient as the source and author of all material creation is one of the main discoveries of modern psychology, but it agrees with the idea of a famous Vedic hymn. In the Upanishads, Prajna, the Master of Sushupti, is the Ishwara and therefore the original Creator out of a superconscient sleep. The idea of the poem is that this creative Inconscient also is Shiva creating here life in matter out of an apparently inconscient material trance as from above he creates all the worlds (not the material only) from a superconscient trance. The reality is a supreme Consciousness – but that is veiled by the appearance on one side of the superconscient sleep, on the other of the material Inconscience. Here the emphasis is on the latter; the superconscient is only hinted at, not indicated,– it is the Infinity out of which comes the revealing Flame.
The Life Heavens.
Further modulations have been introduced in this poem – a greater use is made of tetrasyllabic feet such as paeons, epitrites, di-iambs, ionics5 and, once only, the antispast – and in a few places the foot of three long syllables (molossus) has been used, and in others a foot extending to five syllables (e.g., Delivered from grief).
A life of intensities wide, immune
Floats behind the earth and her life-fret,
A magic of realms mastered by spell and rune,
Grandiose, blissful, coloured, increate.
There were two places in which at the time of writing there did not seem to me to be a satisfactory completeness and the addition of a stanza seemed to be called for – one at the end of the description of the Life Heavens, a stanza which would be a closing global description of the essence of the vital Heavens, the other (less imperatively called for) in the utterance of the Voice. There it is no doubt very condensed, but it cannot be otherwise. I thought, however, that one stanza might be added hinting rather than stating the connection between the two extremes. The connection is between the Divine suppressed in its opposites and the Divine eternal in its own unveiled and undescended nature. The idea is that the other worlds are not evolutionary but typal and each presents in a limited perfection some aspect of the Infinite, but each complete, perfectly satisfied in itself, not asking or aspiring for anything else, for self-exceeding of any kind. That aspiration, on the contrary, is self-imposed on the imperfection of Earth; the very fact of the Divine being there, but suppressed in its phenomenal opposites, compels an effort to arrive at the unveiled Divine – by ascent, but also by a descent of the Divine perfection for evolutionary manifestation here. That is why the Earth declares itself a deeper Power than Heaven because it holds in itself that possibility implied in the presence of the suppressed Divine here,– which does not exist in the perfection of the vital (or even the mental) Heavens.
Written in Alcaics. These Alcaics are not perhaps very orthodox. I have treated the close of the first two lines not as a dactyl but as a cretic and have taken the liberty in any stanza of turning this into a double trochee. In one closing line I have started the dactylic run with two short preliminary syllables and there is occasionally a dactyl or anapaest in unlawful places; the dactyls too are not all pure dactyls. The object is to bring in by modulations some variety and a more plastic form and easier run than strict orthodoxy could give. But in essence, I think, the alcaic movement remains in spite of these departures.
The6 basic form of this Alcaic would run,
1, 2 | | || |
3 | | | |
4 | |
but with an opening to other modulations.
The subject is the Vedantic ideal of the living liberated man – jīvanmukta – though perhaps I have given a pull towards my own ideal which the strict Vedantin would consider illegitimate.
In Horis Aeternum.
This poem on its technical side aims at finding a halfway house between free verse and regular metrical poetry. It is an attempt to avoid the chaotic amorphousness of free verse and keep to a regular form based on the fixed number of stresses in each line and part of a line while yet there shall be a great plasticity and variety in all the other elements of poetic rhythm, the number of syllables, the management of the feet, if any, the distribution of the stress-beats, the changing modulation of the rhythm. In Horis Aeternum was meant as a first essay in this kind, a very simple and elementary model. The line here is cast into three parts, the first containing two stresses, the second and third each admitting three, four such lines rhymed constituting the stanza.
(From Letters of the Author)
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: foot measures not following any existing model, but freely invented.
2 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: way of accentual feet it would
3 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: at will, thus substituting a bacchius or an antibacchius
4 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: a bacchius replacing the anapaest. The
5 2009 ed. CWSA, vol.2: di-iambs, double trochees, ionics
6 This sentence, including scan, was absent in this edition and was taken from the edition of 2009 year