Friday, April 6, 2007

The fusion of the twofold joy, of the spirit and of the soul

Re: 08: A Shrine for the God of Love by RY Deshpande
on Sun 01 Apr 2007 09:58 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Apropos of epic similes The character of a genuine simile is that it should become, as a critic says, “a substantial part of the story” itself, and not just hang around as an appendage, be a digression from the main storyline; this should be particularly so in the case of epic or Homeric similes. But is that a sufficient criterion, of being a substantial part of the story? Should not a simile enter into the creative spirit of the narrative in its own right, with its own richness, vibrancy, suggestiveness, supportive of the soul it represents, almost becoming one with it? It must be an organic branch breathing its natural air, as much as giving to its integrality another living fullness as well as unity. Let us take an example from Sri Aurobindo’s epic Ilion and compare it with the bird-simile we have in the description of the transcendental Savitri.
Sri Aurobindo’s Ilion written in quantitative hexameter is not just an experiment, a demonstration of bringing true quantity to the rhythmic measure of the English language; it is also an irresistible surge of the ocean in the greatness of its voice, a window opening out vistas of creative vision in the large breadths that may not come in the view of the conventional accented expression. Therein could be a new gain.
Sri Aurobindo got the clue to this hexameter from Ferrar who was one of his contemporaries when he was in Cambridge. In his talk dated 3 January 1939, he tells to his attendants how Ferrar read out a line from Arthur Clough and how it revealed to him the potential and degree of the metrical possibility that exists in it, a possibility can be worked out more fully. The line that was given as an example was perhaps this one: "He like a god came leaving his ample Olympian chamber," at once suggesting its sweeping measure.
Sri Aurobindo also recited to the attendants four lines from his Ilion. These belong to the opening Book about the herald Talthybius sending a loud and urgent summons to the sleeping Trojans:
One and unarmed in the car was the driver; grey was he, shrunken,
Worn with his decades. To Pergama cinctured with strength Cyclopean
Old and alone he arrived, insignificant, feeblest of mortals,
Carrying Fate in his helpless hands and the doom of an empire.
But in the following we have a wonderful Homeric simile, well-poised and composed, most apt in its majesty and might for the Homeric theme:
Over the brow he mounted and saw the palace of Priam, Home of the gods of the earth, Laomedon’s marvellous vision Held in the thought that accustomed his will to unearthly achievement And in the blaze of his spirit compelling heaven with its greatness, Dreamed by the harp of Apollo, a melody caught in the marble. Out of his mind it arose like an epic canto by canto; Each of its halls was a strophe, its chambers lines of an epode, Victor chant of Ilion’s destiny…
This Apollo’s epic, this City of ancient Glory fashioned by the God of Arts himself, this Delian marvel, perfect in beauty as a visual symbol, has power to set destiny of men and countries into swift motion. There is magnificence in these descriptions; there is the heroic power that can conquer the hearts of the heroic and the powerful.
If we compare this description, and this diction, with the one we have in Savitri’s bird-passage—
As might a soul fly like a hunted bird, Escaping with tired wings from a world of storms, And a quiet reach like a remembered breast, In a haven of safety and splendid soft repose One could drink life back in streams of honey-fire, Recover the lost habit of happiness, Feel her bright nature's glorious ambiance, And preen joy in her warmth and colour's rule—
we might start seeing the new wonder that is present here. Both are epic similes, one more lyrical than the other, one dense and yet breathing large volumes of sound in the ease of great waters, the other happy-winged untouched by the calamitous chasing it. We might say that one is Classical and the other Romantic.
In the hands of Sri Aurobindo, the Classical opens out to the luminous spiritual, stepping into the realms of bright truth and knowledge and power, the Romantic to the deep psychic, to the inner self, to the soul of delight. It had been throughout the history of literature an impossible task to combine these two into a satisfying harmonious expression, as if they must remain ever in opposition to one another. In that respect the Ilion-simile, though very elevating and rich in more than one respect, charged with the calm and luminous spiritual, is yet wanting in its warm psychic contents.
On the other hand, the Savitri-one in its concern has the quality that brings Ananda of the Divine, its lyricism a sweetness that does not allow any gaping discordance to appear anywhere. Overmind has that power, but then even the Vedic poetry which is in its best is Overmental does not carry that quality of felicity and joy which belongs to the soul. Savitri has achieved it, the fusion of the twofold joy, of the spirit and of the soul. That is the honey-fire, the Joy. RYD

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