A Legend and a Symbol
Savitri by Sri Aurobindo – his major poetic work, an epic in blank verse. In Savitri, a legend from the Mahabharata becomes the symbol of the human soul’s spiritual destiny. In poetic language, Sri Aurobindo describes his vision of existence and explores the reason for ignorance, darkness, suffering and pain, the purpose of life on earth and the prospect of a glorious future for humanity. The writing of the epic extended over much of the later part of his life.
The writing of Savitri extended over much of the later part of Sri Aurobindo’s life. The earliest known manuscript is dated 1916. The original narrative poem was recast several times in the first phase of composition. By around 1930, Sri Aurobindo had begun to turn it into an epic with a larger scope and deeper significance.
Transformed into “A Legend and a Symbol”, Savitri became his major literary work which he continued to expand and perfect until his last days. In the late 1940s, when his eyesight was failing, he took the help of a scribe and dictated the extensive final stages of revision.
Author: Sri Aurobindo
Print Length: 763 pages
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram
BOOK ONE. The Book of Beginnings
- Canto One. The Symbol Dawn
- Canto Two. The Issue
- Canto Three. The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Soul’s Release
- Canto Four. The Secret Knowledge
- Canto Five. The Yoga of the King: The Yoga of the Spirit’s Freedom and Greatness
BOOK TWO. The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds
- Canto One. The World-Stair
- Canto Two. The Kingdom of Subtle Matter
- Canto Three. The Glory and the Fall of Life
- Canto Four. The Kingdoms of the Little Life
- Canto Five. The Godheads of the Little Life
- Canto Six. The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Life
- Canto Seven. The Descent into Night
- Canto Eight. The World of Falsehood, the Mother of Evil and the Sons of Darkness
- Canto Nine. The Paradise of the Life-Gods
- Canto Ten. The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind
- Canto Eleven. The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Mind
- Canto Twelve. The Heavens of the Ideal
- Canto Thirteen. In the Self of Mind
- Canto Fourteen. The World-Soul
- Canto Fifteen. The Kingdoms of the Greater Knowledge
BOOK THREE. The Book of the Divine Mother
- Canto One. The Pursuit of the Unknowable
- Canto Two. The Adoration of the Divine Mother
- Canto Three. The House of the Spirit and the New Creation
- Canto Four. The Vision and the Boon
BOOK FOUR. The Book of Birth and Quest
- Canto One. The Birth and Childhood of the Flame
- Canto Two. The Growth of the Flame
- Canto Three. The Call to the Quest
- Canto Four. The Quest
BOOK FIVE. The Book of Love
- Canto One. The Destined Meeting-Place
- Canto Two. Satyavan
- Canto Three. Satyavan and Savitri
BOOK SIX. The Book of Fate
- Canto One. The Word of Fate
- Canto Two. The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain
BOOK SEVEN. The Book of Yoga
- Canto One. The Joy of Union; the Ordeal of the Foreknowledge of Death and the Heart’s Grief and Pain
- Canto Two. The Parable of the Search for the Soul
- Canto Three. The Entry into the Inner Countries
- Canto Four. The Triple Soul-Forces
- Canto Five. The Finding of the Soul
- Canto Six. Nirvana and the Discovery of the All-Negating Absolute
- Canto Seven. The Discovery of the Cosmic Spirit and the Cosmic Consciousness
BOOK EIGHT. The Book of Death
- Canto Three. Death in the Forest
BOOK NINE. The Book of Eternal Night
- Canto One. Towards the Black Void
- Canto Two. The Journey in Eternal Night and the Voice of the Darkness
BOOK TEN. The Book of the Double Twilight
- Canto One. The Dream Twilight of the Ideal
- Canto Two. The Gospel of Death and Vanity of the Ideal
- Canto Three. The Debate of Love and Death
- Canto Four. The Dream Twilight of the Earthly Real
BOOK ELEVEN. The Book of Everlasting Day
- Canto One. The Eternal Day: The Soul’s Choice and the Supreme Consummation
BOOK TWELVE. Epilogue
- Epilogue. The Return to Earth
Canto One. The Symbol Dawn
It was the hour before the Gods awake.
Across the path of the divine Event
The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
In her unlit temple of eternity,
Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’ marge.
Almost one felt, opaque, impenetrable,
In the sombre symbol of her eyeless muse
The abysm of the unbodied Infinite;
A fathomless zero occupied the world.
A power of fallen boundless self awake
Between the first and the last Nothingness,
Recalling the tenebrous womb from which it came,
Turned from the insoluble mystery of birth
And the tardy process of mortality
And longed to reach its end in vacant Nought.
As in a dark beginning of all things,
A mute featureless semblance of the Unknown
Repeating for ever the unconscious act,
Prolonging for ever the unseeing will,
Cradled the cosmic drowse of ignorant Force
Whose moved creative slumber kindles the suns
And carries our lives in its somnambulist whirl.
Athwart the vain enormous trance of Space,
Its formless stupor without mind or life,
A shadow spinning through a soulless Void,
Thrown back once more into unthinking dreams,
Earth wheeled abandoned in the hollow gulfs
Forgetful of her spirit and her fate.
The impassive skies were neutral, empty, still.
Then something in the inscrutable darkness stirred;
A nameless movement, an unthought Idea
Insistent, dissatisfied, without an aim,
Something that wished but knew not how to be,
Teased the Inconscient to wake Ignorance.
A throe that came and left a quivering trace,
Gave room for an old tired want unfilled,
At peace in its subconscient moonless cave
To raise its head and look for absent light,
Straining closed eyes of vanished memory,
Like one who searches for a bygone self
And only meets the corpse of his desire.
It was as though even in this Nought’s profound,
Even in this ultimate dissolution’s core,
There lurked an unremembering entity,
Survivor of a slain and buried past
Condemned to resume the effort and the pang,
Reviving in another frustrate world.
An unshaped consciousness desired light
And a blank prescience yearned towards distant change.
As if a childlike finger laid on a cheek
Reminded of the endless need in things
The heedless Mother of the universe,
An infant longing clutched the sombre Vast.
Insensibly somewhere a breach began:
A long lone line of hesitating hue
Like a vague smile tempting a desert heart
Troubled the far rim of life’s obscure sleep.
Arrived from the other side of boundlessness
An eye of deity peered through the dumb deeps;
A scout in a reconnaissance from the sun,
It seemed amid a heavy cosmic rest,
The torpor of a sick and weary world,
To seek for a spirit sole and desolate
Too fallen to recollect forgotten bliss.
Intervening in a mindless universe,
Its message crept through the reluctant hush
Calling the adventure of consciousness and joy
And, conquering Nature’s disillusioned breast,
Compelled renewed consent to see and feel.
A thought was sown in the unsounded Void,
A sense was born within the darkness’ depths,
A memory quivered in the heart of Time
As if a soul long dead were moved to live:
But the oblivion that succeeds the fall,
Had blotted the crowded tablets of the past,
And all that was destroyed must be rebuilt
And old experience laboured out once more.
All can be done if the god-touch is there.
A hope stole in that hardly dared to be
Amid the Night’s forlorn indifference.
As if solicited in an alien world
With timid and hazardous instinctive grace,
Orphaned and driven out to seek a home,
An errant marvel with no place to live,
Into a far-off nook of heaven there came
A slow miraculous gesture’s dim appeal.
The persistent thrill of a transfiguring touch
Persuaded the inert black quietude
And beauty and wonder disturbed the fields of God.
A wandering hand of pale enchanted light
That glowed along a fading moment’s brink,
Fixed with gold panel and opalescent hinge
A gate of dreams ajar on mystery’s verge.
One lucent corner windowing hidden things
Forced the world’s blind immensity to sight.
The darkness failed and slipped like a falling cloak
From the reclining body of a god.
Then through the pallid rift that seemed at first
Hardly enough for a trickle from the suns,
Outpoured the revelation and the flame.
The brief perpetual sign recurred above.
A glamour from unreached transcendences
Iridescent with the glory of the Unseen,
A message from the unknown immortal Light
Ablaze upon creation’s quivering edge,
Dawn built her aura of magnificent hues
And buried its seed of grandeur in the hours.
An instant’s visitor the godhead shone.
On life’s thin border awhile the Vision stood
And bent over earth’s pondering forehead curve.
Interpreting a recondite beauty and bliss
In colour’s hieroglyphs of mystic sense,
It wrote the lines of a significant myth
Telling of a greatness of spiritual dawns,
A brilliant code penned with the sky for page.
Almost that day the epiphany was disclosed
Of which our thoughts and hopes are signal flares;
A lonely splendour from the invisible goal
Almost was flung on the opaque Inane.
Once more a tread perturbed the vacant Vasts;
Infinity’s centre, a Face of rapturous calm
Parted the eternal lids that open heaven;
A Form from far beatitudes seemed to near.
Ambassadress twixt eternity and change,
The omniscient Goddess leaned across the breadths
That wrap the fated journeyings of the stars
And saw the spaces ready for her feet.
Once she half looked behind for her veiled sun,
Then, thoughtful, went to her immortal work.
Earth felt the Imperishable’s passage close:
The waking ear of Nature heard her steps
And wideness turned to her its limitless eye,
And, scattered on sealed depths, her luminous smile
Kindled to fire the silence of the worlds.
All grew a consecration and a rite.
Air was a vibrant link between earth and heaven;
The wide-winged hymn of a great priestly wind
Arose and failed upon the altar hills;
The high boughs prayed in a revealing sky.
Here where our half-lit ignorance skirts the gulfs
On the dumb bosom of the ambiguous earth,
Here where one knows not even the step in front
And Truth has her throne on the shadowy back of doubt,
On this anguished and precarious field of toil
Outspread beneath some large indifferent gaze,
Impartial witness of our joy and bale,
Our prostrate soil bore the awakening ray.
Here too the vision and prophetic gleam
Lit into miracles common meaningless shapes;
Then the divine afflatus, spent, withdrew,
Unwanted, fading from the mortal’s range.
A sacred yearning lingered in its trace,
The worship of a Presence and a Power
Too perfect to be held by death-bound hearts,
The prescience of a marvellous birth to come.
Only a little the god-light can stay:
Spiritual beauty illumining human sight
Lines with its passion and mystery Matter’s mask
And squanders eternity on a beat of Time.
As when a soul draws near the sill of birth,
Adjoining mortal time to Timelessness,
A spark of deity lost in Matter’s crypt
Its lustre vanishes in the inconscient planes,
That transitory glow of magic fire
So now dissolved in bright accustomed air.
The message ceased and waned the messenger.
The single Call, the uncompanioned Power,
Drew back into some far-off secret world
The hue and marvel of the supernal beam:
She looked no more on our mortality.
The excess of beauty natural to god-kind
Could not uphold its claim on time-born eyes;
Too mystic-real for space-tenancy
Her body of glory was expunged from heaven:
The rarity and wonder lived no more.
There was the common light of earthly day.
Affranchised from the respite of fatigue
Once more the rumour of the speed of Life
Pursued the cycles of her blinded quest.
All sprang to their unvarying daily acts;
The thousand peoples of the soil and tree
Obeyed the unforeseeing instant’s urge,
And, leader here with his uncertain mind,
Alone who stares at the future’s covered face,
Man lifted up the burden of his fate.