Associate Prof of English
K.L. University Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
The modern age has been described as the age of anxiety, the age of interrogation, the age of disintegration and the age of spiritual crisis. The mystical element is as vital an element in English poetry of this age as it was in that of the 19th century which proves the artiste’s longing for the life of the spirit. The two greatest significant mystics and critics of the twentieth century were Sri Aurobindo in India and T.S. Eliot in England, well-known for their mystical tendencies. The very thing that strikes about T.S. Eliot and Sri Aurobindo is the fact that both were excellent scholars of the past deeply spiritual in their outlook and a spiritual view is always a visionary view.
It is very refreshing to note that T.S. Eliot was the only Literary artiste in the west who was influenced to a great extent by Indian thought and the entire corpus of his poetry abounds in references and allusions to Indian religion and mysticism. According to Viswanath Chatterjee, “The influence of Hinduism however is more important and pervasive in Eliot’s poetry than that of Buddhism.” (Chatterji 1980,131)
The most obvious references and allusions of T.S. Eliot are to be found in The Wasteland and Four Quartets. The classical Indian influence of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad about the fall of civilizations at the end of the wasteland in the utterance of Da, Da, Da which is alternately interrupted as Datta ( give, Be generous) to Gods, Dayadhvam ( Be compassionate) to the spiritualized humanity and Damyata (self-control, Be restrained) to unspiritualized humanity and the concluding lines of the poem ‘Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’, show how vital is the role that the Hindu scriptures play in his writings. According to Tatagathananda, “Eliot understood the story to mean that if one’s interpretation of religious experience is in proportion to one’s evolution in life, the effect of a wasteland can be avoided. Physical evolution must be balanced by spiritual evolution.”(swami Tathagathananda 2002, 475)
The greatest Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo’s poetry is a meeting place of the Asiatic Universalism European classicism. His poetry is inspired by the philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads. What strikes mostly in his poems is the difference between his focal point of poetic vision and that of all but a very small minority of writers of verse in English. The transcendent vision is the be-all and end-all of a mystic’s life and it is this vision Sri Aurobindo had in his mind. The exquisite lines from his magnum opus Savit ri gives a rare insight into the nature of mysticism:
“A light not born of sun or moon or fire,
A light that dwelt within and saw within Shedding an intimate visibility,
Made secrecy more revealing than the word: Our sight and sense are a fallible gaze and touch
And only the spirit’s vision is wholly true.” (Sri Aurobindo 2003, 525) With the help of religious and philosophical past of mankind, Sri Aurobindo and
T.S. Eliot actually explored the ways to answer the ultimate questions based on time. What has
happened so far; what is happening now and what is to happen tomorrow. The enigmatic lines of Eliot in Four Quartets reveal that only through time, time is conquered. These lines also justify the revelation of the Geetha when Krishna unrolled the vast vista of the future before Arjuna and advises not to think of the fruit of action.
“Time present and Time past
Are both perhaps present in Time future
And time future contained in the Time past.” (Chatterji 1980, 134)
What T.S. Eliot says about the beginning and the end of every word, every phrase
and every poem rightly applies to the mantric value of words in the poems of Sri Aurobindo. According to T.S. Eliot, “Every phrase and every structure is an end and a beginning every poem and epitaph.” (Eliot 1963, 221)
T.S. Eliot was influenced by the connotations of death in the Vedas and the
Upanishads. He is said to be the chief shaper of the modern poetic impulse whose survey of historical past and his visions of death and destruction made him aware of the same truth which is his moment of mystic experience to fight for mystic’s Dark Night of the soul:
“I said to my soul be still and let the dark come upon you which shall be the darkness of God.”
(Sethna 1974, 4)
Sri Aurobindo does not rest with the Vedic and Upanishadic connotation of death
but goes beyond the old Indian idea of what God attainment is. Unlike the old scriptures, he refuses to recognize the physical breaking up as an unescapable Philosophy, he looks beyond the crucified body bringing faith to the glorified body that posits hope. Such a glorified body is Savitri, after she has performed the yoga that has ushered in the mind of light. According to Sri Aurobindo, “The Supreme must be possessing the basic and perfect reality, the flawless archetype, of everything set going in our space and time. To couple with a liberation into the self of selves an attainment of this archetypal truth and to evolve the divine counterpart of each side of our complex constitution is the full aim of yoga; in such an aim, even the gross body with its energies cannot be neglected as untransmutable into a luminous and immortal vehicle.” (Sethna 1974, 107)
T.S. Eliot views that the end of criticism is to bring about a readjustment between the old and the new, and his own criticism performs this function to a nicety. For him criticism must serve as a handmade to creation. Criticism is of great importance in the work of creation itself. The poet creates, but the critic in him shifts, combines, corrects and expunges, and thus imports perfection and finish to what has been created. Sri Aurobindo views that the end of criticism is based on a dynamic psychology of being. According to him, “The self of the creator very visibly overshadows the work, is seen everywhere like the conscious self of Vedanta both containing and inhabiting all his creations and this psychological observation or process lead to the rediscovery of the soul.” (Kushwaha 1988, 242)
T.S. Eliot is a believer in the power of organization but not inspiration. He
suggests that the work of art is to be regarded as an organism, alive with a life of its own. For him the greatness of a poem does not depend upon the greatness or even the intensity of emotion with the components of the poem but upon the intensity of the process of poetic composition.
- Eliot writes in The Sacred Wood, “We can only say that a poem in some sense, has its own
life; that its parts from something quite different from a body of neatly ordered biographical data;
that the feeling, or emotion, or vision, resulting from the poem is something different from the feeling or emotion or vision in the mind of the poet.” (Wimsaat and Brooks 1970, 666)
Sri Aurobindo is a believer in the power of inspiration not merely as a theory but a fact of both personal and general creative experience. For him all poetry is an inspiration, a thing
breathed into the thinking organ from above; it is recorded in the mind, but is born in the higher principle of direct knowledge or ideal vision which surpasses mind. Poetry is not really a poesis
or composition not even a creation but rather the revelation of something that eternally exists. According to James Cousins, “When Sri Aurobindo escapes into pure sight and speech, he gives
us a wholly delightful thing like revelation which stands existent in its own authenticity and beauty.” (Cousins 1917, 29)
T.S. Eliot does not pass any judgements worse or better but simply elucidates and leaves readers to form their own judgements. Comparison is an important aspect of his
critical method. But the purpose of his comparison is to elucidate and not to interpret the facts. Sri Aurobindo takes into account the essential force and beauty and scope of a poet’s work as a
whole while evaluating it but is careful in assessing literary work by capturing the soul of a literary epoch or an entire aspect of poetic mind by interpreting facts. According to Sri
Aurobindo, “A poet need not be a reflective critic and he need not have the reasoning and analyzing intellect and direct his own poetry. The four faculties, revelation or prophecy,
inspiration, intuitive judgement and intuitive reason are the perfect equipment of genius doing the works of interpretative and creative knowlwdge.” (Devy 2002, 157)
In rejecting the evolutionary process of artistic perfection Eliot very remarkably states that art never improves though its material changes. Art’s materials being
emotions, the change in the emotions is due to the personal or individual vision of the poets. Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry as
the distinguished personal spirit of the poet permeates through whole fabric of the poetic creation. According to Wimsatt and Brooks, “Such an impersonal conception of art is almost
belligerently anti-romantic. It focuses attention not upon poet but upon poetry.” (Wimsaat and Brooks 1970, 664)
Sri Aurobindo believes in the evolutionary process of artistic creation which is a constant progress towards something greater…a greater perfection and finally to an absolute
consciousness which has yet to come. Though there is evolution it only creates new forms, brings in new principles of consciousness; new ingenuities of creation but not a more perfect
- Eliot’s theory of poetry marks a break from tradition and gives a new direction to literary criticism. According to Wimsatt and Brooks, “Hardly since the 17th century had critical writing in English so resolutely transposed poetic theory from the axis of pleasure versus pain to that of unity versus tradition and gives a new direction to literary criticism.”
Sri Aurobindo primarily belongs to future and his aesthetics is characterized as meta-aesthetics. Sri Aurobindo is the pioneer of the new age and the spokesman of the new
truth. His future poetry is to fulfill the task of giving the fullest and the most perfect presentation
of the creative essence of the spirit; the Supreme Reality at all levels of being and in all forms of existence which serve as the means and medium of communication between the Infinite and the finite and the language for the expression of the perfect.
Sri Aurobindo and T.S. Eliot draw close to each other at the summits of
poetic recordation. Thus, T.s. Eliot holds hands with Sri Aurobindo to invoke India’s ancient wisdom.
Chatterjee, Visvanath. “Mystical Elements In English Poetry.” Calcutta : Vivekananda Book Centre, 1980.
Swami Tathagathananda. “Journey Of The Upanishads To The West.” New York : The Vedanta Society, 2002.
Sri Aurobindo. “Savitri.” Pondicherry : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2003.
Eliot, T.S. “Collected Poems 1909-1962.” London:Faber and Faber Limited, 1963.
Sethna, K.D. “The Poetic Genius Of Sri Aurobindo.” Pondicherry : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1974.
Kushwaha, M.S. “Indian Poetics and Western Thought.” New Delhi : Agra Publishing House, 1988.
Cousins, H.James. “New Ways In English Literature.” Madras : Ganesh and Company, 1917. Wimsatt, William K. Jr. and Cleanth Brooks. “Literary Criticism : A Short History.” New Delhi :Oxford Book Company, 1970.