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.....Creation by the Word.... - Sri Aurobindo

Letters on Poetry and Art ->On His Poetry and Other's Poetry->Practical Guidance for Aspiring Writers ...


Guidance in Writing Poetry


Three Essentials for Writing Poetry

I have gone through your poems. For poetry three things are necessary. First, there must be emotional sincerity and poetical feeling and this your poems show that you possess. Next, a mastery over language and a faculty of rhythm perfected by a knowledge of the technique of poetic and rhythmic expression; here the technique is imperfect, some faculty is there but in the rough and there is not yet an original and native style. Finally, there must be the power of inspiration, the creative energy, and that makes the whole difference between the poet and the good verse-writer. In your poems this is still very uncertain,—in some passages it almost comes out, but in the rest it is not evident.
I would suggest to you not to turn your energies in this direction at present. Allow your consciousness to grow. If when the consciousness develops, a greater energy of inspiration comes, not out of the ordinary but out of the Yogic consciousness, then you can write and, if it is found that the energy not only comes from the true source but is able to mould for itself the true transcription in rhythm and language, can continue.

6 June 1932

Suggestions for Indians Writing English Poetry

If you want to write English poetry which can stand, I would suggest three rules for you to observe:
1. Avoid rhetorical turns and artifices and the rhetorical tone generally. An English poet can use these things at will because he has the intimate sense of his language and can keep the right proportion and measure. An Indian using them kills his poetry and produces a scholastic exercise.

2.Write modern English. Avoid frequent inversions or turns of language that belong to the past poetic styles. Modern English poetry uses a straightforward order and a natural style, not different in vocabulary, syntax, etc., from that of prose. An inversion can be used sometimes, but it must be done deliberately and for a distinct and particular effect.
3. For poetic effect rely wholly on the power of your substance, the magic of rhythm and the sincerity of your expression —if you can add subtlety so much the better, but not at the cost of sincerity and straightforwardness. Do not construct your poetry with the brain-mind, the mere intellect—that is not the source of true inspiration; write always from the inner heart of emotion and vision.

17 November 1930


Why erect mental theories and suit your poetry to them?1 Iwouldsuggest to you not to be bound by either [of two models], but to write as best suits your own inspiration and poetic genius. I imagine that each poet should write in the way suited to his own inspiration and substance; it is only a habit of the human mind fond of erecting rules and rigidities that would like to put one way forward as a general law for all. If you insist on being rigidly simple and direct as a mental rule, you might spoil something of the subtlety of the expression you now have, even if the delicacy of substance remained with you. Obscurity, artifice, rhetoric have to be avoided, but for the rest follow the inner movement. I do not remember the precise words I used in laying down the rule to which you refer,—I think I advised sincerity and straightforwardness as opposed to rhetoric and artifice. In any case it was far from my intention to impose any strict rule of bare simplicity and directness as a general law of poetic style. I was speaking of “twentieth century” English poetry and of what was necessary for an Indian writing in the English tongue.2

1 This is the revised version of a letter that is printed in its unrevised form (with the omission of one paragraph) on pages 467 – 68.—Ed.
2 Sri Aurobindo is referring here to the advice he gave in the letter of 17 November 1930 published on pages 567 – 68.—Ed.


English poetry in former times used inversions freely and had a law of its own—at that time natural and right, but the same thing nowadays sounds artificial and false. English has now acquired a richness and flexibility and power of many-sided suggestion which makes it unnecessary for poetry to depart from the ordinary style and form of the language. But there are other languages in which this is not yet true. Bengali is in its youth, in full process of growth and has many things not yet done, many powers and values it has still to acquire. It is necessary that its poets should keep a full and entire freedom to turn in whichever way the genius leads, to find new forms and movements; if they like to adhere to the ordinary norm of the language to which prose has to keep and do what they can in it, they should be free to do so; but also they should be free to depart from it, if it is by doing so that they can best liberate their souls in speech. At present it is this that most matters.

8 December 1930

Help to Young Poets

Yes, of course, I have been helping Jyotirmayi. Always when somebody really wants to develop the literary power, I put some force to help him or her. If there is faculty and application, however latent the faculty, it always grows under the pressure and can even be turned in this or that direction. Naturally, some are more favourable ¯adh¯ aras than others and grow more decisively and quickly. Others drop off, not having the necessary power of application. But on the whole it is easy enough to make this faculty grow, for there is cooperation on the part of the recipient and only the tamas of the apravr.tti and aprak¯a´sa in the human instrument to overcome which are not such serious obstacles in the things of the mind as a vital resistance or non-cooperation of the will or idea which confronts one when there is a pressure for change or progress in other directions.

10 June 1935


[X’s] poems are only attempts—good attempts for his age—so I encourage him by telling him that they are good attempts. It is his English poems I correct, as he has talent, but his mastery of the language is still naturally very imperfect. The other three are masters of language and [Y] is a poet of a very high order. I give my general opinion only when they want it. I never make suggestions. It is in English poetry that I give my opinions or correct or make suggestions.

22 November 1933

Criticism of Bengali Poetry


I do not know that I can suggest any detailed criticisms of Bengali poetry, as I have to rely more on what I feel than on any expert knowledge of language and metre.

Sri Aurobindo’s Force and the Writing of Poetry

You give me Force for English poetry—some lines come all right, others are jumbled, wrong, etc., and these things you correct by outer guidance, i.e. by correcting, checking, etc. till I become sufficiently receptive and then only a few changes will be necessary.
I do so in your English poetry because I am an expert in English poetry. In Bengali poetry I don’t do it. I only select among alternatives offered by yourself. Mark that for Amal I nowadays avoid correcting or changing as far as possible—that is in order to encourage the inspiration to act in himself. Sometimes I see what he should have written but do not tell it to him, leaving him to get it or not from my silence.

10 April 1937


I can understand your yogic success in Dilip’s Bengali poetry, because the field was ready, but the opening of his channel in English has staggered me. I can’t understand whether it is your success or his.
What do you mean by Yoga? There is a Force here in the atmosphere which will give itself to anyone open to it. Naturally it will work best when the native tongue is used—but it can do big things through English if the channel used is a poetic one and if that channel offers itself. Two things are necessary —no personal resistance and some willingness to take trouble about understanding the elementary technique at least so that the transcription may not meet with too many obstacles. Nishikanta has a fine channel and with a very poetic turn in it— he offers no resistance to the flow of the force, no interference of his mental ego, only the convenience of his mental individuality. Whether he takes the trouble for the technique is another matter.
I had written to you that Nishikanta bows in front of your photograph before he sits down to write, and that I am ready to bow a hundred times, if that is the trick. You answered that it depends on how one bows. Methinks it does not depend on that. Even if it did I don’t think Nishikanta knows it. Or was it in his past life that he knew it? Well, there is a certain faculty of effacing oneself and letting the Universal Force run through you—that is the way of bowing. It can be acquired by various means, but also one may have the capacity for doing it in certain directions by nature.

10 December 1935


We feel that your Force gives us the necessary inspiration for poetry, but I often wonder if you send it in a continuous current.
Of course not. Why should I? It is not necessary. I put my Force from time to time and let it work out what has to be worked out. It is true that with some I have to put it often to prevent too long stretches of unproductivity, but even there I don’t put a continuous current. I have not time for such things. If it were so, we would not write 15 to 20 lines at a stretch and then go on for days together producing only 3 or 4 lines. That depends on the mental instruments. Some people write freely—others do so only when in a special condition.

Had your special Force been constantly acting, why should we have this difficulty? We should be able to feel the inspiration as soon as we sit down with pen and paper, shouldn’t we?
No. At least I myself don’t have continuous inspiration at command like that in poetry.
I don’t think a latent faculty brought out by Yogic Force would achieve such a height of perfection as a facultywhich manifests in the natural way.
Of course, not so long as it is latent or not fully emerged. But once it is manifested and settled, there is no reason why it should not achieve an equal perfection. All depends on the quality of the inspiration that comes and the response of the instrument.

12 June 1935


When the current of inspiration comes to a stop, I think sometimes that perhaps you have forgotten me in your busy moments.
It does not depend on that at all. It depends on a certain state of receptivity—an opening of the channel between the inner plane where the inspiration comes and the outer through which it has to pass.

27 March 1934


As regards the “opening of the channel”, can it be done sooner by more concentration, meditation, etc., disregarding the literary side for the time being?
One can get the power of receptivity to inspiration by concentration and meditation making the inner being stronger and the outer less gross, tamasic and insistent.

29 March 1934


I tried to write a poem, but failed in spite of prayer and call. Then I wrote to you to send me some Force. Before the letter had reached you, lo, the miracle was done! Can you explain the process? Was it simply the writing that helped establish the contact with the Grace?
The call for the Force is very often sufficient, not absolutely necessary that it should reach my physical mind first. Many get as soon as they write—or, (if they are outside), when the letter reaches the atmosphere.
Yes, it is the success in establishing the contact that is important. It is a sort of hitching on or getting hold of the invisible button or whatever you like to call it.
When you send the Force, is there a time limit for its functioning or does it work itself out in the long run or get washed off after a while, finding the ¯adh¯ara unreceptive?
There is no time limit. I have known cases in which I put a Force for getting a thing done and it seemed to fail damnably at the moment; but after two years everything carried itself out in exact detail and order just as I had arranged it, although I was thinking no more at all of the matter. You ought to know but I suppose you don’t that “Psychic” Research in Europe has proved that all so-called “psychic” communications can sink into the consciousness without being noticed and turn up long afterwards. It is like that with the communication of Force also.

21 May 1936

Opening to the Force

All I can say is that opening is a mysterious business! Who says it is not? Some people have the trick of always opening to a Force (e.g. Dilip, Nishikanta for creative literary activity), some have it sometimes, don’t have it sometimes (you, Arjava, myself). Why make it a case of kicks and despair?

19 September 1936

Sending Inspiration

But what precisely do you mean by sending the inspiration?


The inspiration comes from above,—through your inner being who, very evidently, is not only a Yogin and a bhakta but a poet of Yoga and bhakti. The Yoga-force which woke up the power in you came from me. It was when you were translating my poems that you got into touch and the power woke in you because you came inwardly into my Light. Since then I have been acting on you to develop this poetic power, and as there is a large opening there it has been an easy matter. As for the Power itself that works, that gives you words and rhythms, you ought to know or at least your inner being knows very well that all divine powers are the powers of the Mother. But the way in which these things work is the occult and not the physical (not the crudely mediumistic) way, and it works in each according to his nature and the material and capacities, actual or latent, it finds there.

8 September 1931


Please send me some inspiration to complete my Triumph of Dante. What is the best way of receiving it? I’ll be thankful if you’ll teach me how to be able to fill up those gaps.
Good Lord! it is not a thing that can be taught. As for the best way—well, silence of the mind, relative silence if one can’t get the absolute.

6 November 1936


You give inspiration only for supramental poetry? Startling news, Sir!
Where have I said that I give inspiration for supramental poetry either only or at all? You said that your inspirer for this or for any other poem of yours was my supramental self. I simply said that it can’t be, because a supramental self would produce or inspire supramental poetry—and yours is not that, nor, I may add, is Jyoti’s or Dilip’s or my own or anybody’s. We fondly believe that you give inspiration, set apart a time for it, and now you say that you are not the Inspirer?

I say that my supramental Self is not the inspirer—which is a very different matter.

Pray explain the mystery to me. Why shirk the responsibility now, because a surrealist poem has come out? You are responsible for it, I think.
Excuse me, no. As the Gita says, the Lord takes not on himself the good or the evil deeds (or writings) of any. I may send a force of inspiration, but I am not responsible for the results.

19 January 1937

The Necessity and Nature of Inspiration

I hope to be able to write not only good but very good and very fine poems as a part of Yoga.
To write such poetry, one must first be open to a high or strong or beautiful source of inspiration and secondly one must not be too facile—one must be careful of the quality.

30 May 1934


I am doubting if there is even one drop of poetical faculty in me.

There is evidence of literary talent in your poems—what has not yet come is the inspiration that vivifies the writing. It may come hereafter.

20 September 1934


As for the “urge”, if you resist the inspiration, the chances are that you will lose both the urge and your meditation. So it is better to let the flood have its way—especially in this case, of course, for there is no harm in this kind of urge.

7 February 1931


But that happens to everybody who is in the habit of writing. The suggesting forces write in the mind without regard to outward opportunity and it is also quite usual for a line to come without any sequel.

3 April 1936


Would you suggest a way to increase thought-power in poetry?

There is no device for that. You have to open from within to a deeper or higher source of inspiration or grow from within into a deeper or higher consciousness—there is no other way for it.

4 May 1934


Today another poem by Jyoti. I’m staggered by her speed in writing. She says lines, chanda, simply drop down, and she jots them down. She feels as if somebody is writing through her.

But that is how inspiration always comes when the way is clear and the mind sufficiently passive. Something drops or pours down; somebody writes through you.
I don’t know that by one’s mind one can write such things. What do you say?
Not possible. There would be something artificial or made up in them if it were the mind that did it.
How has she opened to the mystic plane? Something akin to her nature or one just opens?
It may be either.
Even when a thing drops down, isn’t it rather risky to accept it as it comes, specially the chanda part of it?
If anything is defective, it can be only by a mistake in the transcription.
Does the chanda also come down with inspiration or has one to change it afterwards?

Yes, it comes and is usually faultless—if the mind is passive and the source a high, deep or true one. Of course metre as the Supraphysicals understand it!
I shall illustrate my point. Jyoti says she sometimes rejects lines because she doesn’t understand their meaning. But since they repeatedly throw themselves on her, she accepts them. When the poem is completed the meaning becomes clear. The mind ought to be quiet till all is written. Afterwards one can look and see if there is anything to be altered.

27 July 1936


Isn’t it a fact that the best poetry almost always comes down without any resistance at all?
Usually the best poetry a poet writes, the things that make him immortal, come like that.

28 July 1936


After reading Jyoti’s whole poem, I realised it would have been impossible to write it simply from facility. It is an inspirationpoem.
Of course it is impossible. There must be inspiration. The value of the poem does not rise from the labour or difficulty felt in writing it. Shakespeare, it is said, wrote at full speed and never erased a line.

29 July 1936

Inspiration and Understanding

Everything depends on the inspiration. But then I can’t change any line or word since I don’t understand what I am writing.
From your explanations you seem to understand all right. The question is about the inspiration itself. It is sometimes more successful, sometimes less—for various reasons. What one has
to see is whether what has come through is quite satisfactory in language, image, harmonious building, poetic force. If not, one can call a farther inspiration to emend what is deficient. At first one allows the inspiration to come through without interference,
to establish the habit of free flow. But that does not mean one must not afterwards alter or improve—only it should be done not by the mind but by a fresh and better inspiration. If in the course of writing itself, a correcting inspiration comes, that can be accepted—otherwise one does the perfecting afterwards.

23 February 1937


The poet herself says that, as far as she can tell, the sestet has no relationship to the previous lines.
What does that matter? Is she the intellectual creator of these poems or is she the medium of their transmission? If the latter it does not matter a penny damn that she does not intellectually understand her poem—provided she transmits it correctly.

7 December 1936


Does it help a writer to know the particular source of inspiration from where he or she writes?
Not at all necessary.

18 July 1936


Some poems that come are unintelligible to the mind. Why?
Is it because they come from higher planes?
Yes, the mind is used as a medium: it may be an understanding —transcribing agent or it may be only a passive channel. If an agent, it transcribes what comes from above, understands but does not pass its opinion—only transmits. If it is only a channel, then it sees the words and passes them but knows no more.
If one could understand it when it comes, would that not help
to improve the poem?
Not to improve—for that would mean the mind interfering, refusing to be a medium and trying to do better in its own active account. But to understand is desirable. If the mind is watchful and awake to the symbols being used or the images it can acquire the habit or knack of understanding.

27 January 1937


But seriously, how can Iwrite this surrealist sort of stuff better? What is the trick?
The trick is to put your demand on the source for what you want. If you want to fathom (not understand) what you are writing, ask for the vision of the thing to come along with the word, a vision bringing an inner comprehension. If you want something mystic but convincing to the non-mystic reader, ask for that till you get it.

17 February 1937


So you are getting plenty of surrealist poets, eh? Happy at the prospect?
Not at all. Look here, sir, two are enough in all conscience, with an occasional Nishikantian outburst thrown in. If others cut in I will have to strike. I can’t spend all my life from set to dawn explaining the inexplicable.

Inspiration and Effort

I have ceased even to aspire, believing that you will give me inspiration. I refuse to make even a mental effort.
Mental effort is one thing and aspiring and holding yourself in readiness is another.

10 May 1934


If I have discovered some lines I must not think of the next lines, but try instead to keep absolutely silent so that with a leap I find that theGreater Mind has simply dropped the necessary rhymed lines, like a good fellow, and I finish off excellently without a drop of black sweat on my wide forehead?
That is the ideal way; but usually there is always an activity of the mind jumping up and trying to catch the inspiration. Sometimes the inspiration, the right one, comes in the midst of this futile jumping, sometimes it sweeps it aside and brings in the right thing, sometimes it inserts itself between two blunders, sometimes it waits till the noise quiets down. But even this jumping need not be a mental effort—it is often only a series of suggestions, the mind of itself seizing on one or eliminating another, not by laborious thinking and choice, but by a quiet series of perceptions. This is method no. 2. No. 3 is your Herculean way, quite the slowest and worst.

31 March 1936


Inspiration leaves one sometimes and one goes on beating and beating, hammering and hammering, but it comes not! Inspiration failing to descend, perhaps.
Exactly. When any real effect is produced, it is not because of the beating and the hammering, but because an inspiration slips down between the raising of the hammer and the falling and gets in under cover of the beastly noise. It is when there is no need of effort that the best comes. Effort is all right, but only as an excuse for inducing the Inspiration to come. If it wants to come, it comes—if it doesn’t, it doesn’t and one is obliged to give up after producing nothing or an inferior mind-made something. I have had that experience often enough myself. I have also seen
Amal after producing something good but not perfect, beating the air and hammering it with proposed versions each as bad as the other,—for it is only a new inspiration that can really improve a defect in the transcription of the first one. Still one makes efforts, but it is not the effort that produces the result, but the inspiration that comes in answer to it. You knock at the door to make the fellow inside answer. He may or he mayn’t— if he lies mum, you have only to walk off swearing. That’s effort and inspiration.
You proclaim the force and inspiration from the house-top, but fail to see that one has to work hour after hour to get it.
What would you call this labour?

Hammering, making a beastly noise so that Inspiration may get excited and exasperated and fling something through the window, muttering “I hope that will keep this insufferable tinsmith quiet.”

6 March 1936

Mentalisation of Inspiration

You have spoken of the original inspiration becoming “mentalised”. Could you tell me how it gets mentalised?
This mentalisation is a subtle process which takes place unobserved. The inspiration, as soon as it strikes the mental layer (where it first becomes visible) is met by a less intense receptivity of the mind which passes the inspired substance through but substitutes its own expression, an expression stressed by the force of inspiration into a special felicity but not reproducing or transmitting the inspired beat itself.

6 April 1938

Capturing Lines and Expressions

As regards poetry, I am invaded by hazy ideas for two or three compositions and many lines seem to peep out.
What is the meaning of this “seem”? Do they peep or do they not peep?
But they seemmore bent on tantalising me than meaning anything serious, because as soon as I sit down to transcribe them, they evaporate like ether or camphor.
What do you mean? Why should you sit down to transcribe them? Keep hold of the lines and expressions by the nose as soon as they peep out, jump on a piece of paper and dash them down for prospective immortality.
It appears so easy to catch all these amorphous beauties and put them into morphological Grecian statues! . . .
Why amorphous, if they are lines and expressions—lines and expressions are either morphous or they don’t exist. Explain yourself, please.

5 December 1935


You ask why “amorphous”? The lines, expressions, words that I feel swarming all around me, but I cannot put into form, what else shall I call them?
If you simply feel things swarming without a shape, then you can’t call that lines and expressions—it is only the chaotic potentiality of them.
One begins with the morphous lines hoping that the amorphous chaos will sweep in ecstatically and help me build a splendidly original cosmos, and what do I find? Either they elude me or what comes is something commonplace.
That’s another matter. It’s like dreams in which one gets splendid lines that put Shakespeare into the shade and one wakes up and enthusiastically jots them down, it turns out to be “O you damned goose, where are you going While the river is flowing, flowing, flowing” and things like that.
Do you mean that I should scribble down all these expressions as soon as they hop in? Good Lord! there will be parts and pieces only. How shall I make a whole poem out of them?
Many poets do that—jot down something that comes isolated in the hope that some day it will be utilisable. Tennyson did it, I believe. You don’t want to be like Tennyson? Of course it is always permissible for you to pick and choose among these divine fragments and throw away those that are only semi-divine.
Already words and lines of four or five poems in halves and quarters are lying in a comatose condition, without any hope of resurrection.
Well, well—all that shows you are a poet in the making with hundreds of poems in you also in the making, very much so. The mountains in labour, you know—what?

6 December 1935


Inspiration during Sleep

Of late my poetic inspiration has shifted from the waking to the sleep state. I often compose poetry in sleep but cannot remember exactly what I write.
Concentrate in the will to remember before going to sleep— when you wake remain quiet a little before moving and try to remember (not struggling to do it but leaving your mind open with a will that it should come back). You say sometimes a line remains. Of what kind? any good? Sometimes these subliminal compositions are pure rubbish. If so, it is not worthwhile making an effort to remember.

3 October 1933


This morning a little before 5.30 I got a poem which seemed to me grave and rich at the same time. Suddenly my eyes opened and the poem faded. But I had a very strong sense that it was really good. Is there any way to make good the loss?
These things do not come back. The feeling that it was very good is not reliable. Unless you remember the thing, it cannot be decided. I have more than once woken up with a line which seemed splendid to the subconscient, but whichmywakingmind found to be very flat. Of course it depends from what source it came.

October 1933

Variations in Inspiration

It is queer that one writes a few lines in no time and the rest perhaps at no time!
This is too cryptic for me. I may say however that inspiration for poetry is always an uncertain thing (except for a phenomenon like Harin). Sometimes it comes in a rush, sometimes one has to labour for days to get a poem right, sometimes it does not come at all. Besides each poet is treated by the Muse in a different way.

24 August 1935



You wrote that today’s poem is only “good”. Where is the progress?
No writer of poetry can count on keeping the same level of inspiration in all his poems. The results are sometimes good, sometimes better, sometimes at his best. There can be failures also so long as one is not perfectly mature in capacity.

11 July 1936

Writing and Concentration

Which of these two methods is better: to go on writing till one comes in contact with the original source of inspiration, or to concentrate first and get the contact?
Dhyana is perhaps the best way—for if you can get into the consciousness which makes all poetry which proceeds from it original, that is the best, even if it means postponement of the actual writing of poetry. The habit of writing no doubt increases the skill and mastery of verse, but then it might only be verse such as all good litt´erateurs can write. A higher inspiration is necessary. As for translation I don’t know—if one has the translator’s gift like Dilip or Nishikanta, then it is all right— but otherwise translation is more difficult than original writing.


I cannot come in touch with poetry or its source. My mind is full of the most ordinary things.
You must put aside these things when youwrite. Every writer has to do that, to put aside his ordinary self and its preoccupations and concentrate on his overhead inspiration.

18 July 1936

Receptivity and Silence

My mind does not know precisely how to silence itself. The same is true of Dilip. How then does he manage to receive from Above?
The difference is that as his mind has opened to the Above, the Above can turn its activity into an activity of the Inspiration —its quickness, energy, activity enable it to transcribe quickly, actively, energetically what comes into it from the Above. Of course if one day it becomes silent also, it may probably become the channel of a still higher Inspiration.
Is silencing the mind to be done only at the time of writing or
at other times too?
Silencing the mind at the time of writing should be sufficient— even not silencing it, but its falling quiet to receive.

31 March 1936

Difficulty and Ease of Production

The sentence “the reason is rather the seeking for new inspiration which has not yet come” in your letter to Jyoti is rather enigmatic or cryptic to us.
If one wants a new inspiration or development there may very well be during the period of transition or attempted transition a period of difficulty or suspension because the old feels itself no longer called for or not so much, while the new is not yet there.
That is all I meant.

3 January 1937


The sense of difficulty made me feel an unwillingness and somehow I dread it even now.
If the inspiration comes, the sense of difficulty is not likely to remain and the poem will take the form and tone which is the right one for the subject.

26 January 1937


The same difficulty of transmission appears to hinder the proper finish. Will you tell me where the defect lies—insufficient mastery over language and style, or insufficient inspiration?
All writers have the difficulty—it is the tamas of the physical mind which finds it difficult to transcribe the inspiration.

29 August 1933

Mind Fatigue

Jyoti wants to know why or how the mind-fag has come in and by what attitude or process it can quickly pass off.
There is nothing serious in it. Very often when the mind has been doing something for a long time (I mean of course the physical mind), something which demands intensity of work or action, not what can be done as a routine, it finds itself unable to do it well any longer. That means that it is strained, needs rest so that the force may gather again. Rest or a variation. A little rest given to it or a variation of work should set it right again.
I thought that one or two hours’ work without undue effort might perhaps keep the channel open and at the same time produce no fatigue.
It is not a question of ordinary fatigue by overwork—but of a temporary inability to go on doing the same thing over and over any longer. That is what I mean by the mind-fag. It is not the mere writing of poetry of any kind but the intensity to bring down that kind of poetry that is in question. The channel in fact is not working because of the fag—it can work again only after rest, by not forcing oneself.

17 August 1936

The Poetic Influence and the Physical Consciousness

Sometimes chandas are at the tip of my tongue but I’m unable to express myself in verse. Is there no way for me to learn?
Any necessary power may come with the sadhana—but many get the poetic impulse from within, but are not able to transcribe it in really good poetic form—it depends on how it comes out through the physical consciousness.

22 December 1933



Jyoti says formerly she used to aspire for beautiful things, etc. instead of letting herself go. Now she remains passive—and this poem is the result. Any answer?
There is no incompatibility between aspiring and letting the thing come through. The aspiration gives the necessary intensity so that what comes has a better chance of being a true transcription.
In this case probably the pain she felt in the neck etc. was a proof of some fatigue in the physical parts which spoiled the transmission.

30 July 1936


Dilip had to work in spite of your Grace. My aspiration for your Grace in this mental occupation is as great as for spiritual progress.
Aspire for the opening to the right plane of inspiration. You forget that Dilip got his opening by grace and never lost it—all his work only helps him to utilise and develop what is already there.

22 May 1934

Passivity of Mind

If I don’t surrender more or less passively, all is spoilt, I can not produce anything real. Yet the mind struggles and I feel depressed and heavy in the head.
Why should the mind struggle? In all these things the mind has to remain passive and only a witness consciousness behind watching what is passing. It can be seen afterwards if anything has to be altered, but the mind interfering can only hamper the inspiration or pervert it.

27 July 1936


I seem to force and hurry myself rather than surrender to the Force above. The result is annoyance, mental labour, headaches and nervous irritation. Also, the desire to write this and that, this way or that way.

The remedy is to draw back and let the inspiration flow, keeping the attitude of the instrument and witness not involved in the work.

19 December 1936

The Joy of Creation

I had a unique experience in the realm of poetry. Last night the inspiration came and as I sat down to write the whole thing dropped, so to say. I simply let myself be led to see how and where it would end. Never before have I written a whole poem in this way. I was very joyous and recovered all lost hope.
Why is it that people get so much joy out of writing a poem?
It is the joy of creation partly, partly the joy or “enthousiasmos”, the sense of exaltation and Ananda which always comes when one is freely and powerfully used by a greater Force.
Does this spontaneous, automatic inpouring depend on some inner state?
It does not depend on any inner spiritual state, but on an opening to some supraphysical plane of inspiration.

21 April 1934


I will put in any amount of labour and that should be enough for things to pour down.
Labour is not enough for the things to pour down. What is done with labour only, is done with difficulty, not with a downpour. The joy in the labour must be there for a free outflow. You have very queer psychological ideas, I must say.

14 December 1936

Rapture and Application

Would you advise me to cease trying to write poetry for some time? The one or two recent failures (what you call “a good poem” falls for me more or less in the same category) perhaps shows that I am pumping when the well is dry? The poetry I really want to write—miraculous and perfect—seems so impossible at present. I wonder and wonder whether I shall ever be able to offer you the rapture and the glory I dream of.
I don’t see why you object to writing good poems or why you call them failures. The rapture and the glory are all right, but how are you to arrive at them if you don’t write?

6 October 1934

Practice, Cultivation, Regularity

Dilip and others say I should practise writing, but can one write by practice?
Writing improves with practice—there comes a greater mastery over language, provided one has the faculty and you seem to have it.

5 February 1933


Am I a “writer by nature” and should I cultivate writing like Dilip?
Dilip got the power of writing poetry through the inspiration awaking, otherwise he might have laboured all his life and never produced anything of any value. It was the grace of a sudden opening of power that he got, it was not the fruit of cultivation.
Nirod writes as well or even better than I do, why then do you say he is not a writer by nature?Has he not the faculty?
I said that to Nirod because he wanted to do these things as part of his development in sadhana. Apart from that one can by cultivation learn to writewell in an ordinaryway, but inspiration and the power to write things worth writing do not come in that way.
As a help in the beginning Dilip suggests that I should write long letters to friends, translate others’ poems and writings, read a lot of books etc. And Amal says I should write essays and criticism of poems and of others’ writings. Please tell me if these are the right ways to begin.

Of course you can do all that. If you can really do it it will at least be a lesson in work and application and patience, if nothing else.

27 August 1933


What should I do in order to make everything perfect? Should I work hard and go on writing or rather sit and wait for the inclination to write?
There is no rule about these things—it acts differently with different people. Some acquire the capacity of writing regularly —others can only do it when the push comes.

31 March 1934

Silence and Creative Activity

It would be a mistake to silence the poetic flow on principle.
Creative activity is a tonic to the vital and keeps it in good condition, and a strong and widening vital is helpful as a support to the practice of sadhana. There is no real incompatibility between the creative power and silence; for the real silence is something inward and it does not or at least need not cease when a strong activity or expression rises to the surface.

14 June 1932

Periods of Incubation

Do you think it better for me to stop writing for four or five days in order to be quiet?
You may stop for a few days. It is sometimes well to do so at times.

11 August 1936


My ballad seems to have fallen between two stools—it’s neither true ballad nor pure poem. Has it no saving grace at all?
What do you advise me to do with it? Limbo?
As to the sentence on your poem, I told you I could not pronounce even a definitive verdict. There was a recommendation by Horace or some other impossibly wise critic that when you have written a poem the safest rule is to put it in your desk, leave it there for ten years and then only take it out and read and see
whether it is worth anything. Perhaps with a mitigation of the segregation period, the rule could be applied here.



What about my poem? I hope it is mentally quite clear.
Very fine indeed, very. You have suddenly reached a remarkable maturity of the poetic power. Which seems to suggest that the periods of sterility were not so sterile after all or were rather an incubation period, a work of opening going on in the inner being behind the veil before it manifested in the outer. Let us hope the same is going on in the direct sadhana.

7 August 1936

Labour and the Appearance of Ease

I can’t, for the life of me, get new expressions or thoughts.
What can be done? I break my head over them but they remain damn hard and unprofitable as the Divine! I am paying the penalty of trying to become an English poet and of facing a hard task-master.
What the deuce are you complaining about? You are writing very beautiful poetry with apparent ease and one a day of this kind is a feat. If the apparent ease covers a lot of labour, that is the lot of the poet and artist except when he is a damned phenomenon of fluency. “It is the highest art to conceal art” “The long and conscientious labour of the artist giving in the result an appearance of divine and perfect ease”—console yourself with these titbits. As for repetitions, they are almost inevitable when you are writing a poem a day. You are gaining command of your medium and that is the main thing. An inexhaustible original fecundity is a thing you have to wait for—when you are more spiritually experienced and mature.

7 September 1938


Dissatisfaction and Persistence

If one could express the Divine through poetry, it would have
some value. Otherwise why should one bother?
There is a general tendency in the vital to get dissatisfied with everything. It is a restlessness that should not be encouraged.
If one could be concentrated always on the Divine, then there would be no need of any admonitions, one would naturally do so. But until then it is no use dropping something that has opened in you.
If the poems do not turn out to be of the highest grade, should
I write daily?
If one gives up writing whenever the writing is not always of the highest grade—it would not be possible for anybody to develop his poetical power.

30 July 1936

Writing and Self-criticism

I concentrate or meditate for some time before writing. Even then I have to pause after every expression.
Pause to do what? Think? You have to cultivate the power offeeling instinctively the value of what you write—either while writing or immediately you go over it when it is completed.

23 February 1937


Nirod says my rhythm is sometimes not very smooth and spontaneous, and that I should read the poem aloud when it is finished. I prefer to read it silently. What is the right way: aloud or silently?
It is better always to read it aloud once so as to make sure of the rhythmic sound.

15 October 1933


I have scratched the whole poem out of existence! And yet when I completed it, I was so happy thinking it was something great! Fool!
Every poet is such a fool. His work is done in an exalting excitement of the vital mind—judgment and criticism can only come when he has cooled down.

6 April 1937

Using Criticism from Others

I do not like to show my poems to others; I’m afraid their criticism will take away all impulse to write.
If you do not show them and face criticism how will you improve?

12 October 1933

Contact with Other Writers

I thought I have so far avoided taking any beautiful expressions used by others.
3 “The moon-boat is sailing on the ocean of the blue sky.”—Ed.
4 “Who made it sail, the moon-boat?”—Ed.


As a rule it is better to avoid taking over special expressions used by others.

15 February 1937

Sameness and Variety

Harin has suns and moons in plenty in his poetry. A friend of Amal’s has remarked that stars come in almost every one of his poems. This seems to be one point against spiritual poetry.
Another is that spiritual poetry is bound to be limited in scope and lack rasa vaicitrya, to use Tagore’s expression.
Ordinary poems (and novels) always write about love and similar things. Is it one point against ordinary (non-spiritual) poetry?
If there is sameness of expression in spiritual poems, it is due either to the poet’s binding himself by the tradition of a fixed set of symbols (e.g. Vaishnava poets, Vedic poets) or to his having only a limited field of expression or imagination or to his deliberately limiting himself to certain experiences or emotions that are clear to him. To readers who feel these things it does not appear monotonous. Those who listen toMirabai’s songs, don’t get tired of them, nor do I get tired of reading the Upanishads.
The Greeks did not tire of reading Anacreon’s poems though he always wrote of wine and beautiful boys (one example of sameness in unspiritual poetry). The Vedic and Vaishnava poets remain immortal in spite of their sameness which is in another way like that of the poetry of the troubadours in mediaeval Europe, deliberately chosen. Rasa vaicitrya is all very well, but it is the power of the poetry that really matters. After all every poet writes always in the same style, repeats the same vision of
things in “different garbs”.
When Sahana sent some of her poems to Tagore, he replied that the poet’smind should not be confined to a single preran. ¯a, however vast it might be.
But Tagore’s poetry is all from one ep rNA. He may write of different things, but it is always Tagore and his preran. ¯a repeating themselves interminably. Every poet does that.


He hints that a poet’s creation should not be confined to spiritual inspiration dealing with things spiritual and mystic.
Well, and if a poet is a spiritual seeker what does Tagore want him to write about? Dancing girls? Amal has done that. Wine and women? Hafiz has done that. But he can only use them as symbols as a rule. Must he write about politics,—communism, for instance, like modernist poets? Why should he describe the outer aspects of world nature, for their own sake.......

15 May 1938


What the deuce is Yogic poetry, not to speak of too Yogic?

Poetry is poetry, whatever the subject. If one can’t appreciate the subject one can at least appreciate its poetical expression.
One may not love wine-drinking yet appreciate the beauty of Anacreon’s lyrics and one may be a pacifist and yet appreciate the poetic power of your father’s war-song. However, perhaps since there is a conversion in other things, there may be an eleventh hour repentance here also.


Words or phrases may be reiterated provided they acquire by their content a new colour each time. The word white has been fairly common of late in my work though perhaps the line in which it occurs, “A white word breaks the eternal quietude”, is not so stale as the other.
Obviously, it is desirable not to repeat oneself or if one has to it is desirable to repeat in another language and in a new light.
Still even that cannot be overdone. The difficulty about most writers of spiritual poetry is that they have either a limited field of experience or are tacked on to a limited inspiration though an intense one. How to get out of it? The only recipe I know is to widen oneself (or one’s receptivity) always. Or else perhaps wait in the eternal quietude for a new white word to break it— if it does not come, telephone.

30 August 1937


But why should not one repeat oneself sometimes—provided it is done with a difference? It is better, unless there is imperative need for change or unless a very striking improvement offers itself, not to make any small alterations in a thing that has come out well—for then the better one tries after tends to spoil the good that has already been achieved.


It is not possible always to say something quite new. If one has a subject old or new worth treating and treats it with originality, that is all that is essential.

18 August 1936


All poetry is not necessarily spontaneous, and if all poetry that is not spontaneous were to be put aside, the stock of the world’s poetic literature would be much reduced; so let the sonnet stand.

25 October 1934


It is a good poem; its rhythm and expression are sufficiently chaste and strong to convey an effect of restrained power and give a poetic body to the thought—and the thought itself is on a high level and has the emotion and truth of what comes from the higher mind. Judged independently, the one defect is that the style has not the note of perfect originality, the intensity of discovery in it; I find toomuch echo ofmy own poetry in Ahana. But this derivativeness is inevitablewhen one is learning how to write —it is only when you have got a certain mastery of the medium that you can express in your own way.

6 December 1932



Once you wrote to me that the occasional failure of inspiration I experience is due to my mind having learned too much and being too ingenious. Has that characteristic given a subtly r´echauff´e turn to all my style? Do you find it at its best an inspired pastiche? I should be grateful to realise what particular influences I ought specially to outgrow. I sometimes doubt if I am not, except of course in the insight kindled by
you, almost wholly derivative, full of traditional mannerisms.

No. I find no pastiche in your poems and I could not lay my hand on any special influence to be outgrown. What I meant was that the contriving mind (intellectual and ingenious) was too busy and blocked the way of the poetic intuitive inspiration too often. I did not mean at all that it was wholly derivative or full of traditional mannerisms.

10 September 1933


I feel Jyoti’s poem is an exceedingly fine piece and some expressions are remarkably original, aren’t they?
Yes, quite so. It is the freedom from the intellectual limitations which bring in these original expressions—as in many English poets. Ordinarily in French, or in Bengali, (French before Mallarm´e and the Symbolists) there is too much lucidity and rationality to let these things get through.

29 October 1936

Poetry Writing and Fiction

Can I, without losing the force needed for fiction or poetry, carry on both at the same time?
There is no rule for these things. You must see for yourself, for with each person it is different. There is no general or necessary incompatibility between fiction and poetry.

28 March 1936


If a writer devoted part of the day to stories and part to poems, would the two sorts of writing come in each other’s way?
One cannot say what will be the immediate effect. But it is not likely that the poetic consciousness once opened will stop— though it may be suspended if the concentration is strongly to something else.

7 January 1937

Poetic Inspiration and Prose-Work

I amat present too much caught in the prose-work.Nowonder poetry is impossible. I suppose the prose has to run its course before the poetic inspiration gets a chance to return?
Why the deuce should your poetic inspiration wait for the results of the prose canter? The ground being still cumbered ought to be no obstacle to an aerial flight.

16 March 1935

Literary Ambition and Aspiration

If a poem does not come up to expectation, all is dark.

That is a weakness that ought to be overcome.
I want to write in many ways and many forms; to write long poems as well as short ones; to write expressing many and various ideas; in the future to write books even—and so to prepare myself for this now by doing shorter works.
But surely you do not expect to do all that all at once? One has to grow in consciousness and ability before these things can be done. Because all that is not yet done, is not a ground for being dissatisfied with the present work done.
I hold before myself the example of Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, Kalidasa, Shakespeare—of all the great poets. I am afraid this is all ambition.
Ambition has to be outgrown, if one wants to succeed in sadhana.
The will to use the energies for the best, not for ego but as a work for the Divine must replace it.

Something within wants to shake off this bondage to the old habits and old ways of writing, wants to soar higher, bring in newer, deeper, truer and more beautiful things: but I feel bound and full of despair.
There is no harm in such an aspiration, but despair is not the way to it. You have to aspire and grow into these new things— already there is a distinct progress, a new writing of a stronger kind.
A peculiar hopelessness now and then will not let me concentrate; how shall I be able to break into a newer region of inspiration by myself and my own aspiration and concentration?
You can’t do it by hopelessness and the consequent inability to concentrate. It is precisely by aspiration and concentration that it can be done. Nor are you called upon to do it “by yourself”.
I don’t want to write poetry in the same forms and metres. But I cannot help myself; there seems to be a canal cut and things come in that way, that form, and no other.
One can try new forms and metres and they will come, but it is to be observed that the greatest poets have written in a few forms and metres—e.g. Shakespeare, dramatic blank verse, sonnet, short lyric. In narrative he was a failure. Milton, blank verse, narrative, sonnet, long meditative lyric, ode. His drama form is not dramatic. Kalidas, narrative epic, drama, one elegiac poem, one poem of nature description—not an inexhaustible variation of metres. Valmiki, Vyasa epic only—anus.t.
ubh and tris.t.ubh metres. Dante, terza rima metre—little variation of
kind in his poetic writing.
I am rejecting the impulse to do other literary work—stories, novels etc.—simply for the sake of producing maturer work in poetry, though novel-writing would have been easier.
I do not know that there is any reason why you should not write other things. You have now a great mastery of poetry in its constituent parts of language, rhythm, building—it is only the variation that is needed. Perhaps by doing other work that variation might be assisted.
Lastly, I want to have your guidance, as when you told Nirodwhat were his drawbacks.
In your case I do not find any drawbacks of importance—except the one fact that you are bound within one channel or stream of poetry with always the same images and ideas as the base of your work. The construction in that base varies and is always fine. But the base and the kind are always the same.
Neither Arjava nor Amal are guided by anybody except you. Why should not that be the right thing for me?
Arjava and Amal write in English and I can guide or suggest things to them in detail as well as in general. I can’t do that with Bengali poetry; I can only pass judgment on points put before me.
Consultation with Nolini might be useful—he has a different mind from Nirod’s and can see things from another angle.
Nirod’s help is, I think, indispensable. As for Nishikanta, I do not think it advisable—he has a strong individuality of his own as a poet and at the same time a great assimilative power.With the first he wouldmake suggestions whichwould be good poetry but not kin to your individuality; with the other he would absorb your poetry and produce Nishikantisations of that—I don’t think you would like such drawings upon you.

20 March 1937

Ambition and the Desire for Fame

I cannot deny that along with my urge for acquiring a fine style etc., there is hiding some desire for fame as a good writer which, however, one can reject, at least one can hope to.
Better not force the inspiration. You have some literary gift and can let it grow—but no desire for fame, if you please.

4 October 1933


There should be no “desire” to be a “great” writer. If there is a genuine inspiration or coming of a power to write, then it can be done but to use it as a means of service to the Divine is the proper spirit.

14 May 1934


Every artist almost (there can be rare exceptions) has got something of the public man in him in his vital-physical parts, which makes him crave for the stimulus of an audience, social applause, satisfied vanity, appreciation, fame. That must go absolutely if you want to be a yogi; your artmust be a service not of your own ego, nor of anyone or anything else, but solely of the Divine.

14 September 1929


It is your aim to write from the Divine and for the Divine—you should then try to make all equally a pure transcription from the inner source and where the inspiration fails return upon your work so as to make the whole worthy of its origin and its object.
All work done for the Divine, from poetry and art and music to carpentry or baking or sweeping a room, should be made perfect even in its smallest external detail, as well as in the spirit in which it is done; for only then is it an altogether fit offering.

11 November 1931

Public Exposure

With Dilip as a patron, the “poetess” will no longer remain unknown and unheard of.
Do you want fame? If one succeeds, it means much meaningless and insincere adulation on one side, on the other hatred, jealousy, backbiting, adverse criticism, attack and unjust depreciation.
Are you ready for all that?

18 March 1937


Public Reception

I don’t know how many people will understand Jyoti’s poems. If they were published, I am sure people will howl at her. It will only be a century later that she will be appreciated, as in the case of Blake.
What you predict is extremely probable—unless she writes hereafter something they can understand. Then they will say these were her mystic amusements by the way. A great poetess, but with a queer side to her.

27 October 1936

Reading Things in Manuscript and in Print

It is curious but true that one can often get amore final judgment of a thing written when one surveys it in print or even typescript than in manuscript. Perhaps in the latter what is active but irrelevant in the personality of the writer comes in and evokes the personal response of the reader and so prevents detachment?


Prefaces and Reviews

Is it good to have a preface, introduction or bhu¯mika¯ to one’s book? I would prefer any appreciation to be published separately as a review or criticism.
It is not a question of principle but of feeling and circumstances. One can do either way. To do without anything of the kind (which seems like a recommendation or advertisement) seems the finer way—letting one’s creation stand on its own merits.
But the other is the fashion nowadays and I suppose there is something to be said for it.

28 October 1935

Some Metrical Matters

It is very necessary to learn metre and to arrange your thoughts —not have them pell-mell, as you yourself describe them— otherwise no amount of poetic substance or imagination will make your poetry effective.

9 July 1935


After scanning this poem I showed it to Nolini. He has scanned some lines differently, I am quoting only three lines because I want to know which scansion is right:
My scansion: Flame o ˘ f |a ˘ time|les ˘ s Sun
Nolini’s: Flame |o ˘ f a˘ time|less ˘ Su n
Mine: Re ˘ coil | fro˘m th ˘ e | least spark
Nolini’s: Re˘coil | fro˘m th ˘ e least | spark
Mine: O˘f he˘r | great lu|mi˘nou ˘ s Bliss
Nolini: O˘f he˘r great | lumi˘|no˘ us Bliss
As the poem is intended to be in the orthodox iambic metre, your scansions are quite correct. At the present time there are many who write in less even metres and to this kind of writing Nolini’s scansion would apply. But it is better for you to learn the regular scansion and metre first so as to have a firm base.

14 April 1936


It is absolutely necessary in order to learn the trochaic rhythm to write at first strictly regular trochaic metres with equal lines.
There can be irregularities in the verse, but this type of metre least of all can bear a free licence—variations must be occasional, not altered about with a free hand. Such variations are an additional syllable at the beginning, an occasional dactyl— but these must be occasional only. . . . A word like glorious can be scanned either as a dactyl or a trochee, the two vowels in the latter case being run into each other as if i were y.


I understand that trochees are to be avoided in an iambicanapaestic
poem. But I may be wrong. I find in a metre-book that the trochee is a common modulation for the iamb, especially in the first line.
Trochees are perfectly admissible in an iambic line as a modulation— especially in the first foot (not first line), but also occasionally in the middle. In the last foot a trochee is not admissible. Also these trochees must not be so arranged as to turn an iambic into a trochaic line.
In one of my poems you changed the line “Crystals at her feet”to “Is a crystal at her feet”, saying that “Crysta˘ls |at he˘ r | fee t”, with two trochees, could not come in an iambic anapaestic poem. Does this mean then that in an iamb-anapaest poem every line must have at least one iambic-anapaest foot?
My dear sir, this is an instance of importing one’s own inferences instead of confining oneself to the plain meaning of the statement. First of all the rules concerning a mixed iambic anapaestic cannot be the same as those that govern a pure iambic. Secondly what I objected to was the trochaic run of the line. Two trochees followed by a long syllable, not a single iamb or anapaest in the whole! How can there be an iambic line or an iambic anapaestic without a single iamb or anapaest in it? The line as written could
only scan either as a trochaic, therefore not iambic line, or thus | |, that is a trochee followed by an anapaest. Here of course there is an anapaest, but the combination is impossible rhythmically because it involves three short syllables one after another in an unreadable collocation—one is obliged to put a minor stress on the “at” and that at oncemakes the trochaic line.
In the iambic anapaestic line a trochee followed by an iamb can be allowed in the first foot; elsewhere it has to be admitted with caution so as not to disturb the rhythm.

22 December 1935


You have not got the metrical movement or the rhythm right. In English poetry one has to be careful about that—merely ideas or good writing will not make it poetry. The free verse was better.

1 October 1933



This is my first attempt to write a poem from imagination. I tried to give a vivid picture of Spring. I feel that the rhyme and metre is lacking.
It is true there is no rhyme and no metre. If you want rhyme and metre you must put them there—they don’t come of themselves.

5 May 1933


Nishikanta wants to know how to get the right rhythm and the right poetic style. I said by reading English poetry.
Yes, reading and listening with the inner ear to the modulation of the lines.

12 December 1935

Comments on Some Experiments in Metre

I think you failed [in an experiment to write in a classical metre] not for any of the reasons you suggest but because you had no unwritten rhythm behind your mind when you started writing and none came through by accident—or what seems one— as sometimes happens. There is an inspiration of language and there is an inspiration of rhythm and the two must fuse together for poetic perfection to come. As it is, you set out to manufacture
your rhythm and piece together its parts—that must be the cause of this result. Your failure does not predestine you to eventual failure.Most people fail at first when they try this kind of departure from the established norms—this rejuvenation of the old in the new. I do not remember my own previous attempts in the classical metres, but I feel sure they were failures of the kind I stigmatise. If I succeed now, it will be by the Grace of God, in other words the established Yoga consciousness, for in that consciousness things come through from behind the veil with ease,—so long as a veil exists at all. Of course with genius too in its moments of inspiration—surer than the layman imagines; but genius also is a kind of accidental Yoga, a contact,an opening into an occult Power.

25 November 1933



This liability to be read as an iambic pentameter is the pitfall of this metre [quantitative trimeter]—everything else is easy, this is the critical point in the movement. All the same, it seems to me that it is only the standing convention which imposes the iambic movement here. The reason why it can do so at all, is that in both the lines you keep up what one accustomed to the ordinary rhythms would take to be three successive trochees and would be irresistibly tempted to go on on the same lines. In order to get the right pace, the reader in dealing with these transplanted classic metres must be prepared to make the most of quantities and stresses (true ones) and then, if the verse is well executed, there should be no difficulty. One can help him sometimes by a crowding of stresses in the first part of the line and a refusal of all but the lightest sounds in the close with of course a strong stress at the end.

22 October 1933

Writing Poetry in French

If you want to write French poetry, the first thing you have to do is to learn the principles and rules of French prosody. Good verse is the first requisite and good rhythm.

10 July 1933


The point is that in French you must express yourself straightforwardly and clearly so that your meaning is at once apparent to the reader.

Some Questions of Diction

The diction of my poems is childish, too simple.
Good poetry can be written in a very simple style. Yours are quite good for a beginner.
Please do not forget to say something about why I do not succeed in poetry: also if I should devote my time more to the stories etc.

That is a matter for yourself to decide. It is always easier to succeed in one’s own tongue than in a foreign language.

25 March 1936


These last two stanzas [of a poem submitted by the correspondent] have a very poor diction with commonplace and overworn expressions; it sounds like an imitation of Scott, Moore and other poets who have no style.
I would like to have your comments on the poetic quality of these poems.
There is an improvement, but the recurring fault is a diction that seems to be caught from the second-rate poets and made still more common and conventional in imitation—it becomes what anybody trying his hand at verse might write. When you escape this snare, your images and turns of language are very good, though not often quite perfect.
I am not intimate with the English tongue. What should I do in order to acquire the required delicacy of language?
Study the more subtle and delicate writers—their language, their rhythm; don’t imitate, but draw into your mind their influence.

19 October 1933


I am reading what you wrote and shall send [it back] in a few days—it has merit, but the style needs chastening. English style cannot bear toomuch crowding of images as it creates a coloured mist and blurs the outline of the thought, the line of the thought has to be kept strong and clear, neither draped in too much diffuse wording nor blurred by excess of images. There are also some errors in the use of the language, but these are of less importance. If you read the best writers, observe their way of writing and absorb their influence, that might help you.

10 January 1936



The one stumbling block in the way of perfect poetic expression for you now is the difficulty in combining clear directness and lucidity with your turn for a richly packed and imaged thought. There is a tendency sometimes to put too many images together, shooting them into each other in a way which is not always easy to carry off—even the greatest masters of poetic style have sometimes stumbled in this kind of effort. And generally there is a tendency to pack the thought and clip the expression to the utmost and sometimes this goes to an excess of compression which makes it a little difficult to seize at once the significance.
When you do combine the lucidity with the pressed thought, the result is often very fine.

20 May 1931

Rhetoric and Eloquence

The style of these two prayers is too rhetorical—themeditations —addresses to the mind—were better in this respect.
A rhetorical style fails to convey the impression of sincerity in the thoughts and feelings: it gives the opposite impression that phrases are being turned only for the sake of good writing. This should be avoided.

9 July 1932


I want to produce something Upanishadic. But I get no glimmering at all of the sovereignly spiritual-poetic. The poem, Yoga, which I am sending you, almost tells me what I should do to solvemy difficulty; but themanner in which it tells seems to drive home the fact of my being so far from what I want— the sheer stupendous mantra.
I fear it is only eloquence—a long way from the mantra. From the point of view of a poetic eloquence there are some forceful lines and the rest is well done, but— there is too much play of the mind, not the hushed intense receptivity of the seer which is necessary for the mantra.

11 April 1933


This fineness in details is an imperative need for your poetry; you have too often a false note (rhetorical) or a just adequate expression— every turn, all the minutiae must be fine if the whole is to be exquisite. Otherwise even a fine poem can miss its effect by the inequality of its movement—as a fine dance can be spoilt by even two or three false steps or stumbles. A few changes here and there in a poem, slight in themselves, can make all the difference between a tolerable and a perfect whole—as a touch or two with the brush can transform a picture.

4 September 1931

The Right Words in the Right Places

How I struggled with the line, and you, Sir, by just a touch here and there fixed it up! I wish I could do that.
It is a question of getting the right words in the right places instead of allowing them to wander haphazard. Naturally it depends on inspiration, not on any clever piecing together. One sits still (mentally), looks at the words and somebody flashes the thing through you.

24 May 1937


How can “anything” be used in a poem?

A slight change makes all the difference between something forceful and a mere literary expression that misses its mark.

27 May 1936


I am sending you another weak poem. Please correct and tell me what you think of it.
The lines have poetic substance, but are imperfect in expression. A very slight refinement in these respects is enough to bring out the poetic substance. The exact word or turn, the exact rhythmic movement needed is all-important in poetry and a slight change makes a big difference.


In the poem I’ve sent you today, the first line of the third stanza should run:

With tones of fathomless joy we instil
instead of
Our tones of fathomless joy instil.
If you alter in that way, the whole beauty is gone.When a perfect inspiration comes, to alter it is a crime and usually carries its own punishment. The alteration you propose makes a deep and solemn psychic truth turn at once into an intellectual statement.

Some Questions of Word-Use

Is there any advantage in changing the phrase—
as though a press
Of benediction lay on me unseen—
as though the press
Of a benediction lay on me unseen?
No, no. The first was immeasurably better. “A press of benediction” is striking and effective; “the press of a benediction” is flat and means nothing. Besides it is not good English. You can say “a press of affairs”, “a press of matter”; you can say “the pressure of this affair”, but you cannot say “the press of an affair”.



Here is a sonnet for your judgment. It deals with the massive spiritual light descending into the brain like an inverted pyramid. The final phrase has a historical allusion:
a conscious hill
Down-kindled by some Cheops of the skies
To monument his lordship over death.
You must have heard of Cheops, the Egyptian King who built the Great Pyramid at Gizeh?
Of course I have heard of Cheops, but did not expect to hear of him again in this context. Don’t you think the limiting proper name brings in an excessive touch of intellectual ingenuity, almost as if the poem were built for the sake of this metaphor and not for its subject? I would myself prefer a general term so as to prevent any drop from sublimity, e.g.
Down-sloped by some King-Builder of the skies.
But it is a good sonnet and there is certainly both vision and poetry in it.

25 September 1933


“Revealed her mateless beauty the (or their) true paradise” is not permissible in prose, but it is one of those contracted expressions which are allowed in poetry and it is quite intelligible. The other form “revealed their mateless love as their true paradise” seems to me rather tame and prosaic.

8 October 1934


And if great music rolled from his far mouth,
This doesn’t sound right. Either “rolled” must be changed or it should be something like “A mighty music rolled”: that is to say, rolled is too sonant unless what precedes it is sonant also.

16 April 1937


Your remark about my fifth line [“And if great music . . . ”] is liable to seem hypercritical but really there is a subtle truth in it. However, it is not possible to begin the line with an “A” —for then the connection with the rest of the stanza is not so direct nor will the balance between the two quatrains be very clear.
I do not agree about the hypercriticism—the reason I gave is of course a mental account, but the main test is the fall and feel of the words either on the “solar plexus” or on the receptive intuition and here a slight alteration makes all the difference. “a great music rolled” is obviously unconvincing whether as expression or rhythm. I had thought of “when” in view of the intellectual construction of the lines, but dropped it because it lowered the rhythm and impressiveness of the line. If “when”
however is to be there, I don’t know whether “mighty” is any longer the right word though better than “great”. For inevitability (of whatever height) everything depends on the combination of words and the suggestive sound rhythm.

17 April 1937

On Writing Sonnets

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen iambic pentameter lines arranged
either in an octet and sestet with a particular arrangement of
the rhyme-structure—two-rhymed octet (of eight lines) abba
abba and the sestet (of six lines) three rhymed, the arrangement
according to choice, except that a closing couplet is avoided—
or else in three quatrains with alternate rhymes and a closing
couplet. The building of the thought in the sonnet must be very
carefully worked out. A thought is built up or prepared in the
octet and its culmination or outcome expressed in the sestet—.
Or else it is worked up in the three quatrains and the climax
or culminating point reached in the closing couplet. The first is
the Miltonic, the second the Shakespearean form of the sonnet.
Other forms can be made but these are the two classic sonnet
structures in English literature.
Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats are the greatest
sonnet writers in English. You can find the best sonnets in the
Golden Treasury. There are others also who have written sonnets
of the highest quality e.g. Sidney, Shelley—you will find
there these also.

17 April 1936


Has it struck you that these sonnets are rather simple as regards their rhythm? Should not there be variations in pauses and overflows, different rhymes, etc.?
It is the Shakespearean model, three quatrains each with alternate rhymes and a couplet. Pauses and overflows are not usual in this type. Variations—depends on what variations.

For example, the rhymes in the sestet could be CDE, CDE.
It would no longer be the Shakespearean model. In the Miltonic form the sestet is rhymed anyhow, the one you prefer being only one sequence, provided there are three rhymes and no couplet; but then the octet has to follow a fixed system of two rhymes only ABBA ABBA. Nowadays however people throw the sonnet into all sorts of irregular forms, I believe.

20 December 1936

The Ode

What is meant by an ode? Is it another name for an invocation?
No. It is a lyrical poem of some length on a single subject e.g. the Skylark (Shelley), Autumn (Keats), the Nativity (Birth of Christ) (Milton) working out a description or central idea on the subject.

14 June 1937

Lyric, Narrative, Epic

I am having much difficulty with the aks.ara-vr.tta (yaugika as it is now called). I can manage svara-vr.tta and m¯ atra-vr.tta, but not the other.
It is a question of the inspiration adopting the form proposed. At first there may be a little difficulty as it is the more lyric movements in which it has been accustomed to flow.

11 August 1936


It is quite natural that the narrative should flow less than the lyrical—it is a work that demands more strenuous qualities and a well-built preparation. But it is by overcoming the difficulties that the poetic capacity grows. If one is satisfied with the lyrical vein it is all right—but if one wants to do great work in more difficult forms, one must face the difficulties.

24 July 1937



Narratives then can be made or written very poetically, not like a mere fact-to-fact storytelling?
But what do you mean by poetically? A fact-to-fact storytelling can be very poetic. Poetry is poetic whether it is put in simple language or freely adorned with images and rich phrases. The latter kind is not the only “poetic” poetry nor is necessarily the best. Homer is very direct and simple, Virgil less so but still restrained in his diction; Keats tends always to richness; but one cannot say thatKeats is poetic and Homer andVirgil are not. The rich style has this danger that it may drown the narration so that its outlines are no longer clear. This is what has happened with Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Lucrece; so that Shakespeare cannot be called a great narrative poet.

13 July 1937


As narrative poetry and epic are not the same, why should the former give me a training in the latter?
It is necessary to be able to work out a subject at length in a clear well-built way—epic is usually of a narrative build—so narrative poetry is the best training for that. The narrative writers you speak of did not aspire to be epic poets.

6 June 1937


How may I learn the epic style of blank verse?
I suppose it is best done by reading the epic writers until you get the epic rush or sweep.
Is it too early for me to learn it?
Epic writing needs a sustained energy of rhythm and word which is not easy to get or maintain. I am not sure whether you can get it now. I think you would first have to practise maintaining the level of the more energetic among the lines you have been writing.

3 May 1937



Is your Love and Death an epic, and Urvasie and Baji Prabhou?
Love and Death is epic in long passages. Urvasie is written on the epic model. Baji Prabhou is not epic in style or rhythm.
Are your twelve recent poems too in the epic style?
No, they are lyrical, though sometimes there may come in an epic elevation.
Will reading Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained help?
Paradise Lost, yes. In the other Milton’s fire had dimmed.
Kindly mention all the epic writers in all the languages—it is
good to know, at least.
In English Paradise Lost and Keats’ Hyperion (unfinished) are the two chief epics. In Sanskrit Mahabharata, Ramayana, Kalidasa’s Kumarsambhava, Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya. In Bengali Meghnadbodh. In Italian Dante’s Divine Comedy and Tasso’s (I have forgotten the name for the moment) are in the epic cast. In Greek of course Homer, in Latin Virgil. There are other poems which attempt the epic style, but are not among the masterpieces. There are also primitive epics in German and Finnish (Nibelungenlied, Kalevala)

4 May 1937


This afternoon, in a kind of sleep, I read a whole passage of an epic in English. All fled like vapour on waking up. I caught only this:
Nee|d we| our mo|r|tal bloo|d. . . .
This is only part of a line, three feet—the blank verse line is five feet. As far as it goes, it is quite correct. Full lines could be something like this:
Ne|ed we | our mo|r|tal bloo|d | to spri|nk|le ea|rth

That ma|n | may gro|w| by the | re|d sa |c|rifi|ce|.
A foot in the pentameter blank verse is of two syllables; normally the accent is on the second syllable of the foot, but for variety’s sake it can fall on the first. e.g. Nee| d we|. Or there can be a
foot without stress e.g. by˘ the˘ | followed sometimes by a foot of double stress as re | d sa | c|rifice. Sometimes an anapaest, very light, can be put in in place of the 2 syllable foot, e.g. In the su| d|den
fa| ll|and tra||gic en | d | of thi|ngs|. Other variations there can be, but
they are more rare.

5 May 1937


Is there a difference between blank verse and poetry which is quite epic and blank verse and poetry which is written only in the epic style, model or manner?
I don’t quite understand the point of the question. Poetry is epic or it is not. There may be differences of elevation in the epic style, but this seems to be a distinction without a difference.
Surely there must be some difference between an epic, true and genuine throughout and a poem which is only in the epic style or has the epic tone?
An epic is a long poem usually narrative on a great subject written in a style and rhythm that is of a high nobility or sublime.
But short poems, a sonnet for instance can be in the epic style or tone, e.g. some of Milton’s or Meredith’s sonnet on Lucifer or, as far as I can remember it, Shelley’s on Ozymandias.
What are the qualities or characteristics that tell one “This is an epic”?
I think the formula I have given is the only possible definition.
Apart from that, each epic poet has his own qualities and characteristics that differ widely from the others. For the rest one can feel what is the epic nobility or sublimity, one can’t very
well analyse it.

In Sanskrit epics, e.g. Kumarsambhav, what has made up the rhythm? And how does it sound so grave, lofty, wide and deep?
It is a characteristic that comes natural to Sanskrit written in the classical style.
How can one have all these qualities together?
Why not? they are not incompatible qualities.
English seems to have the necessary tone more easily, but is it possible in Bengali?
I don’t know why it shouldn’t be. Madhu Sudan’s style is a lofty epical style; it is not really grave and deep because his mind was not grave or deep—but that was the defect of the poet, not necessarily an incapacity of the language.

11 May 1937


I would like my present poems to come in a few lines, but the epical tone to be more and more perfect every day.
The epic movement is something that flows; it may not be good to try to shut it into a few lines. There might be a danger of making something too compact. If that can be avoided, then of course it is better to write a few lines with a heightened epic tone than many with the lesser tone.

13 May 1937


One day after reading something you wrote about epics and epic poetry, a flaming aspiration entered my heart that one day I must write an epic. [Details of the proposed epic given.]
Please tell me what an epic should consist of.
Theremust be a great subject—the one you propose is obviously a very big one; there must be what is called an architecture of the poem, each part of it clearly planned and in its right place so as to create a perfect harmony, like the noble or magnificent mass and detail of a great building; there must be a perfect working out of the subject.
Will the study of the structure and characteristics of the great epics help me to learn about the building and technique?
It is not necessary to read all the epics—two or three if properly appreciated, i.e. if you see and feel the right things in it to learn from would be sufficient.
I shall wait till I hear from you whether you approve of the aspiration at all.
The idea you have given is a very vast one, but if the epic faculty develops in you there is no reason why you should not carry it out. Only there must be no impatience. Milton waited twenty years before he started the epic he had dreamt of. Also from the point of view and kind of style in which you want to write it, you will have not only to get the access to the inspiration of the overhead poetry but to be quite open to the flow of that consciousness—otherwise you would only do small poems in it like Amal’s, such a vast work would be impossible. At present
go on with your development—you have the epic flow but not as yet the epic building, that must come in small things before you can do it in large ones. It will come in time, but time is necessary.

21 May 1937


Please tell me why I often jump back to the sonnet source instead of steadily keeping to the epic source. The more I try to be “fine” the more I lose the epic source.
It is a matter of habit. Also the attempt to be “fine” is not good for epic writing. None of the great epic poets wrote “finely” —nobility or power or a clear and great strength of style and substance and spirit is their characteristic.
What shall I do in order to get access to the inspiration of overhead poetry? And more especially, “to be quite open to the flow of that consciousness” [see letter of 21 May 1937, p. 618]? What is this over-consciousness? Will it come to me so early? Or were you speaking only with regard to the future?
I spoke of the future. This is a thing that can only be done by growth of consciousness through sadhana.
Why did Milton wait so long? To prepare himself?
If he had written it when he first conceived the idea, he would have written a beautiful and noble romance, but not an epic. Hefelt he was not ready. For a long time afterwards he was engaged in politics and wrote only a few sonnets.

27 May 1937


Were all the epic poets quite advanced in age when they began their work? Has age anything to do with one’s best work?
At a more advanced age the mind is more mature and capable of a large and great subject. The greatest works in literature haveusually been done at such an age.

14 June 1937


Must I wait till I am 48 or 50? By doing sadhana, may I not be ready between 35 and 38? Forty or after is too far.
There is no fixed age, but most work (great work) of that kind has been done at 40 or 50 or after. Sadhana is another matter, but as I have said sadhana cannot be done with the sole object of writing an epic.

29 June 1937

An Epic Line

Do you think the blank verse here [in the poem Agni Jatavedas] has any epical ring?
No—there are sometimes epic or almost epic lines, but the whole or most of it has not the epic ring. There is one epic line
An infinite rapture veiled by infinite pain.

Perhaps the first three lines are near the epic—there may be one or two others.

19 May 1937

The Line and the Poem

In English poetry it will not do only to string beautiful lines together—the subject must be thought out to the end—there is necessary a harmonious building, idea structure or feeling structure or vision structure. It is necessary to learn this also for the epic poetry.

29 May 1937


The first line [in a poem sent for approval] is one I have used before, but it didn’t stir you so much, perhaps because the necklace of which it was one jewel was not harmoniously beautiful.
Naturally—poetry is not a matter of separate lines—a poem is beautiful as a whole—when it is perfect each line has its own beauty but also the beauty of the whole.

4 November 1938

Sri Aurobindo’s Critical Comments

on Poetry Written in the Ashram

You seem to demand a very rigid and academic fixity of meaning from my hastily penned comments on the poetry sent to me. I have no unvarying aesthetic standard or fixed qualitative criterion,— not only so but I hold any such thing to be impossible with regard to so subtle and unintellectual an essence as poetry.
It is only physical things that can be subjected to fixed measures and unvarying criteria. Appreciation of poetry is a question of feeling, of intuitive perception, of a certain aesthetic sense, it is not the result of an intellectual judgment.
My judgment does differ with different writers and also with different kinds of writing. If I put “very good” on a poem of Shailen’s, it does not mean that it is on a par with Harin’s or Arjava’s or yours. It means that it is very good Shailen, but not that it is very good Harin or very good Arjava. “If ‘very good’ was won by them all,” you write! But, good heavens,
you write that as if I were a master giving marks in a class. I may write “good” or “very good” on the work of a novice if I see that it has succeeded in being poetry and not mere verse however correct or well rhymed—but if Harin or if Arjava or you were to produce work like that, I would not say “very good” at all. There are poems of yours which I have slashed and pronounced unsatisfactory, but if certain others were to send me that, I would say, “Well, you have been remarkably successful this time.” I am not giving comparative marks according to a fixed scale. I am using words flexibly according to the occasion and the individual. It would be the same with different kinds of writing. If I write “very good” or “excellent” on some verses of Dara about his chair, I am not giving it a certificate of equality with some poem of yours similarly appreciated—I am only saying that as humorous easy verse in the lightest vein it is very successful, an entertaining piece of work. Applied to your poem
it would mean something different altogether.
Coming from your huge P.S. to the tiny body of your letter, what do you mean by “a perfect success”? I meant that pitched in a certain key and style it [a certain poem] had worked itself out very well in that key and style in a very satisfying way from the point of view of thought, expression and rhythm. From that standpoint it is a perfect success. If you ask whether it is at your highest possible pitch of inspiration, I would say no, but it is nowhere weak or inadequate and it says something poetically well worth saying and says it well. One cannot always be writing at the highest pitch of one’s possibility, but that is no reason why work of very good quality in itself should be rejected.

15 November 1934


I see no earthly use in producing something that is just “all right” when I am obsessed with an intuition of some hitherto unrevealed miraculous poetic creation existing on a plane I absolutely despair of reaching. . . . I beg to be excused, again, for this much ado about nothing but I am awfully disgusted with myself.
You should get rid of the disgust. The sonnet in its amended form is fine enough—if I do not shoot up into enthusiasm about it, it is for two reasons—1st because I am becoming cautious about the use of superlatives nowadays, not for poetical or critical but for other reasons and secondly because I expect you to do much better than your present best and if I use high expressions, what the devil shall I do when you rise to yet unexpected summits.
So you need not be damped by my “all rights” etc.—on the contrary you should give full value to both the all and the right.

1 May 1934


Could you just mark for me the nuances of “very good”, “very fine” and “very beautiful”? Sometimes you write: “exceedingly fine and beautiful”.
But these remarks of mine are not intended to summarise a considered and measured criticism—they simply express the impression made on me at the time of reading. I shall be very badly embarrassed if you insist on my explaining the nuances of such very summary expressions. “Exceedingly” for instance does not convey that the poem was “inevitable”, it simplymeans that I was exceedingly pleased with it for some reason or another.
If I wanted to pronounce a measured criticism or appreciation, I should do it in more precise language and at greater length than that.

17 September 1934


If I could be told what exactly to change in order that my recent lines might achieve full success and become “very fine”, I would be thankful.
I have told you once that I have become more subdued in my appreciations of poetry—so “fine” may very well be changed to “very fine”. The poem you wrote was without a flaw positive or negative—to alter it would be to spoil it.

11 October 1934



The word “fine” means not, of course, “full of flaws” but there is something, somehow, somewhere wrong—for the following reason. “Good” means some imperfection, some flaw.
Now, when I asked you whether the terms“very good”, “very fine”, “very beautiful” indicated different levels of excellence or merely different kinds on the same level, you said different kinds rather than levels. This means, analogically, that “good” and “fine” indicate also the same level. Ergo, “fine” means, too, some imperfection, some flaw.
What an extraordinarily sinuous and fantastic knowledge! My language would indeed be peculiar if the words I use mean just their opposites—i.e. good = bad, fine = flawed, beautiful = ugly.

A poem may be good poetry without being a complete success, but if it is very good then it is a complete success. Fine cannot possibly mean something that is not fine, as it always implies a high excellence. Naturally the kind of fineness may vary and the degree also. There is no new unprecedented superior shade or transvaluation of values. I mean just the same thing as when I speak of fine lines—i.e. lines reaching a high level of excellence.
These words are only summary words giving the general impression.

11 October 1934


Originally you said [of a certain poem], “it is a fine poem” but when I asked whether that meant any inferiority to those you had designated as “very fine” or “very good” etc., you answered “No.” Does that imply that I might add “very” here also?
Really, I don’t measure my appreciations or rather my impressions in the dreadfully professorial way you suggest. What is wrong with “fine”? A fine poem is not worth keeping?

11 May 1936


Now if one poem you have considered “very fine” and another only “fine”, is it illogical of me to suppose that there is some difference of quality between the two? Even if I keep the poem
I cannot feel that I have done my best—but the situation becomes strange if by “fine” and “very fine” you mean the same thing sometimes. Does it really amount to asking you to be “dreadfully professorial” if I beg you to let this distinction, created by “very” or some such expression, be clear?
But, again, what is wrong with fine? How is fineness a failure? —It is professorial because, when you insist on the curious distinction between very fine and “only” fine, it seems to be like an examiner giving marks, alpha class, beta class, gamma, delta class etc. Poetry can’t be marked in that way, that’s why I objected. If any of your poems is unsatisfactory, I generally say so and sharply enough too.

May 1936


Jyotirmayi confided tome that when you call any of her poems “very successful” she feels quite depressed for not being able to write something “very fine” or “very beautiful”. I told her that as soon as she saw “very” anywhere she must shoot straight up to the seventh heaven of joy. But surely, surely, if that blessed word is pointedly omitted, even a pachyderm like me might feel a little pricked!
What an importance to give to an adverb! Fine by itself is quite equal to “very good”—shall I start other categories e.g. “very very” and “very very very”?

2 August 1936


It is a fact that “very good” doesn’t appeal as much as “very beautiful”, “very fine”.
There is some difference of course but the words must not be taken as exact weight measures. They simply record an impression.

6 August 1936


You’ve said that the poem now is “very fine”, but why is it so? Why is a poem fine? By its power of expression and rhythm, I suppose, and its force of substance and image. As all these are there, I call it a fine poem.

5 December 1936



You all attach too much importance to the exact letter of my remarks of the kind as if it were a giving of marks. I have been obliged to renounce the use of the word “good” or even “very good” because it depressed Nirod—though I would be very much satisfied myself if I could always write poetry certified to be very good. I write “very fine” against work which is not improvable, so why ask me for suggestions for improving the unimprovable? As for rising superior to yourself that is another matter—one always hopes to do better than one has yet done, but that means not an avoidance of defects—I always point out ruthlessly anything defective in your work—but to rise higher, wider, deeper etc., etc. in the consciousness. Incidentally, even if my remarks are taken to be of mark-giving value, what shall I do in future if I have exhausted all adverbs? How shall I mark your self-exceeding if I have already certified your work as exceeding? I shall have to fall back on roars “Oh, damned fine, damned damned damned fine!”

15 May 1937

Sri Aurobindo’s Comments on Poetry Written Outside the Ashram

As to Suhrawardy, you can if you like send the complimentary portion of my remarks with perhaps a hint that I found his writing rather unequal, so that it may not be all sugar. But the phrases about “album poetry” and chaotic technique are too vivid—being meant only for private consumption—to be transmitted to the writer of the poems criticised; I would for that have expressed the same view in less drastic language. As I have already said once, I do not like to write anything disparaging or discouraging for thosewhom I cannot help to do better. I receivedmuch poetry from Indian writers for review in the Arya, but I always refrained because I would have had to be very severe. I wrote only about
Harindranath because there I could sincerely, and I think justly, write unqualified praise.

25 May 1931


I hope Dilip is not sending Kshitish Sen my adverse criticism of his translation—it was not meant for him. I do not like to discourage people uselessly,—that is to say, where I cannot show them how to do better; where I cannot encourage, I prefer to say nothing. For the rest (omitting the sentence about rhetorical flatness) he can do as he likes.

19 November 1930


I don’t want to say anything [about a certain book], because when I cannot positively encourage a young and new writer, I prefer to remain mum. . . . Each writer must be left to develop in his own way.

31 May 1943

Sri Aurobindo

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The only way to come a little close to him is to love him sincerely and give oneself unreservedly to his work. Thus, each one does his best and contributes as much as he can to that transformation of the world which Sri Aurobindo has predicted.

The Mother
(Vol. 12, pp. 398-99)