The Sources of Poetry by Sri Aurobindo

Updated: Mar 31

First of all, his experience of inspiration comes to him from above his head and not from any other sources, certainly not from the domain of the unconscious, individual and collective; even the changes and his composition are received from above without initiation by him. Inspiration comes in swiftness thus poetry flows through it. We all are filled with ideas but we need some force to give shape to them. Like Ganga, a real mother of inspiration that flows quickly down from the head of Mahadev, God is seated over the Himalaya of the mind, and poetry flows to the cities of men. All poetry is an inspiration in which inspiration perceives the right expression. God inspired them with his blessing to reveal their ideas. It is in reality a revelation of something that externally exists. The ancients used the same word for poet and prophet, creator and seer, sophes, vates, kavi.

Secondly, there appears to have taken place a marked change in the mode of his reception of inspiration in course of time. At first, it appears, the inspiration came to him in the form of “the stuff of an unshaped formation” and his mind was always laboring at it, but this did not work well and he did not get the best results. Later on, he made himself completely receptive and silenced his laboring mind too, and entrusted even this instrument entirely into the hands of the inspirational power. And the results, he perceived, were miraculous. The poem began to come to him entire and whole, like Minerva, as it was fully armed; and they poured upon him “as a stream, beginning at the first line and ending at the last”. It was the power of inspiration alone that took the initiative and shaped his creation, and he had only to make his whole being completely receptive to it.

The greatest motion of poetry comes when the mind is calm and quiet and the ideal principle works above and outside the brain, above even the hundred-petaled lotus of the ideal mind. The higher ideation transcends genius just as genius transcends ordinary intellect and perception. This revelation has given us Shakespeare, Homer, and Valmiki.

The three mental instruments of knowledge are:

a) The Heart or Emotional Mind: Poetry that rises from the heart is usually a turbid stream. Our restless ideas and imaginations mix up. Such poetry may be inspired, but is always suitable or inevitable. The double inspiration are, i) Higher or Ecstatic ii) Lower or Emotional. The lower disturbs and drags the higher. This is the birth of romantic or excessively exuberant poetry, too rich in expression, too abundant, and redundant in substance.

b) The Observing and The Reasoning Intellect: Poetry written through reasoning intellect is apt to be full of ingenious conceits, logic, argumentation, rhetorical turns, etc… this is sometimes called Classical Poetry (e.g. the poetry of Pope and Dryden). It has its inspiration, truth, and value. It is admirable in its own way.

c) The Intuitive Intellect: this transmits inspiration when the greatest poetry writes itself out through the medium of the Poet.

False Inspiration is when the mind works at the form and substance of poetry without inspiration or revelation. Respectable, minor poetry is produced but work may not be immortal. The kind of poetry that misses the true language of poetry from the dullness of perception is called Tasmaic or Clouded Stimulus. It is active but full of unenlightenment and self-ignorance. The thing makes it look like noble poetry instead it becomes rendered prose (Wordsworth is the most characteristic and interesting victim of Tasmaic Stimulus). There is another species of Tasmaic Stimulus that transmits an inspired and faultless expression, but the substance is neither interesting to man nor pleasing to Gods (Milton comes under this category). In both cases, inspiration or revelation has been active but its companion activity has refused to associate itself in the work. Another kind of false inspiration is Rajasic or Fiery Stimulus. It is not flat and unprofitable like the Tasmaic, but hasty, impatient, and vain. If Rajasic poets get a better expression or a fuller sight, they often prefer to retaliate rather than strike out inferior stuff with which they are in love (e.g. Shelly and Spenser).

The perfect Inspiration in the intuitive intellect is the Sattwic or Luminous Inspiration. It is disinterested, self-contained yet at will; noble, rich or vigorous, having its eye on the right thing to be said and the right way to say it. It does not allow its perfection to have interfered with emotion, eagerness but this does not shut it out from ecstasy and exhalation (e.g. The poetry of Mathew Arnold). This is a limited inspiration. Sattwic, as well as Rajasic poetry, may be written from the uninspired intellect, but the sensational mind never gives birth to Sattwic poetry.

A poet need not be a reflective critic. He/she need not have the reasoning and analyzing intellect and dissect their own poetry. But two things he must have in some measure to be perfect. I) The Intuitive Judgment II) Intuitive Reason (the perfect or imperfect expression and rhythm). The perfect equipment of genius doing the works of creative knowledge is:

a) Revelation or Prophecy

b) Inspiration

c) Intuitive Judgment

d) Intuitive Reason.


Indian Literary Criticism- Theory and Interpretation- G. N. Devy- 2002

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