Room with a View|Nov 28, 2004 11:50 AM| by:

A Tribute

November celebrates the birth centenary of K.D. Sethna.  A member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, a sadhak, a devotee, an intellectual, the editor of Mother India, a poet, a writer and a man with a great sense of humour –all this rolled into one, spells Amal Kiran,  a name given to Sethna by Sri Aurobindo.  There is no adequate way to do justice to him and his work in a single column or a single issue. However, what better way to make our readers acquainted with Amal Kiran than via the words of the great Master Himself?  

We give below one of the most beautiful and highly appreciated poems written by Amal Kiran, followed by Sri Aurobindo’s comments on the poem, given directly to the poet as well as another sadhak who lived in the ashram at that time.  Not only do these words of praise  speak volumes for the poet’s creativity but also brings to light the fact that we have someone of such exceptional standard living right under our nose so to speak, and yet, we hunt through the annals of English Literature looking for gems.  

This Errant Life

This errant life is dear although it dies;
And human lips are sweet though they but sing
Of stars estranged from us; and youth’s emprise
Is wondrous yet, although an unsure thing.

Sky-lucent Bliss untouched by earthiness!
I fear to soar lest tender bonds decrease.
If Thou desirest my weak self to outgrow
Its mortal longings, lean down from above,
Temper the unborn light no thought can trace,
Suffuse my mood with a familiar glow.
For’tis with mouth of clay I supplicate:
Speak to me heart to heart words intimate,
And all Thy formless glory turn to love
And mould Thy love into a human face.

K.D. Sethna

 Sri Aurobindo’s Comments

“A very beautiful poem, one of the very best you have written.  The last six lines, one may say even the last eight, are absolutely perfect.  If you could always write like that, you would take your place among English poets and no low place either.  I consider they can rank – these eight lines – with the very best in English poetry.”

To Dilip Kumar Roy: “Amal’s lines are not easily translatable, least of all into Bengali.  There is in them a union or rather fusion of high severity of speech with exaltation and both with a pervading intense sweetness which it is almost impossible to transfer bodily without loss into another language.  There is no word in excess, none that could have been added or changed without spoiling the expression, every word just the right revelatory one – no colour, no ornamentation, but a sort of suppressed burning glow, no similes, but images which have been fused inseparably into the substance of the thought and feeling – the thought itself perfectly developed, not idea added to idea at the will of the fancy, but perfectly interrelated and linked together like the limbs of an organic body.  It is high poetic style in its full perfection and nothing at all that is transferable.  You have taken his last line and put in a lotus-face and made divine love bloom in it, – a pretty image, but how far from the flowing impassioned severity of the phrase: ‘And mould Thy love into a human face’!”

To the poet himself: “The quotations [AE] makes [from your poems]—

The song-impetuous mind…[1]

The Eternal Beauty is a wanderer
Hungry for lips of clay [2] —

certainly deserve the praise he gives them and they are moreover of the kind AE and Yeats also, I think, would naturally like.  But the poem [This Errant Life] I selected for special praise had no striking expressions like these standing out from the rest, just as in a Greek statue there would be no single feature standing out in a special beauty (eyes, lips, head or hands), but the whole has a harmoniously modeled grace of equal perfection everywhere as, let us say, in the perfect charm of a statue by Praxiteles.  This apart from the idea and feeling, which goes psychically and emotionally much deeper than the ideas in the lines quoted by AE, which are poetically striking but have not the same subtle spiritual appeal; they touch the mind and vital strongly, but the other goes home into the soul.”

“If you could always write direct from the Illumined Mind – finding there not only the substance, as you often do, but the rhythm and language, that indeed would be a poetry exquisite, original and unique.  The intellect produces the idea, even the poetic idea, too much for the sake of the idea alone; coming from the Illumined Mind the idea in a form of light and music is itself but the shining body of the Light Divine.”

[1] From Ne Plus Ultra, quoted a little later.
[2] From Sages, not quoted here.