Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Poetry of Sarojini Devi

By V. N. Bhushan

What is richer than thoughts that stray
From reading of poems that sweetly flow?

-ROBERT BRIDGES

Down through the ringing corridor of the ages, India has kept her history fragrant with the enduring memories of illustrious women that have shed their lustre on the paths of life. Even in the early dawn of Indian literature, we can see a Vishyavara or a Ghosha sing with upfolded hands the invocatory hymns of their own composition. Since then every Indian language and every age has had its representative Women of Letters. To this day we read with delight the lovely and graceful songs of Rupamati, of Mirabai, of Zeb-un-Nissa, of Muddupalani and of Anandamayi. And among the few women of India that have decked English Poesy with their song-offerings, the names of Aru Dutt, Toru Dutt, Kamini Roy, Padmavati and Sarojini Devi stand conspicuous.

With eyes full of poetic fire, Sarojini Devi moves on the sacred strand of song, lyre in hand; and as her heart dances to the drum-beat of rumbling clouds of thought, she delicately touches the strings; anon, we hear a thrilling sound of vibrant notes. She is a magician that spreads the lure and leads us on to the celestial heights of Parnassus where eternal music sounds amidst everlasting sunshine.

Her poems are like the joyful notes of the contented spring-messenger, radiating charm and vitality. They are like herself, delicate and sensitive, as delicate and sensitive as the snow-flakes that descend at dawn from above, but no, not so volatile. They move before our mind's eye like a pageantry of the stars and open up to our clouded visions the magnificent dreams of her powerful and poignant soul. They are dreams to the dreamer, songs to the singer, madrigals to the strephon. They beckon to us, coquet with us, perfume us and haunt us evermore with the lingering echo of their music.

Sarojini Devi is a poetess of the spirit, of sublime emotions. She is a high-priestess of romanticism, sailing on seas of song and singing as she sails. She expresses moods, thoughts and visions that are happy, lovely and beautiful in ornate diction, in lines ‘frisking light in frolick measures’. It is as if Sarojini Devi has caught the silver flutter of dancing star-maids and limned it through her verse. And when she rides "sublime upon the seraph wings of ecstacy" through the luxuriant lawns of imagination, her poems come to us "wind-carried, butterfly-borne, or as softly a-sail as a rose-petal upon a stream's surface." They are a dream of beauty–a veritable ‘rapture of song.’

‘THE EASTERN MAGIC’

In her love of Nature and her speckled scenes of beauty, Sarojini Devi has a close proximity to the twin inspirers of Poesy–Shelley and Keats. She is nevertheless eminently Indian in temperament and well merits the exclamation of Arthur Symons that "her poems have in them an Eastern Magic". Let us now take a peep at her Palace of Song, that we may realise how astonishingly Oriental she is.

In the Bazaars of Hyderabad conjures up a picturesque vision. Beside the perpetual stream of people along the thoroughfare, we see the merchants with their rich

Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade,
the vendors with their
Saffron and lentil and rice

* * *

Sandalwood, henna and spice,

the goldsmiths busy making

Wristlet and anklet and ring,

Bells for the feet of blue pigeons,

Frail as a dragon-fly's wing,

the fruit-sellers with trays of

Citron, pomegranate and plum

the musicians playing on their

Cithar, sarangi and drum

the magicians casting

Spells for the aeons to come

and the dainty flower-girls weaving

Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,

Chaplets to garland his head,

Sheets of white blossoms new-gathered,

To perfume the sleep of the dead.

Close upon the heels of these people come the picturesque bangle-sellers with their

……………………..shining loads...

……………………..delicate, bright

Rainbow-tinted circles of light.

Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,

For happy daughters and happy wives.

What a strange variety of men and things!

Let us contrast the above scene with a Western one described by Mr. John Drinkwater in his poem Symbols:

All day long the traffic goes
In Lady Street by dingy rows
Of sloven houses, tattered shops–
Fried fish, old clothes and fortune-tellers–
Tall trams on silver shining rails,
With grinding wheels and swaying tops,
And lorries with their corded bales
And screeching cars. ‘Buy, buy’ the sellers
Of rags and bones and sickening meat
Cry all day long in Lady Street.
Here indeed is the glaring difference in outlook!
SONGS OF SPRING

Devi Sarojini is a lover of the Spring that comes "with the lure of her magic flute". Spring robes everything in flaming colours, and in the rapturous joy of the season,

Kamala tinkles a lingering foot
In the grove where temple bells ring,
And Krishna plays on his bamboo flute
An idyl of love and spring.
Spring with its varied songs stirs passionate souls; one in eagerness queries,
Springtime, O springtime, what is your secret,
The bliss at the core of your magical mirth,
That quickens the pulse of the morning to wonder,
And hastens the seeds of all beauty to birth!

In yet another quarter, we espy a lonely village girl. Enamoured of the boatmen's rustic songs, she tarries long at her duty and while returning says feelingly:

Full are my pitchers and far to carry,
Lone is the way and long,
Why, O why was I tempted to tarry,
Lured by the boatmen's song.

From another side we hear the alluring melody of the milk-maid Radha's song,

I carried my curds to the Mathura fair...
How softly the heifers were lowing...

which is at once expressive of love and admiration for the Divine Flutist of Brindavan. It also reveals to us how the commonplace people misunderstand an exalted soul like Radha, who was mocked at when, in sacred adoration of Krishna, the Divine Cowherd and Musician –the ‘Divine’ Beloved of every Hindu heart, she chanted:

Govinda! Govinda!
Govinda! Govinda!

To Sarojini Devi, Spring makes an intense appeal as a season for mirth and merriment and she would do nothing else on a spring-day:

Their joy from the birds and streams let us borrow,
O, heart, let us sing.
The years are before us for weeping and sorrow,
To-day it is spring!

POEMS OF LOVE

With many writers of verse, the love theme is a lute with many strings that can be harped at will in accordance with the flow of the ebb and tide of their fancy. And even then their interpretation of Love never rises to superb heights. But the love poems of Sarojini Devi have a fascination all their own, and to her, Love is something more than a mere earthly passion. Her conception of Love transcends all human limitations. To her, it has something of the Divine, of the Eternal. To her, it opens a path in the never-ending pursuit of perfection. She does not depict Love as amorous, as passionate. It is serene, sublime–triumphing over Death and surviving through Eternity. She sings–

You permeate

With such profound, supreme and intimate,

Knowledge, possession, power, my life's domain;

O, are you not

The very text and title of my thought,

The very pattern of my joy and pain? ...

Shall even Death free

My soul from such intricate Unity?

Elsewhere she assures the lover-

You haunt my waking like a dream, my slumber like a moon,

Pervade me like a musky scent, possess me like a tune.

* * * *

You are the heart within my heart, the

life within my life.

This reminds us of some lines of Mr. Maurice Baring. In his excellent play, Dusk, he makes the hero say to Jessamine, a beautiful water-spirit that has strayed out of the ‘cool and silent depths’ and enticed him:

I love you while I breathe, sun of my day;
I'll love you when I die, star of my dusk;
I'll love you after death, moon of my night,
Through all the trackless ways and deeps of space,
Amidst the murmur of this clamorous world,
And in the silence of Eternity.

We have already noticed that her idea of Love is something unique, overleaping all mere mortal conceptions. Here is a quest for Love Divine:

Alone, O Love, I breast the shimmering waves,
The changing tides of life's familiar streams,
Wide seas of hope, swift rivers of desire.

FONDNESS FOR FLOWERS

For flowers of various kinds–the jasmine, the champak, the cassia, the gulmohur, the poppy and the iris, Sarojini Devi has an extraordinary fondness, and brings to our memory the name of yet another votary of the English Muse–Poet–Laureate Austin. He too has a passionate devotion to the bloom and fragrance of beautiful flowers–the banksia, the wild rose, the cistus, the lily, the primrose–a devotion so strong, so sincere that it makes him say of his poems–

Their music they stole from the deep-hushed rose;

And he celebrates his love of the primrose thus:

You have brightened doubtful days,
You have sweetened long delays.

Sarojini Devi sings of the age-long admiration of humanity for flowers when she says of the champak blossoms:

……….’t is of you thro’ the moonlit ages
That maidens and minstrels sing.

Nay, she even goes farther and attributes divinity to them:

I sometimes think that perchance you are
Fragments of some new-fallen star.

THE PATRIOTIC NOTE

She is not only a poet but a patriot too, striving her best to free her country from the degrading shackles of alien domination. Affection of the highest order it is that leads her to address these impassioned lines to the land of her birth:

O, young through all thy immemorial years!
Rise Mother, rise, regenerate thy gloom,
And like a bride high-mated with the spheres,
Beget new glories from thy ageless womb.

And Sarojini Devi looks up to India as the spiritual Sardar of the world:

The Nations that in fettered darkness weep
Crave thee to lead where great mornings break.

She kneels in humble adoration before the shining altar of her Motherland beseeching her for guidance and for benediction:

Waken, O Mother! thy children implore thee,
Who kneel in thy presence to serve and adore thee,
* * * *
Awaken and sever thy woes that enthral us,
And hallow our hands for the triumphs that call us.

THE PURANIC PAST

She has an unparalleled admiration for the immortal heroines of our Puranic Past. For her they always remain as images of devoted loyalty and perpetual radiance, envisaging before her artistic vision the multicoloured film of our halcyon days. The very thought of these historic women makes the fire of her poetic inspiration flare up; and in its lambent light we behold a gorgeous parade of bygone times–of holy India, bright and sublime with its righteous men and devoted women, its sacred-souled sadhus and its silver-bearded sages, its temples echoing with orisons and avestas, and its places of pilgrimage resonant with the measured chants of Vedic hymns. It is of such times that the Poetess sings to us, nay, even makes us partake of,

……..Savitri's sorrow and Sita's desire,
Draupati's longing, Damayanti's fears,
And sweetest Sakuntala's magical tears.

Elsewhere, she consummately sums up the serene ideal of a typical Hindu wife, when she makes Damayanti say to Nala in the hour of exile:

What fate shall dare uncrown thee from this breast
O God-born lover, whom my love doth gird
And armour with impregnable delight
Of Hope's triumphant keen flame-carven sword?

AWE AND REVERENCE

Exhilarating, enrapturing, ecstatic–such are her poems, avoiding that tremendous word ‘mystic,’ for I firmly believe that Sarojini Devi's poetry is not at all mystic, –in the same way that the poetry of Herbert and Vaughan, of Tagore and Iqbal is mystic. But though she is not mystic in her outlook and though she does not strive to interpret in symbolic terms the hidden mysteries of heaven and earth, yet she has a profound sense of awe and reverence for the all-ruling Power. She is extremely sensitive of her eternal indebtedness to the All-merciful for all that He has vouchsafed unto her. For all that she is endowed with, she asks–

Have I not poured my life in glad libation
Like pure, vermilion wine,
And swung the censers of my adoration
Sleepless before your shrine?
And of my days made a mellifluous paean
To you who dwell apart,
In the untold enchanted empyrean
Of my surrendered heart?

She does all this because–

My glad heart is drunk and drenched with Thee,
O inmost wine of living Ecstasy!
O intimate essence of Eternity!

Beyond these utterances of faith, we meet with some scattered lines that tell us of her conception of life:

And all our mortal moments are
A session of the Infinite!
* * * *
Life is a prism of My Light.
And Death the shadow of My Face.
* * * *
And all Life's ripening harvest fields await
The restless sickle of relentless fate!

THANKS!

To that brilliant English Man of Letters, Sir Edmund Gosse, are due our warmest thanks. It is an exquisite piece of good fortune that he prevailed upon young Sarojini Devi and her "girlish ecstasy’ "to write no more of robins and skylarks in a landscape of Midland counties, .………. to be a genuine Indian poetess of the Deccan, not a clever machine-made imitator of the English classics". By voicing forth the silent musings of her Oriental heart through the medium of an alien tongue, she has helped to bridge the yawning chasm of creed and culture, and flooded the West with a sublime saga of our life and love, of our joys and sorrows. We rejoice today in the thought that she has remained with us to sing to the world of the soul of India, and the spirit of the Orient. Devi Sarojini the singer, the gifted holder of the winged word, the happy denizen of the ‘moon-enchanted estuary of dreams’, the admired queen of our minstrel group, –with her haunting visions of heavenly beauty and sibilant echoes of aerial melody, moves with regal pomp in the realm of song.