Anil Puri

(At the outset, a word of caution. Mystic poetry by its very nature is written by and for something higher and deeper than the mind and intellect and to limit its explanation and understanding to the mind and intellect would be to cut out its very heart. However, as Sri Aurobindo says, “The critic can help to open the mind to the kinds of beauty he himself sees and not only to discover but to appreciate at their full value certain elements that make them beautiful or give them what is most characteristic or unique in their peculiar beauty.”(Letters on Poetry and Art, CWSA Vol. 27, p. 664) Let me hasten to add, I am not a critic, far from it, but in some such spirit is this article offered.)

In his short poem, ‘A God’s Labour’, consisting of  31 stanzas and 134 lines, Sri Aurobindo writes about the problems and pitfalls faced by all avatars and prophets who come to bring light, knowledge and truth to this ignorant and dark world. Humanity bites the hand that comes to save and puts to the cross the Saviour, for it is too much in love with its own ignorance, falsehood and darkness and values not the gifts that the divine messenger brings. It would rather toil in its mire and mud, than breathe the rarefied air of the heavens, for humanity cannot accept or endure too much of the heavenly light and bliss, and it soon turns its back on them, content with its own suffering and pain and travail. In a way, ‘A God’s Labour’ is the tale of all the avatars and prophets, it is the story of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, of all they have done to bring light and love and knowledge to this darkened, ignorant and inconscient world, of the formidable difficulties and foes they have faced and of how little humanity has known and valued the priceless gifts they have brought to the earth.

Stanzas 1 to 3

I have gathered my dreams in a silver air

        Between the gold and the blue

And wrapped them softly and left them there,

        My jewelled dreams of you.

I had hoped to build a rainbow bridge

       Marrying the soil to the sky

And sow in this dancing planet midge

       The moods of infinity.

But too bright were our heavens, too far away,

       Too frail their ethereal stuff;

Too splendid and sudden our light could not stay;

       The roots were not deep enough.

           The poet begins with the poet’s dreams of gold and blue, of the Supramental and Krishna consciousness, gathered in the silver air — the spiritual realms, wrapped softly and left there, his jewelled dreams of divinisation of the earth, awaiting their time of manifestation when the earth would be ready to receive them. He has dreamt of linking earth to heaven, ‘Marrying the soil to the sky’, with a rainbow-hued multicoloured bridge so as to lift this insignificant and small speck of dust called earth, this ‘dancing planet midge’, to the rarefied air of the heavens, linking it to ‘the moods of infinity’, bringing down that divine and transforming light to this darkened world, so as to open these human eyes to the vision of the infinite. In the words of another poet, William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

                                                                (‘Auguries of Innocence’ by William Blake)

          But the gap between the earth and heaven was too great. Too frail and delicate was the heavenly stuff and too splendid and bright was the heavenly light and it could not find in the earth’s  atmosphere  a sufficient receptivity to fix its roots, to manifest itself; as the poet says,

              Too frail their ethereal stuff;

         Too splendid and sudden our light could not stay;

              The roots were not deep enough.

          In his magnum opus, the epic poem Savitri, the same thought is expressed by the poet:

                  Then the divine afflatus, spent, withdrew,

                  Unwanted, fading from the mortal’s range.

                 . . . Too perfect to be held by death-bound hearts,

                . . . Only a little the god-light can stay:

                                                                                                                                  (p. 5)

Stanzas 4 to 7

He who would bring the heavens here

        Must descend himself into clay

And the burden of earthly nature bear

       And tread the dolorous way.

Coercing my godhead I have come down

        Here on the sordid earth,

Ignorant, labouring, human grown

        Twixt the gates of death and birth.

I have been digging deep and long

       Mid a horror of filth and mire

A bed for the golden river’s song,

       A home for the deathless fire.

I have laboured and suffered in Matter’s night

       To bring the fire to man;

But the hate of hell and human spite

       Are my meed since the world began.

          In stanzas 4 to 7, the poet states a great spiritual truth when he says that the bringer of light and truth, must himself descend into the mud and mire, into this world of darkness and falsehood and must take on the ignorant human personality and suffer the pangs of earthly life. He must himself ‘tread the dolorous way’, the distressing, painful, sorrowful way, if he is to lead this world towards light and truth, he must himself take on the burden of human nature and be, not only the son of god, but also the son of man, in order for the son of man to become the son of god by following him. It is only when the avatar takes on the human nature and the outer human personality of mind, life and body that humanity can relate to him, can come into contact with him, for otherwise the gap in the consciousness is too great and there would not be any meaningful exchange between them. In Savitri also the same truth is expressed:

But when God’s messenger comes to help the world

And lead the soul of earth to higher things,

He too must carry the yoke he came to unloose;

He too must bear the pang that he would heal:

Exempt and unafflicted by earth’s fate,

How shall he cure the ills he never felt?


        The Vedas call this the Sacrifice of the Purusha, but Sri Aurobindo, more appropriately calls it the Sacrifice of the Divine Mother, when he writes in his book The Mother:

In her deep and great love for her children she has consented to put on herself the cloak of this obscurity, condescended to bear the attacks and torturing influences of the powers of the Darkness and the Falsehood, borne to pass through the portals of the birth that is a death, taken upon herself the pangs and sorrows and sufferings of the creation, since it seemed that thus alone could it be lifted to the Light and Joy and Truth and eternal Life. This is the great sacrifice called sometimes the sacrifice of the Purusha, but much more deeply the holocaust of Prakriti, the sacrifice of the Divine Mother.                                                      

                                                                                                        (CWSA, Vol. 32 p. 17)

       The poet says that coercing, forcing his godhead, that vast and infinite consciousness of a god, into this infinitesimal human body and consciousness, he has come down on this dark and sordid earth and taken on the ignorant and labouring human personality and entered the portals of birth and death,

Ignorant, labouring, human grown

Twixt the gates of death and birth.

        Taking on the outer human personality of mind, life and body, requires the taking on also of the sub-conscious and the inconscient, for it is through them that the outer personality has evolved and it is the sub-conscious and the inconscient which is still, in some way, the predominant influence on it.

         The poet says that he has been digging deep and long amid the horrors of filth and mire which is the inconscient and the sub-conscious, for without changing and transforming them, it is a vain chimera to think of transforming the mind, life and body complex. The poet has been digging in the inconsicent to make a river bed for the golden waters to flow, ‘a bed for the golden river’s song’, the river of supramental consciousness and force and also to build a home in the inconscient for the deathless fire, Agni, the divine aspiration and will, the divine portion in us, ‘A home for the deathless fire.’

         The poet has suffered and laboured in Matter’s night, the inconscient, to bring the divine light  and consciousness to mankind, ‘To bring the fire to man;’,  but as is its wont, mankind in return has given him only hatred, jealousy, suffering and pain for his troubles. From time eternal it has honoured the son of god by putting a crown of thorns on his head or stoning him to death, and always it has been only the ‘hatred of hell and human spite’ that have been his rewards.

Stanzas 8 to 9

For man’s mind is the dupe of his animal self;

         Hoping its lusts to win,

He harbours within him a grisly Elf

        Enamoured of sorrow and sin.

The grey Elf shudders from heaven’s flame

         And from all things glad and pure;

Only by pleasure and passion and pain

        His drama can endure.

          In the next two stanzas, the poet elucidates and highlights the reason for mankind’s violent opposition to the sons of god. He says that the mind of man is dominated by his vital and rajasic ego of desires, ambitions and lust, ‘man’s mind is the dupe of his animal self’,  always seeking  to fulfil its desires, ‘Hoping its lusts to win’, and embedded in his breast is a grisly elf, a frightful, mischievous being, who loves drama, sorrow, sin and tragedy. This grisly, grey elf is the inconscient’s remnant in us and it passionately opposes and repulses all things divine, all movements towards the divine,

 The  grey Elf shudders from heaven’s flame

        And from all things glad and pure.

It loves the dualities of pleasure and pain, love and hatred, joy and sorrow, etc. and the drama that accompanies them, for thus only can it exist. It is only by facing and overcoming this grey elf, the symbol of the dark concealed hostility lodged in our breast that one can securely walk the divine path; and this battle all have to face, all who desire the divine life. Echoing the same thought in Savitri, the poet says:

A dark concealed hostility is lodged

In the human depths, in the hidden heart of Time

That claims the right to change and mar God’s work.

. . . This hidden foe lodged in the human breast

Man must overcome or miss his higher fate.

This is the inner war without escape.

                                                                                     (pp. 447-48)

Stanzas 10 to 13

All around is darkness and strife;

      For the lamps that men call suns

Are but halfway gleams on this stumbling life

      Cast by the Undying Ones.

Man lights his little torches of hope

       That lead to a failing edge;

A fragment of Truth is his widest scope,

       An inn his pilgrimage.

The Truth of truths men fear and deny,

       The Light of lights they refuse;

To ignorant gods they lift their cry

       Or a demon altar choose.

All that was found must again be sought,

       Each enemy slain revives,

Each battle for ever is fought and refought

       Through vistas of fruitless lives.

         The poet in describing the human condition says that all around humanity is darkness and strife for what the mind of man takes as the sun of truth, all  its yardsticks and lamp-posts, are in reality only half-truths and partial, faint and brief lights of gods cast on this stumbling human life,

        . . . For the lamps that men call suns

Are but halfway gleams on this stumbling life

         Cast by the Undying Ones.

The mind of man by its very nature can only see the truth in its parts and not as a whole, and since it cannot perceive the whole truth; the actions based on this partial truth are bound to be limited and prone to error.

         The little torches of hope that man lights and fills his life with, invariably lead to a failing edge, to disappointment and disillusionment and distress, for a fragment of the truth, partial and not the whole truth, ‘is his widest scope’, the maximum his mind can achieve, the highest it can attain,  and therefore a travesty of the truth; and it is an inn, a wayside rest house, a half-way stop,  that becomes for him the end of the pilgrimage, ‘an inn his pilgrimage.’

          Man in his ignorance and ego, denies the ultimate truth, fears it, ‘The Truth of truths men fear and deny.’ The divine light man refuses and rejects because in his ignorance, he is identified with his ego and his outer personality and thinks that the extinction of the ego will mean his own extinction; whereas in truth, this is an opening to a vaster and newer life in the divine truth. These ignorant men choose to pray to ignorant gods, the gods of the vital and the mental worlds or worse, some may even choose to accept the devil and the demon as their god,

To ignorant gods they lift their cry

          Or a demon altar choose.

Stanzas 14 to 18

My gaping wounds are a thousand and one

      And the Titan kings assail,

But I dare not rest till my task is done

       And wrought the eternal will.

How they mock and sneer, both devils and men!

     “Thy hope is Chimera’s head

Painting the sky with its fiery stain;

       Thou shalt fall and thy work lie dead.

“Who art thou that babblest of heavenly ease

       And joy and golden room

To us who are waifs on inconscient seas

       And bound to life’s iron doom?

“This earth is ours, a field of Night

       For our petty flickering fires.

How shall it brook the sacred Light

       Or suffer a god’s desires?

“Come, let us slay him and end his course!

       Then shall our hearts have release

From the burden and call of his glory and force

       And the curb of his wide white peace.”

          In stanzas 14 to 18, the poet refers to the action of the hostile forces, ‘the Titan kings’, who are opposed to the advent of truth and light and knowledge on this earth and who take this earth as their own proper field, to be enjoyed and toyed with as they wish. The main weapons these hostile forces use are half-truths, falsehood and lies; through these they try to create doubt in the mind and fissures in the faith. The poet says he has a thousand wounds from the fight with the dark forces, but they continue to attack still, ‘And the Titan kings assail’. But he cannot rest till the divine work entrusted to him is done and the divine will is fulfilled, ‘And wrought the eternal will’, which is the establishment of the divine rule on earth.

          The hostile beings and ignorant men fooled by the half truths and half lies, mock and sneer and make fun of the divine worker, ‘How they mock and sneer, both devils and men!’ They tell him that his hope for the divinisation of the earth is a dream, a figment of the imagination, an illusion, that it is a chimera’s head painting the sky with its fiery breath and that his work  is bound to fail and lie unfinished, ‘Thou shalt fall and thy work lie dead’. Chimera, according to Greek mythology, was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of parts of three animals — a lion, a snake and a goat, in short a mythical creature without any reality.

        They taunt God’s messenger and challenge his heavenly truths and certitudes and the coming of  Truth’s reign, ‘Who art thou that babblest of heavenly ease’, questioning him and his message of the coming of the supramental life of ‘joy and golden room’. They describe themselves as waifs, homeless and abandoned creatures, floating on the sea of inconscience and ignorance, ever ‘bound to life’s iron doom’, the irrevocable law of death and fate.

        According to these hostile beings, the earth is theirs, ‘This earth is ours, a field of Night’, a place of ignorance and darkness, meant for their enjoyment and rule, for the fulfilment of their petty egoistic desires and ambitions and lusts, ‘for their petty flickering fires’. They doubt the earth’s ability to become divine and its willingness and capacity to bear and retain the divine light and fulfil god’s vision for it,

How shall it brook the sacred Light 

       Or suffer a god’s desires?

         The hostile forces will go to any extent to stop the divine worker, even to the extent of taking his life and putting a stop to the divine work, ‘Come, let us slay him and end his course’,  so as to get relief from the divine glory and force which the divine worker represents and brings with him. The divine light and consciousness is anathema to the hostile beings and they cannot bear it, are oppressed by it and seek relief by any means from it. They want to be free of the restrictions which the divine peace and force and light impose on them, so as to carry on their undivine work without hindrance, ‘And the curb of his wide white peace.’

Stanzas 19 to 25

But the god is there in my mortal breast

      Who wrestles with error and fate

And tramples a road through mire and waste

      For the nameless Immaculate.

A voice cried, “Go where none have gone!

       Dig deeper, deeper yet

Till thou reach the grim foundation stone

      And knock at the keyless gate.”

I saw that a falsehood was planted deep

       At the very root of things

Where the grey Sphinx guards God’s riddle sleep

       On the Dragon’s outspread wings.

I left the surface gauds of mind

       And life’s unsatisfied seas

And plunged through the body’s alleys blind

       To the nether mysteries.

I have delved through the dumb Earth’s dreadful heart

       And heard her black mass’ bell.

I have seen the source whence her agonies part

      And the inner reason of hell.

Above me the dragon murmurs moan

       And the goblin voices flit;

I have pierced the Void where Thought was born,

      I have walked in the bottomless pit.

On a desperate stair my feet have trod

     Armoured with boundless peace,

Bringing the fires of the splendour of God

     Into the human abyss.

          From stanza 19 to 25, the focus moves to the divine messenger and the work he has to do. The poet begins by asserting that god resides in his mortal breast, one who wrestles and overcomes all error and fate, all the resistance and hurdles put up by the inconscient and the adverse forces, and cuts a path through mire and waste, through these hurdles, for the divine to arrive,

And tramples a road through mire and waste

       For the nameless Immaculate.

           A voice tells him to dig deeper and deeper into the very heart of the inconscient and to go where no one has gone before, to the very foundation of the inconscient, the bedrock of  this earthly existence, ‘to knock at the keyless gate’. If death , ignorance, falsehood have to be effaced from this earth, if the earthly life has to become the life divine, it is necessary that the inconscient be transformed, for it is here that death, ignorance and falsehood have their roots. Till now, the Overmind was the highest plane of consciousness which had its influence upon this earth, but it was not sufficiently strong or powerful to transform the inconscient and no concerted or organised effort was made to transform it. It is only the supramental consciousness which has the power to transform the inconscient and that is the work the poet is referring to in this poem.

          At the very root of things, in the heart of the inconscient, the poet sees a falsehood planted. Stanza 21 is full of occult imagery and occult mysteries. The dragon’s outspread wings represent the vast outreach of the inconscient (according to the Vedas, above our limited human consciousness, there is an ocean of super-consciousness and below it an ocean of the inconscient) . The grey Sphinx symbolically represents the iron law of doom and death and fate, the eternal negation, the falsehood planted at the very root of things. But what is the ‘God’s riddle’ hidden in the inconsicient that the Sphinx guards? We get a clue of this from a talk of the Mother, where she says:

But I could speak to you of a very old tradition, more ancient than the two known lines of spiritual and occult tradition, that is, the Vedic and Chaldean lines; a tradition which seems to have been at the origin of these two known traditions, in which it is said that when, as a result of the action of the adverse forces  — known in the Hindu tradition as the Asuras — the world, instead of developing according to its law of Light and inherent consciousness, was plunged into the darkness, inconscience and ignorance that we know, the Creative Power implored the Supreme Origin, asking him for a special intervention which could save this corrupted universe; and in reply to this prayer there was emanated from the Supreme Origin a special Entity, of Love and Consciousness, who cast himself directly into the most inconscient matter to begin there the work of awakening

it to the original Consciousness and Love.

           In the old narratives this Being is described as stretched out in a deep sleep at the bottom of a very dark cave, and in his sleep there emanated from him prismatic rays of light which gradually spread into the Inconscience and embedded themselves in all the elements of this Inconscience to begin there the work of Awakening.

         If one consciously enters into this Inconscient, one can still see there this same marvellous Being, still in deep sleep, continuing his work of emanation, spreading his Light; and he will continue to do it until the Inconscience is no longer inconscient, until Darkness disappears from the world — and the whole creation awakens to the Supramental Consciousness. And it is remarkable that this wonderful Being strangely resembles the one whom I saw in vision one day, the Being who is at the other extremity, at the confines of form and the Formless. But that one was in a golden, crimson glory, whereas in his sleep the other Being was of a shining diamond whiteness emanating opalescent rays.

                                                                                             (CWM, Vol. 9, pp. 332-33

This is God’s riddle or secret asleep in the depths of the inconscient.

          Going deeper and deeper, the poet leaves behind  the superficial trinkets and showy ornaments of the mental worlds, ‘surface gauds of mind’, passes through the insatiable and unending desires of  the vital worlds, ‘life’s unsatisfied seas’, and then plunges through the murky and darkened physical worlds , ‘through the  body’s alleys blind’, to the sub-conscious and the inconscient worlds, the nether regions. It is here in the sub-conscious and the inconscient, that he finds the source of all the earth’s miseries, as he says, ‘the inner reason of hell’. He has gone through the dumb earth’s heart of darkness and ignorance and falsehood and heard the dreadful cry of hell, ‘her black mass’ bell’. He has seen the source, the bottomless pit, from where all the earth’s agonies originate.

           The inconscient is an infernal place where very powerful and dreadful beings, ‘The Titan Kings’, rule and hold sway. There is no end to their devilishness and just one look of theirs can be fatal. They take on many shapes and forms and are adept at confusing the mind with logic and scriptures. As it is stated in Savitri:

Appalling footsteps drew invisibly near,

Shapes that were threats invaded the dream-light,

And ominous beings passed him on the road

Whose very gaze was a calamity:

                                                                                                               (p. 205)

           However, all divine workers have to pass through  this infernal passage, for the route to the heavens lies through it. The only protection here is the divine name and remembrance and sincerity and purity. Once again quoting from Savitri, we find:

Here must the traveller of the upward Way —

For daring Hell’s kingdoms winds the heavenly route —

Pause or pass slowly through that perilous space,

A prayer upon his lips and the great Name.

. . . Only were safe who kept God in their hearts:

                                                                                                         (pp. 210-11)

          This is the bottomless pit where the poet has walked, piercing the void, the

Shunya, from where the thought was born, ‘I have pierced the Void where Thought was born’, surrounded on all sides by dreadful dark denizens of those nether regions, murmuring their defeatist mantras,

Above me the dragon murmurs moan

       And the goblin voices flit.

        On this stairway to hell, ‘a desperate stair’, the poet has trod, protected by the divine name and the divine remembrance in the heart and the armour of the divine peace, ‘Armoured with boundless peace’, fulfilling his appointed task of bringing the divine light and consciousness into the depths of the human abyss,

Bringing the fires of the Splendour of God

        Into the human abyss.

Stanzas 26 to 31

He who I am was with me still;

       All veils are breaking now.

I have heard His voice and borne His will

       On my vast untroubled brow.

The gulf twixt the depths and the heights is bridged

       And the golden waters pour

Down the sapphire mountain rainbow-ridged

       And glimmer from shore to shore.

Heaven’s fire is lit in the breast of the earth

       And the undying suns here burn;

Through a wonder cleft in the bounds of birth

       The incarnate spirits yearn

Like flames to the kingdoms of Truth and Bliss:

       Down a gold-red stairway wend

The radiant children of Paradise

       Clarioning darkness’ end.

A little more and the new life’s doors

       Shall be carved in silver light

With its aureate roof and mosaic floors

       In a great world bare and bright.

I shall leave my dreams in their argent air,

        For in a raiment of gold and blue

There shall move on the earth embodied and fair

        The living truth of you.

           The last six stanzas, from 26 to 31, refer to the fulfilment of the divine worker’s task and the poet’s dream: — the establishment of the golden rainbow bridge between the heights and the depths, between the supramental world and the nether fields, so that the supramental consciousness flows unhindered into the depths, gradually transforming it.

           The poet has realised his oneness with the divine and all the veils are being removed, even that of the inconscient and the sub-consciousness. He has heard the divine command and borne the divine’s will on his vast calm brow and as a result of his ‘God’s labour’ the gulf  between the depths and the heights is bridged and the golden waters, the supramental consciousness, pour down the rainbow-ridged sapphire mountain and shine from shore to shore, from end to end.

           Heaven’s fire, the fire of divine knowledge, aspiration and will is lit in the breast of earth and the undying suns, the supramental consciousness and light, burns here on the earth. Through the opening made in the earth consciousness, ‘a wonder cleft in the bounds of birth’, the incarnate spirits, those at the vanguard of humanity, those at the forefront spiritually, yearn like flames, straight upwards, to the kingdom of truth and bliss, the divine kingdom.

          From the other side, above, the radiant, shining children of heaven, the supramental beings, slowly step down the gold-red stairway, ‘Down a gold-red stairway wend’,  the stairway connecting the supramental to the earth, proclaiming and foretelling the end of the rule of darkness and the  inconscient, of falsehood and ignorance on the earth, ‘Clarioning  darkness’ end’.

          In the penultimate stanza, the poet prophesies that soon, ‘a little more’, and the new life’s door, the divine life, shall be established on the earth, be carved in the silver light, with its golden (aureate) roof, the supramental world and mosaic floors as the base and this world will become a world of light and truth, ‘a great world bare and bright’.

           The poet finishes in the same manner as he began. His dreams have turned into reality and he says that he will leave them in their silver (argent) air, for soon, clad in the garments of gold and blue, ‘in a raiment of gold and blue’, there shall walk on the earth, embodied supramental beings, the living truth of the divine,

There shall move on the earth embodied and fair

           The living truth of you.

                                                                                                                              Anil Puri


Collected Works  of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.33-34 — Savitri

Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.32 — The Mother with letters on the Mother

Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol.02 — Collected Poems

Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol 27 — Letters on Poetry and Art

Collected Works of the Mother, Vol.9 — Questions and Answers, 1957-1958

‘Auguries of Innocence’ by William Blake