Love and Death: Critical Essays

— Edited by Ananda Reddy


Price: Rs 100

Pages: 140
Dimensions (in cms): 12x18
ISBN: 978-81-901891-4-9
Soft Cover
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Centre for Advanced Research Trust, Pondicherry

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About Love and Death: Critical Essays

Sri Aurobindo composed Love and Death, a narrative poem in blank verse based on a theme from the Mahabharata, in 1899 while in Baroda. Written in "a white heat of inspiration", it "bore already the impress of the future poet and prophet".

This book contains the original poem, relevant letters of Sri Aurobindo, a study by Amita Sen dealing especially with "the cohesiveness of the narration and the enrichment brought to the Sanskrit version" which inspired it, and several literary criticisms by other authors.


This book contains the original poem, relevant letters of Sri Aurobindo, a study by Amita Sen, and several literary criticisms by other authors.

The book under review fulfils a long awaited need of the reading public. Love and Death is perhaps the most satisfying and enjoyable poem composed by Sri Aurobindo during his early poetic career. Written as early as 1898 the poem shows the `sunrise splendours while lingers yet unseen the glorious sun' or `what now we see is a shadow of what must come' i.e. the superb Epic of epics, Savitri. The poem forms `a companion legend to the story of Savitri'.

To judge a poem it is always advisable, at the first instant, to see what the poet himself speaks of his creative inspiration, what the poet intends to say and how he says it. `The poem itself was written in a white heat of inspiration during 14 days of continuous writing—in the mornings, of course...', says Sri Aurobindo. Commenting on the speech of the Love-God he gives his self-assessment, `I do not think I have, elsewhere [in the poem], surpassed this speech in power of language, passion and truth of feeling and nobility and felicity of rhythm all fused together into a perfect whole.' There is `a certain completeness of poetic sight and perfection of poetic power, which puts it on one of the peaks – even if not the highest possible peak – of achievement'.

It is gratifying to note that the critical essays in this book, written by distinguished critics and scholars of poetry and literature, have taken well care of the thematic and technical aspects of this sweet narrative poem of Sri Aurobindo. The poem's thematic side has been well discussed by Amita Sen. Love and Death are two universal Powers that form the foundation of terrestrial creation. `The godheads, Love and Death, are not poised against each other but reveal their complementary action in the world where both lead human beings from ignorance to a more and more total expression of themselves,' writes Amita Sen. Benediction of love is showered on the one who is ready to carry his message of Love into the very abode of `the Untimely Dead'.

               A sole thing the Gods
     Demand from all men living, sacrifice:
     Nor without this shall any crown be grasped.

The sacrifice demanded here is half the span of the lover's life.

Prof. K. R. S. Iyengar in his essay takes up the issue of sacrifice of the latter half of Ruru's life. To him youth is only half the story. `On the contrary, he should grow old wisely living the full quota of his appointed life.' Ruru was shown glimpses of his future:

     ... saw himself divine with age,
A Rishi to whom infinity is close,
Rejoicing in some green song-haunted glade
Or boundless mountain-top where most we feel

A similar note is found in the opening stanza of Browning's poem Rabbi Ben Ezra:

     Grow old along with me!
     The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made;
     Our times are in His hand
     Who saith `A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half;...'

Ananda Reddy takes up in his essay `the pathos and the deep tragedy of the untimely death—"the joy of union was not yet old."' Life is a journey and a struggle. The poem focuses more on its aspect of love on all its levels—from the joys of sensuous love to the ecstasy of divine love. To Sri Aurobindo `ideal love is a triune energy' comprising the sensual, the emotional and the spiritual. Both Reddy and Sunayana Panda discuss the Greek and the Indian myths—the story of Orpheus and Eurydice with that of Ruru-Priyumvada.

A very important contribution towards the understanding of the technical aspect of Love and Death is noted in the essay of that well-known poet-critic, K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran), countering the adverse criticism of The Times Literary Supplement that Sri Aurobindo's poetry lacks `the music that enchants or disturbs'. Quoting a passage from Love and Death beginning with the line `O miserable race of men,' Sethna writes, `Only a deaf man with his whole aesthetic being grown numb can refuse to find here "the music that enchants or disturbs".' From the point of view of the inner music, the thrill of the inspired consciousness, `the lines are some of the most perfect in literature.' Besides, in the `tricky' medium of blank verse the Aurobindonian afflatus has blended page after page of `various colours and tones, the rich flexible beauty combined with epic furor'. Above all `what English poet would not be proud to wield the wonderfully expressive style of that speech, in Love and Death, of the God of Love—Madan or Kama...?'; its supporting rhythm, `a versatile aptness of metrical technique', is an important feature in Madan's speech.

The book under review will serve as a very helpful companion to all readers of Love and Death. The poem with its one thousand and odd lines sums up, as Sethna comments, `centuries of poetic evolution of the English language'.

— Asoka K. Ganguli

Dr A. K. Ganguli retired as Professor of English, Delhi University. He is the author of Sri Aurobindo's Savitri: An Adventure of Consciousness, available with SABDA.

November 2005