English of Savitri, The – Volume I


The aim of this book is to assist people who wish to improve their understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s revelatory epic, to enter more deeply into its atmosphere and, as a side-effect, to improve their knowledge of the English language.


by Shraddhavan

Since 1980, Shraddhavan has been teaching English in Auroville through close readings of Sri Aurobindo’s revelatory epic Savitri: a legend and a symbol. In August 1998 these classes were resumed at Savitri Bhavan, with a growing number of students, including young Tamil teacher-trainees from the Arul Vazhi School located in Promesse, Auroville. These classes were given the name ‘The English of Savitri’ and they concluded in May of 2009 as this group reached the end of the poem.

This book is based on the transcripts of a new series of classes given by Shraddhavan between August 2009 and October 2010, which have been edited for conciseness and clarity, while aiming to preserve some of the informal atmosphere of the course. Edited transcripts of these classes began to be published serially in the Bhavan’s journal of Study Notes on Savitri, ‘Invocation’, from issue 32 onwards, since it was felt that they may be of interest to a wider audiance. They are now being published in book form in several volumes by Yukta Prakashan publishers of Vadodara. This suggested the idea of collecting the original English articles into a book form as well. This is the first such volume, covering all the five cantos of Book One of the poem, ‘The Book of Beginnings’.

“One of the wonderful features of the English language which makes it very flexible for poets to use, is that in poetry any word can be used as any “part of speech”, in any function in the sentence. An outstanding example of this flexibility is a line of Shakespeare from his play Richard III, in which one of the characters says “But uncle …” and his uncle, the king, responds “But me no buts and uncle me no uncles”. If we think in terms of “parts of speech”, the grammatical functions of words, the word “but” is classified as a “conjunction”, a linking word which can be used to connect two parts of a sentence, as in: “We wanted to go on a picnic but it rained so we could not go.” However in Shakespeare’s line, the humble conjunction is used once as a verb in the imperative, and then as a noun in the plural; similarly the word “uncle” is used first as a verb, and then as a plural noun. Very vividly the speaker conveys “Do not come saying “But uncle” to me! I am the king and I do not want to hear those two words from anyone”. In Savitri we shall find many instances where Sri Aurobindo makes full use of this freedom allowed to the poet by the English language. Here “foreboding”, often a noun, is used as an adjective describing the mind of Night, the subject of this sentence. Night is in her temple, lying stretched out, unmoving, “upon Silence” marge”: “marge” is a form of “margin” meaning an edge or border; she is as if on the threshold of Silence. But Night is not asleep; she is conscious, and she is foreboding. She is feeling that something very bad for her is approaching: the divine Event, the coming of the Dawn and the Day, with all its Light and movement, which will mean the end of her reign.”

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