Our early approaches to the Infinity

On a height he stood that looked towards greater heights.
Our early approaches to the Infinite
Are sunrise splendours on a marvellous verge
While lingers yet unseen the glorious sun.
What now we see is a shadow of what must come.
The earth’s uplook to a remote Unknown
Is a preface only of the epic climb
Of human soul from its flat earthly state
To the discovery of a greater self
And the far gleam of an eternal Light.

(excerpt from Canto 4 of Savitri, a beautiful poem by Aurobindo, one of India’s greatest poet-thinkers)

Apart from the mysticism of the poem Savitri by Aurobindo , lines such as these are pure magic ,imbued with the richness of exquisite imagery. One stood ,already, on a height that looked towards greater heights . A poet-photographer’s vision of the sunrise slowly coming out from the hills is the nearest approximation to overwhelming beauty, an early approach to the Infinite. A shadow of what is to come. A mere preface to the epic climb ahead(“to the greater heights”).

“Our early approaches to the Infinite” is simply delicious. “early” could be anything- an early dawn, an early spiritual experience, an early climb to the greater heights, an early approach to God , early graduation from the finite to the infinite.

“Dirge in the Woods “- By George Meredith

A wind sways the pines,
And below.
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so.

The last lines ,which sound so mournful , are a dirge indeed. “Even we, even so” .We drop like the fruits of the tree. We are born as a flower and turn a fruit , ripen and drop off. Rather we are dropped off. Like the pine cones that drop into the soft mud of the forest floor. Imagine the pine needles softly piercing the mud.No noise. They are quiet. Like the under-things in the ocean softly dropping to the floor from a boisterous sea surface .Up in the top branches of the pine there is a noisy breeze ,swaying them with a wild air,while there is stillness in the glowing moss on the pine’s roots and the cones lying about in random.

The pine tree drops its dead. The world drops its dead as quietly.All the while there is hectic activity in the top branches like the world that goes on with its race.Even so.even we.

There is no Victorian stiffness such as one would expect in poetry of the time. To me Meredith’s poem reads like a nature poem.The dirge part is less relevant to me than the exquisite description of the wood with its beautiful imagery.

The Banyan Tree by Rabindranath Tagore

O you shaggy-headed banyan tree standing on the bank of the pond,
have you forgotten the little child, like the birds that have nested
in your branches and left you?

Do you not remember how he sat at the window and wondered
at the tangle of your roots and plunged underground?

The women would come to fill their jars in the pond,
and your huge black shadow would wriggle on the water
like sleep struggling to wake up.

Sunlight danced on the ripples like restless tiny shuttles
weaving golden tapestry.

Two ducks swam by the weedy margin above their shadows,
and the child would sit still and think.

He longed to be the wind and blow through your resting branches,
to be your shadow and lengthen with the day on the water,
to be a bird and perch on your topmost twig, and to float like
those ducks among the weeds and shadows.

I have always loved this simple Tagore poem ,so full of pretty images. Nice to think of the birds that have nested in the shaggy hair of the banyan and left it. Come to think of it ,the banyan has lost count of the birds that have nested in her hair,made it shaggy and left for other trees,other skies. The banyan has forgotten all of them,standing on the bank of the pond.

But surely it cannot forget the little child on the window who admired her tangled roots and plunged underground (jumped from the high window). Surely not the women who would fill their jars in the pond,as the banyan’s shadow would wiggle on the water making indecent passes at them. “sleep struggling to wake up” is a delicious image !

The most brilliant image is that of the sunlight dancing on the ripples like a weaver’s shuttle weaving fine golden tapestry.

Two ducks swam by the weedy margin above their shadows (imagine this scene as a photographer’s composition and you will love it) .

The child would sit still and think. Think what? How would it be to be the wind and blow through her branches? To be the banyan’s shadow on the water that will lengthen as the day progresses. To be a bird that perches on the topmost twig of the banyan and survey the pond . To float like the ducks among the weeds and shadows..

There are still countless ponds and banyans on their banks where time stands still in the Bengal of Tagore.But the child is missing from the window. He is now playing video games in a hole of an apartment in Kolkata.