January 30, 1963
What are you going to read to me today? Nothing? Nothing at all?
Well, I have something, then.
I have finished my translation [of the Synthesis]. When you have finished your book and we have prepared the next Bulletin and we have a nice quiet moment, we'll go over it again. And then I've begun Savitri – ah!... As you know, I prepare some illustrations with H., and for her illustrations she has chosen some passages from Savitri (the choice isn't hers, it's A.'s and P.'s and made intelligently), so she gives me these passages one by one, neatly typed (which is easier for my eyes). It's from the Book I, Canto IV. And then, as I expected, the experience is rather interesting.... I had noticed, while reading Savitri, that there was a sort of absolute understanding, that is to say, it can't mean this or that or this – it means THAT. It comes with an imperative. And that's what led me to think, “When I translate it, it will come in the same way.” And it did. I take the text line by line and make a resolve (not personal) to translate it line by line, without the slightest regard for the literary point of view, but rendering what he meant in the clearest possible way.
The way it comes is both exclusive and positive – it's really interesting. There's none of the mind's ceaseless wavering, “Is this better? Is that better? Should it be like this? Should it be like that?” No – it is LIKE THIS (Mother brings down her hand in a gesture of imperative descent). And then in certain cases (without anything to do with the literary angle or even the sound of the word – neither sound nor anything, but meaning), Sri Aurobindo himself suggests a word. It's as if he were telling me, “Isn't this better French, tell me?” (!)
I am simply the recording machine.
It goes with fantastic speed, meaning that in ten minutes I translate ten lines. On the whole, only three or four times are there a couple of alternative possibilities, which I jot down immediately. Once, here (Mother shows a passage with erasures in her manuscript), the correction came, absolute. “No,” he said, “not that – THIS.” So I erased what I had written.
Here, read the English first.
Above the world the world-creators stand,
In the phenomenon see its mystic source.
These heed not the deceiving outward play,
They turn not to the moment's busy tramp,
But listen with the still patience of the Unborn
For the slow footsteps of far Destiny
Approaching through huge distances of Time,
Unmarked by the eye that sees effect and cause,
Unheard mid the clamour of the human plane.
Attentive to an unseen Truth they seize
A sound as of invisible augur wings....
I didn't reread my translation, I am doing it now for the first time.
(Mother reads aloud her translation up to: “They turn not to the moment's busy tramp”)
Au-dessus du monde se tiennent les créateurs de mondes,
Dans le phénomène ils voient sa source mystique.
Ceux-là ne se soucient pas du jeu extérieur décevant,
Ils ne se tournent pas vers le piétinement effaré du moment...
Here, there was some hesitation between de ['instant [the instant's] and du moment [the moment's]. Then he showed me (I can't explain how it takes place), he showed me both words, moment and instant, and he showed me how, compared to moment, instant is mechanical; he said, “It's the mechanism of time; moment is full and contains the event.” Things of that sort, inexpressible (I put it into words but it loses all its value). Inexpressible, but fantastic! There was some hesitation between instant and moment, I don't know why. Then he showed me instant: instant was dry, mechanical, empty, whereas moment contained all that takes place at every instant. So I wrote moment.
(Mother reads the end of her translation)
Mais écoutent avec la patience immobile de Ce qui n'est pas né
Les pas lents de la Destinée lointaine
S'approchant à travers les immenses distances du temps,
Inaperçus par l'oeil qui voit l'effet et la cause,
Inaudibles dans le vacarme du plan humain.
Attentifs à une Vérité invisible ils saisissent
Le bruit d'ailes d'un oracle inaperçu.
It isn't thought out, it just comes. It's probably not poetry, not even free verse, but it does contain something.
So I made a resolve (because it's neither to be published nor to be shown, but it's a marvelous delight): I will simply keep it the way I keep the Agenda. I have a feeling that, later, perhaps (how can I put it?)... when people can be less mental in their activity, it will put them in touch with that light [of Savitri] – you know, immediately I enter something purely white and silent, light and alive: a sort of beatitude.
This other passage is what I translated the first time:
In Matter shall be lit the spirit's glow,
In body and body kindled the sacred birth;
Night shall awake to the anthem of the stars,
The days become a happy pilgrim march,
Our will a force of the Eternal's power,
And thought the rays of a spiritual sun.
A few shall see what none yet understands;
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done.
Here there were a few more erasures. It will probably go on improving. But what a wonder, this passage, what beauty!
(Mother reads aloud her translation up to: “God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep”)
La Matière s'illuminera de l'éclat de l'esprit,
De corps en corps la naissance sacrée s'allumera;
La Nuit s'éveillera à l'hymne des étoiles,
Les jours deviendront une heureuse marche de pèlerin
Notre volonté sera la force du Pouvoir éternel,
Et notre pensée les rayons du soleil spirituel.
Quelques-uns verront ce que personne ne comprend encore;
Dieu grandira tandis que les hommes sages parlent et dorment...
(Mother reads her translation of the last two lines.)
Car l'homme ne connaîtra ce qui vient qu'à son heure
Et la foi n'existera pas jusqu'à ce que l'oeuvre soit accomplie.
Oh, I love this: “God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep.”
So, I'll continue.
I may even keep the manuscript in pencil: the temptation to correct is very bad. Very bad because it's the surface understanding that wants to correct – literary taste, poetical sense and all those things that are down there (gesture down below). You know, it's as if (I don't mean the words themselves), as if the CONTENT of the words were projected on a perfectly blank and still screen (Mother points to her forehead), as if the words were projected on it.
The trouble is writing, the materialization between the vision and the writing; the Force has to drive the hand and the pencil, and there is a slight... there's still a very slight resistance. Otherwise, if I could write automatically, oh, how nice it would be!
There may be (I can't say, it's all imagination because I don't know), there may come a few... somewhat weird things. But there is an insistence on the need to keep to each line as though it stood all alone in the universe. No mixing up the line order, no, no, no! For when he wrote it, he SAW it that way – I knew nothing about that, I didn't even know how he wrote it (he dictated it, I believe, for the most part), but that's what he tells me now. Everything comes to a stop, everything, and then, oh, how we enjoy ourselves! I enjoy myself! It's more enjoyable than anything. I even told him yesterday, “But why write? What's the use?” Then he filled me with a sort of delight. Naturally, someone in the ordinary consciousness may say, “It's very selfish,” but... And then it's like a vision of the future (not too near, not extremely near – not extremely far either) a future when this sort of white thing – white and still – would spread out, and then, with the help of this work, a larger number of minds may come to understand. But that's secondary; I do the translation simply for the joy of it, that's all. A satisfaction that may be called selfish, but when he is told, “It's selfish,” he replies that there is no one more selfish than the Lord, because all He does is for Himself!
So I will go on. If there are corrections, they can only come through the same process, because at this point to correct anyhow would spoil it all. There is also the mixing (for the logical mind) of future and present tenses – but that too is deliberate. It all seems to come in another way. And well, I can't say, I haven't read any French for ages, I have no knowledge of modern literature – to me everything is in the rhythm of the sound. I don't know what rhythm they use now, nor have I read what Sri Aurobindo wrote in The Future Poetry. They tell me that Savitri's verse follows a certain rule he explained on the number of stresses in each line (and for this you should pronounce in the pure English way, which somewhat puts me off), and perhaps some rule of this kind will emerge in French? We can't say. I don't know. Unless languages grow more fluid as the body and mind grow more plastic? Possible. Language too, maybe: instead of creating a new language, there may be transitional languages, as, for instance (not a particularly fortunate departure, but still...), the way American is emerging from English. Maybe a new language will emerge in a similar way?
In my case it was from the age of twenty to thirty that I was concerned with French (before twenty I was more involved in vision: painting; and sound: music), but as regards language, literature, language sounds (written or spoken), it was approximately from twenty to thirty. The Prayers and Meditations were written spontaneously with that rhythm. If I stayed in an ordinary consciousness I would get the knack of that rhythm – but now it doesn't work that way, it won't do!
Yesterday, after my translation, I was surprised at that sense... a sense of absolute: “THAT'S HOW IT IS.” Then I tried to enter into the literary mind and wondered, “What would be its various suggestions?” And suddenly, I saw somehow (somehow, somewhere there) a host of suggestions for every line!... Ohh! “No doubt,” I thought, “it IS an absolute!” The words came like that, without any room for discussion or anything. To give you an example: when he says “the clamour of the human plane,” clameur exists in French, it's a very nice word – he didn't want it, he said “No,” without any discussion. It wasn't an answer to a discussion, he just said, “Not clameur: vacarme.”1 It isn't as though he was weighing one word against another, it wasn't a matter of words but the THOUGHT of the word, the SENSE of the word: “No, not clameur, it's vacarme.”
Interesting, isn't it?
But I would like us to revise the translation in the same way, because I am sure he will be here – he is always here when I translate. Then I will go back into that state, while you will do the work! (Laughing) You will write. And then, unless your vocabulary is very extensive (mine used to be extensive, but now it has become quite limited), we'll need a decent dictionary.... But I am afraid none will have anything to offer.
I even find they should be avoided.
They're bad. Somewhere they make me angry. It makes a very dark atmosphere, it clouds the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, I have lost the habit of French, the words I use to express myself are quite limited and the right word doesn't come – something looks up in the word store and doesn't find the word. I can sense it as if elusively, I feel there is a word, but all sorts of substitutes come forward that are worthless.
Now the sensation is altogether, altogether new. It's not the customary movement of words pouring in and so on: you search and suddenly you catch hold of something – it's no longer that way at all: as though it were the ONLY thing that remained in the world. All the rest – mere noise.
There, mon petit.
1 Mother's translation is: Le vacarme du plan humain.