Among the post-Savitri Indian English poets, Krishna Srinivas (b. 26 July 1913, d. 14 December 2007) stands as a learned poet, writing with the intuitive intellect. He as a seer of poetic truth composes with the soul-force, expressing the variety of spiritual experiences and knowledge to emphasize the essential inward existence vis-à-vis the outward existence as the basis of true life and living. He explores the intricacies of nature, its secrets and surprises, with a penetrating vision and comprehends the totality of life in a soul-realizing language.
Inwardness is his strong sign: His message has the all-embracing and all-transcending texture of the Indian soul and inner contemplation of Eternity which has been the Indian path throughout the centuries. His ideal is not to withdraw from life but to live life by the light and power of the spirit. He shows preference, not for the fleeting or momentary, but for the everlasting, eternal, and wants to utilize human life for realizing the immortal spirit, the infinite consciousness in him. The world is the individual writ large, the Platonic magnified man. He searches it through and within him, and thus tries to symphonize the natural and divine, the outer and the inner, the limited and the absolute, the mental desires and the fullness of peace and eternity. Peace and harmony are his passion and synthesis out of chaos his forte.
As a poet of inner aspiration--the aspiration to know, to feel, to communicate the Reality that pervades the universe--he explores the unity in diversity which is, to quote Rabindranath Tagore, the “inmost creed of India.” Like Sri Autobindo or Tagore, he attempts at creating a spiritual basis of our life and being with the awareness of unity with all beings. He wants us to change the outer existence by the inner influence so that universal love, friendship and peace could reign the earth.
It is his quality of the mind and attitude towards the problems of life, as expressed in his twenty or so volumes of poetry that render him a distinctly Indian English poet, remarkable for vision and creative power. His poems of medium length such as River, Wind, Ageless Fire, Earth, and Void which later appeared in an abridged form as Five Elements (1981) drew world attention for their epic and cosmic dimension. Though these may defy understanding “except in primordial terms,” as K.R.S. Iyengar points out, what is attempted is strictly beyond attainment. In fact, he creates mantra of words with total consciousness and maintains poetry as a “state of being,” a whole distinct way of life, of living, of approach to life. What he writes is also spiritual philosophy, assimilating subtle psychological, social and intellectual truths.
The poet tries to weave webs of relationship between the cosmic, the historical, the scriptural, the mythical, and the personal, and the reader is often thrilled and baffled, edified and exasperated. Moses and Buddha, Valmiki and Neruda, the Waste Land and the Solitary Reaper, Zen and dhyan, East and West—all tumble together, and one feels exposed to a variety of echoes and intimations from the poets, prophets, and philosophers of all time. He appears to be involved in a mystic venture to unite all differences into one illimitable permanence.
His art consists in his departure from the general vein of writing in the 1970s and 1980s. The significance of Krishna’s poetry lies in the greatness and worth of its substance, the value of its thought. It is forceful in its substance, art and structure. Krishna’s poetic perception is characteristically the interplay of Indian mind and spirit, rich in symbolized experience and creative capacity, including the history of man’s past, present and future.
Like any ancient Indian thinker, Krishna points to the unchanging inner, spiritual aspect of man. His spiritual imagination discovers that one is more than mere human body, and human body is the abode on non-material essence, the Soul, which is beyond the physical laws of the world. The soul is truth consciousness and bliss, which is all pervading, and is the cause and sustaining force of this universe. He perceives that the power which created the external world is just a manifestation of that power, Brahman. This spiritual motive dominates his poetic creation throughout. He strives for a socio-spiritual reformation, when he writes about the ultimate truth of the spirit, and wants people to refine their actual life in the light of the truth of the spirit.
One cannot appreciate his creative genius without a sense of sympathy, spiritual feeling and sensibility, for he is intensely committed, dynamic, profound, symbolic, philosophical, prophetic and above all, spiritual. Constantly in ‘sweated quest’ for Reality, he operates at a high level without attempting at deliberate mystifying: Science, metaphysics and history in his poetry coalesce to form a refreshing imagistic pattern; he makes philosophy take into its fold several sciences. Couched in a natural intonation, the structure of his pivot ideas provides a sharp ethical and psychological insight into a fabric of the present-day moral culture. The despicable, miserable world conditions act as a catalyst for spiritual awakening and even revolt. He combines in him the man, the poet and the prophet.
Poetry for him is a means to realize the truths of life and philosophy, to experience the transcendent spirit, understanding the mind-body-self complex. Through poetry he tries to evaluate and present the various philosophic systems and religions of the world. The ultimate realization is: oneness of mankind, oneness of spiritual values, oneness of the reality of man and the world:
Sutras, Desert Prophets
Teach all worlds
Teach all spheres
Teach all beings
In high and low
And Far Afars” (Void, p. 30).
Krishna the poet feels and suffers as a citizen of the universe and speaks for the whole mankind, recovering the faith of centuries which had dissolved like a dream.
One can discern the stamp of Indian culture in Krishna’s philosophical musing--no idiosyncrasy, but a genuine human interest--which springs from spiritual disquiet at the existing order of things: His system of thought arises out of a restlessness at the sight of evils that cast a gloom over life in this world. He tries to understand the source of these evils and incidentally, too, the nature of the universe and the meaning of human life, in order to find out some means for overcoming life’s miseries. The darker side of things are only initial because of the awareness of life thoughtlessly led by impulses and desires. The final brighter side of things appear with the affirmation of hope, generated by faith in the eternal spiritual order that poets like Dante, Wordsworth or Sri Aurobindo present.
Krishna writes with God’s voice. The whole range of Upanishadic understanding bears upon his thought-structure: His consciousness is suffused with the splendor of divinity in which all that is mean, vile or divisive shrivels and dies. He perceives the essential unity of all and loves the whole world as one. He thinks with the whole becoming the whole: His poetry flows from the spring in God, the realization of the highest at the heart of the universe. Sound and silence wend his poetic progression. He creates a vision of the spirit with the consciousness of life: Consciousness rules the material elements and all that emanate from them. His poetry is spiritual prayer, the Upanishadic tapas. He has faith in life which enfolds and unfolds the whole world. He knows the life that is spirit: Spirit in river, fire, wind, earth and void; spirit that holds the breath, voice and eye, the ear and mind; spirit that rests in silence; spirit that is beyond the lands of good and evil. His intuitive poetic spirituality grows into true insight, via experiments with expression that he makes to articulate his own mystic gyration.
As a poet of contemplation and inner reality, he demonstrates a unique structure-texture management which has been both praised and denounced. Yet his verbal and syntactic creativity, phrasal constructions and coinages, style and theme are all communicative and interpretative. He acts a synthesis of various ancient and modern cultures, religious ideas, philosophical notions, myths , symbols and allusions from diverse countries and scriptures, besides using words, phrases and imagery that echo Aurobindonian sensibility: ‘Illumined peaks’, ‘sun of inconscience’, ‘seven centres heavened and mind illumined’, ‘rhythmic tune of Time’, ‘Overmental awareness’, ‘Primal purity’, ‘Integral flight’, ‘matter mad for life’, ‘cosmic revelry’ etc.
Krishna frequently deviates from the so-called ‘standard’ English language patterns at all levels without being unintelligible: ‘BE MANYed’, ‘Divinitied’, ‘halcyoned’, ‘Onned’, ‘THAT THOUed’, ‘Void vortexed’, ‘Past debrissed’, ‘Birthed and deathed’, ‘oceaned floor’, ‘aeonic hunger’, ‘The High Edened’, ‘Earth genesised’, ‘As urchin unteened’, ‘Lord tortoise in base’, ‘Vasty wombs of space’, ‘Cradled in Peruvian roofs/Sported in Canyon depths/Lived in Iceland towns/Rolled in Yangtste deeps’ etc. As he nativizes the English language thus, he reflects his Indian sensibility, though his commitments and attitudes are international. He sees the same river of life flowing everywhere whether it is the Ganga, Kaveri, Brahmaputra, or Yangtse, Congo, Colorado, Mississippi, Hudson, Thames, Nile, or Amazon.
His pursuit of philosophies – of Christ, Muhammad, Mahavir, Sankar, Ramanujan, Madhva, Vallalar and others—is no “spiritual propaganda,” rather it is a leader to different kind of poetry. Krishna turns a seer poet in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo just as in his interpretative vision he includes man’s rationalism, aestheticism, vitalism, and the essential spirituality with a sense of art and history, and leads us towards fullness of life and being.
Good art never bores, as Ezra Pound said over a century ago. Krishna’s language and style derive from the contemporary age: There is clarity of thought structure, intensity of feeling, seriousness of intention, and intrinsic vitality matching his sobre and gentle tone that provides, among other things, insight into the country’s cultural ethos vis-à-vis the cultures of the world. His cosmogonic thinking has a rare combination of vision, beauty and social awareness, just as his poems of epical dimension—Dance of Dust (1947), Everest (1960), Maya (1975), Five Elements (1981), Beyond (1985) -- inhere the cultural mind of humankind as a whole.
Krishna is a genius, condensing and recreating in his poems the profound knowledge and wisdom of all people and all ages for the people everywhere today. It is not through the big canvas of classical epic structure but through the poems of short length--readable in one sitting--that he creates subtle epic effects. It is the greatness and amplitude of spirit, speech and movement--not length--that characterize the epic. Krishna creates his epical thought effects through a tense texture of verbal harmony, exuberant vitality, celebrating the Ultimate Reality, the search for the Unknown Truth, the truly spiritual in man. His verses pulsate with pure ecstasies, revelations and incantation.
His long poems such as the Dance of Dust, Everest, and Five Elements--all composed with a sense of history-- are inner whisperings of the soul. Krishna’s passionate wanderings of discovery through histories, philosophies or poetries to find the one spirit in us are, in truth, everests of the Soul. His visionary flashes reveal to us the infinite greatness of our inner world and confirm to us the unity of all spiritual vision and life. His own translations of the Tamil Vedas (1984-91)—four thousand lyrics of the twelve Vaishnavite apostles sung by over sixty million Tamils all over the world—add to his ageless effort to blend all worlds, all thoughts ,all times. Not surprising, therefore, the President of India honoured this world poet and celebrated editor and publisher of the Poet monthly (published singlehanded and without break from Chennai for over 48 years) with the coveted Padmabhushan award in 2004.
Works of Krishna Srinivas
Krishna Srinivas. 1947. Dance of Dust. Madras: Poets Press India
1960. Everest. Madras: Poets Press India
1975. Maya. Madras: Poets Press India
1981. Five Elements. Madras: The Christian Literature Society
1983. Sankara. Madras: Bhavani Book Centre.
1983. Ramanujan. Madras: Poets Press India
1983. Madhva. Madras: Poets Press India
1983. Muhammad. Madras: Poets Press India
1983. Christ. Madras: Poets Press India
1983. Worlds. Poet, Vol. 24, No.11
1984. Vallalar. Poet, Vo. 25, No.3
1985. Beyond. Madras: Poets Press India
1986. Mahavira. Madras: Poets Press India
1987. Poetical Works. Madras: Poets Press India
1984-91. Tamil Vedas. Madras: World Poetry Society Intercontinental