BOOK REVIEW: Sonnets by Sri Aurobindo

SonnetsSonnets by Sri Aurobindo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This booklet collects together the 88 sonnets written by Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo was a guru who set up his ashram in Pondicherry because he was on the lam from the Brits, and Pondicherry was under French control at the time. Sri Aurobindo is a karma yogi (yogi of action and good works) who – together with a partner who the community came to call “Mother” – set up Auroville with the intention of making it a utopia.

The eighty-eight sonnets are arranged in two parts. The first seventy-four were written in the 1930s and 40s, and part II consists of 14 sonnets that were written between 1898 and 1909. The sonnets of the first part are more mystical and also more stream of consciousness. The poems of Part I use vivid language, but aren’t always easy to follow – if one is seeking a coherent meaning from each. The sonnets of part II are less sophisticated (and more easily interpreted) and feature a degree of angst that is completely absent in the latter poems (latter chronologically, earlier in the volume.) The sonnets presented are in varying styles. While they are all fourteen lines of pentameter, the rhyme scheme varies.

At the end of the book there are notes on the collection as a whole, as well as short notes on individual poems. There is also a short section in the back that shows a few of the poems under edits so that one can gain a little insight into the poet’s sausage-making process.

I found these poems intriguing to read. As I suggested, they aren’t always easy to interpret but they have a thought-provoking spirituality to them as well as some beautiful use of language. One needn’t necessarily have an interest in Sri Aurobindo to enjoy the poems, although they are overwhelmingly of a mystical / spiritual nature.

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Five Haiku

frost on grass
early morning chill
felt through eyes

wave wall warps,
becoming tubular
surf crashes

mountains turn
to smooth, round boulders,
then to pebbles

lost ruins
a temple overgrown,

slate gray lake
will be turquoise in time
new eyes, new lake


Taken in August of 2019 at Big Almaty Lake

POEM: Divining Meaning

Imagine standing on the train platform,

listening to the distant approaching train,

and you hear a voice say —

unprovoked —

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shove you.”

I predict you would take two steps back before you try to divine meaning.

And when that speaker objects, saying,

“Brother, you misheard me. I said I’m NOT going to shove you in front of the train.”

He’ll not have improved his credibility through clarity of negation,

especially if he gently lays a fraternal hand upon your shoulder.

It’s like being told to not think of a white bear.

An inseparable seed of murder is sewn into those words.

POEM: Tokyo Noir

Neon animates a puddle
long after trains have quit.
It seems quiet and abandoned,
excepting those who flit
between afterhours rendezvous
where sake cups go “clink.”
And a bare-chested yakuza
gleams with glistening ink.
An urgent rapping at his door
interrupts the spring sale,
granting coitus interruptus
he ‘s too few fingers to fail.

POEM: Huck’s Typology

Huck Finn said he runs to pie,
[While Tom runs to mystery.]
That is the respective nature of each.

I, too, run to mystery,
but sometimes I stop for pie on the way.

And as I run to mystery,
I know that mystery’s end is misery.
For, if curiosity is one’s nature,
a resolution is always bittersweet.

Fortunately, the universe is relentless in its production of mysteries.
and it’s also fortunate that it’s skimping in its production of pie.

How does it know?


A girl pressed her palms against her eye sockets.

Was she trying to keep her eyeballs from popping out?

Or was she trying to make sure something didn’t get into her eye?

If it was the latter, I don’t think it was matter she sought to keep out–

not grit, acid, iron filings, or any of the other nasties that get in an eye.

No. She was making a light-tight seal.

So, she was really trying to keep something out of her brain.

Light is just light.

It takes a brain to dance photons into a horror story.

POEM: Screams & Toast

Every scream is special.

There’s no such thing as

-a mundane scream

-a work-a-day scream

-a milquetoast scream.

Some things are like that.

Other things must prove themselves special

at every turn,

and against all odds.

Let me try to sell you on the exceptionality of two particular slices of toast.

Even if they are golden-brown perfection,

Even if they are crisp, but not desiccated,

Even if they are still warm enough to melt butter.

It is still just toast.

And, I wonder how much of mastering life comes down to the ability to

find a scream ordinary


taste olympian toast.

POEM: False Awakening

I wake up in a world I’ve never tread before.

Standing in a forest, before an oaken door.

The door opens with a screeching, shuddering creak.

I walk into a room whose walls begin to leak.

The flood is rising higher in this strange new world,

and then forms a vortex in which I’m cruelly swirled.

As I resolve to drowning, the walls fall open,

and I am washed down a secluded, mountain glen.

I awake mistrustful, and unsure of my state,

but one fact speaks true, that I need to urinate.