Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
~ Lord Alfred Tennyson (1863)
A re-reading of Sri Aurobindo’s play The Harmony of Virtue (1892) a few weeks ago reminded me of this beautiful poem by Tennyson. Keshav in the play makes a reference to this poem when he says – “Yes, Tennyson was right, tho’ like most poets, he knew not what he said, when he wrote those lines on the flower in the crannies: if we know what the flower is, we know also what God is and what man.”
Now if you have read Sri Aurobindo even a little bit, you know that you have to read very slow, very very slow. So that you can absorb and savour. So that you can allow the words to sink in. So that you can allow the force behind the words to do its work deep within you. So that you can let the force behind the thought take you wherever it wants to take you.
And that’s how it was for me. I stopped for a little bit after reading this sentence – “like most poets, he [Tennyson] knew not what he said.”
And I wrote a few days later:
Isn’t that true for me too? Perhaps true for most of us? We often find ourselves saying things or doing things without knowing, like really knowing, why we say or do them. Or without even knowing exactly what is it that we are saying or doing. We are compelled by a force beyond us (generally something in our subconscient) that moves us, that makes us choose an action, that leads us to a certain path or circumstance in our life. We don’t understand any of the deeper factors guiding our lives, and yet the ego in us says that we have made a choice. We pretend that we are conscious agents and shapers of our lives, and yet we don’t even understand a flower growing in the cranny.
Today after many weeks, I find myself coming back to this poem and also to what I wrote inspired by the poem, especially the way Sri Aurobindo refers to the poem in his play. And my mind also goes to something I had witnessed one afternoon several years back.
On that particular afternoon while walking home I saw this amazing little beautiful deep pink flower – perhaps some wildflower or some weed, whose name I didn’t/don’t know— gracefully revealing its head from within a thick heap of cement, pieces of brick, and other street garbage thrown together on a street corner. It was hard to imagine that anything so delicate could grow out of such dark and hard material, yet the flower was standing erect on its little tender stem. The resilience with which this flower was blooming in such physical surroundings made me think of the power of opening and receptivity. Within this hard shell created by the cement, clay and pieces of brick there perhaps was some little spot which opened itself to the Light and Force of Mother Nature and voila, life was born! Within that closed, tightly bound construction garbage, there was something in a little spot which was able to receive the Light and Force, and a flower was born.
How can we open ourselves more and more to the Light and Grace and Force and Calmness? How do we develop within us a greater receptivity to receive this Light, Grace, Force and Calmness?
Today I find that one of the things that often prevents us from opening ourselves fully to the Light, Grace, Force and Calmness is this pretense that we know, that we understand. When in reality we don’t know anything. We don’t understand anything.
Are we mere playthings in the hands of the larger Nature which throws us in certain life-situations and circumstances? And then we make do with whatever choices we think we have. But are those choices that we make part of our destiny or are they a result of our free will? This debate can be endless. But perhaps the truth is that there is a truth beyond the two, beyond the debate between the two. A truth that transcends the two and yet includes them.
Today I am reminded once again of that line from from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri:
“Fate is Truth working out in Ignorance.”
I find this to be so insightful, so true. Especially today. But this is not all. From the same canto, another of my favourite verses comes to mind today:
This world was not built with random bricks of Chance,
A blind god is not destiny’s architect;
A conscious power has drawn the plan of life,
There is a meaning in each curve and line.
(Book VI, Canto II)
But how often do we remember this? How often do I remember to recall this? I admit I often forget this truth and get worked up over instances, circumstances, situations, events in my life and lives of those I care about and love. I forget that Fate is Truth working out in Ignorance. I forget that I don’t know anything. I don’t know what makes the flower bloom in the crannied wall. I don’t ‘understand’ the flower, root and all, and all in all. How can I know man and God? How can I know the why of things that I am experiencing?