The first poem of this new series, written on October 4th, 2005, reflects many of the essential elements of Sri Chinmoy’s verse:
O, who am I
And what is my duty?
I am a hunter
Of God’s God-Beauty.
At just seventeen words, or twenty syllables in length, Sri Chinmoy’s quatrain is typically spare. No lavish adjectives or dynamic verbs pulsate through the poem. And yet its very simplicity reveals some remarkable features. Firstly, the question with which Sri Chinmoy opens the poem and, significantly, this whole series is the eternal question of all spiritual aspirants: who am I? Down the centuries, each spiritual Master has answered this question of questions according to his inner realisation. The illumining yet enigmatic answer supplied by the Vedas is: ‘Tat tvam asi’—That thou art.
Sri Chinmoy’s answer is, on the surface, less esoteric. Indeed, there is something of a shock value in his assertion: ‘I am a hunter.’ It defeats all our comfortable expectations as to the nature and duty of a spiritual seeker and fills us with intense curiosity to see how the poet can reconcile this almost primal image with the quest for inner knowledge.
In the fourth line of the poem, the poet qualifies his assertion by stating that he is a hunter of ‘God’s God- Beauty.’ The very physicality of the noun ‘hunter’ is brought into stark juxtaposition with the ethereal radiance of God’s Beauty. In the process, ‘hunter’ supplies all the dynamic movement that is usually created by a verb. It implies that the aspirant not only searches out and recognises God’s unique Beauty, but somehow seizes it, or captures it, as one would hunt a prey.
Thus, while the image hearkens back to a less complex world where human beings were dependant upon hunting skills in order to survive, Sri Chinmoy has metamorphosed the prey into something unimaginably lofty and sublime. The drama of the human quest for the divine is enacted with rare vigour and power in these two lines.
On an aural level, the masculine connotations of the image are softened to a degree by the feminine rhymes ‘duty’ and ‘Beauty’. Perhaps, even unconsciously, we are reminded that in both Greek and Roman mythology, it is the female Goddess Artemis or Diana who is portrayed as the huntress, armed with a bow and quiver. That she is also the Divine Mother of the Universe gives pause to a narrow interpretation of the poet’s meaning.
It is also very characteristic of Sri Chinmoy that he should answer his opening question within the bounds of this miniature poem and not leave it open-ended, suspended rhetorically in our awareness. As a seer-poet, his is a poetry of both search and revelation. Through aphorisms, definitions, statements and answers to questions, he seeks to expand our understanding of the inner realities. In order to do this, he constantly identifies himself with the experiences that are uppermost in the lives of spiritual seekers.
The speaking voice in his poems is seldom his own. More often, he is articulating a universal cry for wisdom. As this present poem unfolds, with its sonorous and measured iambic rhythms, one can almost hear these cosmic echoes radiating outwards and gathering the unspoken yearnings of countless human souls.
If we accept that this question ‘Who am I?’ is at the core of all human existence, that it marks the beginning of our conscious striving for illumination, then it is even conceivable that the poet finds his answer in the stars, in the constellation that shows the figure of the Great Hunter pursuing his celestial quarry across the vast reaches of Heaven. Such a reading of the poem would fix man’s question and his divinely illumined response in their eternal outlines. How exquisitely apposite the entire poem becomes in this context!
With so many overlapping layers of interpretation, each one enhancing the concentrated power of the poem, we can see how Sri Chinmoy’s extraordinarily simple creations are, in fact, very carefully constructed in order to condense the greatest wealth of meaning into the fewest possible words.