The poem represents the metaphysical ruminations of Sarojini Naidu as her soul endeavours to communicate with the Almighty. The invocation begins with all the innocence and purity of a child’s pride as the poetess beseeches with God to enlighten her on the most basic and innermost laws of Life and Death. She wants to have an in-depth comprehension on the twin-sided aspects of Life. Inherent in the prayer is the feeling that God has entrusted her with His Faith as she is born out of His own breath.
She wants to drink ‘life to the lees’ as she aspires for the two extremes of emotions-pain and joy. Her understanding of life is indeed not only childlike but mature as well, as she accepts life with all its plus and minus points. Her insatiable thirst for experience would then drain both “Earth’s utmost bitter, utmost sweet.”
She does not want to be spared of any form of euphoria. She does not want to be divorced from any form of strife. For her both gift and grief are welcome blessings that she craves for. She longs for the intricate wisdom of love and life that has hitherto eluded her. She also deeply craves for the mystic knowledge of the grave that has hitherto been unexplored.
‘Spare me no bliss, no pang of strife,
Withhold no gift or grief I crave,
The intricate lore of love and life
And mystic knowledge of the grave.’
She acknowledges God’s answer to her prayers, and is assured that He would heed to her prayers. He ascertains that her soul would experience all the passionate raptures and unfelt despairs. The Almighty deals with her in a stern but down-to-earth manner. “Lord, Thou didst answer stern and low.” He addresses her as “child” mirroring the intimacy and intricacy of the bond that they shared. It also reflects protectiveness and a sense of security.The term ‘unconquered” implies lack of experience, and therefore a ‘virgin’ soul.
He assures the poetess that she shall drink of both joy and fame. The word ‘drink’ connotes the act of relishing and quenching of one’s thirst. Love will consume her with fiery passion. Fire is the only basic element with the exquisite quality of cleansing without polluting itself unlike the other imperative elements. The poetess shall be cleansed by pain akin to the flame of purgation. It will purify the dross or impurities from her desire and thereby render it pure.
‘Thou shalt drink deep of joy and fame,
And love shall burn thee like a fire,
And pain shall cleanse thee like a flame,
To purge the dross from thy desire.
Her chastened spirit will thus aspire for salvation. As her soul will be satiated of these extremes, she will now long for peace. In such a stance, it will seek release from its blind, unconditional prayer .The prayer places infinite faith in God without rationalization , and is therefore is termed as’ blind’. It will be ‘spent’ with time and experience and incessant praying. In such a state it would effortlessly master the secret of His peace. The word ‘secret’ is used to highlight the enigma and aura behind this spiritual affinity:”The simple secret of My peace.”
I, bending from my sevenfold height,
Will teach thee of My quickening grace,
Life is a prism of My light,
And Death the shadow of My face.’
Seven has always been an attribute to describe divinity whether it has been used with reference to phrases like ‘seventh heaven’ or in biblical allusions regarding God’s creation of the world in seven days. He will imbibe in her His ‘quickening grace.’ His grace is all-encompassing, flexible and swift, and hence the adjective “quickeining”. Life is but a prism of His light where the white light (symbolic of purity) enters the realm of the earth and fills our life with different hues and colours. Death is the shadow of his face as destruction is inevitable for creation, meaningful change and procreation.
“The Soul’s Prayer” is reprinted from The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Ed. Nicholson & Lee. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1917.