Sri Aurobindo Ghose

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What is the meaning of the opening lines of Sri Aurobindo's "Life and Death?"

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The chiastic structure of the opening line of this poem belies and, simultaneously, underlines the message the poet intends to convey: chiastic structures generally indicate to the reader that the two concepts balanced in the structure are indeed opposites. Here, "Life, death; death, life" are demarcated as directly opposing concepts which lend balance to each other, but the poet goes on to express that this is only how the ideas have been perceived "for ages." These words, he says, have "led...our consciousness" for a length of time so indiscriminately long that he describes it only as "ages," or ages of man. And yet, in this opening statement, the poet suggests we have been led wrongly into the belief that the concepts are opposites, when in fact this is only how they "seemed," but is not the truth. Death and life, he goes on to say, are rather accompaniments to each other, with death not symbolizing the end or absence of life, but simply a part of human existence. For "ages" it has been feared, when in reality, throughout these "ages," billions of humans have experienced death as a natural process, of which we should not be afraid.

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The original question had to be edited.  I would suggest that one of the primary meanings of the opening lines to Sri Aurobindo's poem would be that our traditional understanding of life and death as binary opposites have to be changed.  Sri Aurobindo opens his poem with the traditional understanding of life and death as one in which human beings fear "death" as the end of "life."  The invocation of "our thought and consciousness" along with the idea of "firmly" helps to enhance this.  Sri Aurobindo is speaking of a belief position that posits death as the end of life, one that is looked on with fear and confusion.  It is rooted in the attachment of life and the clinging to it as one in which individuals see themselves as being alone in the world.  

Sri Aurobindo follows the opening lines with "two opposites" that have its "long- hidden pages opened."  This helps to evoke the idea that life and death are part of a larger process.  It is not one in which we are forlorn, causing us to be afraid of death.  Rather, Sri Aurobindo is suggesting that we open our minds to fully embracing a reality in which individuals see themselves as part of a larger configuration.  This construction is one in which "liberating truths" emerge, shedding the idea that death is to be something in which fear shrouds.  For Sri Aurobindo, the opening lines of his poem suggests that this mode of thought is something that should be changed and can be if one has the courage to unearth "long- hidden pages."

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