Paramahansa Yogananda's "My Prisoner"
Introduction and Excerpt from Poem, "My Prisoner"
In Paramahansa Yogananda’s "My Prisoner," the speaker addresses the Divine Beloved, reminding Him that the Lord has been hiding from the devotee/speaker for many years. Divine Beloved, or God, has remained undetectable to the speaker because the speaker’s mind has been disturbed by "restless thoughts." The speaker now understands that he must still his mind and banish the restlessness that hides the Divine Presence.
The great guru's poem employs the clever use of a prison metaphor to liken the procedure of engaging the spiritual search for Divine Unity to that of worldly law enforcement searching out and capturing a law-breaking perpetrator. There is a well-placed irony in the fact that both the searching/capturing agent and the Divine Perpetrator are, indeed, following Divine laws exactly—not breaking them as perpetrators do under man's law.
Thus, the law/prison metaphor works perfectly in creating the drama of the search for God that each soul must engage in order to fulfill its purpose for being. That the metaphor converts to the place where all inmates go voluntarily to seek God puts the finishing beauty of the search in grand perspective.
Excerpt from "My Prisoner"
Long didst Thou hide
Beneath the static of my restless thoughts;
Long didst Thou flee
In the chambers of eerie ether.
At last I hunted Thee down
In quiet desert-dunes
Of my desirelessness.
Fastened with strong cords of devotion,
Thou art my Prisoner. . . .
(Please note: The poem in its entirety may be found in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)
The speaker in "My Prisoner" begins with a prison metaphor that transforms into a cloister, wherein the devotee/speaker will retain his Divine Captive.
Stanza 1: Hiding and Fleeing
In the opening stanza, the speaker avers that the Lord has been escaping the speaker’s notice as if He were running away from the speaker and hiding. The Lord’s presence, clouded by the restless thoughts of the devotee, seems to vanish like smoke into invisibility.
Engaging the prison metaphor, the speaker is suggesting that the Divine Beloved has been fleeing from the devotee as a lawbreaking perpetrator would flee law enforcement. Of course, the major difference is that all this fleeing, hiding, and searching is done on the ineffable, mystic, spiritual level of being, which resembles "chambers of eerie ether."
Stanza 2: Relinquishing Desires
Finally, the speaker is able to detect the presence of the Divine Beloved. The speaker is at last able to still his mind and to relinquish the desires that interfere with God perception. The "quiet desert-dunes" represent the blank slate of the calm, still mind that ultimately allows God contact.
The "desert-dunes" represent the quiet spaces that result when the devotee is able to quiet the mind and allow himself to experience the state of desirelessness. The state of quiet desirelessness is necessary to allow the presence of the Divine Beloved to appear on the screen of the devotee's soul.
Stanza 3: The Lord as Prisoner
Upon realizing his first contact with the Beloved, the speaker uses "strong cords of devotion" to hold Him, Who now becomes the speaker's "Prisoner." The speaker will imprison the Beloved in his heart and soul in order to eternally enjoy the Bliss of His presence.
It is through love, affection, devotion, and rapt attention that the devotee is made capable of capturing the presence of the Beloved Divine. And also through those qualities that become the "strong cords" with which the devotee secures that Presence, that devotee is made capable of retaining the awareness of the his unity with his Blessed Creator.
Stanza 4: Divine Perpetrator in Custody
The Divine Perpetrator who has eluded the speaker is now secure in the speaker’s custody, and the speaker/devotee intends to retain that custody by locking the Divine Prisoner "[i]n the cell of silence, / Secure behind bars of my closed eyes."
The speaker’s act of meditation is metaphorically likened to securing a prisoner. The devotee avows to attend eternally to his Divine Inmate, keeping him secure in the bosom of his heart, in the bower of his mind, and in the sanctuary of his soul—all likened simply as the prison in which the devotee will keep his Prisoner locked.
Stanza 5: The Prison Metaphor
The speaker continues the prison metaphor, addressing the Lord as "Beloved Captive," and assuring Him that he will keep him not only in his dreams, but also he will "hide [the Beloved Captive] / In a bower of caresses."
Having captured his Divine Perpetrator, the devotee continues in his determination not to allow his Prisoner to escape him ever again. The devotee's love and attention will serve as those strong cords that keep his Prisoner locked in the Unity that the devotee has long sought.
Stanza 6: From Prison to Monastery
The speaker then addresses the Divine as "Precious Prisoner," softening the prison metaphor as he asserts that he will "enshrine [the Lord] / On the altar of my secret songs." The speaker has transformed the prison metaphor into a monastic setting, where the monastic will encounter spiritual reminders as well as an altar with sacred chants.
As the prison is now transforming into a monastery, the long search for the fleeing perpetrator now allows the devotee to realize a more mystical place where all the "inmates" devote their lives to seeking God-Realization.
Divine "secret songs" will fill the chambers of the devotee's monastic soul, chants dedicated to the Blessed One will also serve as one of those strong cords that will keep the Divine Prisoner locked in the heart and soul of the devotee.
Stanza 7: In the Cloister of the Soul
Continuing the transformed metaphor, the speaker addresses the Lord as "Infinite Personage," Whom the speaker will "cloister" "behind strong walls of [his] undying love." The Perpetrator, Whom the speaker had to seek throughout much time and space, has become the Beloved, Whom the speaker will keep in the prison/cloister of his heart and soul.
The delightful transformation from "prison" to "monastery" places the devotee's engagement exactly where he can continue to meditate, serve, worship, and honor the Divine Indweller.
The devotee's soul is finally revealed as the true "prison" in which the Divine Beloved will be welcome to reside eternally, locked in the secure embrace of the devotee's "undying love."
Biographical Sketch of Paramahansa Yogananda
The great guru/poet Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5, 1893, in Gorakhpur, India. His name at birth was Mukunda Lal Ghosh. Always a spiritually advanced child, at age 17, he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, under whose guidance he flourished and became the spiritual giant and sacred engine that leads souls back to their eternal abode in the arms of the Divine Creator.
Paramahansa Yogananda came to the United States in 1920 to speak in Boston at the International Congress of Religious Liberals. His speech was so well received that he quickly gathered a following. By 1925, his organization, Self-Realization Fellowship, was well established with the purpose of disseminating his teachings of yoga. He has come to be known as the “Father of Yoga in the West.”
For a more thorough overview of the great guru's life, please visit Paramahansa Yogananda’s Biography. His in-depth work, Autobiography of a Yogi, has become a spiritual classic worldwide.
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes