On returning home from England, Rabindranath became immersed in writing. While in England he began to write his first verse-drama, Bhagna Hriday (The Broken Heart), on the theme of a tormented poet disappointed in love as in his work titled Kabikahini (The Poet’s Story) which he wrote when he was sixteen. It was from a time in his young life when he harboured a fanciful image of himself. There was a great parade of universal love in those writings not surprising from a budding poet.
Meanwhile Jyotidada and Bauthakrun had moved from the family house at Jorasanko to an independent house on Sudder Street off Chowringhee in Calcutta. Rabindranath went to stay with them. It was in the Sudder Street house that he chanced upon a special poetic experience which heightened his sense of a beautiful and happy world.
On that day he wrote his famous poem, Nirjharer Swapnabhanga, which in English would be Awakening of the Waterfall. This became the key poem in a series that expressed his new poetic experience titled Prabhat Sangit or Morning Songs in the year 1883. He now began to write for pleasure even if those early poetic compositions were of no great poetic value to him later on.
He continued in this state of bliss for some time. While this lasted he and Jyotidada went together to the Darjeeling hills with Rabindranath hoping the Himalayas might lend itself to his gift of a ‘new vision’. That seemingly did not happen. While there he wrote a poem titled “The Echo” and added it to his Prabhat Sangit collection.
“The Echo” turned out to be an abstruse piece of writing and even his literary friends cast bets over what it could possibly mean! As a result Rabindranath began to interrogate himself, does one write poetry to explain something? Is it not something felt in the heart that is given expression in a poem? He concluded that a poem was a mirror image of something that was taking place within.
In 1887 he began composing the Manasi group of poems and himself translated one of them into English. At the time there was a surge of Hindu revivalism in public life. Rabindranath himself was initially touched by the revivalism but turned away from it in distaste. He and the leading Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee engaged in a heated exchange on the subject of religion. Rabindranath wrote some biting satires against religious fanaticism and was not at the time in a happy frame of mind. He wrote.
“I hate all the demands of good manners. Nowadays I keep repeating that line: Much rather would I be an Arab Bedouin! Oh for a healthy, strong, unfettered barbarity!”
This article was written by Uma Das Gupta
Professor Uma Das Gupta is a historian and a renowned Tagore biographer. She is the author of many books and articles on Tagore. Some of the most recent are: Rabindranath Tagore: My Life in My Words. New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2010; Rabindranath Tagore: An Illustrated Life. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2013.