The Poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by Shanta Acharya

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is widely recognized as a creative genius produced by the Indian Renaissance. There are not many poets whose works constitute the national anthems of not one but two nations. His song ‘Janaganamana-adhinayaka’ is the national anthem of India, and that of Bangladesh is also his composition.

Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore wrote poetry throughout his life; he also wrote songs, stories, novels, plays, essays, literary criticism, memoirs, dance dramas, books for children and travelogues. He is among the most important visual artists of his time. To mark the 150th anniversary of his birth the Victoria & Albert Museum in London displayed about fifty of Tagore’s paintings.

The exhibition, “Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter,” emphasized the connection between his paintings and his poetry. Tagore’s achievements are manifold – a pioneer in education, an advocate of women’s equality, an ecological and holistic thinker. It is this versatility that informs his creative vision.

 

Message of Universal Humanism

Tagore’s sense of the world, not seen from any narrow nationalist angle, was clear, calm and unprejudiced. He believed in local (individual) independence and global interdependence. He made connections while others saw contradictions – he saw the link between science and spirituality, economic freedom and self-realization, politics and ecology, international cooperation and individual rights, reason and imagination, art and business. In “A Defense of Poetry”, Shelley wrote: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Tagore was indeed such a man. This largesse is reflected in all his creative output.

Tagore wrote successfully in several literary genres, but he was first of all a poet. In his poetry we encounter a rainbow of consciousness where Indian classical and folk traditions mingle with western thought, Sufi mysticism and Buddhist teachings. His ability to synthesize eclectic influences in creating a deeply humane and inclusive view of the world is critical to our understanding of him. It is also the reason why Tagore’s ideas continue to find contemporary resonance.

Commenting on Tagore’s legacy, John Bayley wrote: “Like Tolstoy he was an aristocrat, with all an aristocrat’s instinctive confidence and self-assurance, fetched from generations of position and authority. That factor – hardly conceivable any more today – is historically of great importance.

Tagore could be seen not only as one of nature’s great men, but a great man by social temperament and class origin. In 1913 the Nobel Prize would hardly have been awarded to an unknown Indian, however talented.” But, “living a life of Faustian creativeness, running estates and building schools like Tolstoy, and even his own university at Santineketan, he none the less strikes one today as a vessel of tranquility and repose, an ikon not of ‘oriental wisdom’ or anything of that sort, but of deep understanding and comprehensiveness.”[1] It is indeed his deep understanding and comprehensiveness that qualifies all of what he did.

Tagore’s message is one of universal humanism. In the words of Satish Kumar: “As a master of his craft, Tagore combined the purity of poetry with a purpose for living.”[2] Tagore’s writings lift the human spirit and restore human dignity. His concept of jiban-debata (life god) or the creative principle “connects Tagore’s own poetic creativity with the creative process of the universe as a whole,”[3] explains William Radice.

This ability to see different points of view and reconcile them into a transcendent vision remains his legacy. For Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Tagore’s poetry is “characterized by an impressive wholeness of attitude: a loving warmth, a compassionate humanity, a delicate sensuousness, an intense sense of kinship with Nature, a burning awareness of the universe of which we are part.”[4]

 

Translating Tagore

The bulk of Tagore’s vast literary output was in Bengali. Though he was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913), Tagore was not awarded the prize for his considerable achievements as a poet in Bengali. The book that won him the prize, Gitanjali (1912) contained Tagore’s own re-creations in poetic prose of verses from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910).

While Gitanjali (1912) took the West by storm, Tagore’s work suffered from bad translations. He was partly to blame; being an extremely busy person, he authorized such versions for publication without adequate supervision. Tagore’s enormous popularity in Europe, the USA and Latin America, was thus based on texts often produced from indifferent English translations of his work.

The problem of poor translations was one of the factors that contributed to the decline in Tagore’s image in the English-speaking world. Other factors were changing fashions in the Anglo-American literary scene, Tagore’s repudiation of the knighthood after the Amritsar massacre, his open condemnation of the cult of nationalism in India and espousing internationalism when the country was going swadeshi, his rejection of organized religion and Hindu revivalism (Tagore left the Brahmo Samaj society which his father had helped create), and his popularity in inter-war Germany resulting in his work being associated with the rise of Nazism/ Fascism – all took their toll.[5] In India, until he won the Nobel Prize, Tagore was criticized by the Bengali press as an anglophile. Emerging Indian poets writing in English (Dom Moraes and Nissim Ezekiel included) also dismissed Tagore.

It is perhaps not surprising then that an article about Tagore in The Guardian by Ian Jack posed the question:

“Is his poetry any good? The answer for anyone who can’t read Bengali must be: don’t know. No translation (according to Bengalis) lives up to the job, and at their worst, they can read like In Memoriam notices: “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark” is among the better lines. Translator William Radice thinks that Tagore’s willingness to tackle the big questions, heart on sleeve, has made him vulnerable to “philistinism or contempt”.

That may be so … perhaps the time has come for us to forget Tagore was ever a poet, and think of his more intelligible achievements. These are many. He was a fine essayist; an educationist who founded a university; an opponent of the terrorism that then plagued Bengal; a secularist amid religious divisions; an agricultural improver and ecologist; a critical nationalist. In his fiction, he showed an understanding of women – their discontents and dilemmas in a patriarchal society – that was ahead of its time. On his 150th anniversary, we shouldn’t resist two cheers, at least.”[6]

In attempting to write about Tagore’s poetry, I do not feel the need to defend it. His poems recommend themselves to millions of his readers. The existing translations in English by Dyson and Radice, among others, are enough to help me find my way into the mind and art of this extraordinary poet. These translations manage to create a space in which the voice of Tagore reaches out to us. When other competent translations appear in time, they too will enhance our understanding and appreciation. One welcome them just the way one looks forward to reading a new version of poems by Rilke, Akhmatova, Cavafy, Lorca, or the Mahabharata.

Both Dyson and Radice successfully capture the pulse of Tagore’s poetry, its exceptionally rich and musical qualities. As the London Review of Books observed: “Among the English translations available of Tagore’s poetry, Ketaki Kushari Dyson’s selection I Won’t Let You Go perhaps captures more successfully than any other the sensuous Bengaliness of Tagore’s works, and the particularity of the weather, both inner and outer, in which the poems exist.”

The Poetry Review endorsed the book with: “Dyson has succeeded in these new translations in restoring a sense to the reader of Tagore’s real and remarkable genius as a poet. Short of learning Bengali one does not see how our sense of him as a poet could be bettered than it is by reading her versions… if any translation can put Tagore back on the map where he belongs, this one should do it.”[7] The challenge lies with translating Tagore’s work into other languages, be they Indian or European. In this article, I concentrate entirely on the translations in English.

 

Celebration of the Self

Tagore’s transcendent yet passionately human view of the world comes across in many of his poems. In “Earth” (dated 11 November 1893, from Sonar Tari), for example, he writes:

“…Deep is my desire

in country after country to identify

myself with all men; to be born

as an Arab child in the desert, fearless and free,

raised on camel’s milk; to explore

cold stone mansions, Buddhist monasteries

on Tibet’s plateau; to drink grape-wine

as a Persian in a rose garden; to ride

horses as an intrepid Tartar; to be polite

and vigorous as a Japanese; to toil

with dedication as in the ancient Chinese land

to experience existence in all homes.

Oh, to be a naked barbarian, sturdy, robust, fierce,

neither to duties nor to prohibitions geared,

bound by nothing – neither customs, nor scruples, nor doubts,

nor a sense of mine and thine, nor the fever of thought;

one whose life-flow always rushes unchecked…”[8]

 

The majesty of such a point of view is its Godlike open-endedness, the willingness to embrace diversity; he is Everyman and more. This sense of the self spilling out to embrace the universe, the Universal Self, reminds us of the Romantic poets as much as the American Transcendental poets, of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” (To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower,/ Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,/ And eternity in an hour) and Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

Tagore’s celebration of the Self is affirmed further in: “Take me back/ to the centre of that wholeness, whence continually/ life germinates in a hundred thousand ways/ sends out shoots and buds, whence songs burst/ in a million melodies, dances emanate/ in countless gestures, where the mind flows/ in torrents of ideas and emotions…” (Earth) With him we taste “that various, universal bliss, all elements together/ united with all.”[9] Tagore’s vision of the interconnectedness of the universe is best expressed in his poetry.

The earth is a mother whose hands hold not ‘infinite riches’ but ‘unfinished pleasures’ (“On Her Powerlessness”).[10] The vulnerability of the earth comes across poignantly as she clings to all her offspring, saying ‘I won’t let you go’ to the tiniest blade of grass that springs from her womb, and she is as powerless to prevent their departure just as Tagore’s young daughter is to prevent her father’s going away to his place of work.

At the same time, Mother Earth is all Nature, the cosmic maya whose ultimate authority is inviolable. “If it is true that a part of the function of poetry is to remind us, magically, what our relationship to the earth is, then Tagore’s poetry fulfils that role most admirably. Directly and indirectly he reminds us constantly of our bond with the earth, and nature is for him both a direct and proper subject and a perennial fountainhead of imagery,”[11] Dyson reminds us in her introduction.

Tagore’s faith in the unity of man and nature is manifested admirably in Gitanjali. He refers to “this our planet with its treasure-store/ Of joys and pains – this place unknowable,/ Unfathomable – is – just like a mother’s/ Breast – fully familiar after all.” In the poem, he also uses the image of mother and child when describing life and death.

He refers to “our stunning dwelling-place on earth,” where he is no stranger, as some inscrutable power had taken him in his arms as would his own mother. He then speaks of life and death as the two breasts of a mother. “If I have loved this life so very much/ I’ll love Death too when I can see him clearly?/ A child – for fear of losing the warm touch/ Of his mother’s breast – begins to wail. But then,/ Moved to her other breast, he’s calm again.”[12] Both the idea and the images are simple, accessible; his message universal.

This metaphor of death as friend, lover, soul-mate comes across powerfully in one of his songs, reminding us of St John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul”: “It is a stormy night/ and you are coming to meet me,/ o my friend, my soul-mate!// The sky weeps like/ someone in despair,/ my eyes know no sleep./ Beloved, I throw open my door/ and look out again and again./ O my friend, my soul-mate!”

The main idea of La noche oscura del alma refers to the painful experience one must endure when seeking to grow spiritually and unite with God. In his poem, Tagore turns the concept on its head: “…in what depth of darkness/ are you coming across, o my friend, my soul-mate!”[13] It is not Tagore who is suffering alone, but God, too, in coming to him.

In Gitanjali one encounters Tagore’s ‘true self’ as he pointed out in a letter to William Rothenstein: “These poems of mine are very different from other literary productions of the kind. They are revelations of my true self. The literary man was a mere amanuensis – very often knowing nothing of the true meaning of what he was writing.”[14] There is no doubt that Gitanjali is the work of a deeply spiritual man. In poem after poem in his Song Offerings, he expresses his innermost thoughts as if in a confessional.

He writes with utter humility, baring his innermost self, and his utter surrender: “You’ve made me limitless … At that nectar touch of yours/ my heart has lost its edges/ and with that vast ecstasy/ words gush out.”[15] Or “I know/ That you will take the rudder/ If I let it go.// What’s to be, will of itself be:/ This struggle to steer/ Leaves me all at sea.”[16]

Tagore has been influenced by the Hindu concept of Atma (self) and Paramatma (Divine Self), the Bhakti tradition sits alongside the mysticism of Sufis, Baul singers and Vaishnavites (who view the world as a play between Krishna and Radha; Tagore was deeply influenced by poets like Jayadeva and Chaitanya), Shaivites (whose image of the cosmos is captured in Shiva’s dance) and Western Platonists. None of these influences is mutually exclusive.

The direct approach to God acknowledging His supremacy, identifying the self with the Supreme Being, the notion of God as King, or life’s journey being a search for God/ the Divine Lover – all affirm the basic equality of human beings and the acceptance of our place in the universe. Tagore brings together aspects of this transcendent reality in his poetry:

“This is my prayer to thee, my lord – strike, strike at the root of all poverty in my heart. Give me the strength to lightly bear my joys and sorrows. … Give me the strength never to disown the poor and bend my knees before insolent might. Give me the strength to raise my mind high above all daily trifles. And give me the strength to surrender to my strength to thy will with love.”[17]

 

Poetry and Spirituality

In an essay, written in 1917, Tagore wrote: “‘Know Thyself’ is not the final truth; ‘let thyself be known’ is also of great importance…. So it is that my inner religion fails to lock itself up within itself – it must necessarily go on making itself known to the outside in various ways that are both apparent and still not apparent to me.”[18] Gitanjali may have become his way of letting himself be known to the world. Here are poems that speak of concepts like ‘who am I?’ as well as the price and burden of fame.

But he speaks essentially from the heart: “He who by my name is kept in hiding/ Within the prison of that name is dying./ Everything else by day and night forgetting,/ Towards the sky that name forever piling,/ I lose within its dark/ My own true spark.”[19] It is not enough that one is good but one must do good, thus revealing one’s true self.

It is poignant therefore when he writes: “I’m finished with shouting for attention/ Instead, soft words in the ear/ I’ll express my feelings henceforward only in songs/ I’m finished with shouting for attention.”[20] Here is a man who confesses his rejection of the world: “The necklace I’ll hang round your neck/ is my badge of defeat.”[21] Tired of the world, he aspires for some peace:  “Allow me just to sit with you for a bit,/ for a brief time merely/ Whatever work I have in hand today/ I’ll finish later/ Allow me just to sit with you for a bit.”[22] He addresses these thoughts to the Supreme Being as a lover.

The poems in the Gitanjali phase reflect a period of intense spiritual crisis and personal suffering. Tagore had suffered great personal losses – his wife died in November 1902, nine months later his daughter Renuka died of tuberculosis. In 1905 he lost his father, and in 1907 his son Samindranath died of cholera. In 1918, his eldest daughter also died of tuberculosis. There were other deaths too, much earlier in his life, he lost his mother when he was fourteen.

His sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, a couple of years older, was to become a close friend when she married his brother Jyotindranath and entered the Tagore household at the age of nine. Artistic and sensitive, she took keen interest in contemporary culture and writing, and remained a formative influence on the budding poet. In 1884 Kadambari Devi, childless, committed suicide.

Much of Tagore’s pain and anguish, grief and suffering, desire and passion were transmuted into understanding, faith and compassion. Everything has a purpose, from everything there are lessons to be learned. There are poems in Gitanjali that speak of surrender and love in such a deeply experienced manner they read like prayers.

 

“Day after day, O lord of my life, shall I stand before thee face to face.

With folded hands, O lord of all worlds, shall I stand before thee face to face.

Under thy great sky in solitude and silence, with humble heart shall I stand before thee face to face.

 In this workaday world of thine, surging with toil and struggle, among bustling crowds shall I stand before thee face to face.

And when my work will be done in this world, I king of kings, alone and speechless shall I stand before thee face to face.”[23] 

 

Indeed, passages from Gitanjali are used in Unitarian worship to this day. The hymn, ‘Now I Recall my Childhood’ in the British Unitarian hymnal, Hymns for Living, is based on Gitanjali 97, ‘When my play was with thee I never questioned who thou wert.’[24]

The connection that Tagore makes between poetry and spirituality/ self-realization is not new. In the classical Sanskrit tradition, poetry was recognized as a form of knowledge, (vidyā), in addition to its significance as an art (kalā), alamkāra, ornamentation, shringara, riti, style. Tagore places himself at the heart of such a tradition when he identifies the perfect poem as being “the kabyer kalebar, or ‘poetic body’, in which metre, rhyme and language are fitted together in a decorous and harmonious way,” and “combined with jnana (knowledge) and bhava (feeling).”[25]

Tagore’s best known poem expresses his ideas of life and poetry admirably:

 

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up

into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

into the dreary sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by

thee into ever-widening thought and action –

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”[26]

 

Cherishing Diversity

It would be limiting to think of Tagore’s poetry as being simply ‘high-minded’. His deep spiritual foundations freed him to think clearly, explore unreservedly his life and world. While the range of his achievements are astonishingly diverse, within his poetry too one encounters an extraordinary range – he is a great love poet, he writes movingly about loneliness and bereavement. He is a poet with a keen insight into the psychology of children, he instinctively understood women, and empathised deeply with the oppressed and those less fortunate.

Faced with death and loneliness early in life, Tagore wrote in “The Suicide of a Star” (1882), a poem most likely triggered by the suicide of Kadambari Devi: “A burning lump of coal, to hide its dark heart, / maintains a continuous laughter./ The more it laughs, the more it burns.”[27] In “Invocation to Sorrow,” he confesses: “Oh, how lonely this heart is!/ Just do this, nothing else:/ come close, life my heart’s face,/ set your eyes on it/ and gaze./ This homeless heart/ wants a companion/ that’s all…”[28] He could be writing about himself as much as his sister-in-law or about any human in need of love.

The concept of the homeless heart can also be traced to Bengal’s Baul singers who were wandering minstrels singing of their search for and love of God. According to Dyson, this poem may have been written while his brother and sister-in-law were away on holiday. There existed a strong bond between her and Tagore, and it is through these poems one appreciates the loneliness of a woman when she enters her husbands’ home as a bride.

In “Endless Death” composed a year later, he asks: “Life, is it then a name for a handful of deaths – / an aggregate of dyings?/ Then a moment’s a cluster of a hundred trivial deaths – so much fuss over a naming!/ As death grows, so will life.”[29] In “Desire,” he acknowledges: “I think continually: where is she today?”

Not having told her his innermost thoughts, he writes: “Ah, how long she was near me, and I said nothing!/ And the days went by, one after another./ Laughter and jokes, throwing words at each other/ within them lurked the heart’s intended hints.” Tagore speaks of “two minds could spend an eternal night together – / in the sky no laughter, no sound, no sense of direction,/ just four loving eyes waking like four stars!”[30]

By the time Tagore wrote this he was married, and in two poems titled “Breasts” No 2 and “The Kiss”, both written in 1886, he expressed his delight in the sexual discovery of his adolescent wife. “The Kiss” especially strikes the reader as being modern and contemporary in its conceit:

 

“Lips’ language to lips’ ears.

Two drinking each other’s heart, it seems.

Two roving loves who have left home,

pilgrims to the confluence of lips.

Two waves rise by the law of hope

to break and die on two sets of lips.

Two wild desires craving each other

meet at last at the body’s limits.

Love’s writing a sing in dainty letters,

layers of kiss-calligraphy on lips.

Plucking flowers from two sets of lips

perhaps to thread then into a chain later.

This sweet union of lips

is the red marriage-bed of a pair of smiles.”[31]

 

In “The Amatory Conversation of a Young Bengali Couple,” Tagore explores the relationship between a married-couple, on their wedding night, when the bride cries: “I want to sleep with my Nan.”[32] This humorous poem is also a fine piece of social satire on the customary child-marriages common in India. In 1883, Tagore married the ten year old Mrinalini. Taking into account his experience of his older brother’s married life, Tagore struggled not only with his own child marriage but also that of his daughters.

Regardless of his personal objections, he was powerless to go against tradition as long as his father was alive. However, the deaths of his sister-in-law, his wife and his eldest daughter left him with a deep sense of guilt and remorse. These deaths merged into a profound sense of loss enhancing his appreciation and understanding of the plight of women. Women played a key role in Tagore’s life – both by their presence and absence.

Tagore’s relationships with women, apart from his wife of course, were platonic. In “Straightforward,” Tagore expresses with a refreshing directness the power of sexual desire. The refrain – “This love between us two/ is a straightforward affair.” – appears at the end of the first two paragraphs. It becomes – “Our couplings in springtime/ are straightforward affairs.” – in the next two verses, and ends with “But this union, love,/ is a straightforward affair!” He captures powerfully both the innocence and experience of love fully realised.[33]

Tagore’s ability to understand and represent a child’s point of view is an essential aspect of the man. In “Remembering” he writes poignantly about the loss of his own mother: “I don’t remember my mother./ Only this: when I sit by the window/ of my bedroom/ and look at the far blue sky,/ it seems to me my mother’s looking at me/ with steady eyes./ Long ago she used to hold me on her lap/ and look at my face./ That’s the look she has left/ in all the sky.”[34]

In “An Offer of Help,” (Shishu) a child asks his mother: “What’s the matter today?/ Haven’t you had a letter from Dad?” And then offers to write a letter himself if she gets him paper and pen. “You’ll see, I’ll make no mistakes;/ from ka and kha to cerebral na/ I’ll write Dad’s letter for him, I promise!”[35] In “Hide-and-Seek” the child imagines turning into a champa flower, yet all the time his attention is on the mother. The child does not for a moment imagine leaving his mother. The idealism and realism that children display is not lost in the man. The evocation of the child in his works reminds us of Wordsworth’s “The Child is father of the man.”

In Tagore, the connection between mother, nature, child, man is seamless. It may have something to do with the influence of the bhakti tradition where God becomes a mother, father, a child, a lover – not just a lord and master. In a poem, from Naibedya, Tagore describes “this unknown, unbounded/ mystery” as “entirely familiar/ as my mother’s breast, very much mine./ Unmanifest, beyond cognition, this awesome power/ has, to my eyes, assumed the shape of a mother.”[36] Tagore’s poetic utterances spring from a tradition which is familiar with the worship of God as Mother. The most important annual festival in the Bengali calendar is that of Durga, who is worshipped as a Supreme Mother.

The many references to nature, the seasons, especially the monsoons, in Tagore’s poetry remind us of Kalidasa. But Tagore’s use of nature imagery is startlingly original and thus contemporary. Lines like – “… the wind/ idly prattling on a bed of leaves”[37]; “The wind blew from the east, my home’s direction/ like the sighing of distant relatives who missed me”[38]; “On either side stood a /young kadamba tree – / growing like sons”[39]; or describing a boy, an orphan, “like a weed that springs up by a broken fence,/ not tended by a gardener,/ receiving sunlight, gusts of wind, rain,/ insects, dust and grit;/ which sometimes a goat crops off/ or a cow tramples down/ which doesn’t die, gets tougher,/ with a fatter stem/ and shiny green leaves”[40] – reveal the poet’s skills in capturing life in all its hues.

In Patraput, on discovering a wild flower, whose name is unknown, he writes: “It belongs to the universe’s infinite unfamiliar wing, / where the sky’s nameless stars also belong.” He names it “Peyali, Miss Cup” and goes on to add: “it enjoys the unspotted freedom that comes/ from not being cared for, not being bound by caste./ It’s a Baul, living on society’s edge.”[41] In “Tamarind Flower,” Tagore refers to an aged tamarind tree standing “like a guardian-god/ or an old family servant/ as ancient as Great-grandfather.”[42] His use of imagery is refreshingly new as he invites the reader to examine things in light of this new reality.

In “Earth”, Tagore writes: “Take me back/ to the centre of that wholeness, whence continually/ life germinates in a hundred thousand ways/ … where the mind flows in torrents of ideas and emotions … / I wish/ to taste that various, universal bliss/ in one moment, all elements together. / united with all.”[43] His intensely inclusive vision transforms all experience. But that perception is far from passive. In “Against Meditative Knowledge,” he emphasizes the need for action: “Those who wish to sit, shut their eyes,/ and meditate to know if the world’s true or lies,/ may do so. It’s their choice. But I meanwhile/ with hungry eyes that can’t be satisfied/ shall take a look at the world in broad daylight.”[44]

Similarly, in “Play”, he concludes with the profound observation: “Well, maybe it’s play, but one which we must join/ …/ What would be the point of leaving it all and sitting/ silently in a dark corner of the self?/ Know that you are but a child in this vast world,/ in the cradle of infinite time, in the sky’s playground:/ you think you know it all, but you know nothing!/ Pick it up – with faith, humility, love –/ that grand toy – coloured, musical, scented –/ which your mother’s given you. Well, maybe it’s dust!/ So what? Isn’t it dust beyond compare?/ Prematurely senile, don’t mope, sitting alone:/ you won’t be an adult till you join the merry-go-round!”[45]

Many strands – philosophical, religious, social, political, educational, ethical and ecological – went into the making of Tagore’s world. He absorbed myriad influences and integrated them into a personal vision. He could move from the literal to the symbolic, from a tiny detail to the vast cosmos, his poetry reflecting the Upanishadic concept of the seamless unity of all creation. He inhabited both the centre and the edge.

His poetry is without labels, simply recording an authentic spiritual journey that enriches his readers. In Gitanjali, Tagore wrote: “I’m here merely to sing your songs/ Allow me a tiny place at your court to do so/ I’m here merely to sing your songs.”[46] His world-view as expressed in his poetry is simple, accessible; it would benefit us to see the world as he did.

Tagore may not have been a systematic philosopher, but he was of considerable contemporary relevance as a thinker. He was prophetic when he wrote: “A hundred years from today/ who are you, sitting, reading a poem of mine,/ under curiosity’s sway –/ a hundred years from today?”[47] A hundred years from now there will be others reading his work, interpreting it in their own way, admiring the man and the culture that nourished such a rich flowering.

 

Bibliographical References

1. John Bayley, ‘Intimate precision’, Poetry Review (UK), Spring 1993, 22.
2. Satish Kumar, ‘Editorial,’ Resurgence, 266 (2011), 1.
3. Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, trans. by William Radice (India: Penguin Books, 2011), p. lxxvi.

4. Rabindranath Tagore, I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, selected and translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson (UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2010), p. 38.
5. Ibid, pp. 43-44.

6. Ian Jack, ‘Rabindranath Tagore was a global phenomenon, so why is he neglected?’, The Guardian, 7 May 2011.

7. I Won’t Let You Go, Blurb on back cover.

8. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 99.

9. I Won’t Let You Go, pp. 101-102.

10. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 105.

11. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 58.

12. Gitanjali, pp. 92-3.

13. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 254.
14. Gitanjali, p. xv.

15. Gitanjali, p. 7.

16. Gitanjali, p. 64.

17. Gitanjali, p. 96.

18. Gitanjali, p. lxxvii. From Tagore’s essay Of Myself (Atmaparichay)

19. Gitanjali, p. 44.

20. Gitanjali, p. 5.

21. Gitanjali, p. 8.

22. Gitanjali, p. 51.

23. Gitanjali, p. 83.

24. Hymns for Living (Lindsey press, 2001 reprint), No 299. See Gitanjali, pp. xxxvi-ii.

25. Gitanjali, p. lxvi.

26. Gitanjali, p. 95.

27. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 80.

28. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 82.

29. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 83.

30. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 87.

31. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 85.

32. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 90.

33. I Won’t Let You Go, pp. 141-142.

34. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 166.

35. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 146.

36. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 143.

37. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 108.

38. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 88.

39. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 137.

40. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 179-180.

41. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 216.

42. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 222.

43. I Won’t Let You Go, pp. 101-102.

44. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 118.

45. I Won’t Let You Go, p. 104.

46. Gitanjali, p. 21.

47. I Won’t Let You Go, pp.111-112.

 


About Shanta Acharya

Born and educated in Cuttack, Orissa, India, Shanta Acharya won a scholarship to Oxford, and was among the first batch of women admitted to Worcester College. A recipient of the Violet Vaughan Morgan Fellowship, she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy for her research on Ralph Waldo Emerson.

She was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University before moving to work in the City in London. The author of ten books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance.

Founder of Poetry in the House in 1996, Shanta has hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate, in London. In addition to her philanthropic activities, she has served twice on the board of trustees of the Poetry Society in the UK.

 

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