There lived a pair of eyes in whose serenity the dawn and dusk merged, in whose voice the wise found their nerves, in whose heart even hatred turned love and in whose thoughts, a nation found their own.
Arguably one of the finest poets of all times, Rabindranath Tagore was an authorial voice in the pre-independence era of India. Born in 1861 and having found his calling at the tender age of eight, Tagore chiselled his artistic bent to perfection by diligently harbouring an observant and free stream of thought in his heart. In his lifespan of 80 years, he wrote many poems, dramas and novellas, which bore his distinct trademark: fresh, non-conformist, optimistic, magical. He was also a prolific composer of more than 2000 pieces of music which came to be known as “Rabindra Sangeet” and has since been rendered as a dedicated stream of Indian Classical Music.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non – European to receive the honour. Post this, his thought-provoking works found way into many bourgeois alleys and proletarian corridors across the world.
Gitanjali is his most famous work. The word’s literal meaning is “Song Offerings”. The original Bengali Gitanjali had 157 poems. But when the translated version in English was published in 1912 by the India Society of London, it took only 50 poems from the original text. The remaining 53 poems were taken from his other works. This edition has an introduction by W B Yeats along with excerpts of prologues by people who undertook Gitanjali’s French, Portuguese and Japanese translations. It also contains Tagore’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.
Written as an Ode to the Supreme Master, these 103 poems highlight the many realizations Tagore had under the crimson sky, casting his forlorn eye and pensive heart.
The four poems I am sharing in this review are my favorite poems of the collection which may or may not be his most popular ones.
Passionately championing the dream that all his countrymen shared at that point in time, he etches out in this beautiful poem the country he wants to breathe in:
“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 towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert 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.” (#35)
His keen observation of little blips that can disturb the intimacy that lovers seek in their candid rendezvous is captured in these sparkling lines:
“My song has put off her adornments.
She has no pride of dress and decoration.
Ornaments would mar our union;
they would come between thee and me;
their jingling would drown our whispers…” (#7)
Deeply drunk in the bounty of nature and ever slipping to hold a fulsome slice of this luscious being, he sings with a mesmerized heart, about its many beautiful children:
“The sleep that flits the baby’s eyes –
does anybody know from where it comes?
Yes, there is a rumour that it has its dwelling where,
in the fairy village among shadows of the forest
dimly lit with glow worms, there hang two timid buds
of enchantment. From there
it comes to kiss baby’s eyes.
The smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he sleeps –
Does anybody know where it was born?
Yes, there is rumour that a young pale beam
of a crescent moon touched the edge of a vanishing
autumn cloud, and there the smile was first born
in the dream of a dew-washed morning –
the smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he sleeps.
The sweet, soft freshness that blooms on baby’s limbs –
Does anybody know where it was hidden so long?
Yes, when the mother was a young girl it lay
pervading in her heart in tender and silent mystery
of love – the sweet, soft freshness that
has bloomed on baby’s limbs.” (#61)
At the swoop of death, his philosophical eye merges the two worlds into one, equating their warmth to that of a mother:
“I was not aware of the moment when
I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open
out into this vast mystery
like a bud in the forest at midnight !
When in the morning I looked upon the light
I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world,
that the inscrutable without name and form
had taken me in its arms
in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear
as ever known to me. And because I love this life,
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when
from the right breast the mother takes it away,
in the very next moment to find
in the left one its consolation.” (#95)
Tagore’s scintillating and diverse oeuvre remains unmatched by many a poets who succeeded him. He inspired millions to undertake the baton of chasing dreams irrespective of their colours of existence. And he continues to be a silent source of encouragement to people who attempt to see something beautiful in everything. Yes, everything.
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