Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gitanjali

YEAT’s Introduction to Gitanjali:

"Gitanjali," or Song Offerings, is a collection of poems translated by the author, Rabindranath Tagore, from the original Bengali. This collection won the Nobel prize for Tagore in 1913. This volume includes the original introduction by William Butler Yeats that accompanied the 1911 English language version. "Gitanjali" is a collection of over 100 inspirational poems by India's greatest poet.


An introduction by poet W. B. Yeats was added to the second edition of Song Offerings. Yeats wrote, (this volume has) "stirred my blood as nothing has for years. . . ." He candidly informed the readers, "I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics--which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention—display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my live long. Then, after describing the Indian culture which considered an important facilitating factor behind the sublime poetry of Rabindranath, Yeats stated, "The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble."

Yeats in his introduction to these ‘offerings’ translated by the poet himself from several of his Bengali volumes of poetry like Gitimalya and Naibedya refers to the poems being embedded in the rich Indian culture and ancient tradition ‘where poetry and religion are the same thing’.iii (Yeats xi-xii) With the shadows of an impending World War gathering its cumulative fury, these poems encapsulated a simple faith in man and divinity, a refuge from the crass materialism that was engulfing the world. It is the spirit of the poems that appealed to an entire generation, affording solace and sustenance, faith and hope by rediscovering truth and beauty in the world around.

W.B. Yeats and Rabindranath Tagore have a very strong historical and biographical relationship revolving around the fact that Tagore's first champion in the west -- the person most responsible for his initial success outside of India -- was Yeats. After reading some of Tagore's self-translated poems, Yeats was instrumental in getting the collection published, in spreading the word about Tagore in the literary circles in London. Perhaps most importantly, Yeats wrote the introduction to Tagore's Gitanjali, which first appeared in 1913.

The introduction is notable for a number of reasons, one of which is of course its ecstatic enthusiasm for a writer that no one in England had ever heard of. The introductionmay also be problematic in certain ways, especially insofar as it represents Tagore as culturally other and, as outside of history.  Before exploring how this is the case, however, it might be useful to look at the preface in some more detail. To begin with, Yeats performs a kind of cultural translation of Tagore, and locates him in a context that will be familiar to English readers. Yeats' aim is to make Tagore seem respectable, and as such it is absolutely crucial that the Indian he speaks to about Tagore be modern in some way -- and he is, "a distinguished Bengali doctor of medicine." But the first voice in Yeats' introduction is his own, and it is quite emphatically approving. Yeats never hesitated to dismiss writing he didn't like, even if others around him approved of it, and yet he begins with Tagore as follows:

Though these translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing has for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveller will not tell me. Note that Yeats' attraction to Tagore's poetry is directly linked to a desire to know more about Tagore the man. Is it simply a natural desire to know more about the poet, out of a sense of simple admiration, or is it something more -- is it possible that the poems are only interesting insofar as they are attached to their author? [A general question about authorship, not limited to this particular pair of writers: does it matter who the author of a given text is? Or are we merely interested in the texts they've produced? Why does biography matter?  …. Perhaps it matters because it can in fact help us to read.]
Through the Bengali doctor, Yeats also puts Tagore in a religious context right away: A little while ago he [Tagore] was to read divine service in one of our churches -- we of the Brahmo Samaj use your word "church" in English.

In part this is important because it names Tagore as a person who practices his religion in a "church," a religious body that is specifically modeled after the Christian mold, even if its practitioners would not identify as Christian. It may seem like an incidental reference, but in a twenty page introduction Yeats spared on the details of Tagore's life as an Indian. In mentioning the Brahmo Samaj, Yeats is hitting on a major biographical point about Tagore. Tagore's family helped to found a reformist sect of Hinduism in Bengal, known as the BrahmoSamaj, which by the late nineteenth century had several thousand followers, mainly from that region. The members of the BrahmoSamaj (or the Brahmoists) were the elites of the state. Many of them studied in English missionary schools, and worked closely with the British administration (by the early twentieth century the majority of administrative jobs in the vast English administrative apparatus in India were actually held by Indians).

The Brahmo Samaj emerged as a response to the pressure of British unitarian missionaries, who attempted to prove to the Indians that Christianity was a more rational and coherent faith than the complex array of rituals, beliefs, and religious texts that made up Hinduism. The Brahmoists distilled Hindu pantheism with a more monotheistic emphasis on "Brahma"; they attempted to abolish the "irrational" social hierarchy of the caste system; and they designed a new kind of temple that strongly resembled protestant churches. A Christianizing of Hinduism -- or an Indianizing of Christianity.

By the time Tagore began to write (1880s-1930s), the Brahmo Samaj was also a hotbed for anti-British sentiments. The climate in Bengal was intensely political, and Tagore was for a time a leading figure in the emerging movement for Indian independence. By 1910 Tagore had, however, distanced himself from nationalist politics that was becoming more and more oriented towards the masses (and less an affair of the elite classes).
Nevertheless, the fact that Tagore was in many ways a political person brings us to a question about the nature of Yeats' representation of him.

'In your country is there much propagandist writing, much criticism? We have to do so much, especially in my own country, that our minds gradually cease to be creative, and yet we cannot help it. If our life was not a continual warfare, we would not have taste, we would not find hearers and readers.

Note that Yeats is here making two points: one about political rhetoric and propaganda, and another about the endless debates over aesthetics and literary value that circulated in Yeats' circle. Yeats' assumption throughout his introduction is that Tagore's writing is apolitical and outside of the mundane realm of daily life, the product of a soul untarnished by mediocrity:

These verses will not lie in little well-printed books with indolent hands that they may sigh over a life without meaning, which is yet all they can know of life, or be carried about by students at the university when the true work of life begins, but as the generations pass, traveller will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon the rivers.

Each of Yeats' fantasies about the life of Tagore's poems (which in many ways echoes the aspirations he had for the effect of his own work on his readers) attempts to move Tagore out of a given place and away from a given time. To be more specific, Yeats moves Tagore outside of and away from the present moment; all of the names of writers to whom Yeats compares Tagore are of the Renaissance, the medieval period, or antiquity. Yeats, we might say, wants to turn Tagore into a kind of medieval sage, playing a lute by a river.
And yet it's not that simple. Part of what Yeats finds so appealing is the accessibility of the writing, the sense of spiritual immediacy even as he continues to rely upon the assumption that the culture of the poet is in fact alien to the west:

A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image
For Yeats, Tagore's writing is at once "immeasurably strange" and directly reflective of the western culture he himself seems so ambivalent about. Tagore is both in and out of the idea of the ideal poet Yeats is attempting to figure in this introduction; he is both a "reflection" of western aesthetic values [Yeats is looking in the mirror; all of the ecstatic praise he lavishes on Tagore he also means, therefore, to lavish on himself!], and a kind of prism through which we might perceive something other.

Though Yeats does at moments reveal his desire to find in Tagore a reflection of the European self-image, in general it is clear that Yeats wants Tagore to be more mystical than Tagore the person is; he wants Tagore to be a kind of Oriental sage or saint, all spirit and no body. But this image of a saint, which was precisely what made Tagore so marketable throughout Europe and America in the 1910s, bore little resemblance to Tagore in his home environment. [Of course, we can't forget the fact that to a large extent Tagore specifically chose and exploited this "Oriental" image of himself, downplaying his worldly investments in politics, in favor of the attributes of a saint. He did, after all, choose to translate the generally apolitical poems of Gitanjali to make his entrée onto the western scene -- rather than one of the political novels he had written and published in Bengali in the previous decade.

Rather than rejecting modernity, Tagore was a person passionately committed to public debate and print culture. Most critics today think of him as first and foremost a novelist rather than a poet. Moreover, in his Bengali language writings, Tagore was a master stylist, who used many radical, expressly modernist methods, in his Bengali language texts. All of this, however, drops out in the translated Tagore that we have in Gitanjali.
This brings us to the poems -- what do we do with them? Many of them, in my opinion, do not carry much weight in English. Also, the fact that Tagore chooses to translate his pronouns using archaic forms ("thou" and "thy" instead of you and your), makes the language seem at times unpleasantly lofty. Still, there are some startling bits of language. For instance, take poem 96:

When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.
And there may be others? [Class?]

But what I think is most striking, and perhaps most specifically modernist about the poems, is the ongoing theme of the rejection of institutional, ritualized religion that we find in a number of them. Most emphatically.
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!

He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path-maker is breaking stones. He is with them in the sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!

Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all forever.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside the flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.

In some ways, poem XI is simply arguing against asceticism, against the isolation of human experience from the everyday and natural world. It is a rhetoric familiar from Romanticism – one sees here traces of William Blake’s radicalism, for instance. But the details of the Hindu ritual (“chanting and singing and telling of beads”), and the spatial opposition between the “dark corner of a temple” and the open field are important because they particular to the Hindu context – something Yeats does not address. Interestingly, the opposition here is not that of a hard asceticism contrasted with a soft Romanticism. Rather, it is posed as the distinction between “flowers and incense” and the “hard ground,” the life of everyday toil. It is not nature that intoxicates and is “soft,” but the ascetic life, caged by mind-numbing ritual.

Tagore, in other words, is inviting the addressee of the poem to come into the world, to experience life as she (?) or he knows it, rather than remain caged up in the hard world of beads and incense. If it's an appeal to the reader/listener to come into a version of modernity, it's a very different kind of image than the bleak modernism of Yeats or Eliot.

It might be worth commenting for a moment on Eliot, specifically the final 30 lines or so of the Waste Land. Why, many people have asked, does Eliot turn at the climax of his poem to a seemingly obscure set of terms and images derived from Indian geography (the Ganges River [Ganga]), and Hindu scripture (the Upanishads)?
Perhaps it is a gesture somewhat similar to the double-gesture Yeats is making in his introduction to Tagore's Gitanjali. That is to say, Eliot is using the example of Hindu religion and philosophy to articulate an idea both alien to the European landscape of his poem, and yet somehow natural to it. The emphasis on the river echoes other parts of the poem that figure the Thames (and this might also remind us of the two rivers in Heart of Darkness: the Thames and the Congo -- connected waterways):

Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves  [note the reference to the jungle in leaves]
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant. [Himalayas -- obscure word]
The jungle crouched, humped in silence [note the anthropomorphism of the Jungle]

In some ways the weaving of eastern and western ideas is embedded in etymology here. The root of the three Sanskrit words, echoed in all-caps several times in these final lines, is exactly the same Indo-European root as the word that produces the English word "data" and "mandatory." [Latin: Do, Dare] "Give" in Sanskrit is also give in English. It may seem obscure of Eliot to go in this direction (is it any more obscure than Greek, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and French?), but the buried meaning in this particular language underscores interconnectedness and integration rather than disharmony or fragmentation.

In terms of imagery, note the similarity to the image of the west: sunken, limp. Strangely sexualized… infertility.The larger arc of the passage: If the Ganga is waiting for rain, does the rain begin to fall?

Perhaps the idea of shantih -- peace ("the peace which passeth understanding" actually from Job 37:5) -- is not so much an image of a redemptive rain, signifying completion, as it is a kind of stoppage or final renunciation.
Perhaps the idea of "shantih," which Eliot finds untranslatable, is one he means to apply or direct towards the western world he has been attempting to represent. An ancient, "other" term for modernity, and for Europe.
Rabindranath Tagore was born on May 7, 1861 in Calcutta, India. He attended University College, at London for one year before being called back to India by his father in 1880. During the first 51 years of his life, he achieved some success in the Calcutta area of India with his many stories, songs, and plays. His short stories were published monthly in a friend's magazine and he played the lead role in a few of the public performances of his plays. While returning to England in 1912, he began translating his latest selections of poems, Gitanjali, into English. It was published in September 1912 in a limited edition by the India Society in London. In 1913, he received the Nobel Prize for literature.

He was the first non-westerner to receive the honor. In 1915, he was knighted by King George V, but Tagore renounced his knighthood in 1919 following the Amritsar massacre of 400 Indian demonstrators by British troops. He primarily worked in Bengali, but after his success with Gitanjali, he translated many of his other works into English. He wrote over one thousand poems; eight volumes of short stories; almost two dozen plays and play-lets; eight novels; and many books and essays on philosophy, religion, education and social topics. He also composed more than two thousand songs, both the music and lyrics. Two of them became the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. He died on August 7, 1941 at the age of 80.

In his 1940 memorial lecture in Dublin, T. S. Eliot pronounced Yeats "one of those few whose history is the history of their own time, who are a part of the consciousness of an age which cannot be understood without them." Modern readers have increasingly agreed, and some now view Yeats even more than Eliot as the greatest modern poet in our language. Son of the painter John Butler Yeats, the poet divided his early years among Dublin, London, and the port of Sligo in western Ireland. Sligo furnished many of the familiar places in his poetry, among them the mountain Ben Bulben and the lake isle of Innisfree. Important influences on his early adulthood included his father, the writer and artist William Morris, the nationalist leader John O'Leary, and the occultist Madame Blavatsky.

In 1889 he met the beautiful actress and Irish nationalist Maud Gonne; his long and frustrated love for her (she refused to marry him) would inspire some of his best work. Often and mistakenly viewed as merely a dreamy Celtic twilight, Yeats's work in the 1890s involved a complex attempt to unite his poetic, nationalist, and occult interests in line with his desire to "hammer [his] thoughts into unity." By the turn of the century, Yeats was immersed in the work with the Irish dramatic movement that would culminate in the founding of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 as a national theater for Ireland. Partly as a result of his theatrical experience, his poetry after 1900 began a complex "movement downwards upon life" fully evident in the Responsibilities volume of 1914. After that he published the extraordinary series of great volumes, all written after age 50, that continued until the end of his career. Widely read in various literary and philosophic traditions, Yeats owed his greatest debt to romantic poetry and once described himself, along with his coworkers John Synge and Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory, as a "last romantic." Yet he remained resolutely Irish as well and presented in his verse a persona bearing a subtle, idealized relationship to his everyday self. Political events such as the Easter Rising and the Irish civil war found their way into his poetry, as did personal ones such as marriage to the Englishwoman Georgiana "Georgie" Hyde-Lees in 1917, the birth of his children, and his sometime home in the Norman tower at Ballylee. So, too, did his increasing status as a public man, which included both the Nobel Prize in 1923 and a term as senator of the Irish Free State (1922--28).

Yeats's disparate activities led to a lifelong quest for what he called "unity of being," which he pursued by "antinomies," or opposites. These included action and contemplation, life and art, fair and foul, and other famous pairs from his poetry. The most original poet of his age, he was also in ways the most traditional, and certainly the most substantial. His varied literary output included not only poems and plays but an array of prose forms such as essays, philosophy, fiction, reviews, speeches, and editions of folk and literary material. He also frequently revised his own poems, which exist in various published texts helpfully charted in the Variorum edition (1957).

At one level it is not particularly hard to see that his native readers can get something from Tagore’s writings, especially his poems and songs, that would be missed by those who do not read Bengali. Even Yeats, his biggest promoter in the English-speaking world, did not like Tagore’s own English translations. “Tagore does not know English,” Yeats declared, adding a little theory to his diagnosis, as he often did: “No Indian knows English.”

Yeats was very willing to work with Tagore to overcome that handicap in the production of the English version of Gitanjali, though there are some serious problems with the Yeats-assisted translations as well. The more general obstacle to the appreciation of Tagore in English surely comes from the fact that poetry is notoriously difficult to translate. Even with the best effort and talent, it can be hard—if not impossible—to preserve the magic of poetry as it is transplanted from one language to another. Anyone who knows Tagore’s poems in Bengali would typically find it difficult to be really satisfied with any translation, no matter how good. To this impediment must be added the fact that Tagore’s poetry, which often takes the form of songs in an innovative style of lyrical singing, called Rabindrasangeet, has transformed popular Bengali music with its particular combination of reflective language and compatible tunes.
Tagore reshaped love:

Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali: রবীন্দ্রনাথঠাকুর) sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; his seemingly mesmeric personality, flowing hair, and other-worldly dress earned him a prophet-like reputation in the West. His "elegant prose and magical poetry" remain largely unknown outside Bengal. Tagore introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding creative artist of modern India.

Gitanjali includes a large collection of poems or song lyrics that are related to religion, while in The Gardener presented poems are love and talk about love and life. These books have been translated from Bengali to English, the translation is not always literal, some of the original verses are redundant, and the content of some of them is paraphrased.

Against the backdrop of life in Bengal region, these short love poems penetrate the most - cherished places in the soul of every man, and give a sense of feelings that we experienced, but we never managed to express. That is why it is worth to read these verses.

The comparison between the two books is clear - from sensual love poems of The Gardener, to prayers in Gitanjali. Some of the poems include topics related to nature, but here the spiritual present, albeit subtly, from pastoral to the divine. The verses are considered songs of devotion, of love, of that passion that leads us to describe my feelings, and that can only be described in one - single verse.

Both books have a deep human sense - the ability to feel love and favor of God toward us, while praying or reading any of the prayers of Gitanjali, or the ability to express your feelings to a loved one for us thanks to the poems in The Gardener.

Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light! Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth. The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light. The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in profusion. Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, and gladness without measure. The heaven's river has drowned its banks and the flood of joy is abroad. THE GARDENER Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence? I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds. Open your doors and look abroad. From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before. In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across an hundred years.

W.B. YEATS September 1912

I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics---which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention---display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my live long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes. A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble. If the civilization of Bengal remains unbroken, if that common mind which---as one divines---runs through all, is not, as with us, broken into a dozen minds that know nothing of each other, something even of what is most subtle in these verses will have come, in a few generations, to the beggar on the roads. When there was but one mind in England, Chaucer wrote his Troilus and Cressida, and thought he had written to be read, or to be read out---for our time was coming on apace---he was sung by minstrels for a while. Rabindranath Tagore, like Chaucer's forerunners, writes music for his words, and one understands at every moment that he is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in his passion, so full of surprise, because he is doing something which has never seemed strange, unnatural, or in need of defense. These verses will not lie in little well-printed books upon ladies' tables, who turn the pages with indolent hands that they may sigh over a life without meaning, which is yet all they can know of life, or be carried by students at the university to be laid aside when the work of life begins, but, as the generations pass, travellers will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon the rivers. Lovers, while they await one another, shall find, in murmuring them, this love of God a magic gulf wherein their own more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth. At every moment the heart of this poet flows outward to these without derogation or condescension, for it has known that they will understand; and it has filled itself with the circumstance of their lives. The traveller in the read-brown clothes that he wears that dust may not show upon him, the girl searching in her bed for the petals fallen from the wreath of her royal lover, the servant or the bride awaiting the master's home-coming in the empty house, are images of the heart turning to God. Flowers and rivers, the blowing of conch shells, the heavy rain of the Indian July, or the moods of that heart in union or in separation; and a man sitting in a boat upon a river playing lute, like one of those figures full of mysterious meaning in a Chinese picture, is God Himself. A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had walked in Rossetti's willow wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream.

Since the Renaissance the writing of European saints---however familiar their metaphor and the general structure of their thought---has ceased to hold our attention. We know that we must at last forsake the world, and we are accustomed in moments of weariness or exaltation to consider a voluntary forsaking; but how can we, who have read so much poetry, seen so many paintings, listened to so much music, where the cry of the flesh and the cry of the soul seems one, forsake it harshly and rudely? What have we in common with St. Bernard covering his eyes that they may not dwell upon the beauty of the lakes of Switzerland, or with the violent rhetoric of the Book of Revelations? We would, if we might, find, as in this book, words full of courtesy. `I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers! I bow to you all and take my departure. Here I give back the keys of my door---and I give up all claims to my house. I only ask for last kind words from you. We were neighbors for long, but I received more than I could give. Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.' And it is our own mood, when it is furthest from `a Kempis or John of the Cross, that cries, `And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.' Yet it is not only in our thoughts of the parting that this book fathoms all. We had not known that we loved God, hardly it may be that we believed in Him; yet looking backward upon our life we discover, in our exploration of the pathways of woods, in our delight in the lonely places of hills, in that mysterious claim that we have made, unavailingly on the woman that we have loved, the emotion that created this insidious sweetness. `Entering my heart unbidden even as one of the common crowd, unknown to me, my king, thou didst press the signet of eternity upon many a fleeting moment.' This is no longer the sanctity of the cell and of the scourge; being but a lifting up, as it were, into a greater intensity of the mood of the painter, painting the dust and the sunlight, and we go for a like voice to St. Francis and to William Blake who have seemed so alien in our violent history.

We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design, just as we fight and make money and fill our heads with politics---all dull things in the doing---while Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity. He often seems to contrast life with that of those who have loved more after our fashion, and have more seeming weight in the world, and always humbly as though he were only sure his way is best for him: `Men going home glance at me and smile and fill me with shame. I sit like a beggar maid, drawing my skirt over my face, and when they ask me, what it is I want, I drop my eyes and answer them not.' At another time, remembering how his life had once a different shape, he will say, `Many an hour I have spent in the strife of the good and the evil, but now it is the pleasure of my playmate of the empty days to draw my heart on to him; and I know not why this sudden call to what useless inconsequence.' An innocence, a simplicity that one does not find elsewhere in literature makes the birds and the leaves seem as near to him as they are near to children, and the changes of the seasons great events as before our thoughts had arisen between them and us. At times I wonder if he has it from the literature of Bengal or from religion, and at other times, remembering the birds alighting on his brother's hands, I find pleasure in thinking it hereditary, a mystery that was growing through the centuries like the courtesy of a Tristan or a Pelanore. Indeed, when he is speaking of children, so much a part of himself this quality seems, one is not certain that he is not also speaking of the saints, `They build their houses with sand and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds. They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.'

Rabindranath Tagore is the very heart of this country. He is the most contemporary man, and yet the most ancient too. His words are a bridge between the modern mind and the ancient-most sages of the world. In particular, Gitanjali is his greatest contribution to human evolution, to human consciousness. It is one of the rarest books that has appeared in this century. Its rarity is that it belongs to the days of the Upanishads – nearabout five thousand years before Gitanjali came into existence.

It is a miracle in the sense that Rabindranath is not a religious person in the ordinary sense. He is one of the most progressive thinkers – untraditional, unorthodox – but his greatness consists in his childlike innocence. And because of that innocence, perhaps he was able to become the vehicle of the universal spirit, in the same way as the Upanishads of old are.

Rabindranath was not a man confined to this country. He was a world traveler, educated in the West, and he was continually moving around the world in different countries – he loved to be a wanderer. He was a citizen of the universe, yet his roots were deep in this country. He may have flown far away like an eagle across the sun, but he kept on coming back to his small nest. And he never lost track of the spiritual heritage, no matter how covered with dust it may have become. He was capable of cleaning it and making it a mirror in which you can see yourself.

His poems in Gitanjali are offerings of songs to God. That is the meaning of Gitanjali: offerings of songs. He used to say, “I have nothing else to offer. I am just as poor as a bird, or as rich as a bird. I can sing a song every morning fresh and new, in gratefulness. That is my prayer.”

He never went to any temple, he never prayed in the traditional ritual way. He was born a Hindu, but it would not be right to confine him to a certain section of humanity, he was so universal. He was told many times, “Your words are so fragrant with religion, so radiant with spirituality, so alive with the unknown that even those who do not believe in anything more than matter become affected, are touched. But you never go to the temple, you never read the scriptures.”

His answer is immensely important for you. He said, “I never read the scriptures; in fact I avoid them, because I have my own experience of the divine, and I don’t want others’ words to be mixed with my original, authentic, individual experience. I want to offer God exactly what is my heartbeat. Others may have known – certainly, others have known – but their knowledge cannot be my knowledge. Only my experience can satisfy me, can fulfill my search, can give me trust in existence. I don’t want to be a believer.”

These are the words to be remembered: “I don’t want to be a believer; I want to be a knower. I don’t want to be knowledgeable; I want to be innocent enough so that existence reveals its mysteries to me. I don’t want to be worshiped as a saint.” And the fact is, that in this whole century, there was nobody else more saintly than Rabindranath Tagore – but he refused to be recognized as a saint.

He said, “I have only one desire – to be remembered as a singer of songs, as a dancer, as a poet who has offered all his potential, all his flowers of being, to the unknown divineness of existence. I don’t want to be worshiped; I consider it a humiliation… ugly, inhuman, and removed from the world completely. Every man contains God; every cloud, every tree, every ocean is full of godliness, so who is to worship whom?”

Rabindranath never went to any temple, never worshiped any God, was never, in a traditional way, a saint, but to me he is one of the greatest saints the world has known. His saintliness is expressed in each of his words.
Prem Kendra, the lines that you have quoted are very pregnant: Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them. Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.

He is saying something not only about himself, but about all human consciousness. Such people don’t speak about themselves; they speak about the very heart of all mankind.

Tagore’s poetic craftsmanship in Gitanjali:

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) was a Bengali poet, novelist, musician, painter and playwright. He is the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Though primarily recognized as a poet, Tagore also published novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. He is perhaps the only litterateur in the world who penned anthems of two countries—India and Bangladesh. He is the founder of Visva-Bharati University, one of India’s premier institutions.

Tagore wrote over one thousand poems, eight volumes of short stories, almost twodozen plays and playlets, eight novels, and many books and essays on philosophy, religion,education and social topics. Besides, he loved  Bengali music immensely. He composed more than two thousand songs and lyrics. Two of them became the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. In 1920 he even began painting. Many of his paintings can be seen in the museums today, especially in India where he is considered the greatest figure of all times.

It is enough to prove that Tagore was a renaissance man who is known throughout the world as the poet of Gitanjali.Its English translation done by Tagore himself with an Introduction by W.B. Yeatswas brought out in 1912. It is the English translation of Gitanjali that won him the prestigious Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. Precisely speaking it is a collection of songs Tagore composedbetween 1907 and 1910. The English translation is not literal and comprehensive. Besides many poems of original Bengali Gitanjali, it has several lyrics from NaivedyaKheya and Gitmalya.On casual reading Gitanjali appears to lack organic unity and the songs tend to beindependent poems. However, in the songs there is a sustained emotional, thematic unity like the sonnets of Shakespeare and that lends a note of integrity to the text. Tagore combined the traditional poetic culture with western ideas. So much so that he earned the epitaph of “The Bengali Shelley.” Like the Romantics he wrote in the common language of the people – something could not be easily accepted among the Indian critics and scholars.

Gitanjali (Bengali: গীতাঞ্জলি) is a collection of poems by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. The original Bengali collection of 157 poems was published on August 14, 1910. The English Gitanjali or Song Offerings is a collection of 103 English poems of Tagore's own English translations of his Bengali poems first published in November 1912 by the India Society of London. It contained translations of 53 poems from the original Bengali Gitanjali, as well as 50 other poems which were from his drama Achalayatan and eight other books of poetry — mainly Gitimalya (17 poems), Naivedya (15 poems) and Kheya (11 poems).

The translations were often radical, leaving out or altering large chunks of the poem and in one instance fusing two separate poems (song 95, which unifies songs 89,90 of Naivedya). The translations were undertaken prior to a visit to England in 1912, where the poems were extremely well received. In 1913, Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, largely for the English Gitanjali.

The English Gitanjali became very famous in the West, and was widely translated. The word gitanjali is composed from "gita", song, and "anjali", offering, and thus means – "An offering of songs"; but the word for offering, anjali, has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as "prayer offering of song".

Tagore expounded his views on art and poetry in his lectures on philosophy and art5published under the titles Sadhna, The Religion of an Artist, Lectures and Addresses, The Religion of Man, Personality, Creative Unity and Nationalism.He attributed high concept of aims and functions of art and poetry and in this respect he stands with the great poets and critics like Longinus, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Mathew Arnold. Besides, the Upanishads and the Sanskrit poetics influenced him greatly and he cherished a belief that art should aim at realizing a relation between the world and the soul. He said that “art is the response of man’s creative soul to the call of the Real.” The realization of harmony, of feeling of oneness with the eternal is accomplished through personality and man’s personality finds powerful expression in art and poetry. Hence the content it expresses is emotionally tinged and it enriches human life by sublimating or illuminating feeling. In this sense poetry leads us to higher and healthier ways than those of the world, and interprets to us the moods of nature and the mystery of God. Tagore rejects the concept of art for art’s sake and believes that the aim of art is to bring to light the ultimate reality. He repeatedly asserts that harmony which is the soul of poetry deals with truth by establishing an emotional relationship with it. In other words, Tagore emphasized that poetry reveals the poetic truth which is not the mass of material like the truth of science but lies in the universal relatedness. Man has “a fund of emotional energy” and poetry ennobles him and emancipates his soul from materialism which militates against beauty and goodness and creates harmony between man and ultimate reality.

Rabindranath, in Gitanjali and several other poems has sung of the relationship between our being and infinitude. In Gitanjali, Rabindranath writes: “He (God) is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path-maker is breaking the stones. He is with them in sun and shower, and his garment is covered with dust....Meet him and stand by him in toil andin the sweat of thy brow.”If in his mystical rendering of the transcendental unity, Rabindranath recalls the ideaspoetically expressed by Wordsworth, in his passionate singing of and devotion to the idea of liberty he shows an affinity of spirit with Shelley and Byron.

It is pertinent to note that Romanticism in Rabindranath is observed   in moving away from impersonal objectivity to an inwardly-felt individuality, from the old Sanskrit classical order to the new notion of intensity, from a self-conscious creative originality, from prosaic directness in expression to myth, image and symbol.
As a poet Tagore sets for himself a definite objective, that is, to sing about the tremendous mystical experiences of the sages. These experiences, which can have no rational claims, and cannot be logically understood, have an irresistible appeal for him essentially because of the unique similarity between the sensibilities of the ancient sages and that of the poet who acknowledges that “in the depth of my unconsciousness rings the cry I want thee, only thee.” (XXXVIII, p17.)  In Gitanjali he says:

“When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant my prayer that I may never lose touch of the one in the play of the many.”

Much of Tagore’s ideology came from the teaching of the Upnishads and his own beliefs that god can be found through personal purity and service to others. He stressed the need for new world order based on transnational values and ideas, and the faith in “the unity of consciousness.” Gitanjali is a great document of intuitive faith and reads like the Bhagwat-Gita on the one hand and Psalms of the Old Testament on the other. It can be a synthesis of all that is best in the mystical experiences of the east and the west. As the biographical details confirm, the poet had heard the call of the “Ineffable Person” at a very young age and he took a vow to define the infinite possibilities of man and the innermost quest “to meet one day the life within.”, to unite with the “unbroken perfection.” Gitanjali’s first line is “Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.

Tagore was a pure poet and not a theorist who would formulate a rigid system to describe the mystical experiences which have for him a great emotive value. Unlike many mystics, who believe in the possibility of merging into the Absolute, Tagore always maintains a safe distance between “Thou and me.” He holds, “the Separative  consciousness” in XCVI song of Gitanjali where he had “caught sight of him that is /formless.” He listens to his “master” in utter amazement and calls Him “Life of my Life” in IV song and “my only friend, my best beloved” in song XXII. The series of songs in Gitanjali reverberate with such mystical experiences. Ultimately he says in song XXXIV:  “I am /bound with thy will, and thy purpose is carried out in / my life – and that is the fetter of thy love.”

To accrue that Gitanjali as a transcript of mystical experiences without their being conceived in imagination would be to deny that essential fact that he is a poet first: “I know thou takest pleasure in my singing....”  Rather like a true poet he reaches the mystical consciousness through the transfigured senses of taste, sound, ordour, touch and sight and celebrates that knowledge in his poetry. He openly declares: “I will never shut the door of my senses.” Because “The delights of sight and hearing and touch will beat thy delight.” (LXXIII)

Once this experience is attained, even the outer world unfolds new meanings. The wholeworld becomes “the open letter of Lord.”These experiences cannot be defined rationally or appreciated logically. Hence he uses the expositions “I know not,” “I feel.” For example take song LVll of Gitanjali where “sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.The experiences through the senses gradually intensify the poet’s inner awakening. His expanded self includes life of all kinds outside self, of all emotional states, all  conditions and situation and excludes nothing. Hence, the cry: “my king,thus didst press the signet of eternity upon many a feeling /moments of my life.” ( XLlll). As the new vistas of knowledge and understanding unveil themselves, the poet is filled with a sense of “intense certitude,” “peaceful joy” and “enhanced powers.” He perceives that the Universal life-spirit reflects in all the creation – near or far and“death dies in a burst of spendour, “as he says in XXXIV song of Fruit-Gathering.

On such moments Tagore bows in his “silent salutation to thee” comprehending fully and distinctly that
“From the words of the poet men take what meanings /please them; yet their lasting meaning
points to thee.” (LXXV).

Thus, Romanticism in his work is related to his Vaishnava faith; he adheres to the doctrine of Bhakti; his intuitional awareness of the Divine, his mysticism, his idealism and his intense love of liberty. His poetry swings between two poles – a towering, rich, ennobling imagination and a deeply-felt, intense experience. The high, majestic quality of his imagination combined with his intense personal awareness and experience makes him a dreamer of dreams as well as a realistic champion of humanistic values. He is one of those great poets who not only visualized a kingdom of heaven above common humanity, but also transformed this kingdom of earth into a genuinely blissful place.

Gitanjali is a blend of a number of themes and ideas.  Its hundred and odd lyrics explore the relationship between God and Man, individual and humanity.  It justifies the ways of man to God and vice versa.  It “expresses in perfect language permanent human impulses”,and thus passes the test of great poetry as laid down by T. S. Eliot.  Here poetry has become a revelation, and incantation, like Vedic mantras and the poem as a whole opens the closed petals our lotus heart.  It is an X’ray of inner reality.

In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, “The poems of Gitanjali are the offerings of the finite to the infinite.”  Gitanjali is Tagore’s autobiography.  But at the same time it is the voice of our own soul.  Its central theme is the relalization of God through selfpurification, love, con-stant prayer, bhakti, dedication and surrender before God, through service to humanity andthrough ‘Karma Yoga’ and detachment from the worldly pleasures and desires without re-nouncing the world.
The central theme of Gitanjali despite the lack of a logical structural succession of a continuous theme is devotional : it expresses the yearning of the devotee for re-union with the divine. The poet is a singer and he seeks the realization of God through his songs.  He considers himself to be a living musical instrument in the hands of God, the Master Musician.  But he must remove his imperfections before he can be a fit instrument.  The entire Sadhna of his life is elevated to removing the imperfections and the impurities of his mind and heart, to overcoming all obstacles in the path of his realization of God. 

Another major theme of Gitanjali is death, soul’s voyage to eternity.  This becomes prominent towards the end of the poet.  The poet is not afraid of death; rather he welcomes it joyfully, for it is the gateway through which alone union with the eternal is possible.  Death is not the end of life but a beginning of a new one; it is a renewal of life.  In Gitanjali 74, life is spoken as a pitcher which is filled again through death.  It is only through death that spiritual truths can be realized.  Death is the bride and we all are bridegrooms and should be ready to meet her. (97 and 100).

Death to Tagore is an auspicious moment to provide him an opportunity to return to the original home.  It is a tryst with the dinner.  It is an intimation of immortality.  Whereas Donne and Hardy looked at it as something ghastly and fierce, Tagore speaks of death as a mystic.  Death is his inseparable companion. Thus in Gitanjali flowers from the gardens of light, time, death, beauty, Nature, Divinity, Humanism are culled. The beauty of the poem lies not so much in the statement of any kind of experience but in the realization of experience through words which have in themselves become things. To sum up, the theme is always Man: Nature: God: Life: Death – the universal things.

Gitanjali is a metaphysical poem, not in the sense of the 17th century metaphysical English poetry, but in the literal sense.  It is metaphysical because it deals with the world beyond and hereafter.  For the term ‘metaphysical’ too etymologically means beyond (meta) physical. Gitanjali indulges in philosophical speculation, mystical moorings and transcendental peace.  It elaborately treats Death and God.  It is metaphysical in its abstract character, emotional apprehension of thought which may be transmuted into the imagery of dreams, logical beauty, didactic mind, intensity, ethical content, divine love. Gitanjali is without the conventional far-Seventeenth century metaphysical verse of England. Broadly speaking, therefore, Tagore’s Gitanjali can be called a mystical-cum-metaphysical poem.  It is metaphysical because it is concerned with the meta world.

The poet is convinced of the continuity of life and he feels that man should be content with what God has given him.  Man touches the fringes of divinity in the created things.  That should be sufficient to send him into raptures of joy.  One of the things through which God manifests himself is his melody.  He is a flute player sitting in a boat and he waits for man to join him.  His music is like a holy stream that rushes on overcoming all obstacles.  Even the stones are moved by it.

There are many diverse ways to reach God.  But the simplest and easiest is the one by love.  Love is the highest virtue.  It is above all codes and rules.  The beloved feels forlorn and longs for Him.  The soul of men will feel most desperate if she does not meet her bridegroom, God.  She waits for Him like the night with its starry vigil.  The fragrance of spiritual experience comes from within the soul. The moment of spiritual illumination comes.  One should watch for Him and wait for Him.  He will come flooding our eyes with his light.  He will come like a dream from darkness. He can be easily won over and not by scholarship or austerity.  Beautiful is this world but morebeautiful is detachment.  It is not with rose petals that one attains the spiritual goal.  It is with the sword of detachment, by cutting asunder all petty things of life, being solely devoted to Him, filled with all consuming love, one can reach Him.  All Nature is His manifestation.  Everything changes, but Death does not change.  It comes and comes.  Hence man should bastion to reach his Maker because man is a part of God.  Soul should not bear separation from God.

Death is the last fulfillment of life.  It is inevitable and man has to surrender himself before it in all his totality, when death strikes, all that man has ignored or spurned earlier will appear more valuable.  So love well while you are alive.  Yet one should be ready when the summons comes from God without any bitter feelings as life is one breast of the mother and death the other.  The soul dispossessed of all the worldly goods will reach God in a sweeter manner.

All the above discussion is sufficient to prove the metaphysical any mystic nature of Gitanjali.

1.Gitanjali is not a metaphysical poem in the traditional sense of the 17th century meta-physical poetry of Donne and his school.

2.It is metaphysical in the literal sense, because it deals with what is beyond the physical.

3.Life is like a flower and therefore should be offered to God before it withers.

4.Deliverance can be found in detachment from worldly desires, not in the renunciation of world but by its acceptance through Karma Yoga.

5. All Nature is God’s manifestation.  Man is a part of God.

6.Death is the last fulfillment of life.

Through this unit you have had some ideas about Rabindranath Tagore magnificent art of poetry and his beneficial message to mankind in all its sincerity. He believes that “all that is harsh and dissonant in life melts into one sweet harmony.”There is an urgent need that the Romantic and mystical traits in Tagore’s poetry should be considered in relation to the modern age and its traditionalism and anti-traditionalism. It may essentially be interpreted as essentially a doctrine of experience since it champions the cause of validity and vitality of the individual’s perception against the scientific speculation and abstraction generated by the contemporary western schools of thought. At the hands of poets like Tagore even romanticism and mysticism become the instruments to seek the human values.

It is not an exaggeration to say that here Romanticism becomes a new name for the doctrine of experience in thought and feeling and of the modern humanist tradition. Tagore firmly believed that the images and ideas should be first be synthesized in the mind of the poet and then in the poem. According to him the faculties which create and transmit images are imagination, memory, dreams and vision as he says in  Chhbi O Gan (Pictures and Songs.) When he writes poetry imagery spurts out automatically.  Buddadeva Bose has rightly stated in his book,An Acre of Greene Grass that Tagore thinks in metaphors and argues insimiles. They enlarge the meaning because of their symbolic truth. Tagore is interested in everyobject of nature like dew drops and flowers, sun light and moon light but the moving objects of nature like rivers and clouds fascinate him more as a result  his poems are charges with kin esthetic images. In this sense he can be called a “pantheist” and his nature imagery is largely symbolic.

He does not assign any fixed meaning to his metaphors, symbols, images and similes but he goes on pouring them in profusion and his songs “seemed to be lost in their depth.”Even when he uses homely images he manages to transcend them into spiritual symbols because he firmly believes in the mysterious principle of creation and the presence of the

Divine power or God lives in the company of the poor and the downtrodden. Hence the desire to identify with the ordinary and the suffering humanity. There is an intense yearning for the complete union with God for which he tries several ways like the rigorous discipline and endurance. He says “If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and endure it.”Ultimately he realizes that God is the impelling force within man and lives in the “Horoscope of ages.” In such realizations he recognizably echoes the Gita. 

The theme of Gitanjali is so rich in both form and feeling that his humble attempt is not sufficient to harbor in its bosoms all the aspects of Tagore’s poetry. The present book is a modest endeavour to evaluate the complete poems of Gitanjali in a new perspective. The author has mostly centered on the thematic aspects of the book particularly on Vedantic and Yogic thoughts of the great saint poet. At some occasions, the poetic craftsmanship of Tagore has also been evaluated in the light of literary norms and princilples.

THE BENGALI POET-PHILOSOPHER  


Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta, in what is now West Bengal, in 1861. His father Debendranath had been an earlymember of the Hindu reformist Brahmo Samaj, which had sought to reform Hinduism and removewhat it saw as many of the social injustices that ac-companied the Hindu socio-religious structures of caste. The Brahmo Samaj occupied an elite position in Calcutta, which at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century was still the formal capital of British India. It was also the pre-eminent political, cultural and economic city of empire; and the home of many of India’s most famousand influential ‘colonial intellectuals’ such as Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore himself. We are by now very familiar with post-colonialhistorical narratives that explore the ways in which ‘knowledge’, broadly speaking, was employed as a tool for the exercise of colonial power. The reception and interpretation of Tagore in London in 1912 and 1913 exemplifies many of the familiar tropes andmotifs concerning the spiritually minded, ‘other-worldly’ Oriental. What we are less familiar with, however, is the idea of a ‘colonial intellectual’ suchas Tagore taking it upon himself to ‘re-educate’ the colonizer by way of a corrective course in Indianculture.

(Collected)