Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

Title:  Gitanjali
Author: Rabindranath Tagore
Original Publication Date:1910

'I read Rabindranath every day, to read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world.'

-Unnamed Bengali Doctor addressing W.B. Yeats, contained in the Introduction

Isn’t it just fitting that this masterpiece be introduced by a person no less than William Butler Yeats who is another Nobel Laureate? Tagore received the Nobel in 1913 and Yeats in 1923. It is ostensibly perceivable that Yeats managed to capture the focal points in his Introduction, so quoting parts of Yeats introduction and placing my heartfelt impressions, let me try doing justice to this book, however insufficient that may turn out to be.

Gitanjali is a collection of poems,  ruminations and rhapsodies, or more accurately Song Offerings, and when you do offer something, you offer it to a higher being, a divine existence of which belief is professed, and so, much of the verses are addressed to a Lord, God, and Master.

Yeats in introducing this work to William Rothenstein says:

“For all I know, so abundant and simple is this poetry, the new renaissance has been born in your country.”(7)

And this is true in both instances that I have read Tagore, just as it was in The Gardener, the poetry was actually simple but it communicates at so many levels owing to the depth that is carried by Tagore's ruminations.

“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.”(8)

And more than a hundred years since its original publication, where in those hundred years we have witnessed, through history’s questioned objectivity, men doubt the ideals of their forefathers and see thier beloved posterities entirely discard what has been handed down, it is extraordinary to enjoy sometime like Gitanjali, which in all its completeness is certainly worthy to be read beyond its year if not entirely a timeless masterpiece on its own.

“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.”(9)

I too have carried Gitanjali over the days, over a span of daytrips, through the inevitable but longed-for ride home, through talks with friends, and ardent discussions with other students, I sometimes find myself, reading parts of this work, and you really do “forget all the troubles of the world.” But unlike Yeats, I did not hesitate to show the world how much it moved me. If words so masterfully chosen and phrases adroitly matched delivered a gamut of emotions, I welcomed it. If it made me smiled, I smiled, if it made me ponder, I ruminated. I wanted the world to see, I wanted to tell them, this is Gitanjali, and you should read it too.

“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.”(10)

And in the same vein, I am perpetually grateful and irretrievably wounded that my experience is defined by a translated medium. Now that is one hell of a dilemma. I could feel the “subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention” which must be so richly contained in Bengali, just inches beyond my reach, but still gravely beyond my reach, unrelentingly clawing at my thoughts reading this.   But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through Tagore, that is, to be thankful for what comes in life. And this is also what I appreciate in Tagore, he loves life, he loves the world, and for that he welcomes death itself in its entirety.

I leave you with a customary quotation.

“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.

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.

The sea surges up with laughter and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.”

Other works by Rabindranath Tagore:
The Gardener (4 Stars)
Nationalism (3 Stars)

This book forms part of my remarkably extensive reading list on Nobel Prize for Literature Awardees

A free ebook copy is legally downloadable here, along with a voluminous number of other works: Gutenberg

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