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Jul 10, 2012

Gitanjali: RN Tagore

The emergence of Rabindranath Tagore into the world of English literature coincides with the publication of the English version of Gitanjali for the foist time in November 1912. At that time it was profoundly praised by the best literary minds of England including Yeats, Bradley. In November 1913, he was awarded the noble prize by Swedish academy and this gave him a place among the greatest men of letters in the modern world. He won universal recognition through the monumental literary achievement Gitanjali. An appreciation of Rabindranath poetic genius in the west for a long time been based upon the assumption that Gitanjali is crowning achievement of his life but the truth that Gitanjali does not mark the summit as Rabindranath’s poetic career, it marks only the beginning. In a critical appreciation of his poetry Ajit Kumar Chakravarty says that Rabindranath, the poet of Sonar Tori and Chitra, is also the poet o Gitanjali and Gitmalaya.

Referring to his translation of Gitanjali into English Tagore observes: “once the unguarded movement, I translated my Gitanjali into English prose. At that time distinguished English writers accepted my translation as a part of their literature. May, they spoke so highly of it that I felt embarrassed as I thought to be an exaggeration. I am a foreigner. There was neither rhyme nor metre in my poetry. Even if they found some aesthetic pleasure in it, I could not accept their verdict. It occurred to me then that I lost nothing but by giving poems a shape of prose. On the contrary, if I had translated them in English poetry, they cold probably have been censured and looked down upon.”

The poems (song offerings) were written to be sung: but they sang themselves. The book has spoken to countless hearts, has been revelation of what they felt and experienced, and cannot ever forgotten. Edward Thompson says that “it bring us very close to a religious experience which is universal yet intensely individual; an experience which is one with the writer’s life, no alien dress but the natural growth of his days”. Further he goes on to say that “his poems have led him to find God; his sorrows and failures have shown him to God. His restlessness, of which the words speak, is in this book, deepening tee minor tone. His anxiety to mix with the simple life of men, wherever he can find it at its fullest, is also here”.

The songs of Gitanjali are songs mainly to the closet personal connection between poet and Eternal, as a lover and beloved, wife and husband, servant and master, friend and friend, as if the poet were trying to approach reality in a personal way through personal relationship. They are songs constructing out of themselves of their wondrous-world in, which dawns and eves ad languorous means, vagrant tints as the skies and glorious horizons, flowers and birds, beggar-maids, pilgrims and messengers with tiding—man and nature jestle, with one another and unite at a point in the inner heart of the poet and raise these persons of love, and longings for ever-far, and yet ever-near Master of the whole.

Gitanjali is a confluence of romanticism, mysticism and humanism. The deep subjective note characterising romantic poetry sounds through his songs and poems giving them the necessary emotional content without which religious poetry fails to make an impact. We find in his poems the Nature worship of Wordsworth, the reformist fervour of Shelley, the sensual verbal felicity of Keats, and the consummate artistry of Tennyson. His poems are remarkable for their simplicity and spontaneity, brilliant imagery and striking originality. In spite of his romanticism, Tagore is no scorner of the earth like Shelley’s Skylark, but he resembles Wordsworth’s skylark which is true to the “kindred points of Heaven and Home”. According to Tagore “spirituality does not mean an escape from the problems of a life or a complete negation of life. It is not where we begin but where we end, how we conclude and culminate the matters most. It is with this mystic vision that Tagore beheld God in tiller, the toiler, in the child on the sea-shore of endless worlds, and the panorama of nature’s beauties”.

Tagore’s Gitanjali spread his fame across the horizon of western life like a rainbow. Sarojini Naidu said that Gitanjali to the west went as a simple direct immortal and memorable message. Gitanjali thrilled Yeats as no other work of imagination had done, and he spoke of these lyrics as “a work of supreme culture. They yet appear much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes”.

As Tagore approached the age of forty, life brought him many sorrows and this reflected itself in some of the poems of that period. They are contained in his Gitanjali. The attitude of the world becomes more profound. He begins to find God a comrade who soothes him by His healing grace. There is calm and joyous acceptance of Death as the Messenger of go. While on one hand his poems persistently proclaim that life is meant to be lived, on the other, he is always conscious of the deeper meaning of life. It is quite aptly that Dr. Gurumurthi says “the Gitanjali contains some of the finest expressions of his mystic experience and has a place equally in the mystic literature of the world as the finest poetry of our time”.

The communions of man with God, a new understanding of man’s relation to the world, are conveyed to us in masterly efforts which are intensely mystic. His religious poetry as found in the Gitanjali breathes a noble devotion. As Rabindranath Tagore interprets it, the religious man has to take a share of the world’s burden and not to try to run away from the world. In the very famous poem beginning with the line “leave this changing and singing and telling of beads’ he points out that God is to be found in the hard toil of daily life, and not away from the haunts of man.

Further we are able to see the poet communing with the divine essence of life in the spirit of a comrade, nature forming the background for human joys and sorrows. His joyous acceptance of death as the gateway to a fuller life links Rabindranath again with the greatest mystic poets. As an expression of the deepest devotion we may take the poem beginning “day after day, O lard of my life, I shall stand before Thee face to face” in another poem he says:
“in one solution to thee, my God let my all senses spread out and touch this
world at Thy Feet. Like a rain cloud of July hung low with its burden
unshed showers, let all my mind bent down at Thy door in one solution to Thee.
 Let all my song gather together their diverse strains into a single current
 and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to Thee”.

Dr. Fallon feels that “the western Gitanjali, although lacking much of the musical beauty and evocative power of the Bengali, is yet ‘a jewel’ even a jewel of English religious poetry”. The Iselendic novelist Halfoe Laxness has also acknowledged the profound impression made on him by Gitanjali: “the form and flavour of he Gitanjali had the effect of a wonderful flower we had not seen or heard before.”

After the English Gitanjali was published, there was some discussion on the supposed influence of Christianity on Tagore’s work. Edward Thompson opines that direct influence was very slight, and his attitude towards Christian doctrine was hardly friendly. He seems to have made no direct touch of New Testament. J.H. Cousins says that “his religion is without the theology though not without personality; his philosophy is without argument though not without rationale. The outstanding quality that shows in every line of his poetry is life.”

Tagore’s sympathy for all the forms of life was real and rich. “God and religion” according to him, “got betrothed to each other long before he ever became aware of their existence in himself. But there is unmistakable message in his works.” The very first line of the opening song of Gitanjali seems to have the power to set the heart ablaze: “thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure”

The human body is considered the soul and the human soul is the temple of God, who is indeed man’s friend, lover and protector. Dr. Iyengar feels that “Gitanjali is verily the recordation of the vicissitudes in the drama of the human soul in its progress form the finite to the infinite. And the progress is necessarily conceived as a battle, a journey and as a continuing sacrifice, culminating in a total offering of all self surrender, so that by loosing all one may gain all”. Darkness involves ignorance and the approaching threat of Death but light brings knowledge and the promise of life’s renewal and immortality. God comes to rescue of man with His light and thunder when desires blinds the mind with delusion and dust.

Thus the best pieces bring enlightenment and heighten our sensibility and awaken men to the sheer delight of existence. The traditional Vaishnava element is evident in many of the Gitanjali songs. They are mainly poems of “Bhakti”. Tagore believes that tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. He is not afraid of death because he loves this life; he knows that he shall love death as well. Tagore is a devotional poet and his Gitanjali is a devotional poem in its essence. The theme of the poem is the union with God. His heart longs to join His song, but vainly struggles for a voice.

Gitanjali shares richly the Renaissance spirit. All devotional songs are said to sung. The various moods in which Tagore is visualising God are vividly seen. Renaissance means the freeing of the mind from its bondage from gloominess and darkness. He thinks human life as a quest in the world and God as the only source of Light. The way achieve immortality is through the path of self surrender. When the human beings, develop unbounded love, they will realise the intensity of God. This sort of unlimited love is possible only through devotion towards God.

God with the golden touch of His feet has kindled the light of reason and the love in mankind. The light of God’s music illumines the universe. God is the life of life, truth of truth, power of power and king of kings. The songs of Gitanjali thus are songs mainly of the closet personal connection between the poet and the Eternal, as love and beloved, wife and husband, servant and master, friend and friend, as if the poet were trying to approach Reality in a personal way—through personal relationship.

The poet calls God the receiver of our offerings and asks him not to accept unholy sacrifices, through unclean hand, but accept only whatever sacred lover offers. God will be with the poorest, lowest and lost as they will be quite humble. God is within us. He is Omniscient and Omnipresent. The gifts given by God to the poet to go back to God again. The seeking of God is not the negation of God. While man bring sorrow as his offerings to God, who rewards man with His grace. He prays to God give him the strength to raise his mind high and above daily trifles, to surrender with love of his strength to His will:
“give me the strength to bear my joys and sorrows;
give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service;
give me the strength never to disown the poor”
All these songs from a mighty piece of prayer and pleading and exultation, idolatry and blind worship are castigated. If some people are blind and seek Him in wrong places or in the wrong way, others are crushed by their own cowardice. Faith from blow and grace from above, are needed to end the waywardness of man and human wretchedness. He articulates a prayer for India’s redemption, imploring the Father to let India awake into that heaven of freedom:
“where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
where the knowledge is free;
where the world has not been broken into fragments of narrow domestic walls
where the words come out from the depth of truth;
where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection”.

We are conclude with Krishna Bagchi’s observation to it, “whatever may be the charges, as time pass, in people’s reaction to it, travelers again and again will hum Gitanjali’s songs on the highway, and men rowing upon rivers and lovers murmurs them, because the songs meet the need of the elemental man’s, the pure naked man’s soul. Its appeal would always be to the ‘essential man’; it may not be to a mind encrusted with thinking. The songs are there not to be intellectually understood, but to be heard and felt by the heart within; awareness is stirred by them to sense the touch of someone from afar.” W.B. Yeats rightly called the Gitanjali ‘a work of supreme culture’ and justly regarded the song “as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes’.


  1. Gitanjali as a collection of poems for which Tagore receives the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 is his meditations on Man, God and Nature and their intrinsic union, the yearning of the Soul to merge with the Soul Divine, a traveller going on the path of life, a sadhaka doing sadhna, feeling illumined and divine delight, the bride going to the father-in-laws' home and so on as suggested in and through classical imagery. It may be new new for the West with its Oriental vision and philosophy, religion and spirituality, metaphysics ans theology, but to the Indian these are household narrations. We narrate them each and every day. Gitanjali cannot have its lone existence in the absence of Indian spirituality. Have we ever tried to know who taught Tagore the use and application of Biblical syntax and phraseology for his verse? When he speaks of the endless chain of life and death or next birth, he indirectly refers to Shankaracharya and his philosophy. As a poet, Tagore is a Vaishnava and his poetry an exercise in Vaishnavism and he cannot dispel his maya for the mundane world and its earthly connections and that is why the Vaishnva saints have kept for long the sevadsis, the serving disciples. Tagore as a poet is emotional and sentimental, afraid of snapping ties with the mundane bonding.In a very submissive tone of prayer, he prays to Yama, the God of Death to give him a repose.

  2. This page will be really helpful for the literary peoples and researchers, especially for students who are all pursuing for NET/SET/SLET examinations. This page is vast, contains many works of various ages.


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