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Gitanjali: Offerings from the Heart

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2000

    The Renaissance Bengali

    Review of Rabindranath Tagore's <i>Gitanjali</i> <p> Tagore had written his <i>Gitanjali</i> (song offerings) in Bengali, and after he learned from William Rothenstein of Western interest in them, he translated them into English. Chiefly for this volume, Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the same year that Macmillan brought out a hard-cover copy of his prose translations of <i>Gitanjali</i>. <p> W. B. Yeats, in the introduction to Tagore's <i>Gitanjali</i> , writes that this volume has 'stirred my blood as nothing has for years . . . .' He explains, 'These lyrics . . . display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.' Then Yeats describes the Indian culture that he feels is responsible for producing this remarkable work: '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.' <p> He contrasts the art of his own culture: 'If our life was not a continual warfare, we would not have taste, we would not know what is good, we would not find hearers and readers. Four-fifths of our energy is spent in this quarrel with bad taste, whether in our own minds or in the minds of others.' <p> Yeats might seem harsh in his assessment of his own culture's motivation to art, but, no doubt, he has correctly identified the mood of his era. Yeats having been born of Western culture, his birth dates are famous as the markers of two horrendous Western wars 1865 and 1939. So his rough estimate of the artists being motivated by warfare is quite understandable. <p> On the other hand, his assessment of Tagore's achievement is accurate. As Yeats tells us, Tagore's songs are not only respected and admired by the scholarly class, but also they are sung in the fields by peasants. Yeats would never have expected his own poetry to be accepted by such a wide spectrum of the population. <p> My favorite <i>Gitanjali</i> poem (song offering) is #7, which I have refashioned into a poetic form as follows: <p> My song has put off her adornments. <br> She has no pride of dress and decoration. <br> Ornaments would mar our union. <br> They would come between thee and me. <br> Their jingling would drown thy whispers. <br> My poet's vanity dies in shame before thy sight. <br> O Master Poet, I have sat down at thy feet. <br> Only let me make my life simple and straight <br> Like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music. <p>This poem shows the charm of humbleness: it is a prayer to help the poet open his heart to the Divine Beloved without extraneous words or gestures. A vain poet would produce vain poetry, so this poet wants to be open to the simple humility of truth that only the Divine Beloved can afford him. As Yeats says, these songs grow out of culture in which art and religion are the same, so it is not surprising that we find our offerer of songs speaking to God in song after song, as is the case in #7. And the last line in song #7 is a subtle--or perhaps not so subtle--allusion to Bhagavan Krishna. According the Paramahansa Yogananda, 'Krishna is shown in Hindu art with a flute; on it he plays the enrapturing song that recalls to their true home the human souls wandering in delusion.' <p> Rabindranath Tagore, in addition to being an accomplished poet, essayist, playwright, and novelist, is also remembered as an educator, who founded Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal. Tagore is then an excellent example of a Renaissance man, one skilled in many fi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2000


    Excellant book. Makes my heart sore. BUT I just wanted to clarify that Thakur is not the only NOBEL LAURATE, India has produced 6 since Tagore. I would strongly suggest an immediate change in the summary of the book.

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