Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction by Deepak Chopra:
Born in Bengal in 1861, Rabindranath Tagore astonished the literary world when he published a slender book called GITANJALI in 1912--it is still his best-known work. Most of the poems gathered in this volume are taken from it. Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature, which happened almost immediately after the publication of GITANJALI, in 1913. He also painted, lectured, and founded schools and a university. Showered with praise and fame, he became a saint in his homeland and wandered the world to great acclaim until his death in 1941.
These are the bare facts of a great life. Yet it is the cosmic dimensions of Tagore's mind that capture our attention on these pages. The first-time reader of these poems will be fascinated by their emotion and their music. Above all, that is what I have tried to convey in these new translations. Some are very free interpretations (as in "A Note on the Door," which uses the image of a car honking at the curb where Tagore would have been used to a horse and carriage), but I have tried always to maintain the sense of his logic. It is never ordinary logic, for Tagore was also a spiritual teacher whose view of the world turns our everyday perspective upside down. He saw the soul as much more real than any material object, and because of his complete confidence in spiritual reality, he sang of death as a joyful voyage back home.
To realize that death is an illusion, you have to be very sophisticated or very simple. Tagore was both. I have included in this book two dozen of his sayings, mere jottings he gathered together as STRAY BIRDS. Although it is easy tobe astonished by anything Tagore wrote, these aphorisms are pure crystals of wise innocence:
I live in the world afraid to lose anything
Take me to your world where I can lose everything.
God shows His love by kissing the finite
Man shows his by kissing the infinite.
words cling to the dead like dust
Silence washes their souls.
I am awed by these stray birds--every word is personal, every word is universal. Those who met Tagore in his eighty years described him as one of the great souls of our age; Einstein considered him a sage. From what we learn in these poems, he certainly lived his own words. He kissed the infinite; he was not afraid to lose everything. And in this book, he allows us to approach death not with dusty words, but with a silence that washes the soul.
From the Text
Boatman, are you lost on the sea tonight?
The wild sea whose winds rip your sails
The sky falling on you like a beast with fangs
And the darkness poisonous with fear.
Waves are crashing on an unseen shore,
But the boatman must cross tonight.
His journey is secret
No one knows the name of the lover he meets
As his sails startle the night with whiteness.
But somewhere a lamp is burning
In a silent courtyard,
And she waits.
What passionate quest makes you fearless
Of the night and the storm?
Are your taking her a horde of rubies and pearls?
Ah no, the boatman has no such treasure to offer,
Only a song on his lips and a white rose in his hand
And she smiles, waiting for a glimpse of him
Sitting beside her lamp
On the other side.
Through the howling wind she hears him call her name
She whose name no one knows.
When will he come? Hours still
Or is it years?
He will land without a sound.
No one will see him run to her
But light will fill that house and bless its very dust
When the boatman has landed
On the shores of Eternity.