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On the Shores of Eternity: Poems from Tagore on Immortality and Beyond

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To realize that death is an illusion, you either have to be very sophisticated or very simple. Tagore was both. I am awed by his use of language, pure crystals of wise innocence. Every word is personal, every word is universal. Those who met Tagore during his eighty years described him as one of the greatest 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...
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Overview

To realize that death is an illusion, you either have to be very sophisticated or very simple. Tagore was both. I am awed by his use of language, pure crystals of wise innocence. Every word is personal, every word is universal. Those who met Tagore during his eighty years described him as one of the greatest 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 Introduction by Deepak Chopra


In this hauntingly beautiful volume, Deepak Chopra presents new English versions of poems by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, a lifelong source of inspiration for Chopra and the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

When Tagore writes, "Death, my death / Whisper to me! / For you alone have I kept watch day after day," romantic ecstasy surges through every word. For Tagore the soul was more real than any object, and he sang of death as a joyful voyage home to the eternity from which we sprang. In these poems we experience a dramatic alternative to the fearful Western view of death. Through the magic of Tagore's lyricism we begin to understand that by becoming familiar with death, and watching it grow closer, we can come to live fully in the present moment. As Tagore tells us so eloquently, "If you weep because the sun has gone out / Your tears may blind you to the stars."
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Editorial Reviews

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Tagore's Shores

Rabindranath Tagore possessed the fundamental genius of poetry: the ability to express profound, universal truths in simple and beautiful language that deepens our understanding of the world. His gift for this essential poetic task was so evident in Gitanjali ("Song-Offering"), the first volume of his work translated into English, that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature the very next year. In the latter half of this century, however, Tagore's popularity has suffered an unfortunate and inexplicable decline. On the Shores of Eternity is the latest evidence of a renewed interest in Tagore that has taken place in the past five years. In this volume, the renowned New Age guru Deepak Chopra has selected and modified poems and epigrams dealing specifically with mortality, demonstrating by Tagore's example, that death should not be a source of dread but rather of joy.

Tagore was born in 1861 to one of the most prestigious and highly cultured families in Bengal, India. His grandfather, an acquaintance of Queen Victoria, founded the Adi Brahmo Samaj, an intellectual society at the center of the period's so-called Bengali Renaissance. After a brief stint in England to study law, the younger Tagore returned to Bengal, settling on his family's hereditary estate. From this country seat, he began his prolific and extraordinarily diverse literary production, encompassing novels, plays, short stories, philosophy, and volumes of exquisite letters. His poetry rapidly came to permeate the Indian cultural landscape; set to music by Tagore himself, it was popularly sung by Indians of all classes, the literate and illiterate alike. In fact, during W.B. Yeats's tour of India, the Irish poet is said to have been impressed by hearing women laborers in the Bengali tea fields singing Tagore's lyrics. Yeats played a critical role in importing Tagore to the West, writing the introduction to Gitanjali and helping Tagore with his English translations.

Overnight, Tagore became an international literary sensation; Europe was stunned by his unique voice and perspective, at once lyrical and simple, celebratory and serene. The effect is the same today, as Chopra demonstrates in his version of the opening poem to Gitanjali:

"Living the Infinite"

        It pleased you to make me endless

        You empty this frail vessel over and over
        then fill it with fresh life again.
        You carry me like a hollow reed over hill and dale
        eternally breathing new melodies through me.
        At the immortal touch of your hand
        My little heart loses itself in joy.

        Still you pour into me, and still there is room to fill.

Tagore's work is suffused with the glow of tender devotion; like psalms, his poems teach us how to lift our voices in praise. Drawing heavily on the Indian bhakti, or devotional tradition, Tagore anthropomorphizes the forces of life, giving the speaker of his poems a personal relation in which to encounter and experience them. In this collection, death is treated as a beloved who continually delays his rendezvous until the final moment comes to carry his lover away. Tagore's theme of mortality is universal, but his perception is fresh; his greatest gift is to express that which is always before our eyes yet rarely seen.

This extraordinary sensitivity of understanding is perhaps more instantly apprehensible in Chopra's "modernized" versions. On the other hand, however, increased accessibility comes at the price of stripping the poems of some of their original lyricism and texture. Readers should also be warned that, as Chopra himself admits, he has altered the poems with a liberal hand; the renditions in this collection depart significantly from previous translations. As a doctor hypersaturated with the spectacle of humanity desperately clinging to life, Chopra has an attraction to Tagore that is obvious. Ultimately, it is hard to put down this book without feeling a sense of joy about the very mysteries and limitations that we are accustomed to viewing with despair. In that sense, his perspective is almost an essential counterbalance: departing from accumulated, primarily Western philosophical attitudes, Tagore widens the horizon of possibilities for the reflective soul.

—Monica Ferrell

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609605646
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/16/1999
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Deepak Chopra has written twenty-five books, including How to Know God, which have been translated into thirty-five languages. He currently serves as director for educational programs at The Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California.

Biography

The practice of holistic and mind-body medicine has long been a controversial subject among medical professionals. Some view it as a healthy and natural alternative to chemical pharmaceuticals. Others see it as a system of placebos and new-age chicanery. No matter where one stands on this issue, there is no denying the influence that mind, body, and spirit practitioner Deepak Chopra has had on the world of medicine.

Chopra's bestselling books on a variety of topics have been translated into 35 languages. His lectures, seminars, and learning materials are immensely popular, as are his television specials for PBS. In addition, he has founded his own medical center called the Chopra Center for Well Being and has won fans amongst celebrities ranging from Prince Charles to Mikhail Gorbachev to Demi Moore to David Lynch. When financier/philanthropist Michael Milken was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he claimed that Chopra's holistic methods shrunk his lymph nodes by 90%.

Chopra's interest in alternative medicine initially grew out of concern for his own health. After moving from India to set up a practice medicine in Boston some 25 years ago, Chopra succumbed to many of the stresses that plague medical professionals. As a result, he guzzled coffee, chain-smoked, and drank heavily. Once he began studying eastern philosophies by way of Krishnamurti and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he became aware of medical practices outside of the sometimes limited western perspective. This awakening changed his life.

While Chopra is viewed as a major proponent of the role of Eastern philosophies in healing, he does not reject western medicine. In fact, what makes his approach so unique is the way he incorporates the best aspects of western medical research into his theories. This amalgamation of medical philosophies is at the root of self-help volumes like Restful Sleep, Perfect Weight, and Boundless Energy. Elsewhere, Chopra has addressed such diverse issues as reversing the aging process (Ageless Body, Timeless Mind), perfecting personal relationships (The Path to Love), and achieving capitalist goals via Eastern philosophies (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success).

Chopra has also become concerned with the causes of war and violence and the principles of Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, and his books on these subjects have garnered praise from such major international figures as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Boutros-Boutros Ghali. Consequently, Chopra continues to play a significant role in world health and world politics in spite of detractors and skeptics. With an immense body of work behind him and more volumes of wisdom sure to follow, he continues to preach the simple philosophy he is certain is the key to understanding ourselves, mentally and physically: "We're not human beings that have occasional spiritual experiences, it's the other way around: we're spiritual beings that have occasional human experiences."

Good To Know

In 1999, Time magazine named Chopra one of the Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the Century.

Chopra's father was a prominent cardiologist and an anglophile who distrusted Indian philosophies and alternative medical practices.

Despite his reputation as a serious-minded intellectual, Chopra describes himself as "playful" and "carefree."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Deepak Chopra M.D.
    2. Hometown:
      La Jolla, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 22, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      New Delhi, India
    1. Education:
      All India Institute of Medical Sciences

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:

Renunciation
I live in the world afraid to lose anything
Take me to your world where I can lose everything.

Kiss
God shows His love by kissing the finite
Man shows his by kissing the infinite.

Silence
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

The Storm

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.
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  • Posted February 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Life into death into life.

    This book is an excellent gift for those who have recently lost a loved one. Give it to yourself if you are in mourning or have ever mourned such a loss. Every minister should have one in their visiting bag. I take it with me to homes and hospitals visiting with those who are in the process of dying.

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