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From Barnes & NobleTagore'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.