Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poemsby Rabindranath Tagore
The brilliant and immensely prolific Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is known the world over for his accomplished works in an astoundingly wide range of genres: novels, short stories, poems, plays, and essays. During the final year of his life, while suffering from a painful illness, Tagore completed four volumes of poetry that expressed the emotional turmoil of facing one's own imminent extinction. The selection from these extraordinary poems that appears here is the first collection to treat them as a coherent body of poetry. Many of the poems have never before appeared in English, and all of them are rendered in translations that capture as closely as possible the beauty and subtlety of Tagore's original Bengali verses.
A departure from Tagore's earlier work, these poems are, as the translators say, "so compact that it is almost as if [he] ... were going beyond words, as if language no longer suffices, and yet, of course, the language radiates meaning." Poised between life and death, Tagore is awed by the beauty of this world and glimpses in it the presence of the infinite ("Such splendor illuminates a deathlessness / hidden in the everyday by our senses' limits"). At other times, "alone by sorrow's last window," he is gripped by the terror and heart-wrenching grief of experiencing the relentless approach of death and its "wordless end."
Tagore was so weak at the end that he had to dictate his poems. Although the pain was often excruciating and the fear and anger overwhelming, he still exulted in life. In these poems, from his deathbed, he conveys the intense joy of living and his ultimate triumph over death.
Wendy Barker is an award-winning poet and professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her most recent collection of poems, Way of Whiteness, was published in 2000. She is the author of Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor and editor (with Sandra M. Gilbert) of The House is Made of Poetry: The Art of Ruth Stone. During the fall 2000, she served as Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria.
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