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What guest was it
who came to the door of my soul
this autumn day?
O my heart,
sing out a joy-song!
Let the blue sky's quiet sounds
let the dew-laden anxiety
find place today
on the strings of your lute.
Join in equal rhythm today
with the harvest's golden song.
Send your tune floating
on the full river's pure stream.
He has come!
Look at His face in deep happiness.
Open the door
and go out with Him!
Nevertheless, a true and complete presentation of Tagore ultimately has to give a special place to the trilogy of books that were named, in Bengali, Gitanjali, Gitimalya and Gitali. In these beautifully poised and subtle songs and lyric poems, we find Tagore at his most inward. They are his private, humble, lucid and sensitive dialogue with God-universal precisely because they are so personal.
Until recently, it has been hard for the non-Bengali reader to hear that dialogue, except through the filter of Tagore's own English versions, which often conceal as much as they reveal. But with Joe Winter's metrical translations of the Bengali Gitanjali (Writers Workshop, Calcutta, 1998, and Anvil Press Poetry, London, 2000), and now with the simpler, freer, unrhymed translations by James Talarovic that are offered here, we are given a new opportunity. In the case of Brother James's translations, I would say that the opportunity is also a unique privilege, for they are the fruit of long and deep reflection on the poems, over many years of living and working among the people of Bengal.
In my own reading of the typescript, I jotted down phrases such as "Make my heart blossom out . . ." "Take a light from the absence-fire . . ."
"I can endure still more blows . . ." "the monsoon's human face . . ." "There's nothing to be afraid of . . ." "Songs have taught me so much . . ."-and many more. I could list my favorite poems too; but maybe that choice should remain, as for other readers of this book, a private matter.
For me, Brother James's achievement is summed up in lines from the third poem in the book:
What was distant, Friend,
You brought near.
You made my brother, my sister.
And what is the purpose of translation,
other than that?