Rabindra Nath Tagore

Posted by Brian

Introduction to Rabindra Nath Tagore, the Poet of Gitanjali

Rabindra Nath Tagore is a very prominent name in modern Bengali Literature, and he is the first writer, who gained for modern India a place on the world literary scene. He is the true representative of the Indian life and culture, and the main poetic exponent of the spirit of the East. Though Tagore is pre-eminently a Bengali writer and is not generally regarded, as an Indian writer in English, yet his own English Translations of his writing (in which the originals were often changed, telescoped and transformed) and their influence on the regional literatures in India take him out of Bengal and give him the stature of an all India writer. Tagore was not only a great poet but a great man also and he has left behind him a great institution, the Visvabharati at Shantiniketan. K. R. Srinivas Iyengar very aptly sums up the versatile and intergral personality of the Rishi, the Gurudev, “He was a poet, dramatist, actor, producer, he was a musician and a painter; he was an educationist, a practical idealist who turned his dreams into reality at Shanitiniketan, he was a reformer, philosopher, prophet; he was a novelist and short story writer and a critic of life and literature, he even made occasional incursions into national politics, although he was essentially an internationalist.

Tagore’s active literary career extended over a period of sixty years and he wrote the largest number of lyrics attempted by any poet. He was a great philosopher, a great writer and a widely traveled man. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo Gosh, Tagore has been the supreme inspiration to millions of in modren India.

Life of Rabindra Nath Tagore

Thakur Rabindra Nath Tagore was born on May 6, 1861. He was the grandson of prince Dwarka Nath Tagore and the fourteenth son (Also the youngest son) of Devendra Nath Tagore – a great Sanskrit Scholar and the pillar of the Brahmo Samaj Movement and Rabindra had no regular Schooling. He was taught by a private tutor and was trained in gymnastics. He began to write verses at the age of three or four and when he was eleven, he began composing poems on serious, sorrowful subjects. Before his thirteenth or fourteenth year, his poems were available in print. He also translated Macbeth in Bengali. Rabindra Nath’s forerunners Madhusudan, Iswar Chander, Vidya Sagar, Bankim Chander Chatterjee had written marvelous Bengali-poetry, prose and fiction and Tagore was greatly influenced by their work. After Bankim Chandra’s death the reading public turned to Tagore for essays, stories, novels and poems. Tagore wrote a long poem, a story in verse called Banaphul (A wild flower), and also a remarkable series of lyrics named Bhanu Singher Padavali.

On March 8, 1875, Tagore’s mother Smt. Sarda Devi expired and this gave a traumatic shock to the poet. At the age of seventeen Tagore was sent to England. The English Romantics Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth and the great Victorians, Tennyson and Browning exercised a powerful influence on him. He also admired Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Browne. Though Tagore was not a voracious or a systematic reader; and he apparently read at random yet whatever came his way he turned it to a great use. By the time, Tagore was eighteen he had written about 7,000 lines of verse. Tagore also took part in the plays of his brothers and sisters and was a good musician since his boyhood. His father too was a great musician. He returned to India in 1880 and wrote his Valmiki Pratibha. In 1883, he wrote a musical play, which he later translated as Sanyasi, or The Ascetic. Another attempt to send him abroad was made in the next year. But it did not materialize. His two books of poems, Sandhya Sangeet and Prabhat Sangeet made him very popular.

In 1887 he wrote The Sea Waves after the boat tragedy, that took a toll of several hundred pilgrims who were on their way to Puri. This was a very busy period in Tagore’s literary career. He wrote more poems and more plays, took part in play acting and play production. During the agitations for the partition of Bengal, he identified himself for a time with the movements and wrote the celebrated poem. But Tagore was not a fundamentalist of any kind, he was basically humanist and satirized orthodoxy and parochialism in some of his plays and poems.

Tagore also wrote many poems and stories for children e.g. Sishu, Shishu Bholanath.

Tagore was a great educationist also and in the sphere of education Tagore’s idea was that children should be brought up in a simple and rural atmosphere on the ideas of ashrams of older ages. He built a school at Shantiniketan, after his own heart, which owed its origin to his father maharishi. For this institution Tagore sold his house at Puri and his wife donated her jewellery. Shantiniketan was set up as a home for retirement and meditation, an ashram for cultural and spiritual realization. In course of time Shantiniketan and nearby Sriniketan became the focal centres of a new experiment which was to bring the cultures of the East and the West together. The first thing for the East was to find its own soul and then change West-East dichotomy into a creative unity, and thus achieve a broad base for understanding and purposive activity. Another object of Shantiniketan was that the cultural front should also be related to the life of the community, and education was to include vocational training as well. The keynote of all the activities in Shantiniketan and Sriniketan was to bring harmony. This small school later grew to be a great central university, known as Vishva-Bharati where an international team of dedicated scho1ars made attempt to work for human understanding. When Tagore was disturbed by the political climate in Bengal he returned to Shantiniketan and sought through the cultivation of solitude and nature, the innermost springs of spiritual life. But when his school was barely one year old Tagore’s wife died. He now wrote his beautiful poems about children called The Crescent Moon.

The years between 1903 and 1907 were the sad ones for the poet. There were many deaths in the family. He lost his second daughter, Renuka, his father, his youngest son, Shami, one after another. But Tagore did not lose heart and continued to write beautiful works, he was now drawn more and more to his motherland and became a leader of the movement for national liberation. It was about this time that Tagore wrote his Gitanjali in Bengali, and also the famous patriotic hymn, Jana Gana Mana.

When Tagore was fifty he had a great output to his credit and had made Bengali literature hum with excitement and exploration.He was hailed as the national poet of Bengali and on Jan. 28, 1912, a commemoration meeting was held in Calcutta, in connection with his Golden Jubilee, to pay homage to him.

As an escape from this exhaustion Tagore started translating into English some of his own lyrics and in 1912 when he reached London, he had a whole collection of the translations in his hands. There he came into contact with many British writers and thinkers, specially W. B. Yeats and the artist Rothenstein who inspired him to publish English translation of Gitanjali (in 1912, with Yeats’ memorable introduction) which won for him the Nobel Prize

for Literature in 1913. Henceforth he was not merely the poet of Bengal, but the whole of the world. After success of Gitanjali many volumes of translations either done by Tagore or by others under his supervision and even some original writings in English were published. Tagore now toured widely visiting the countries of East and West.

Tagore did not involve himself too intimately into the political currents in India but he maintained very friendly relations with Gandhiji and Jawahar Lal Nehru. Gandhiji visited Shantiniketan in 1915 and was greatly influenced by him. The British Government had bestowed a Knighthood on the poet in 1915, but the poet renounced it in protest against the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh. In 1930 when the news of Gandhiji’s arrest reached Tagore, he was deeply distressed and called off the celebrations of his seventieth birthday at once.

As the years passed, Tagore became more and more a legendary figure. In his flowing beard, and white robes he looked rather a Rishi belonging to ancient India. Though Tagore was getting old and ill, till his last he kept aloft the banner of faith in the future of mankind.

On the 7th of August, 1941 at the age of eighty in the old house at Jarosanki, he breathed his last. The whole nation was plunged into grief and mourning. In Dr. Edward Thompson’s words, “Not a man only but an age had made its way at last into history. He had summed up in himself a whole age in which India had moved into a modern world.”

Tagore’s Placement in the Indian Writing in English:

Tagore has always held a very prominent place among the Indian Literary figures who wrote in English. He translated quite a large portion of his writings into the English language. When he reached London with a large collection of his translations, in 1926, he came across many British literary stalwarts and thinkers. Among the most prominent of the English artists, he was inspired by no less than W. B. Yeats and the artist Rothen stein. With this inspiration, he got his Nobel Prize winning English translations of Gitanjali. Hereafter Tagore confidently crossed over to the English Literary world. He not only translated his famous Bengali works into English, he also contributed by writing original works of English.

Here is a Large Collection of quotes and sayings by Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Rabindra Nath Tagore Quotes Part-I

Rabindra Nath Tagore Quotes Part-II

Rabindra Nath Tagore Quotes Part-III

Rabindra Nath Tagore Quotes Part-IV

One Comment »

  • Max said:

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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