Monday, March 1, 2010

Rabindranath Tagore : Gitanjali

A century is about to pass by since Tagore's Gitanjali took the world by storm . The world of 1913 , the year Tagore was awarded Nobel Prize for his Gitanjali, was so unlike the world of today . It was a world which stood perilously on the brink of a disastrous war and people quaked with fear as war clouds gathered on the political horizon of Europe . It was a world sick of materialism ,and despair was writ large on every face . Into this world came Gitanjali as a ray of hope for humanity . It re-affirmed faith in the innate glory of man by pointing out his spiritual potential .

Gitanjali is the supreme achievement of Tagore as a mystic poet . This anthology of 103 lyrics is in the tradition of Vaishnava devotional poetry . But Tagore's romantic touch has transfigured them into exquisite poetry which even lay readers can understand and enjoy . The imagery in which Tagore expresses his vision enables the readers to participate in the poet's spiritual experiences .

Tagore reveals himself as a mystic poet in several lyrics of Gitanjali . The opening Song strikes the key-note The allusion to the Bhagavat Gita adds a mystic dimension to to the opening song : "" Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure " The following words echo the words of Lord Krishna in the Gita : '' This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again and fillest it with fresh life " In Song2 the poet calls God the Supreme Musician and describes himself as a captive caught in the meshes of God's divine music . The poet would like to join in the heavenly music of the Creator , but his voice fails him and he can only stand in silent amazement!

AS I have said, the Vaishnava devotional poetry had a great influence over Tagore . In song after song we find the poet describing his spiritual experiences in terms of romantic love in the manner of Vaishnava poets . The human soul is depicted as a maiden and God as her lover In Song 18 we can see a sustained use of romantic imagery to express the human soul's longing to merge with the Divine . The maiden has been waiting for the arrival of her lover throughout the day But as the night comes and darkness thickens and dark clouds accumulate in the sky the maiden bursts out in anguish "Ah, love ! Why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone / '

Charity and self-sacrifice are depicted as the qualities that endear one to God .In song after song Tagore sets forth this idea with suggestive imagery Songs 50 and 54 extol the virtues of charity and self-sacrifice .: The poet went a-begging from door to door . All of a sudden he saw the golden chriot of God coming towards him . His hopes brightened He hoped that his evil days were at an end and would cover him with gifts . The chriot stopped before the poet . To the great surprise of the poet , God held out His hand and asked : "" What hast thou got to give to me ?"" The poet opened his wallet and gave a least little grain of corn . When in the evening he emptied his wallet on the floor , the poet saw a least little grain of gold in the poor heap ! The story narrated in Song54 shows that God appreciates even our little acts of kindness and of love . : God approaches a maiden in the form of a thirsty traveller and asks for water and the maid obliges . But before taking his leave the traveller asks the maid her name ;:" What have I done that he wants to keep me in his memory . ?"

Tagore's belief in the immanence of God in nature can be seen in Song 45 : "Have you not heard His footsteps? " A true devotee of God can hear God's silent steps " every moment , every age , every day and every night " In the concluding Song Tagore's mysticism is expressed through stately imagery The poet surrenders everything at the feet of God Almighty .. Every act of surrender is described with suitable imagery . The poet compares his mind to a rain-cloud of July . heavy with unshed showers . The diverse srtains of his songs join together to form a mighty current flowing into the sea of silence .

I cannot conclude this write-up on Tagore's Gitanjali better than by quoting this comment made by W. B. Yeats after reading .Gitanjali : " these poems have stirred my blood as nothing has for years"

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