Essay, Pages 4 (871 words)
(Gitanjoli) is a collection of 103 English poems, largely translations, by the Bengali poet Rabindranadha Tagore This volume became very famous in the West, and was widely translated. Gitanjali (Gitanjoli) is also the title of an earlier Bengali volume (1910) of mostly devotional songs. The word gitanjoli is a composed from “git”, song, and “anjoli”, offering, and thus means – “An offering of songs”; but the word for offering, anjoli, has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as “prayer offering of song”.
The English collection is not a translation of poems from the Bengali volume of the same name. While half the poems (52 out of 103) in the English text were selected from the Bengali volume, others were taken from these works (given with year and number of songs selected for the English text): Gitimallo (1914,17), Noibeddo (1901,15), Khea (1906,11) and a handful from other works. The translations were often radical, leaving out or altering large chunks of the poem and in one instance even fusing two separate poems (song 95, which unifies songs 89,90 of naivedya).
The translations were undertaken prior to a visit to England in 1912, where the poems were extremely well received. A slender volume was published in 1913 with an exhilarating preface by W B Yeats and in the same year, based on a corpus of three thin translations, Rabindranath became the first non-European to win the Nobel price for Literature. Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit… Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
This is the vision that the poet had for the India of his dreams… Gitanjali is a song of offering to the motherland (India), and to the deity that reigns upon the land. At times, it seems the poet has personalized the divinity in the form of a person; at other times he refers to the divinity in the abstract. Though the poetry is beautiful and evocative of nature, it is at times disjointed.
The common thread that binds the poem is the relationship between the singer and the object of his adoration. Like most poetry, this song too is introspective as the poet seeks to come to terms with his dreams. This song is more akin to a mosaic than a painting – the key to understanding this song is that the poet has interwoven number of (un) related themes together. Rabindranath Tagore – India’s first Nobel laureate – was a poet, playwright, artist and composer. In fact, he translated many of his works from the original Bengali.
Besides ‘Gitanjali’, he is also best known for two songs: ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ and ‘Jana Mana Gana’, which are the national anthems of Bangladesh and India respectively. But Tagore is loved as much for his music (Rabindra Sangeet) as for his poetry. In fact, the two are inseparable and deeply intertwined in popular Bengali consciousness. He was also a leading light in India’s freedom movement, though his leadership was more of a moral (rather than political) nature. Last – but not least – Rabindranath Tagore was also an educationist, and founded the famous school at Shantiniketan (or abode of peace).
The school was later expanded into a University. Rabindranath Tagore believed that learning should best be imparted in a natural environment. Some of the leading laureates of the school include Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen. “Gitanjali” is a collection of prose poems by Indian author Rabindranath Tagore. The Dover Thrift Edition contains an introductory note on the life of Tagore, who lived from 1861 to 1941. According to this note, Tagore, who wrote poetry in Bengali, translated “Gitanjali” himself into English. The Dover edition also contains a 1912 introduction by William Butler Yeats.
This English version of “Gitanjali” is a series of prose poems that reflect on the interrelationships among the poet/speaker, the deity, and the world. Although Tagore had a Hindu background, the spirituality of this book is generally expressed in universal terms; I could imagine a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or an adherent of another tradition finding much in this book that would resonate with him or her. The language in this book is often very beautiful. The imagery includes flowers, bird songs, clouds, the sun, etc. ; one line about “the riotous excess of the grass” reminded me of Walt Whitman.
Tagore’s language is sensuous and sometimes embraces paradox. Like Whitman and Emily Dickinson, he sometimes seems to be resisting traditional religion and prophetically looking towards a new spirituality. A sample of Tagore’s style: “I surely know the hundred petals of a lotus will not remain closed for ever and the secret recess of its honey will be bared” (from section #98). As companion texts for this mystical volume I would recommend Jack Kerouac’s “The Scripture of the Golden Eternity” and Juan Mascaro’s translation of the Dhammapada.