The poetry of Rabindranath Tagore

I’ve spent some time reading some of my favorite poetry. Tagore was a 20th century poet, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature and considered by many to be the most important writer in the modern history of India. What follows are excerpts from two books I love. Reading these makes me cry.

Selections from Stray Birds

THE mystery of creation
is like the darkness of night–
it is great.
Delusions of knowledge are like
the fog of the morning.

*

WHAT you are you do not see,
what you see is your shadow.

*

MY heart beats her waves at the shore of the world
and writes upon it her signature in tears with the words,
“I love thee.”

*

HE has made his weapons his gods.
When his weapons win he is defeated himself.

*

I THANK thee that I am none of the wheels of power
but I am one with the living creatures
that are crushed by it.

*

From Gitanjali:

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;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
and action–

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

*

Early in the day it was whispered that we should sail in a boat,
only thou and I, and never a soul in the world would know of this
our pilgrimage to no country and to no end.
In that shoreless ocean, at thy silently listening smile my songs
would swell in melodies, free as waves, free from all bondage of
words.

Is the time not come yet? Are there works still to do? Lo, the
evening has come down upon the shore and in the fading light the
seabirds come flying to their nests.

Who knows when the chains will be off, and the boat, like the
last glimmer of sunset, vanish into the night?

*

Languor is upon your heart and the slumber is still on your eyes.
Has not the word come to you that the flower is reigning in
splendour among thorns? Wake, oh awaken! let not the time pass
in vain!

At the end of the stony path, in the country of virgin solitude,
my friend is sitting all alone. Deceive him not. Wake, oh
awaken!

*

What if the sky pants and trembles with the heat of the midday
sun–what if the burning sand spreads its mantle of thirst–

Is there no joy in the deep of your heart? At every footfall of
yours, will not the harp of the road break out in sweet music of
pain?

*

Let all the strains of joy mingle in my last song–the joy that
makes the earth flow over in the riotous excess of the grass, the
joy that sets the twin brothers, life and death, dancing over the
wide world, the joy that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and
waking all life with laughter, the joy that sits still with its
tears on the open red lotus of pain, and the joy that throws
everything it has upon the dust, and knows not a word.

*

When I bring to you coloured toys, my child, I understand why
there is such a play of colours on clouds, on water, and why
flowers are painted in tints–when I give coloured toys to you,
my child.

When I sing to make you dance I truly now why there is music in
leaves, and why waves send their chorus of voices to the heart of
the listening earth–when I sing to make you dance.

When I bring sweet things to your greedy hands I know why there
is honey in the cup of the flowers and why fruits are secretly
filled with sweet juice–when I bring sweet things to your greedy
hands.

When I kiss your face to make you smile, my darling, I surely
understand what pleasure streams from the sky in morning light,
and what delight that is that is which the summer breeze brings
to my body–when I kiss you to make you smile.

*

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the
earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous
waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of
life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my
blood this moment.

*

If it is not my portion to meet thee in this life then let me
ever feel that I have missed thy sight–let me not forget for a
moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in
my wakeful hours.

As my days pass in the crowded market of this world and my hands
grow full with the daily profits, let me ever feel that I have
gained nothing–let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the
pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

When I sit by the roadside, tired and panting, when I spread my
bed low in the dust, let me ever feel that the long journey is
still before me–let me not forget a moment, let me carry the
pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

When my rooms have been decked out and the flutes sound and the
laughter there is loud, let me ever feel that I have not invited
thee to my house–let me not forget for a moment, let me carry
the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

*

Like a rain-cloud of July hung low with its burden of unshed
showers let all my mind bend down at thy door in one salutation
to thee.

Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a
single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to
thee.

Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to
their mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its
eternal home in one salutation to thee

*

If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and
endure it. I will keep still and wait like the night with starry
vigil and its head bent low with patience.

The morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish, and thy
voice pour down in golden streams breaking through the sky.

Then thy words will take wing in songs from every one of my
birds’ nests, and thy melodies will break forth in flowers in all
my forest groves.

*

A couple links to more Tagore:

http://www.poetseers.org/nobel_prize_for_literature/tagore

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/tagore/index.htm

Maybe I’ll share some of my most favorite Carl Sandberg poems one day.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The poetry of Rabindranath Tagore

  1. Chris Cory

    Re Sandberg, do you know that Library of America annointed him last year with a “collected poems” edition? I discovered it because I was part of producing and singing in two performances (in Lincoln Center and Bridgehampton, NY) of Lukas Foss’s neglected secular cantata set to “Prairie.” “The Prairie,” as it’s called, made Foss famous when he was 21, but hadn’t been performed in the New York area for over 30 years. The conductor Mark Mangini revived it with the combined forces of his Greenwich Village Singers and Choral Society of the Hamptons. See theprairieproject.org. A recording of another performance last year, by The Providence Singers (q.v.) is expected out later this year. And at least one documentarian is working on a documentary about Sandberg. The editor of the Library of America collection, Paul Berman, argues that Sandberg was far more of a “modernist” than Whitman, and assembled an impressive panel of poets at NYU who read Sandberg (and listened to an excerpt of “The Prairie) and backed him up. I’d be happy to provide more information on any of this at ccory@pace.edu.

    Thanks for the Tagore. I’d always heard of him, never read him.

    Regards,

    Chris Cory

  2. rickpdx

    Thanks so much for the information. I am a Sandburg nut. Another thing I would like to see would be an audio web resource of Sandburg’s songs.
    Re Tagore: I have been inspired by his poetry since I was about 14.
    Wow! I am up to 3 comments! I am on a roll.

  3. Beautiful post of dear Tagore’s ineffably nectarine poetry.
    Thank you for sharing these gems. 🙂
    Do take care & Wishes, minerva*

  4. rickpdx

    Thanks for your kind words.
    You take care as well.
    Rick

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