Rabindranath Tagore Biography | Poems
A Bengali poet, philosopher, visual artist, playwright, composer, and novelist from India.. Bengali polymath; 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature
Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali: Rabindranath Thakur) (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941[γ]), also known by the sobriquet Gurudev[δ], was a Bengali poet from India, Brahmo Samaj (syncretic Hindu monotheist) philosopher, visual artist, playwright, composer, and novelist whose avant-garde works reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A celebrated cultural icon of Bengal, he became Asia's first Nobel laureate when he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Tagore was born in Jorasanko in the city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). A Pirali Bengali Brahmin by birth, Tagore began writing poems at the age of eight; he published his first substantial poetry — using the pseudonym Bhanushingho ("Sun Lion") — in 1877 and wrote his first short stories and dramas at age sixteen. His home schooling, life in Shelidah, and extensive travels made Tagore a nonconformist and pragmatist ; however, growing disillusionment with the British Raj caused Tagore to back the Indian Independence Movement and befriend Mahatma Gandhi. Despite the loss of virtually his entire family and his regrets regarding Bengal's decline, his life's work — Visva-Bharati University — endured.
Tagore's major works included Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World), while his verse, short stories, and novels — many defined by rhythmic lyricism, colloquial language, meditative naturalism, and philosophical contemplation — received worldwide acclaim. Tagore was also a cultural reformer and polymath who modernised Bangla art by rejecting strictures binding it to classical Indian forms. Two songs from his rabindrasangit canon are now the national anthems of Bangladesh and India: the Amar Shonar Bangla and the Jana Gana Mana.
Tagore's poetry — which varied in style from classical formalism to the comic, visionary, and ecstatic — proceeds out a lineage established by 15th- and 16th-century Vaiṣṇava poets. Tagore was also influenced by the mysticism of the rishi-authors who — including Vyasa — wrote the Upanishads, the Bhakta-Sufi mystic Kabir, and Ramprasad. Yet Tagore's poetry became most innovative and mature after his exposure to rural Bengal's folk music, which included ballads sung by Bāul folk singers — especially the bard Lālan Śāh. These — which were rediscovered and popularised by Tagore — resemble 19th-century Kartābhajā hymns that emphasize inward divinity and rebellion against religious and social orthodoxy. During his Shelidah years, his poems took on a lyrical quality, speaking via the maner manus (the Bāuls' "man within the heart") or meditating upon the jivan devata ("living God within"). This figure thus sought connection with divinity through appeal to nature and the emotional interplay of human drama. Tagore used such techniques in his Bhānusiṃha poems (which chronicle the romanticism between Radha and Krishna), which he repeatedly revised over the course of seventy years.
Later, Tagore responded to the (mostly) crude emergence of modernism and realism in Bengali literature by writing experimental works in the 1930s. Examples works include Africa and Camalia, which are among the better known of his latter poems. He also occasionally wrote poems using Shadhu Bhasha (a Sanskritised dialect of Bangla); later, he began using Cholti Bhasha (a more popular dialect). Other notable works include Manasi, Sonar Tori (Golden Boat), Balaka (Wild Geese — the title being a metaphor for migrating souls), and Purobi. Sonar Tori's most famous poem — dealing with the ephemeral nature of life and achievement — goes by the same name; it ends with the haunting phrase "শূন্য নদীর তীরে রহিনু পড়ি / যাহা ছিল লয়ে গেল সোনার তরী" ("Shunno nodir tire rohinu poŗi / Jaha chhilo loe gêlo shonar tori" — "all I had achieved was carried off on the golden boat — only I was left behind."). However, internationally, Gitanjali (Bengali: গীতাঞ্জলি) is Tagore's best-known collection, winning him his Nobel Prize. Song VII (গীতাঞ্জলি 127) of Gitanjali:
- আমার এ গান ছেড়েছে তার সকল অলংকার,
- তোমার কাছে রাখে নি আর সাজের অহংকার।
- অলংকার যে মাঝে পড়ে মিলনেতে আড়াল করে,
- তোমার কথা ঢাকে যে তার মুখর ঝংকার।
- তোমার কাছে খাটে না মোর কবির গর্ব করা,
- মহাকবি তোমার পায়ে দিতে যে চাই ধরা।
- জীবন লয়ে যতন করি যদি সরল বাঁশি গড়ি,
- আপন সুরে দিবে ভরি সকল ছিদ্র তার।
- Amar e gan chheŗechhe tar shôkol ôlongkar
- Tomar kachhe rakhe ni ar shajer ôhongkar
- Ôlongkar je majhe pôŗe milônete aŗal kôre,
- Tomar kôtha đhake je tar mukhôro jhôngkar.
- Tomar kachhe khaţe na mor kobir gôrbo kôra,
- Môhakobi, tomar paee dite chai je dhôra.
- Jibon loe jôton kori jodi shôrol bãshi goŗi,
- Apon shure dibe bhori sôkol chhidro tar.
Free-verse translation by Tagore (Gitanjali, verse VII):
- "My song has put off her adornments. She has no pride of dress and decoration. Ornaments would mar our union; they would come between thee and me; their jingling would drown thy whispers."
- "My poet's vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music."