Thursday, 26 November 2015

Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore.

Gitanjali (গীতাঞ্জলি) is a collection of poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর) and it was first published on the 14th August 1910 - this Bengali edition contained 157 poems; the English edition (1912), translated by Tagore himself in prose, contains 103. 

Rabindranath Tagore.
The title, Gitanjali, literally means 'song offerings' ('Gita' meaning 'song' and 'anjali' meaning 'offerings'), and these short poems are offerings to God on the subjects of nature and humanity; for this he was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913 (the first non-European to do so) and he was knighted in 1915 (he renounced this in 1919 however in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which British Indian Army shot at those taking part in the Baisakhi celebrations. The British government stated 379 had been killed, the  Indian National Congress suggest it was 1,000).

Here's the 1ˢᵗ poem or song (translated in prose, as I say):
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. 
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life. 
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new. 
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable. 
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.
One of my favourites is the 19ᵗʰ -
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.
Another favourite - the 24ᵗʰ-
If the day is done, if birds sing no more, if the wind has flagged tired, then draw the veil of darkness thick upon me, even as thou hast wrapt the earth with the coverlet of sleep and tenderly closed the petals of the drooping lotus at dusk. 
From the traveller, whose sack of provisions is empty before the voyage is ended, whose garment is torn and dustladen, whose strength is exhausted, remove shame and poverty, and renew his life like a flower under the cover of thy kindly night. 
I also loved the 35ᵗʰ -
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.
Finally, one more - the 81ˢᵗ -
On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands. 
Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness. 
I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers. 
There is much joy and peace to be found in Tagore's Gitanjali; it is stirring, profound, and one read of it is not enough. I've already read it twice since the weekend, and I'm not alone - W. B. Yeats, in his introduction to the English version of the poems, quotes a Bengali Doctor as saying, "I read Rabindranath every day, to read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world." Many reviewers on Goodreads say the same - these poems are to be absorbed as well as simply read. I think this was an excellent introduction to Rabindranath Tagore, and I do plan on reading some of his other works as soon as I can!

To finish, three illustrations from the 1918 edition by Nandalal Bose and Abanindranath Tagore:

Further Reading


  1. I like Tagore and I like your post! :)

    1. Thank you - I appreciate that, I don't find it easy to write about books of poetry! :)


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