Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rabindranath Tagore was the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize - a hundred years ago

A hundred years ago, the very first Indian to win the Nobel Prize was - Rabindranath Tagore.

In commemoration of that centenary, I am reading through some of his work before the end of this year (my ambition is to read all that is available in English, but....)

His collection of poems, titled Gitanjali, has what is undoubtedly his most famous poem in English:

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.

While India rocks between holding its head high and being numbed with fear, one can only turn to such profoundly spiritual poems, in Gitanjali, as this one:

When thou commandest me to sing it seems that my heart would break with pride; and I look to thy face, and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life melts into one sweet harmony---and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across the sea.

I know thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before thy presence.

I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art my lord.

However, right now, I am finding most moving the following poem, from Lover's Gift and Crossing (London: Macmillan, 1918); I take this poem too to arise from his encounters with God:

Crossing 16

You came to my door in the dawn and sang; it angered me to be awakened from sleep, and you went away unheeded.

You came in the noon and asked for water; it vexed me in my work, and you were sent away with reproaches.

You came in the evening with your flaming torches.

You seemed to me like a terror and I shut my door.

Now in the midnight I sit alone in my lampless room and call you back whom I turned away in insult.

It reminds me of the poignant close of Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography, where he says "I have searched for Truth all my life, but I have not found it".

In each case: what sensitivity, what talent, what commitment - and yet they missed the Way, the Truth, the Life!

At least on this earth....

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: