by Srivalli Rekha
5 stars I don’t want to put this as a disclaimer, but I might be a wee bit partial in my rating. Tagore is one of the best poets and writers in the world. I’ve loved his works since I was a child (we had a few of his stories in our Hindi and English textbooks). My personal copy of Gitanjali is almost two decades old. I got it from a tiny makeshift bookstore.
The original poems were written in Bengali, the native language of Tagore. He then translated them (and many other works) to English. What can get better than reading the poems translated by the poet himself? Of course, nothing compares to the beauty of reading them in the original language, but since I do not know the language, I have to settle for the next best.
Tagore was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), West Bengal, India. He wrote his first poem when he was around eight years old. Songs, sketches, poems, short stories, and prose- Tagore had numerous talents as a musician, polymath, artist, essayist, composer, playwright, and poet.
From his birth to his death (7 May 1861- 7 August 1941), Tagore’s entire life was during the British Raj (British rule) in India. He was a part of the freedom struggle. He wrote and composed the National Anthem of India and Bangladesh [which was then a part of Akhand Bharat (United :and of Bharat)]. Gitanjali or Song Offerings- A Collection of 103 Prose Poems
The English version of Gitanjali includes 69 poems from the Bengali version of Gitanjali, along with the rest for other works. He made a few changes, such as clubbing two poems and removing some phrases during the translation.
The original Bengali collection was first published in 1910. The translated version was published in 1912, which won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was the first non-European to receive the award.
The second edition of Gitanjali (Song Offerings) has an introduction written by WB Yeats. The core theme of Gitanjali is devotion to the Supreme. The poems are steeped in spiritual essence. The title suits the theme to perfection.
Gita- song Anjali- offer with the utmost devotion
I feel honored to review such a revered piece of literature during the NaPoWriMo month of April. At the same time, I wonder if I can do justice to his work.
If my review appears more like a student in awe of the mentor rather than an actual analysis, you know the reason.
The poems are written in the style of the era, where words and spellings that differ from today's English. This period could be called the Indian Renaissance. You will see words like thou, thee, thy, etc. in every poem. While most poems have one-sided conversations with God, some are narrated to fellow villagers, Mother, and even readers.
Nature, love (for God), simplicity, devotion, death, graceful acceptance of situations, gratitude, peace, happiness, melancholy, and life are some of the recurring themes of his poems.
The imagery is vivid and marvelous. We can picture the hills, the rivers, the open sky, birds flying around. We can hear the sounds of gushing waters, feel the warmth of a kerosene lamp on a twilight evening, and breathe in the scent of night flowers.
The poems are metrical in Bengali. In English, they are lyrical and flow like the waves of a brook. Most of them are about half a page in length. A handful of poems are longer than a page. But the amount of emotion and imagery he packs in each poem is immense. A Few Favorite Poems
In the first poem of the book, the poet talks to Lord Krishna (who carries a flute) about how his frail vessel (the human body) will be filled with new life no matter how many times it gets emptied. The body might go weak and lose its life, but the heart and soul which have experienced the joy of being blessed by Krishna will always remain pure and stay alive.
The third poem shows the poet’s marvel at the melody played by Lord Krishna and despite his attempts, he doesn’t seem to be able to join the Lord to sing along. The music of the Lord seems to encompass the whole world as the poet stays mesmerized.
I’ll add a small note here. Lord Krishna is known for his musical sense, his magnetic appeal, his magical ability to know everything, and his wisdom mixed with loads of playful mischief. I’m going to add a picture at the end of the post so that you have an idea about his appearance. Poem 32 talks about how everyone who loved the poet has bound him with that emotion; except the Lord. The Lord has set him free. There are no expectations, no demands. Even if the poet doesn’t think of the Lord, he knows he is still loved. He knows that the Lord will wait for the poet to love him back.
Let’s jump to the 83rd poem in the book. It is my most favorite. Here, Mother is Goddess Durga, worshipped by the Bengalis and across India. When I was a child, my dad recited the poem, especially the first line:
Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls for thy neck with the tears of my sorrow.
I barely understood what it meant, but the words stayed with me. Today, when I read the poem, I understand how simply he put forward his devotion. He owns nothing but sorrow, and that is what he gifts Her with all his heart.
The last poem of the book winds up the themes and places them at the Lord’s feet. Imagery is in abundance in this poem. Not a single poem is complete without referring to Nature. For the poet, Nature and God are a single entity. The poet surrenders, expressing his fatigue at having led this life and his desire to reach God to rest forever.
Picture of Lord Krishna
I hope you enjoyed the poems I shared with you. I attached the images so that you don’t have to search for them on the internet. But this is that one book that will bring you peace, especially in the current times. It will also give you hope that Nature knows how to set things right.
If you would like to support a fellow poet/ writer this NaPoWriMo month, please do check out my poetry collection, Violets in Hand on Amazon.
About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.