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May 15, 2011




Page: 22/40

Home > 2011 Issues > May 15, 2011

The bliss of reading Tagore
—MG
Rabindranath Tagore: The Jewel that is Best: Collected Brief Poems, (tr. William Radice), Penguin Books India, Pp 201, Rs 250.00

THIS is a compilation of select poems written by one of the key figures of Bengal Renaissance and a Nobel laureate.

Divided into three volumes, titled Kanika (particles), Lekhan (jottings) and Sphulinga (sparks), the poems are quiet and philosophical observations that carry as much meaning as mystery and as much sensitivity as objectivity. Written at various points in the poet’s long life, they remain resonant even today.

Under the section titled Kanika (Particles), 1899, there are very brief Tagore’s poems which are beautiful and memorable in themselves. It would be best to think of them as essentially different creative efforts. In the poem titled ‘Defeat and Victory’, the poet tries to confront and console the bee thus:

The bee and the hornet broke out in dispute

Whose powers was the greater? ‘A thousand proofs’,

The hornet sneered, ‘Show that your sting

compared to mine is not at all strong.’

The bee had no answer. Seeing his tears

the Goddess of the Forest whispered in his ear:

‘Why, my sweet, are you so cast down?

In poison you lose, but in honey you win.’

In another poem titled ‘Speaking Up for Yourself’, the bee is the victor, when

a beautiful butterfly moans to a bee:

‘Why does the poet not look at me?

My wings are so colourful; what have you got

that makes you poetic, while I am not?’

‘You are’, said the bee,

‘lovely indeed;

but you have no hum to make yourself heard.

When I gather nectar, who doesn’t know it?

I steal the heart of the flower and the poet.’

Under the section titled Lekhan (Jottings), there is a poem by Tagore in which he says:

The stamp of Death

gives value to living.

Hence in our giving

of life, there is

worth.

It is said that in Germany, just before the Second World War, Tagore’s works were banned by the Nazis. Helene Meyer-Franck translated his poems and prose, learned Bengali language so as to be able to do it directly from the original and wrote in a selection of poems by Tagore that: “He knows that dying does not lead to death, but that death can signify life. He knows that in every person’s soul – even in the worst criminal’s soul – from somewhere within it, from a small hidden corner, the voice of goodness, the voice of God calls; and what is more that in everyone, even in the most degenerate soul, it is as the voice of goodness that this voice is perceived. That gives him the assurance that goodness is the principle of the world and people need no more than that, in order to find peace and harmony of soul.” It is this quality of goodness which shines forth in Tagore’s brief poems that set him apart from most other 20th-century poets.

The poems show that it was perhaps his imagination as a painter that enabled Tagore to combine humanity, nature and science on one canvas, a harmony strongly felt in his verses. The translator William Radice has done an able job by catching the fine nuances in the poems and being as faithful as possible.

(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017; www.penguinbooksindia.com)




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