Art and Intelligence: in Rabindranath Tagore's Poetry

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      Art and Literature, according to Tagore, seek to release and communicate the essential joy and everlastingness of the true. All art and Literature seek to record one thing, the wonder and joy of man's discovery of true. For the great art to be born, the mind of man is to be made cleaner and finer. Imagination, according to Tagore, prevails in the mind like a mirror. The mind in which imagination is clear will have reflection that is full and complete. The reflected reality or poetic truth resembles concrete reality. In an undear reflection the event cannot be seen clearly and therefore, pain and pleasure cannot spring from it.

In art, according Tagore, man reveals himself and not his objects. Man tries to transform everything with which he has any true concern into the human. And art is like "spread of vegetation, to show how iar man has retained the desert for his own". Poetry is not a means to something whereas prose is. Poetry is an end in itself. But poetry, as Kadha Krishanan points out, may do so many wonderful things through its musical rhythm, richness of imagery and extraordinary incident, but once it lacks vision it sinks to the level of verse and ceases to be poetry. Without a genuine creative vision great poetry is not possible. Here comes the significance of poet's personality. After all, it is the realisation of spirit, not of form that is the end of art.
Rabindranath Tagore

      In art, according Tagore, man reveals himself and not his objects. Man tries to transform everything with which he has any true concern into the human. And art is like "spread of vegetation, to show how iar man has retained the desert for his own". Poetry is not a means to something whereas prose is. Poetry is an end in itself. But poetry, as Kadha Krishanan points out, may do so many wonderful things through its musical rhythm, richness of imagery and extraordinary incident, but once it lacks vision it sinks to the level of verse and ceases to be poetry. Without a genuine creative vision great poetry is not possible. Here comes the significance of poet's personality. After all, it is the realisation of spirit, not of form that is the end of art.

      Tagore is a great phenomenon in the Indian Literary Renaissance. He was essentially a Bengali writer and is not generally described as an Indian writer in English. He had to his credit only one poem entitled The child" which he composed originally in English. That too, he wrote towards the last phase of his life. Albert Shweitzer simply crowns Tagore as the 'Goethe of India'.

The Command over English Language:

      The English used by Tagore is not so perfect grammatically. The Work of Tagore contains sentences which no educated Englishman would have written, sentences marked by little, subtle errors. Many critics accept that his English is absolutely his own, "But I will speak out of what I know," says Edward Thompson, "having seen some hundreds of his translated poems before publication, I examined, he writes English of extreme beauty and flexibility, but with mistakes that can be brought under two or three heads. First he is not quite at home with the article, Secondly, he does not use prepositions as an Englishman would. Thirdly, he sometimes has an unnecessary word where clauses meet, which makes the rhythm sag, like cloth with a stone in it. Add to this an occasional misuse of idiom, as I took my shelter' were English says I took shelter, and you have the whole of his slips. These things are but the tacks and nails of language. The beauty and music are all his own. It is one of the most surprising things in the world's literature that such a mastery over an alien tongue ever came to any man. Conrad conquered our language more completely; but he began to attack it in his teens, whereas Rabindranath was over fifty "before I began my courtship of your tongue."

Diction in His Poems:

      Tagore's diction underwent a gradual process of evolution very much like the evolution of Yeats' diction. In early poetry his style is over decorated, florid and pedantic. Gradually the poet showed greater and greater depth and restraint, he learned to load every right of his subject with ore, and gradually acquired almost Shakespearean felicity of expression, that classical simplicity and austerity which makes for loveliness and imposing majesty. "The fleshing felicity of diction" of a line as the following is a rare achievement, indeed:

"In the crests of the corn the sprits of earth tremble."

      The later phase of his career produced work with mostly colloquial diction close to the everyday language of man. The Gitanjali is a rare example of the union of simplicity with sublimity. The language is simple. There is rarely, a hard unfamiliar word. There are no poeticisms; the language approximate as closely as possible to the language of every day use. The vocabulary is simple, easy and familiar and the grammatical constructions are also easy. There are no complications, no inversions, no long, involved sentences. Shortest words, mostly mono-syllabics, have been used, and the words are selected both with reference to their sense and their sound. The use of monosyllables results in a concentrations of vowel sounds and this contributes to the music and melody of his poetry. The use of Alliteration, Onomatopoeia liquid consonants etc. also contributes to the music and melody of his poetry. The poet is also a master in the use of malapoeia, or the witchery of musical suggestion.

Suggestiveness  in Tagore's Words:

      A single word is used in such a way that it expresses a profound meaning. Like the word 'flower, which, literarily signifies the object of Nature but suggests lot of meanings and expresses poets feelings. Some where it is a symbol of freshness, vigour, vitality and somewhere joy, cheerful spirit, romance, love, devotion. On other hand it expresses the profound hidden meanings like

"shall ever try to drive all evils away from my heart and keep my love in flower, knowing that thou hast thy seat in the most shrine of my heart."

"I surely know the hundred petals of lotus will not remain closed for ever and the secret recess of its honey will be bared."

      Flower is used as a sexual and at once a spiritual symbol. It is used to suggest poetic inspiration:

"In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers."

Similarly

"Beautiful is thy wristlet, decked with stars and cunningly wrought in myriad coloured jewels. But more beautiful to me is thy sword with its curve of lightning."

      The simple word wristlet symbolizes world, the beautiful creation of God, as colourful as God's ornament. The jewels of wristlet symbolizes the attractive, alluring luxuries, comforts of world. On the other hand sword a single world like wristlet expresses the non-attachment with these worldly pleasures. "thy sword is with me to cut asunder my bonds, and there shall be no fear left for me in the world". The two words in the poem, though contradictory explains the whole truth of creation and renunciation, worldly pleasures and spiritual joy life and eternal abode. In another lyric of the Gitanjali, the king of the fearful night sent his message through the storm, but the poet did not heed it. Suddenly the King appears in thunder, lightning and darkness, and the poet exclaims,

"Bring out thy tattered piece of mat and spread it in the courtyard".

      The tattered mat expresses his unpreparedness and his terror-stricken solicitude, with the bare, sheer, penetrating power of Nature which is in evidence in almost all the poems of Gitanjali. It is one of Tagore's most distinctive ideas that, man is as necessary for God as God is for man, that it is through man that God's love fulfills itself. One of the simplest and most effective expressions of this idea is to be found in Gitanjali:

"Thus it is that joy in me is so full thus it is thou hast come down to me. O thou lord of all Heavens, where would thy love be if I were not?"

      Tagore expresses his idea within few words almost all in monosyllables, how the emphasis in thus it is in the beginning of the first two Sentences is explained in the second part of the third sentence and how it is further strengthened by the contrast between "it" and "all heavens" and the interrogation which seems to come abruptly at the end of stanza.

Abundance of Natural Imagery:

      The wealth of natural illustration is abundant in his poetry. No poet has had a more constant and intimate touch with Nature's beauty. He uses at his best, the same images and pictures, the oldest ones in the world, a score of times in as many lines and each with freshness and charm. His wealth here is inexhaustible, and it is manifest in prose as in verse and today, after his swift advance in mastery of the tongue, is almost as manifest in English as in Bengali.

      The use of graphic and vivid images is an important characteristic of Tagore's diction and contributes to the Indianness of his poetry. It is because of the use of such concrete imagery that God does not remain an abstraction in Tagore's poetry, but becomes a living breathing reality. He is the bridegroom, at other times the bride, or the traveller or the sailor, or the guest who comes to visit the poet unexpectedly. The human soul yearning for the eternal is likened to a 'flock of homesick cranes and life and death are said to be 'two breasts' of the divine mother. The image is fresh and startling in its originality. Here is one of the most beautiful, vivid as well as violent image from the Gitanjali:

"But more beautiful to me is thy sword with its curve of lightning like the outspread wings of the divine bird of Vishnu, perfectly poised in the angry red light of the sunset."

Versification of Tagore's Poem:

      Tagore's English lyrics are prose poems. Tagore says "There is a weight and restraint in the language of poetry. That is what is called metre. Prose is not squeamish. It goes about everywhere with its head erect." Tagore compares the movement of a prose poem to the steps of a young woman, controlled by the natural desire for balance'. He mentions his own experience: I can say this much that I have written a number of prose poems, the subject matter of which could not be expressed in any other way than in that form. There is an easy everyday manner about them. Perhaps they don't have the usual trappings of poetry: they nevertheless have their beauty. For this reason I consider them as rightfully belonging to the family of poetry. It may be asked: what is a prose poem? I will say, "I don't know what it is nor how it is formed. I know this much - that it has beauty which cannot be demon strated by argument." As he himself said there is no rhyme or metre in the lyrics of The Gitanjali. It is verse libre or verse which has been freed from the bondage of metre. "The essence of free verse consists in the heightened moment of poetic expression forging out a music ot its own 'not the music associated with verse forms based on the rhythm of metrical feet, but cadence which was bound to no counted syllables or even lines that rose and tell with the emotions and flow of words? Free verse in other words is an attempt at aesthetic organization." (Verghese) The rhythm and verse - movement are determined by the requirements or thought and motion and not by the laws of metre. It is chantable prose, as Ezra Pound called it, the rhythm of which is 'subtle under flow. This subtle underflow of Tagore's poetic prose is according to Edward Thompson, "an impeccable metrical achievement".

      As regards the form the typical Gitanjali song in Bengali has four stanza or movements, with four lines in each, and the first rhyme repeated at the end of the second and fourth stanzas. There are a number of variations both in rhyme and quantity of lines. But the basic structure is maintained giving a classical restraint to the verse. For the sake of music even short lines are used. "The poems," in the words of Buddhadeva Bose, "quiver like arrows or likes rays upon a stream". The English verse is a free rendering of the Bengali original and the poetic prose passages here have an unearthly quality of their own. The English rendering is an innovation in poetic form and is more free than the free verse of Walt Whitman or of T.S. Eliot. Whitman used line as the unit but Tagore completely erased the distinct form of poetry. He created poetry in almost the same form as the prose and in this showed that poetry is not bound by any formal pattern. In seemingly disjointed prose montages he enacted the drama of love, separation and reunion assuming the various metamorphoses of a lover.

The Haunting Music:

      The lyrics of the Gitanjali and other works have haunting music of their own. They have an incantatory or mantric quality all their own. They have the lilt of a folk song. A great deal of the charm of the Gitanjali lies in its music and melody. It is rhythmic prose, but Tagore has succeeded in capturing the very sweetness and lilt of a folk song. The poems seem to sing themselves as if by some natural magic of their own. They have an exquisite rhythm which charms even the most casual reader. It is certainly poetry, though written in prose. "By scolding the Dondage of metre, Tagore has retained a freedom of movement beyond he scope of verse. The diction and imagery is poetic, it is prose with poetic idiom, and there is a division in "word-group" similar to that in poetry, only instead of groups of two or three syllables, there are groups of four or five syllables. Thus he has acquired greater freedom and flexibility, and still has retained the rhythm of poetry, its music and melody. The poems are works of art of a high order of perfection, an art the greatness of which lies in the fact that it conceals art. It has the rhythm of the Authorised version of the Bible in its most passionate passages, a rhythm which changes according to the needs of thought and emotion".

      Writes Sen Gupta, "The rhythm of Gitanjali is not that of metrical verse or of free verse but there is greater recurrence than in rhythmic prose such as that of Brown, Ruskin and Pater. Indeed its only parallel in English literature is the rhythm of the Authorized version of the Bible in the more passionate passages such as the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah quoted and scanned by Saintsbury. In quieter moments when the poet expresses tiredness or languor there is not much of recurrence; he has recourse to ordinary prose with a slight underflow of rhythm as in the following:

"We sang; no glad songs; nor played, we went not to the village; for better; we spoke not a word; not smiled. We lingered not, on the way"

      But as he becomes more and more passionate, his rhythm catches the lilt of verse movement, and very often we feel that it is poetic rhythm which has only been broadened by the greater freedom of prose. The following example will show how Tagore makes use of the principle of recurrence and equivalence peculiar to metrical verse and yet introduces the variety, breadth and difference that we can expect only from rhythmic prose.

Let only/that little/of my fetters/be left/whereby/l am bound/with thy will and thy purpose/is carried out/in my life/and that is/the fetter/of thy love

Faults of Tagore's work:

      Monotony of style in much of Tagore's work is quite evident. The use of images from Nature is recurrent. The use of certain vocabulary again and again is monotonous. One of critic says "flowers are always opening, and the south wind is always blowing". The recurrent image of flower, southwind, autumn, tears, laughter, separation, tunes, bees and the rest which sometimes is positively maddening.

      But even the best of us have their faults and Tagore is no exception. As Paul Verghese points out "The chief defect of Tagore's poetry, how ever, is a certain rhythmic and total monotony; the tonal variety especially is almost negligible. In other words the reader fails to be surprised and thrilled by any newness with each succeeding work. But this fault does not lessen his real greatness as a metrist or the value of his contribution. The post independence Indian poet in English, however, has got over this limiting influence of Tagore on him, and is now writing in most varied metres and verse forms.

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