Rabindranath Tagore's Contribution to Indian Poetry

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      A Pioneer in Poetry in form and manner, The poetical works of Rabindranath Tagore are marked with fullness and variety. His followers claim that he has not only saved his own soul, but also his Comrade's homeward way. He is a pioneer in this, in his constant resolve to taste life to the full. Tagore found his own path, with none to guide him. His poetic efforts, first to last, have been sincere as the work of true poets is. Here he has always been true to his innermost self. He has been poet, not philosopher, and as a poet has made a highway through a swamp. All through his career he has never paused in his effort to enlarge his range. His poetry is vast, various and voluminous.

Rabindranath has never ceased to learn. He took inspiration from the source what ever come in his way. First, of course, are the Bengali Vaisnava lyricist. He is grateful to them because they put him in the way of finding his gift of pure song. His real master has been Kalidasa. He never missed a chance of paying Kalidas homage, either by explicit panegyric or by the subtler way of pure-phrasing or quoting, as Shakespeare does to Marlowe:
Rabindranath Tagore

Influences on the Poetical Efforts:

      Rabindranath has never ceased to learn. He took inspiration from the source what ever come in his way. First, of course, are the Bengali Vaisnava lyricist. He is grateful to them because they put him in the way of finding his gift of pure song. His real master has been Kalidasa. He never missed a chance of paying Kalidas homage, either by explicit panegyric or by the subtler way of pure-phrasing or quoting, as Shakespeare does to Marlowe:

"Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might. Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?"

      Frequently, when the strain is ostensibly a Vaisnava one, and the theme is Krishna and Radha, the real mood is not Vaisnava at all, but as obviously as possible, is Kalidasa's. The two poets, the greatest India has ever produced, differ as strikingly as they resemble each other. The one is the poet of mountains, rejoining in their strength and vastness. The other is the poet of rivers and of quiet places. But the two between them so completely represent Indian landscapes, that any third poet hereafter must seek other way to fame. Both are passionate lovers of the rains, and have given the picture after picture of them which are perfect in faithfulness and charm. Both, again, love the gentler beauties of nature and character, and both are at home in symbolism and mingle with casy grave in the affair of Gods and Immortals.

Shelley of; Bengali Poetry

      A very important strain in Rabindranath's work is the influence of folk-tale and folk-poetry other than Vaisnava, This is responsible for many charming moments, and also for occasional moments of dullness, when it contributes to that cult of the trivial which is the defect of his great quality of interest in the smallest thing. The great epics, to have given him thoughts and incidents that have touched him to fine issues.

      Tagore, in his teens was called, the Bengali Shelley, and he has translated Shelley and has acknowledged him as an influence. Shelley has been the favourite English poet of Tagore. The Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, he says, was like a transcript of his mind in his youth. 'I felt as if I could have written it' In Tagore's work we find a similarity with Shelley. Such would be hard to find elsewhere between two poets of different tongues and civilisations.

      The delicacy of Christina Rossetti, Mrs. Browning attracted him. But the real influence was of Keats and Browning.

Abundance of Nature:

      The wealth of natural beauty is in abundance. It is inexhaustible, and it is manifested in prose as in verse, and today, after his swift advance in mastery of the tongue, is almost as manifested in English as in Bengali. There is the variety as well as the freshness and abundance of his natural magic. In Manasi for example is one of the grandest and most terrible sea-storm in the world's literature - written, not by an Englishman, but by a Bengali.

His Poetical Work in the First Phase:

(1) Sandhya-Sangeet :- His first significant work is Sandhya-Sangeet (1882) mainly a collection of lyrics. It is in these lyrics that the poet, for the first time, discovers his true voice and his true medium. The poet's mood is dark and pessimistic and over the whole brood gloom, despair and inchoate longings. The work represents a passing phase in the poetic career of Tagore.

(2) Prabhat-Sangeet :- Sandhya Sangeet was followed by Prabhat Sangeet (1883). The poet now emerges from the dark caverns of gloom and despair into the bright light of love, hope and joy, where he has to remain for the rest of his career. The Awakening of the Waterfall, one of the most important lyrics in this collection, is based on that great moment of illumination which resulted in this emergence. Prabhat Sangeet marks the poet's first entrance into what Keats would call the "realm of Flora and old Pass". For, "intoxicated with the light and atmosphere," he would see "nothing but pleasant wonders". But the sensuous is always shot through with spiritual undertones. The work is also Tagore's first clear step on the threshold of a spiritual world which his poetry would keep on exploring deeper and deeper. Prabhat Sangeet was fallowed by Chabi O Gan (1884) and Kadi O Kamal (1886) but there is nothing very significant about these works.

(3) Manasi :- The next important work and a landmark in Tagore's poetic career is Manasi (1890). The poet steps out of adolescence into manhood. The poet's romantic imagination now flames into a blaze of light. The lyrics are marked by conflicts and tensions, and these tensions enrich the texture and give the work its chief significance. Manasi is poetry of elemental conflicts. If the entrancing image of beauty, on the one hand, and the call of man, on the other, form the central stream, other stream only less ample run parallel to it. Indeed, in his pursuit of ideal love, in his concepts of Nature and of man, in his poetry of scathing satire on the contemporary social scene, Tagore's mind is lacerated by conflicts, and breathing in a tumult of passion unexcelled in romantic poetry. The conflicts themselves create tension that enrich his poetry, and their perception for us is itself a vivifying experience. Love, Nature, Beauty, and Man as "symbolising the life infinite in the universe," are its chief themes. The diction is luxuriant, both in imagery and vocabulary. There is subtlety but no obscurity.

(4) Sonar Tori (1894) :- The Golden Boat marks another phase or peak. The magic of its rippling verse, the melting delicacy of its limited, but subtly repeated imagery, is unsurpassed. It creates an autonomous universe, a verbal icon before our very eyes. The lyrics of the collection are exquisite in their beauty and melody. This Great awakening, as the poet calls it, was the first momentous event in the poet's spiritual life. "Nature suddenly threw away her veil and led the entranced youth to her inmost sanctuary. And with endless wonder the poet first discovered hero ravishingly beautiful was nature, how enthralling her majesty. An entranced soul stood all alone in wonder before the waked loveliness of Nature's charm. And in the process, there stepped out, in all her splendour, a being of imperial beauty whom the poet would love as no man loved a woman. It was a confrontation of a soul with another soul, vast and intangible, and letter after letter of Chinna Patra speak of that soulful communion.

(5) Chitra (1896) :- The conflicts and longings of the earlier work re-appear in the lyrics of this collection. Aesthetic and religious undertones of the lyrics mark a new stage in Tagore's development. According to E. Thompson, "It is one of the summits of his work unsurpassed and un-suppressible in its kind". The most important poem in this collection is Urvashi in which the poet's vision of ideal Beauty finds incarnation in the ancient Hindu mythological figure of Urvashi. Edward Thompson says, "Urvashi is perhaps the greatest lyric in all Bengali literature and probably the most unalloyed and perfect worship of Beauty which the world's literature contains." In the figure of Urvarshi the finest romantic and classical arts meet and blend. The poem possesses perfection and felicity of loveliness.

Jivan Devata :- Another poem in this collections throws light on the Tagore's concept of "Life's Lord". The concept has been variously interpreted. However, the poet has himself given us the major strands in this concept. He says that he is at the back of his creative powers and is ever guiding towards the fulfilment of a higher purpose. He is invisibly shaking his life through rough and tumble and giving significance to all the events of life.

Second Phase of Tagore's Work:

(6) Chaitali :- Another collection of lyrics came out in 1896. The new phase of Tagore's poetical work started from Chaitali, whose few poems were written in early phase of his spiritual quest. Chaitali is the late rice gathered in the month of Chaitra. The book of this name shows the poet gathering up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. He is gleaning in fields which have given magnificent harvest. There is an autumnal atmosphere over the book. It is one of the most prophetic thing that has ever come out of the human spirit. It looks back, in a mood of tranquil reminiscence, knowing the day's work well done, and forward, with serene anticipation. It is written almost entirely in Rabindranath's sonnet, that flowing, peaceful form of seven rhymed couplets. Its poems are a succession of pictures. "A girl with a buffalo, a baby and a kid, a prostitute, the ferry playing between villages, folk going forth to their labour at dawn. After this the important works are:

(7) Khalpara (1900) :- a collection of lyrics which recapture the passing moods and fancies of the poet. Many of these are lyrics of love. The collection also contain poems whose theme is political or national as well as some which are humorous.

(8) Katha O Kahini (1900) :- is an exploration of various myths and legends. It recaptures the diversity as well as underlying unity of India. It relates stories of heroism, sacrifice and spiritual grandeur. The stories to which he turned were not Bengali ones, but chiefly Sikh and Maratha. It is a collection of stories as varied in theme as they are rich in dramatic power.

(9) Kahini (1900) :- Tagore's romantic imagination now explores from various angles, ultimate human values which triumph over the orthodox and the conventional. A number of old Hindu myths and legends are used for the purpose.

(10) Naibedya (1901) :- It is religious and metaphysical in tone. It records the resolution of the poet's discords and tensions. The poems of Naibedya have a marmoreal quality, its rounded finish and polished smoothness but also, Occasionally, its hardness, its coolness - both heightened by the chaste stately diction, the solemn image and the cloistered sonnet form which all lend a dignity, even majesty, unknown before. A clear blue sky of harmony spreads over the earlier poems - more hymns and gnomic poetry than lyrics.

(11) Samaran (1902) :- is a memorial work and was written to record the poets' grief over the death of his wife as well as to honour her memory. It has been compared with the greatest classical elegies in English. The moral of the poet progresses from that of grief over the loss to a confident expression of his belief in the immortality of the soul. Death is here approached as a unifying and transfiguring force rather than a destructive and disintegrating one.

(12) Sisu :- This is the another work the inspiration for which came to the poet from his own family. Tagore here looks at the world through the eyes of a child - his own child.

(13) Utsarga (1903) and Kheya (1906) :- These two important works of Tagore reflects the different stages in his spiritual journey. The former consists of poems specially written by the poet to introduce the various sections in a collection of his poetry. This method enables the poet to write a spiritual autobiography of the period to which the poems in the collection belong. The latter work is again spiritual and metaphysical in tone and content. It records the poet's intense longing for a higher life.

(14) Gitanjali (1910) :- The trio Gitanjali (1912) in English, Gitamalya (1914) and Gitali (1914) followed Kheya. The English translation of Gitanjali brought Nobel Prize and world fame to the poet. The poetry is a desperate attempt to express man's relation to his fellow-men, to Nature, to God. Gitanjali is verily the recordation of the vicissitudes in the drama of human soul in its progress from finite to the infinite. And this progress is necessarily conceived as a battle, as a journey and as a continuing sacrifice, culminating in a total offering of all one is (atmasamarpan) so that by losing all one may gain all.

      Here Tagore seems to reveal important but simple truth through the medium of poetry. Life as a battle, a journey and a search, and as a progressive sacrifice. Such is the dynamic of spiritual struggle and realisation. These poems are religious and mystic but their appeal is nevertheless universal. This work is great from the point of view of technique also. There is simplicity of words, felicity of diction, delicacy of expression and sublimity of theme. A spirit of joy in living, as well as of humility, marks these poems. There are influences of Vaishnava poetry. The poems echo the devotion of Kabir, bhakti of Meera, ecstasy of love of Radha Krishna. W.B. Yeats and other great scholars appreciates his work "Four threads run through the rich texture of these works for they are concerned with God and the human soul, God and Nature, Nature and the soul, and the individual soul and humanity." These four themes mingle and overlap, and the result is a devotional poetry such as the world had never seen before. That is why Gitanjali took the whole world by storm and captured the mind of scholars and hearts of writers of the day.

The Last Phase

      Banabani, Purabi, Mahua are few poems of his last phase of poetical work.

(15) Purabi (1925) :- This is another crowning achievement, Tagore's thoughts turn once again to mystery and wonder of God and His Creation. Purabi is a record of the poet's meditations on religious and metaphysical themes. Its dominant note is one of wonder and wistfulness. Some of the lyrics in this collection are particularly delicate and graceful. Arich reminiscent mood, a serene acceptance of life's experiences are, remarkably graceful, jostle with verse austere and sublime.

(16) Mahua (1929) :- Mahua is the name of a tree which yields flowers with a very heady fragrance. The collection abounds with nature images of a strange, haunting beauty. They are an exploration into the mysterious cosmic force that is love - a force as vast and imponderable, and as creative as Nature's forces. The two worlds meet and merge and the poems are aglow with that vital affinity. Indeed there is hardly a power where nature images exquisitely vivid, detailed and evocative - are not an integral element of the thought an emotion of love. The idiom of that thought or emotion has now become intensely mystical. Round the theme of love more a radiant, creative light than, a theme - are constantly woven the dark, intangible of nature in a fashion that defies analysis.

(17) Banabani :- Banabani celebrates the beauty and magic of forest. As he wrote himself "Those trees are the harp of infinite...Through them breathes the elemental music through their branches and leaves dances a grand, simple rhythm. If we but listen soulfully, the message of deliverance reaches our heart-deliverance on the shores of that vast ocean of life on whose surface beauty ripples in endless colour in whose depths reign peace, beneficence and the one. No lust nor longing clings to that infinite play of beauty; only, there sways a supreme force in endless joy."

(18) The Child :- The long poem which Tagore wrote in the first instance in English and only later rendered into Bengali as Sishuthirtha. The poem was composed by Tagore in a fury of creative energy in the course of a single night. The idea of Tagore that one day the new born, the divine child, will annul the burden of the ages and end once and for all the dichotomy between the desire and the spasm, the leap forward and the fulfilment. The poem is in ten sections.

      Tagore continued to write upto the very end of his days. The last phase of his life was pre-occupied with death theme. The lyrics of Punascha 1932, Arogya 1941, Sulekha 1941, are not only new, but unique in many ways. First, the poems are marked by an intense, far-flung realism of vision-revealed in a wealth of meticulous, multitudinous details from nature, from life, from the world of psychology, often abnormal and bizarre - intensely wedded to a strong visionary imagination that opens the world of the spirit. Secondly, for the first time - a dramatic art and imagination catch with objectivity, with realism, the depths and mysteries of the human mind and character particularly the child's. Thirdly for the first time Tagore's poetry penetrates into the mysteries of both the animal and the natural world and daringly attempts to pierce into their minds. And in the process, the bird and the tree, become beings with minds that work mysteriously. Here is a poetry that reveals a vision as fresh and new as it is deep, far-fung, comprehensive. In such a world the beautiful and ugly, good and evil, poverty and plenty, harmony and discord - all crowd and jostle cheek by jowl. They conspire to create a world of their own. Here is poetry of 'motley worn,' poetry that has discarded all pretension and descends into the "turbid sacred waters" of life. Says S.B. Mukharji, "The poetry of the last phase reveals gradual emergence of a vision which could be best defined by Keats' celebrated phase already referred to - 'Negative Capability'. Along with his idealistic vision of joy and love, peace and harmony at the heart of existence Tagore develops a singularly, detached, object vision, often serenely ambivalent, that calmly looks into the light and dark of nature and life that doubts, questions, even negates, at times, the central idealistic vision. This dispassionate, ambivalent imagination, the inner spirit of Keats "Negative capability, marks the poems of this period." The poet is concerned with the life of the common men, with their joys and sorrows. These are delightful pen pictures of men and women in their day to day activity.

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