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Saturday, December 14, 2013

GITANJALI - POETRY AT ITS BEST

It is exactly over a century ago in November, 1913, a man with flowing beard and sweeping robes of India brought the first Nobel prize for his masterly work called Gitanjali (Song offerings) which is nothing but loose translations of his Bengali poems.

Rabindranath Tagore is a multi-facet personality of 20th century. He is a poet, novelist, playwright, painter, essayist and music composer. He is the first non-European to get the award in literature. His poetry stands apart from mainstream poets of English world of his times. His open minded reasoning is a celebration of human freedom. Humanism and universalism are the underlying threads of all his literary works.

Gitanjali is a culmination of his accumulated wisdom. This child prodigy churned out his first verse when he was 13.

Gitanjali is a timeless classic that centers on man’s eternal quest. It is a spiritual poetry of 103 beautifully weaved verses in orderly fashion. Through his work, Tagore shows the path towards the ultimate freedom.

Generally, we are attracted to poetry of rhythmic sounds which is not seen here. What matters here is sophistication of ideas and Tagore poured out his heart in  simple lucid words.

Had the Gurudev not translated Gitanjali into English, perhaps, his poetic beauty might have limited to Bengal only. By doing so, he gives large audience an opportunity to devour his poetry.

When you read Gitanjali, you could say that he became voice of India’s spiritual heritage. When, he was awarded the Nobel prize, vanity did not come on his way. This telegram he flashed on 10th December, 1913 for banquet speech of Award ceremony is strewn with spirituality “I beg to convey to the Swedish Academy my grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother”.

His poems are rhetorically simple with philosophical gravity. He left a heritage which no fire could consume, says the noted Bengali film director Satyajit Ray in his documentary on Rabindranath Tagore made in 1961. Ray terms his literature as heritage of words, poetry of ideas and ideals.

The great Irish poet W.B. Yeats who himself was Nobel laureate in 1923, in his Introduction to Gitanjali says that ‘though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing has for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveler will not tell me.’ Yeats made a sweeping remark that ‘We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design, just as we fight and make money and fill our heads with politics – all dull things in the doing – while Mr. Tagore, like the Indian civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and surrender himself to its spontaneity.

Gitanjali makes a fiery start with THOU HAST made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life. At some other place, assuming himself as little flower, Tagore earnestly pleads Almighty “ PLUCK THIS little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the dust.

The cornerstone of Gitanjali is this verse which could well-up your eyes with a sense of gratitude “My poet’s vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.’

While advising contentment in life,  Tagore portrays that “Day by day thou art making me worthy of the simple, great gifts that thou gavest to me unasked – this sky and the light, this body and the life and the mind – saving me from perils of overmuch desire.” Many more such soul-stirring verses in Gitanjali which are nuggets of wisdom and takes the soul to new heights.

The real tribute we could pay to this master poet is to read Gitanjali in its entirety and try to grasp its inner dimension which is sublime, musical, mystical and thought provoking!

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