Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tagore's Nobel Bouquet Of Verses


Rabindranath Tagore was the very first Indian to put India on the top of literary world by winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his ‘Gitanjali’-- A collection of prose translations made by him from the original Bengali. Gitanjali means ‘A Bouquet of Verses’. The Nobel Prize made him famous in a day all over the world but he had to reap both benefits as well as the disadvantages of suddenly coming into the glare of world recognition. It was his own translation in English that was instrumental for his getting recognition as an authentic English poet. An intellectual group composed of some living poets, artists and writers of England was lifted off its feet listening to his English translation. This group was totally free from prejudices and mental reservations and for them recognition was a reflection of merit. Mr. Heidenstam, a Swedish poet, who himself won the same Nobel Prize three years later in 1916, having found Tagore so very enchanting, without hesitation recommended Tagore’s name for to the notice of the Swedish Academy in the these words; “For the first time and perhaps for the last, for a long time to come, it would be vouchsafed us to discover a great name before it has appeared in all the newspapers. If this is to be achieved, we must not tarry and miss the opportunity of waiting till another year”. Obviously his tribute related to Tagore’s poetry.

T. Surge Moore, another of Tagore’s early admirers, was another English poet who sponsored Tagore’s name for the Nobel Prize. When Tagore learned of the genuine admiration of Moore for his poetry, he was overwhelmed with gratitude. In a letter to him, he confessed “You know it had been the source of rare great pleasure for me while in England to admire your manly power of appreciation which was without a tinge of meanness and jealousy. I would have gladly sacrificed my Nobel Prize, if I could be left to the enjoyment of this strong friendliness and true hearted admiration”

While there was universal appreciation, acclaim and adoration for Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’ in English , there were some petty minds in literate circles in England who could not tolerate the rise to fame of an Indian, particularly in the field of English literature. Some of these petty-minded people suspected the authorship of the English translation and drew conjectures of another as the authentic translator. The needle of suspicion was turned towards Mr.W.B.Yeats as the real translator. It may be noted that
Mr.W.B.Yeats wrote only the introduction to the English version of Gitanjali when it was first published by Macmillan and Company in 1913.

It did not take long for the news about such a lurking doubt about the authenticity of the English translation to reach the ears of Tagore. He was least bothered about such a comment as he was a ‘Kavya Rishi’ [A Seer among Poets] who took every event with poise and equanimity of mind. In a letter dated 6th May 1913 addressed to his niece Indira Devi, Tagore remarked “To this day I have not been able to imagine how I came to do it and how people came to like it so much. That I cannot write English is a much patent fact, that I never had even the vanity to feel ashamed of it. If anybody wrote an English note asking me to Tea, I never felt equal to answering it. Perhaps you think by now I have gotten over that delusion, but in no way am I deluded that I have composed in English”

In his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech delivered at Stockholm, Tagore echoed Swami Vivekananda’s ideas on education and criticised the education system that had ended up in imitating the West. He said “We lost our confidence in our own civilization for over a century, when we came into contact with the Western races with their material superiority over the Eastern humanity and Eastern culture. In the educational establishments no provision was made for our own culture. For over a century our students have been brought up in utter ignorance of their own civilisation of the past. Thus we not only lost touch of the great which lay hidden in our own inheritance, but also the great honour of being able to contribute to the civilisation of humanity, to have the opportunity of giving what we have and not merely begging from others, not merely borrowing culture and living like eternal schoolboys”

Tagore continued “We must try to do our best to bring out what we have and not go from century to century, from land to land and display our poverty before others. WE know what we have to be proud of, what we have inherited from our ancestors and such opportunity of giving should not be lost—not only for the sake of our people but for the sake of humanity”.

Tagore concluded by saying “I am glad that I belong to this great time, this great age. I am glad that I have done some work to give expression to this great age, when the East and West are coming together. They are proceeding towards each other. They are coming to meet each other. They are joining hands in building up a new civilisation and the great culture of the future. For this I have come to you; I ask you this and I claim it of you in the name of unity of men, and in the name of love and in the name of God. I ask you to come to my country and I invite you”

“‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that Heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake”

Gitanjali [Verse 35]


Created: Friday, April 4, 2008 12:09 PM


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