Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The voice of Shantiniketan

The Artist
A poem (1938) by

Rabindranath Tagore

[Translator’s Note: The number of songs composed by Tagore is about 2500. I am not aware of such statistics as regards his poems, short stories, novels, essays, letters etc. which, however, far out-volume his songs. As regards the number of his sketches, I understand that it is also about 2500. The bulk of his sketches are preserved in the archives of his Viswa Bharati University (means- World University, which has been a pilgrim place for the academics and the aesthetes since Tagore’s days till now from various countries) at Santiniketan (means: Abode of Peace-4 hour train journey from Calcutta). But Tagore took to visual art with enthusiasm only in the last decade of his life which has possibly saved him from a reputation as a painter to his great relief. His ever mounting fame in literature which was his life long dedication was indeed a rod held at him, as he felt, to keep up his standard which left him ill at ease with his literary exercises. But it was not so with his painting, where he was a free bird to fly at his will. In his own words – “In defiance of that fame my brush is free to-day as Nature’s”. Let experts judge if Tagore was an authority or a quack in painting. But did anybody appreciate canvas better than Tagore? The following poem, which he wrote three years before his death, will possibly answer this question.]

O Artist, for ever a traveler
Thou move on ceaseless, an astute observer;
Thine impressions in sketches
From far and wide the canvas fetches;
Countless trivia and momentous around
To thee blue blood and pariah are equally sound.

In the hovel there,
Only a few shanties bare;
Beyond, the arid land vast
Parched in the summer blast.
Do those ever entice a look humble
Or allure one to ramble?
Said thou, “By no means they’re low” –
This truth thine brush flashed aglow –
And we sit up and say, “Ah indeed,
These do deserve some heed”.
There they trot, some take rest,
Hardly they exist, their name none will quest;
Said thy brush, “They’re very much there” –
At once we say, “Ah yes, all beware.”

And only they are there,
Not the monarch of the empire;
To live in the dust of the earth
They are used to since their birth.
For his portrait the king spends a lot,
Alas, the maestro’s notice it draws not.
Its glamour dazzles the fools though,
Trite’s true self art heightens so.
O Artist, strange is thy bias,
To draw a banal goat slighting those uproarious;
The creature is not esteemed high
In its vegetables’ sneaky pry
So they chase it off
With due scoff.
But as thou exalt its goatish spree
I sit up to ask – “Who is he?”
There the goat-men wonder –
“Who is its owner?”
Yet, despite its claimant’s evasion
I know, it is thy heart’s creation.


‘Thou Hast Made Me Endless’ (3)

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs). More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so. As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”. Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g. William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a leading few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book.

RAJAT DAS GUPTA e-mail: rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in ]

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