Sunday, June 10, 2007

Amidst the eternal bonfire: Tagore

Thou Hast Made Me Endless


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 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. Poem No: 5 of the book Janmadine (On My Birthday) written in April 1940, shortly before the Poet’s death in 1941

[Translator’s note: The two visions of the Poet that may be noted in this poem are, the cosmic origin of man’s existence and his progress for a supreme goal as an international community, both being the intent of the Creator and both of which we miss in our mundane life. He never lost sight of this panorama even amidst his severe ailments for quite long before his demise when he wrote this poem. He reveals this broadness of vision in his book Viswa Bharati (=World University) while explaining this objective of education in his University (chapter 6 of the book) as follows –
“ I know, to work up such an attitude in our students’ mind is a great object. That man has been born in a vast family in this earth with such a great heritage – orientation toward this perception should be firm. In these miserable days of our country, object of education to many is a job. This deprives us of the treasures of the world, stifling the link of Anandam (Heavenly joy) with mankind as a whole. But man must know where is his right. Just as he has to harmonize his mind with nature, so he should for a union with the entire mankind.
……that is why in their search for knowledge humans are rushing to the North Pole, to the interior of Adrica accepting unbearable pain and even risking life. In search of work, wisdom and idea, they have taken rugged paths. They have known ‘Bhumeba Sukham’ [i.e. Man’s happiness lies on the paths of pain- Upanishada (ancient Indian scripture in Sanskrit language)]. We, in our country, have forgotten this and so we have crippled our soul within our narrow objectives for a limited living.
While establishing this University, at the outset I thought of liberating our students from their narrow outlook and cowardice. The Ganges, that has originated at the mountain top, flows through various lands and its water may be put to small and big purposes. Similarly, the knowledge that springs from the heights of human perceptions, directed towards the infinite along various directions perennially, should not be confined within narrow limits of our personal interests; but we should take dip in it for our ablution where it is boundless in its universal dimension.
‘sa tapohatapyata sa tapostapta idam sarbamasrijita yadidam kincha’ i.e. ‘the Creator is on meditation to create everything’ (Upanishada). His meditation is inherent in every atom and molecule and so there is continuous friction, rush of energy and ceaseless orbiting among those. Man’s meditation too flows along with the Creator’s and he is not a mere onlooker. Because, Man is also a creator and his main mission is creation. That he piles up is not his best revelation, which is in his sacrifice and there is his true self. That is why God’s universal seat of meditation is also his. Man is a sage which he is to appreciate and must perceive as truth all the dedications of everybody of every time and of every country.”]

As the eightieth year I enter
Of my life, it is my wonder –
The silent millions of stars –
Their ceaseless showers
Rush in bewildering speed
The infinite space, aimlessly to feed.

Within that boundless dark
My existence abruptly did spark
Amidst the eternal bonfire
In the chain of centuries never to tire.
In that earth I did appear, where
At the seabed from the swamps mere
On the vast lap of the inanimate
Life in slimes did vibrate
In its myriad branches to flower
To divulge its profound wonder.
The dusk of inchoate existence held firm
A stupor for ages on the animaldom;
On whose meditation
At countless days’ and nights’ completion
Appeared in slow pace
Man in life’s stage with his grace?
Lamps lit up there one by one
Newer significance to earn;
Amidst vast illumination
Man observes his future in brilliant revelation.

On this earth’s stage
To evince from age to age
Act by act, Man’s wisdom
There I too did come
As that drama’s performer
Along with many a other.
I too had my role
That curtain to up roll;
That is my marvel utmost-
Mother Earth that does host
The heavenly soul;
For what goal-
In her sky, light, air,
Soil, seas and mounts bear
What deep resolve
Around the Sun to revolve?
Stitched in that mysterious string
On this Earth I did spring
Eighty years ago,
A few more to go.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Poem: To Bloom [Phool Fotano in Bengali by Rabindranathnath Tagore from his book ‘Kheya’ (Ferry) (1906-1907 period)].

[Translator’s note: However much man may try to emulate God in creating beautiful things, his creations can never match God’s. The seemingly simplest entity in God’s animate world (and even the inanimate one)), is an object of wonder, a flower being exemplary thereof which manifests from God’s meditation for it over ages. The pragmatists may try to explain this phenomenon by Darwin’s ‘theory of evolution’ or like dogmas to gauge this unfathomable mystery of creation, yet, at the back of their mind they know –
“…..The path of Thy creation
Thou have strewn with deception….”

There may never be dearth of braggarts to beguile themselves with the belief that man has caught up with God, if not for anything else, but at least for his ability to-day to ‘clone’ even a human being, what to speak of a lamb or flower! This complacence notwithstanding, the fact is, the great feat of ‘cloning’ wholly stands on the biological base evolved by God over eternity, which man can never brush aside to start from the scratch. Man is simply a captive to the Arcanum of God’s creative process, being its infinitesimal bye product, thus ever incapable to perceive the whole of it, though often with height of audacity that he is God’s peer, maybe to His amusement. So, all brilliance of man notwithstanding, in whichever field, the poet’s ‘no confidence’ in man, as this poem depicts, is hardly belied.]

Bloom you can’t,
None of you –
Verbose however,
Despite all endeavor,
All your flaunt,
Passions day and night
And strokes at the stalk
With all your might,
None, with all your power
Can bloom a flower.

With your relentless sight
Its tenderness you may blight,
Its bunches you may tear apart
In dust to smart.
Amidst your babel
If its lips will reveal
Its hue and fragrance
Will not radiate thence.
So, by no means oh man,
Flowering a bud you can.

But, He who can bloom
Does as His boon –
Only opens His eyes
And, as their ray lies
On the bud there,
Spells of animation bare;
So, He who can bloom,
Of His own can groom
The flower tender
With all its wonder.
At His breath, in an instant,
The flower does bend,
Poised for a flight
Stretching its wings light
Of the leaves
As the wind heaves.
With d├ęcor of many a hue
Pining for a passionate clue
How one to entice –
Spreads its fragrance nice.
He who can bloom a flower,
At ease graces the bower.

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