Friday, August 29, 2008

Rabindranath Tagore

Thou Hast Made Me Endless- XV

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.

RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail:

Poem No: 8 of the book PATRAPUT written at Santiniketan, ( where the Poet’s University “Visva Bharati” situates) on 5th November 1935.

[Translator’s note: Volumes of philosophical dissertations might not have brought home better the Upanishadic perception of oneness of the trivia with the cosmos than this small poem.]

This wild seedling finds way to me,
Yellow and green in her leaves I see,
Flowers are violet, cups wily
To sip light delightfully.
But no answer anywhere
When her name I inquire
She is in the club of the anonymous
Where belong the heavenly stars inglorious.
So, I capture her in my pet name
Piali (*), in my privacy that is her fame. (*)

There, Fuchsia, Marigold and Dahlia golden,
Grace the ceremony of the garden.
But my Piali remains in liberty,
Though in utter ignominy –
Unfettered by distinction of class,
A Boul (**), unsocial, lost in the mass. (**)

But soon the flowers drop and dry
Without clamour or outcry.
Her horoscope – only a few moments’ combine,
The nectar in her heart a few drops fine.
In a short span of time is her journey done,
While ages engulf flaming petals of the Sun;
Her history noted at the corner of a tiny page
With a tiny quill by the Scribe of all age.

Yet, a massive history it does unfold,
From one page to other one can’t behold.
The centuries in their eternal stream,
Their ups and downs in slow rhythm
That raised and buried many a mountain range,
In oceans and deserts brought seas of change,
Along that Time’s flow eternal,
Advanced this flower’s vision primordial.

In this flower’s transience, this vision primordial
Lives all through fresh, dynamic and eternal.
Its end one is to sight yet,
That formless concept, the un-sketched portrait
Remains eternal in some unseen contemplation
That I try to conceive in my imagination.
In which unseen is held Mankind’s trend,
The future, past and present.

· * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

(*) ‘Piala’ in Bengali means ‘Cup’ from which the Poet has coined its feminine ‘Piali’ which also happens to be the name of many a girl/women, not necessarily relating them to a ‘cup’, unlike this flower where its similarity with a ‘cup’ is implied.
(**) Bouls are a sect of people in Bengal, whose concentration is most in the Birbhum district of W. Bengal where the Poet’s University “Visva Bharati” (=World University”) situates. Bouls are remarkable for their highly spiritual songs with their “Ektara” (a single stringed musical instrument) played in tune, which is their heritage for generations. Religious liberalism is also a remarkable feature of Boul song. These are notwithstanding the low educational level of the Bouls particularly in their earlier generations when singing and begging was their sole occupation. Bouls songs have profoundly influenced Tagore’s own music known as Ranindra Sangeet (=Rabindranath’s songs). In the nineties of the last century Purna Das Boul familiarized the Western world with Boul song by virtue of his performances there including America.

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