Rabindranath TAGORE (1861-1941) [Nobel Prize for Literature, 1913]
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Thou hast made me endless, such is thy
pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest
again and again, and fillest it ever with
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried
over hills and dales, and hast breathed
through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little
heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth
to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these
very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and
still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.
When thou commandest me to sing it
seems that my heart would break with
pride; and I look to thy face, and tears
come to my eyes.
All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony–and my
adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.
I know thou takest pleasure in my singing.
I know that only as a singer I come before
I touch by the edge of the far-spreading
wing of my song thy feet which I could
never aspire to reach.
Drunk with the joy of singing I forget
myself and call thee friend who art my lord.
I know not how thou singest, my master!
I ever listen in silent amazement.
The light of thy music illumines the world.
The life breath of thy music runs from sky
to sky. The holy stream of thy music
breaks through all stony obstacles and
My heart longs to join in thy song, but
vainly struggles for a voice. I would
speak, but speech breaks not into song,
and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made
my heart captive in the endless meshes of
thy music, my master!
Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my
body pure, knowing that thy living touch is
upon all my limbs.
I shall ever try to keep all untruths out from
my thoughts, knowing that thou art that
truth which has kindled the light of reason
in my mind.
I shall ever try to drive all evils away from
my heart and keep my love in flower,
knowing that thou hast thy seat in the
inmost shrine of my heart.
And it shall be my endeavour to reveal
thee in my actions, knowing it is thy power
gives me strength to act.
I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by
thy side. The works that I have in hand I
will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face my heart
knows no rest nor respite, and my work
becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea
Today the summer has come at my window
with its sighs and murmurs; and the bees
are plying their minstrelsy at the court of
the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with
thee, and to sing dedication of live in this
silent and overflowing leisure.
Pluck this little flower and take it, delay
not! I fear lest it droop and drop into the
I may not find a place in thy garland, but
honour it with a touch of pain from thy
hand and pluck it. I fear lest the day end
before I am aware, and the time of offering
Though its colour be not deep and its smell
be faint, use this flower in thy service and
pluck it while there is time.
My song has put off her adornments. She
has no pride of dress and decoration.
Ornaments would mar our union; they
would come between thee and me; their
jingling would drown thy whispers.
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.
The child who is decked with prince’s
robes and who has jewelled chains round
his neck loses all pleasure in his play; his
dress hampers him at every step.
In fear that it may be frayed, or stained
with dust he keeps himself from the world,
and is afraid even to move.
Mother, it is no gain, thy bondage of
finery, if it keep one shut off from the
healthful dust of the earth, if it rob one of
the right of entrance to the great fair of
common human life.
* * * *
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On Being: He bestowed the title “Mahatma” on Gandhi. He debated the deepest nature of reality with Einstein. He was championed by Yeats and Pound to become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath — a writer and a painter, a philosopher and a musician, and a social innovator — but much of his poetry and prose is virtually untranslatable (or inaccessibly translated) for modern minds. We pull back the “dusty veils” that have hidden his memory from history.
Listen to the podcast: https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/anita-desai-and-andrew-robinson-the-modern-resonance-of-rabindranath-tagore
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Sadhana: The Realisation of Life Download e-book (McMillan, 1913, English) or Listen to audiobook:
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