Guest Review: Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

Guest Review: Gitanjali by Rabindranath TagoreGitanjali: Song Offerings by Rabindranath Tagore, W.B. Yeats
Published by on January 1st 2005
Pages: 80
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

"Gitanjali," or Song Offerings, is a collection of poems translated by the author, Rabindranath Tagore, from the original Bengali. This collection won the Nobel prize for Tagore in 1913. This volume includes the original introduction by William Butler Yeats that accompanied the 1911 English language version. "Gitanjali" is a collection of over 100 inspirational poems by India's greatest poet.

Gitanjali review Rabindranath Tagore

Shayantani’s reviews:

I have often seen my uncle with his tattered and time worn copy of Gitanjali. He had read it so many times that the missing words do not bother him anymore. At an impulse I also bought a very colorful English edition in my 6th standard and it has remained in my book shelves obscured by heftier novels gathering dust and looking tattered for entirely different reasons. College curriculum is arguably a bad way of rediscovering a book which holds so much sentimental value for my loved ones.  A college curriculum which moreover tests you on two randomly selected verses is a travesty. Thankfully two verses are sometimes just enough to catch a glimpse of the spirit which motivates you to find your copy and read and reread  it several times.
There is a significant amount of difference among the Bengali and the English version.  Tagore himself made the edits selecting 53 poems from the original Bengali  collection of 157 poems. The other 50 were from his drama Achalayatan and eight other books of poetry. Other than Tagore, I looked at William Radice’s translation of the poems.  It is a good exercise for those not brave enough to tackle the Bengali but who want a glimpse of the mellifluous rhythm and the topical imagery of the original.  Some of the significant differences I noticed were the omission of the sensual imagery and sing song rhythm in Tagore’s version.
Here is an example:
Alas why are my nights all thus lost? Ah, why ever do I miss his sight whose breath touches my sleeping brow?
Why does my night pass by
    with him so near yet not near?
Why does my night pass by
     with him so near yet not near?
Why did the touch of his garland
     not brush my neck.
Other than that I prefer reading ghat instead of beaches and sharad kal and veena instead of mid July weather and musical instrumental. This however is not to say Tagore’s version should be script. Reading Radice acts as an excellent supplement. Verse or prose, Tagore is quite capable of deftly weaving magic in both.
The reason why this collection affected me so much is because Tagore’s reaches for more than God.  It comes as close to verbalizing the inexplicable as is humanely possible. It is full of a painful sweetness and a joy we have all felt and lost. The poems are full of awareness of its limitation and a continuous striving towards that ultimate goal.  My favorite poems are the one involving God as playmate and mother. Like Alice Walker’s Shug Avery, the speaker in Tagore’s poems believe in a God whose “love loses itself in the love of thy lover”. His creation may be a marked by an awareness of its fragility, but he is not marked by an awareness of sin. At the center of the universe is man beloved of God.  As a bride, a minstrel, a farmer, a child he strives for his grace through active engagement in the sensual pleasures of creation.
Sometimes texts have to find you in exactly the right time of your life to make a proper impact. When that happens they become regular companions. Gitanjali is one of those texts, Tagore is one of those writers.

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Shayantani Das

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