Late-middle-aged bearded man in white robes looks to the left with serene composure.
Tagore c. 1915, the year he was
knighted by George V, Tagore
repudiated his knighthood, in protest
in 1919.[1]
Close-up on a Bengali word handwritten with angular, jaunty letters.
Signature in Bengali script.


tagore hampstead_england_1912
Photo by John Rothenstein, Hampstead, 1912.


An old bearded man garbed in a dark mantle is reading from a slim book perched in his hands. He is sitting at a dark-toned desk cleared of everything but a neat stack of papers at left; in the background is a light-coloured curtain.
In Berlin, 1930.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagoreα[›]β[›] (Bengali; 7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941),γ[›] sobriquet Gurudev,δ[›] was an Indian-Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse",[2] he became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913 Prize in Literature.[3] In translation his poetry was viewed as spiritual and mercurial; his seemingly mesmeric personality, flowing hair, and other-worldly dress earned him a prophet-like reputation in the West. His "elegant prose and magical poetry" remain largely unknown outside Bengal.[4]

A Pirali Brahmin[5][6][7][8] from Calcutta, Tagore wrote poetry as an eight-year-old.[9] At age sixteen, he cheekily released his first substantial poems under the pseudonym Bhānusiṃha ("Sun Lion"), which were seized upon by literary authorities as long-lost classics.[10][11] He graduated to his first short stories and dramas—and the aegis of his birth name—by 1877. As a humanist, universalist internationalist, and strident anti-nationalist he denounced the Raj and advocated for independence from Britain. As an exponent of the Bengal Renaissance he advanced a vast canon that comprised paintings, sketches and doodles, hundreds of texts, and some two thousand songs; his legacy endures also in the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University.

Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic strictures. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to topics political and personal. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are his best-known works, and his verse, short stories, and novels were acclaimed—or panned—for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation. His compositions were chosen by two nations as national anthems: the Republic of India's Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh's Amar Shonar Bangla.

His Impact

Every year, many events pay tribute to Tagore: Kabipranam, his birth anniversary, is celebrated by groups scattered across the globe; the annual Tagore Festival held in Urbana, Illinois; Rabindra Path Parikrama walking pilgrimages from Calcutta to Santiniketan; and recitals of his poetry, which are held on important anniversaries.[65][150][151] Bengali culture is fraught with this legacy: from language and arts to history and politics. Amartya Sen scantly deemed Tagore a "towering figure", a "deeply relevant and many-sided contemporary thinker".[151] Tagore's Bengali originals—the 1939 Rabīndra Rachanāvalī—is canonised as one of his nation's greatest cultural treasures, and he was roped into a reasonably humble role: "the greatest poet India has produced".[152]

Tagore was renowned throughout much of Europe, North America, and East Asia. He co-founded Dartington Hall School, a progressive coeducational institution;[154] in Japan, he influenced such figures as Nobel laureate Yasunari Kawabata.[155] Tagore's works were widely translated into English, Dutch, German, Spanish, and other European languages by Czech indologist Vincenc Lesný,[156] French Nobel laureate André Gide, Russian poet Anna Akhmatova,[157] former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit,[158] and others. In the United States, Tagore's lecturing circuits, particularly those of 1916–1917, were widely attended and wildly acclaimed. Some controversiesθ[›] involving Tagore, possibly fictive, trashed his popularity and sales in Japan and North America after the late 1920s, concluding with his "near total eclipse" outside Bengal.[4] Yet a latent reverence of Tagore was discovered by an astonished Salman Rushdie during a trip to Nicaragua.[159]

By way of translations, Tagore influenced Chileans Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral; Mexican writer Octavio Paz; and Spaniards José Ortega y Gasset, Zenobia Camprubí, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. In the period 1914–1922, the Jiménez-Camprubí pair produced twenty-two Spanish translations of Tagore's English corpus; they heavily revised the The Crescent Moon and other key titles. In these years, Jiménez developed "naked poetry".[160] Ortega y Gasset wrote that "Tagore's wide appeal [owes to how] he speaks of longings for perfection that we all have [...] Tagore awakens a dormant sense of childish wonder, and he saturates the air with all kinds of enchanting promises for the reader, who [...] pays little attention to the deeper import of Oriental mysticism". Tagore's works circulated in free editions around 1920—alongside those of Plato, Dante, Cervantes, Goethe, and Tolstoy.

Tagore was deemed overrated by some. Graham Greene doubted that "anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously." Several prominent Western admirers—including Pound and, to a lesser extent, even Yeats—criticised Tagore's work. Yeats, unimpressed with his English translations, railed against that "Damn Tagore [...] We got out three good books, Sturge Moore and I, and then, because he thought it more important to know English than to be a great poet, he brought out sentimental rubbish and wrecked his reputation. Tagore does not know English, no Indian knows English."[4][161] William Radice, who "English[ed]" his poems, asked: "What is their place in world literature?"[162] He saw him as "kind of counter-cultur[al]," bearing "a new kind of classicism" that would heal the "collapsed romantic confusion and chaos of the 20th [c]entury."[161][163] The translated Tagore was "almost nonsensical",[164] and subpar English offerings reduced his trans-national appeal:

[...] anyone who knows Tagore's poems in their original Bengali cannot feel satisfied with any of the translations (made with or without Yeats's help). Even the translations of his prose works suffer, to some extent, from distortion. E.M. Forster noted [of] The Home and the World [that] "[t]he theme is so beautiful," but the charms have "vanished in translation," or perhaps "in an experiment that has not quite come off."

Amartya Sen, "Tagore and His India".[4]

His Work

Main article: Works of Rabindranath Tagore

A painting, dominated by angry or fiery strokes of red and orange, of a stylised depiction of (from bottom) feet and legs, a woman's dress, a bust, and a head partly obscured by wavy tapering lines—arms—reaching upward. The figure is alive with motion; a mostly brown background behind.
"Dancing Girl", undated oil-on-canvas.
Black-and-white close-up photograph of a piece of wood boldly painted in unmixed solid strokes of black and white in a stylised semblance to "ro" and "tho" from the Bengali syllabary.
Tagore's Bengali-language initials are worked into this "Ro-Tho" wooden seal, stylistically similar to designs used in traditional Haida carvings. Tagore embellished his manuscripts with such art.[85]

Known mostly for his poetry, Tagore wrote novels, essays, short stories, travelogues, dramas, and thousands of songs. Of Tagore's prose, his short stories are perhaps most highly regarded; he is indeed credited with originating the Bengali-language version of the genre. His works are frequently noted for their rhythmic, optimistic, and lyrical nature. Such stories mostly borrow from deceptively simple subject matter: commoners. Tagore's non-fiction grappled with history, linguistics, and spirituality. He wrote autobiographies. His travelogues, essays, and lectures were compiled into several volumes, including Europe Jatrir Patro (Letters from Europe) and Manusher Dhormo (The Religion of Man). His brief chat with Einstein, "Note on the Nature of Reality", is included as an appendix to the latter. On the occasion of Tagore's 150th birthday an anthology (titled Kalanukromik Rabindra Rachanabali) of the total body of his works is currently being published in Bengali in chronological order. This includes all versions of each work and fills about eighty volumes.[86] In 2011, Harvard University Press collaborated with Visva-Bharati University to publish The Essential Tagore, the largest anthology of Tagore's works available in English; it was edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarthy and marks the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth.[87]

The SNLTR hosts Tagore's complete Bengali works, as does Tagore Web, including annotated songs. Translations are found at Project Gutenberg and Wikisource.



Music and Art

Tagore composed 2,230 songs and was a prolific painter. His songs compose rabindrasangit ("Tagore Song"), which merges fluidly into his literature, most of which—poems or parts of novels, stories, or plays alike—were lyricised. Influenced by the thumri style of Hindustani music, they ran the entire gamut of human emotion, ranging from his early dirge-like Brahmo devotional hymns to quasi-erotic compositions.[88] They emulated the tonal color of classical ragas to varying extents. Some songs mimicked a given raga's melody and rhythm faithfully; others newly blended elements of different ragas.[89] Yet about nine-tenths of his work was not bhanga gaan, the body of tunes revamped with "fresh value" from select Western, Hindustani, Bengali folk and other regional flavours "external" to Tagore's own ancestral culture.[16] Scholars have attempted to gauge the emotive force and range of Hindustani ragas:

[...] the pathos of the purabi raga reminded Tagore of the evening tears of a lonely widow, while kanara was the confused realization of a nocturnal wanderer who had lost his way. In bhupali he seemed to hear a voice in the wind saying 'stop and come hither'.Paraj conveyed to him the deep slumber that overtook one at night’s end.[16]

Reba Som, Rabindranath Tagore: The Singer and His Song.[90]


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