Rabindranath Tagore

THE LAUREATE: Rabindranath Tagore was born to a life of obnoxious luxury in the high style of the British Raj. Rather than take the cursus honorum that was open to wealthy Indians of certain families, Tagore became a writer. He singlehandedly created Bengali literature by importing European forms and adapting them to the Bengali language. He was something of an artistic polymath, but poetry was his main gig. Two countries use his poems as their national anthems, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and India’s anthem was written by one of his students.

WHAT ARE YOU READING: Gitanjali, which is apparently what secured the Nobel for Tagore, and a collection of his last poems assembled posthumously.

REVIEW: If Rabindranath Tagore hadn’t translated Gitanjali himself, I would throw this away even though it’s a library book. This is the worst tackiness of late 19th/early 20th century poetry, combined with translation into prose. It is painful to read, but once you translate through that, the actual content is excellent. I would particularly like to draw everyone’s attention to no. 11. . In general, Gitanjali is incredible, but marred by the awkward translation. I would love to see this in a modern translation, maybe with facing text?

Last Poems: This is a collection of poems written/dictated as Rabindranath was dying. Best quote so far: “In the sky I see layer upon layer, petals spreading/ a luminlous, vast rose.” (Rabindranath Tagore fondly regards creation) Tagore wrote (in this collection, at least) a lot about contrasting his own personal pain with the inherent perfection of the universe. This was a man who knew how to die, as morbid as that sounds, and it is amazing to read.

DO YOU RECOMMEND IT?: Yes. Go read as much Tagore as you can get. I’ll be hunting for his writing for the end of this project.


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