Rabindranath Tagore.

Gitanjali online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreGitanjali → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Originally scanned at sacred-texts.com by John
B. Hare. This eBook was produced by Chetan Jain, Viswas
G and Anand Rao at Bharat Literature

The Gitanjali or 'song offerings' by Rabindranath Tagore
(1861 - 1941), Nobel prize for literature 1913, with an
introduction by William B. Yeats (1865 - 1939), Nobel prize
for literature 1923. First published in 1913.

This work is in public domain according to the Berne
convention since January 1st 1992.



Song Offerings

A collection of prose translations
made by the author from
the original Bengali

With an introduction by


A few days ago I said to a distinguished Bengali doctor of
medicine, 'I know no German, yet if a translation of a German
poet had moved me, I would go to the British Museum and find
books in English that would tell me something of his life, and of
the history of his thought. But though these prose translations
from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing has for
years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the
movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian
traveller will not tell me.' It seemed to him natural that I
should be moved, for he said, 'I read Rabindranath every day, to
read one line of his is to forget all the troubles of the world.'
I said, 'An Englishman living in London in the reign of Richard
the Second had he been shown translations from Petrarch or from
Dante, would have found no books to answer his questions, but
would have questioned some Florentine banker or Lombard merchant
as I question you. For all I know, so abundant and simple is
this poetry, the new renaissance has been born in your country
and I shall never know of it except by hearsay.' He answered,
'We have other poets, but none that are his equal; we call this
the epoch of Rabindranath. No poet seems to me as famous in
Europe as he is among us. He is as great in music as in poetry,
and his songs are sung from the west of India into Burma wherever
Bengali is spoken. He was already famous at nineteen when he
wrote his first novel; and plays when he was but little older,
are still played in Calcutta. I so much admire the completeness
of his life; when he was very young he wrote much of natural
objects, he would sit all day in his garden; from his twenty-fifth
year or so to his thirty-fifth perhaps, when he had a great
sorrow, he wrote the most beautiful love poetry in our language';
and then he said with deep emotion, 'words can never express what
I owed at seventeen to his love poetry. After that his art grew
deeper, it became religious and philosophical; all the
inspiration of mankind are in his hymns. He is the first among
our saints who has not refused to live, but has spoken out of
Life itself, and that is why we give him our love.' I may have
changed his well-chosen words in my memory but not his thought.
'A little while ago he was to read divine service in one of our
churches - we of the Brahma Samaj use your word 'church' in
English - it was the largest in Calcutta and not only was it
crowded, but the streets were all but impassable because of the

Other Indians came to see me and their reverence for this man
sounded strange in our world, where we hide great and little
things under the same veil of obvious comedy and half-serious
depreciation. When we were making the cathedrals had we a like
reverence for our great men? 'Every morning at three - I know,
for I have seen it' - one said to me, 'he sits immovable in
contemplation, and for two hours does not awake from his reverie
upon the nature of God. His father, the Maha Rishi, would
sometimes sit there all through the next day; once, upon a river,
he fell into contemplation because of the beauty of the
landscape, and the rowers waited for eight hours before they
could continue their journey.' He then told me of Mr. Tagore's
family and how for generations great men have come out of its
cradles. 'Today,' he said, 'there are Gogonendranath and
Abanindranath Tagore, who are artists; and Dwijendranath,
Rabindranath's brother, who is a great philosopher. The
squirrels come from the boughs and climb on to his knees and the
birds alight upon his hands.' I notice in these men's thought a
sense of visible beauty and meaning as though they held that
doctrine of Nietzsche that we must not believe in the moral or
intellectual beauty which does not sooner or later impress itself
upon physical things. I said, 'In the East you know how to keep
a family illustrious. The other day the curator of a museum
pointed out to me a little dark-skinned man who was arranging
their Chinese prints and said, ''That is the hereditary
connoisseur of the Mikado, he is the fourteenth of his family to
hold the post.'' 'He answered, 'When Rabindranath was a boy he
had all round him in his home literature and music.' I thought
of the abundance, of the simplicity of the poems, and said, 'In
your country is there much propagandist writing, much criticism?
We have to do so much, especially in my own country, that our
minds gradually cease to be creative, and yet we cannot help it.
If our life was not a continual warfare, we would not have taste,
we would not know what is good, we would not find hearers and
readers. Four-fifths of our energy is spent in the quarrel with
bad taste, whether in our own minds or in the minds of others.'
'I understand,' he replied, 'we too have our propagandist
writing. In the villages they recite long mythological poems
adapted from the Sanskrit in the Middle Ages, and they often
insert passages telling the people that they must do their

I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me
for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of
omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it
lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics -
which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety
of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical
invention - display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all
my live long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as
much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes.
A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has
passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and
unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the
multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble. If the
civilization of Bengal remains unbroken, if that common mind
which - as one divines - runs through all, is not, as with us,
broken into a dozen minds that know nothing of each other,
something even of what is most subtle in these verses will have
come, in a few generations, to the beggar on the roads. When
there was but one mind in England, Chaucer wrote his _Troilus
and Cressida_, and thought he had written to be read, or to be
read out - for our time was coming on apace - he was sung by
minstrels for a while. Rabindranath Tagore, like Chaucer's
forerunners, writes music for his words, and one understands at
every moment that he is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in
his passion, so full of surprise, because he is doing something
which has never seemed strange, unnatural, or in need of defence.
These verses will not lie in little well-printed books upon
ladies' tables, who turn the pages with indolent hands that they
may sigh over a life without meaning, which is yet all they can
know of life, or be carried by students at the university to be
laid aside when the work of life begins, but, as the generations
pass, travellers will hum them on the highway and men rowing upon
the rivers. Lovers, while they await one another, shall find, in
murmuring them, this love of God a magic gulf wherein their own
more bitter passion may bathe and renew its youth. At every
moment the heart of this poet flows outward to these without
derogation or condescension, for it has known that they will
understand; and it has filled itself with the circumstance of
their lives. The traveller in the read-brown clothes that he
wears that dust may not show upon him, the girl searching in her
bed for the petals fallen from the wreath of her royal lover, the
servant or the bride awaiting the master's home-coming in the
empty house, are images of the heart turning to God. Flowers and
rivers, the blowing of conch shells, the heavy rain of the Indian
July, or the moods of that heart in union or in separation; and a
man sitting in a boat upon a river playing lute, like one of
those figures full of mysterious meaning in a Chinese picture, is
God Himself. A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably
strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination;
and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because
we have met our own image, as though we had walked in Rossetti's
willow wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature,
our voice as in a dream.

Since the Renaissance the writing of European saints - however
familiar their metaphor and the general structure of their
thought - has ceased to hold our attention. We know that we must
at last forsake the world, and we are accustomed in moments of
weariness or exaltation to consider a voluntary forsaking; but
how can we, who have read so much poetry, seen so many paintings,
listened to so much music, where the cry of the flesh and the cry
of the soul seems one, forsake it harshly and rudely? What have
we in common with St. Bernard covering his eyes that they may
not dwell upon the beauty of the lakes of Switzerland, or with
the violent rhetoric of the Book of Revelations? We would, if we
might, find, as in this book, words full of courtesy. 'I have
got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers! I bow to you all
and take my departure. Here I give back the keys of my door - and
I give up all claims to my house. I only ask for last kind words
from you. We were neighbours for long, but I received more than
I could give. Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my
dark corner is out. A summons has come and I am ready for my
journey.' And it is our own mood, when it is furthest from 'a
Kempis or John of the Cross, that cries, 'And because I love this
life, I know I shall love death as well.' Yet it is not only in
our thoughts of the parting that this book fathoms all. We had
not known that we loved God, hardly it may be that we believed in
Him; yet looking backward upon our life we discover, in our
exploration of the pathways of woods, in our delight in the
lonely places of hills, in that mysterious claim that we have
made, unavailingly on the woman that we have loved, the emotion
that created this insidious sweetness. 'Entering my heart
unbidden even as one of the common crowd, unknown to me, my king,
thou didst press the signet of eternity upon many a fleeting
moment.' This is no longer the sanctity of the cell and of the
scourge; being but a lifting up, as it were, into a greater
intensity of the mood of the painter, painting the dust and the
sunlight, and we go for a like voice to St. Francis and to
William Blake who have seemed so alien in our violent history.

We write long books where no page perhaps has any quality to make
writing a pleasure, being confident in some general design, just
as we fight and make money and fill our heads with politics - all
dull things in the doing - while Mr. Tagore, like the Indian
civilization itself, has been content to discover the soul and
surrender himself to its spontaneity. He often seems to contrast
life with that of those who have loved more after our fashion,
and have more seeming weight in the world, and always humbly as
though he were only sure his way is best for him: 'Men going home
glance at me and smile and fill me with shame. I sit like a
beggar maid, drawing my skirt over my face, and when they ask me,
what it is I want, I drop my eyes and answer them not.' At
another time, remembering how his life had once a different
shape, he will say, 'Many an hour I have spent in the strife of
the good and the evil, but now it is the pleasure of my playmate
of the empty days to draw my heart on to him; and I know not why
this sudden call to what useless inconsequence.' An innocence, a
simplicity that one does not find elsewhere in literature makes
the birds and the leaves seem as near to him as they are near to
children, and the changes of the seasons great events as before
our thoughts had arisen between them and us. At times I wonder
if he has it from the literature of Bengal or from religion, and
at other times, remembering the birds alighting on his brother's
hands, I find pleasure in thinking it hereditary, a mystery that
was growing through the centuries like the courtesy of a Tristan
or a Pelanore. Indeed, when he is speaking of children, so much
a part of himself this quality seems, one is not certain that he
is not also speaking of the saints, 'They build their houses with
sand and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they
weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep.
Children have their play on the seashore of worlds. They know
not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl fishers
dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children
gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden
treasures, they know not how to cast nets.'

W.B. YEATS _September 1912_


Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail
vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with
fresh life.

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

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 thy presence.

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

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 rushes on.

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
of toil.

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 life in this silent and overflowing leisure.

Pluck this little flower and take it, delay not! I fear lest it
droop and drop into the dust.

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 go by.

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.

O Fool, try to carry thyself upon thy own shoulders! O beggar,
to come beg at thy own door!

Leave all thy burdens on his hands who can bear all, and never
look behind in regret.

Thy desire at once puts out the light from the lamp it touches
with its breath. It is unholy - take not thy gifts through its
unclean hands. Accept only what is offered by sacred love.

Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the
poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the
depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, and lowliest, and

Pride can never approach to where thou walkest in the clothes of
the humble among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

My heart can never find its way to where thou keepest company
with the companionless among the poorest, the lowliest, and the

Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost
thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors
all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!

He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where
the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in
shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put of thy holy
mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!

Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master
himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is
bound with us all for ever.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and
incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and
stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy

The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.

I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and
pursued my voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my
track on many a star and planet.

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself, and
that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter
simplicity of a tune.

The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his
own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach
the innermost shrine at the end.

My eyes strayed far and wide before I shut them and said 'Here
art thou!'

The question and the cry 'Oh, where?' melt into tears of a
thousand streams and deluge the world with the flood of the
assurance 'I am!'

The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my

The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set;
only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.

The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighing by.

I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only
I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.

The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor;
but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.

I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not

My desires are many and my cry is pitiful, but ever didst thou
save me by hard refusals; and this strong mercy has been wrought
into my life through and through.

Day by day thou art making me worthy of the simple, great gifts
that thou gavest to me unasked - this sky and the light, this body
and the life and the mind - saving me from perils of overmuch

There are times when I languidly linger and times when I awaken
and hurry in search of my goal; but cruelly thou hidest thyself
from before me.

Day by day thou art making me worthy of thy full acceptance by
refusing me ever and anon, saving me from perils of weak,
uncertain desire.

I am here to sing thee songs. In this hall of thine I have a
corner seat.

In thy world I have no work to do; my useless life can only break
out in tunes without a purpose.

When the hour strikes for thy silent worship at the dark temple
of midnight, command me, my master, to stand before thee to sing.

When in the morning air the golden harp is tuned, honour me,
commanding my presence.

I have had my invitation to this world's festival, and thus my
life has been blessed. My eyes have seen and my ears have heard.

It was my part at this feast to play upon my instrument, and I
have done all I could.

Now, I ask, has the time come at last when I may go in and see
thy face and offer thee my silent salutation?

I am only waiting for love to give myself up at last into his
hands. That is why it is so late and why I have been guilty of
such omissions.

They come with their laws and their codes to bind me fast; but I
evade them ever, for I am only waiting for love to give myself up
at last into his hands.

People blame me and call me heedless; I doubt not they are right
in their blame.

The market day is over and work is all done for the busy. Those
who came to call me in vain have gone back in anger. I am only
waiting for love to give myself up at last into his hands.

Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens. Ah, love, why dost thou
let me wait outside at the door all alone?

In the busy moments of the noontide work I am with the crowd, but
on this dark lonely day it is only for thee that I hope.

If thou showest me not thy face, if thou leavest me wholly aside,
I know not how I am to pass these long, rainy hours.

I keep gazing on the far-away gloom of the sky, and my heart
wanders wailing with the restless wind.

If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and
endure it. I will keep still and wait like the night with starry
vigil and its head bent low with patience.

The morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish, and thy
voice pour down in golden streams breaking through the sky.

Then thy words will take wing in songs from every one of my
birds' nests, and thy melodies will break forth in flowers in all
my forest groves.

On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying,
and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained

Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from
my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the
south wind.

That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it
seemed to me that is was the eager breath of the summer seeking
for its completion.

I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that
this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own

I must launch out my boat. The languid hours pass by on the
shore - Alas for me!

The spring has done its flowering and taken leave. And now with
the burden of faded futile flowers I wait and linger.

The waves have become clamorous, and upon the bank in the shady
lane the yellow leaves flutter and fall.

What emptiness do you gaze upon! Do you not feel a thrill
passing through the air with the notes of the far-away song
floating from the other shore?

In the deep shadows of the rainy July, with secret steps, thou
walkest, silent as night, eluding all watchers.

Today the morning has closed its eyes, heedless of the insistent

1 3 4

Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreGitanjali → online text (page 1 of 4)