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GITANJALI



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THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

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MACMILLAN ft CO.. LnanD

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THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA. Lm

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G I T A N J A L I

(SONG OFFERINGS)

BT

RABINDRANATH TAGORE

A COLLECTION OP PROSE TRANSLATIONS

MADE BY THE AUTHOR PROM

THE ORIGINAL BENGALI

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY

W. B. YEATS

NEW EDITION



2fM» fork
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1920



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Univ. Library, UC Santa Cruz 1997



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TO

WILLIAM ROTHENSTEIN



/ - . t^ .^



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INTRODUCTION

A FEW days ago I said to a distin-
guished 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

vii



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viii GITANJALI

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 trans-
lations from Petrarch or from Dante,
would have found no books to answer
his questions, but would have ques-
tioned some Florentine banker or Lom-
bard merchant as I question you. For
all I know, so abundant and simple is
this poetry, the new Renaissance has
been born in your c<^untry 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 Bur-
mah wherever Bengali is spoken. He
was already famous at nineteen when



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INTRODUCTION ix

he wrote his first novel; and plays,
written 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 per-
haps, 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 ex-
press what I owed at seventeen to his
love poetry. After that his art grew
deeper, it became religious and philo-
sophical; all the aspirations of man-
kind are in his hymns. He is the first
among our saints who has not refused
to live, but has spoken out of Life it-
self, 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



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X GITANJALI

was to read divine service in one of
our churches — ^we of the Brahma Samaj
use your word ^chiwch' in English — ^it
was the largest in Calcutta and not
only was it crowded, people even stand-
ing in the windows, but the streets
were all but impassable because of the
people."

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



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INTRODUCTION xi

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. "To-
day,*' he said, "there are Gogonen-
dranath and Abanindranath Tagore^
who are artists; and Dwijendran^th,
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 ^ 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 illustri-
ous. The other day the curator of a



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xii GITANJALI

Museum pointed out to me a Kttle
dark-skimied 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 an-
swered. "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. K
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,**



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INTRODUCTION xiii

lie replied,, "we too have our propagan-
dist writing. In the villages they recite
long mythological poems adapted from
the Sanscrit in the Middle Ages, and
they often insert passages telling the
people that they must do their duties.



n



I have carried the manuscript of
these translations about with me for
days, reading it in railway trains, or
on the tops of omnibuses and in restaur-
ants, 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 life long. The work of a
supreme culture, they yet appear as



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xiv GITANJALI

much the growth of the common soil
as the grass and the rushes. A tradi-
tion, 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. K the civilization of Bengal
remains unbroken, if that common
mind which — as one divines — ^nms
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 Toads. When there
was but one mind in England Chaucer
wrote his Troilus and Cressiday and
though he had written to be read, or i
to be read out — ^for our time was
coming on apace — ^he was sung by
minstrels for a while. Rabindranath



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INTRODUCTION xv

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 siuprise,
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 about by students at the
university to be laid aside when the
work of life begins, but as the genera-
tions pass, travellers will hum them
on the highway and men rowing upon
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



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xvi GITANJALI

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 circimistance of their
lives. The traveller in the red-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 parching
heat, are images of the moods of that
heart in union or in separation; and
a man sitting in a boat upon a river
playing upon a lute, like one of those
figures full of mysterious meaning in
a Chinese picture, is God Himself.
A whole people, a whole civilization,



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INTRODUCTION xvii

immeasurably strange to us, seems to
have been taken up into this imagina-
tion; and yet we are not moved be-
cause 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 struc-
ture 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 weari-
ness or exaltation to consider a volun*
tary 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 seem one, forsake it harshly
and rudely? What have we in common



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xviii GITANJALI

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 Revela-
tion? We would, if we might, find,
as in this book, words full of courtesy.
**I have got my leave. Bid me fare^
/well, 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 neighboiu*s for long, but I received
more than I could give. Now the day
has dawned and the lamp that lit my
dark comer 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 oiu*
thoughts of the parting that this book



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INTRODUCTION xix

fathoms all. We had not known that
we loved God, hardly it may be that
we believed in Him; yet looking back-
ward 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 women
that we have loved, the emotion that
created this insidious sweetness. "En^
tering 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 fleet-
ing moment,'* This is no longer the
sanctity of the cell and of the scourge j
being but a lifting up, as it were, into a
greater intensity of the mood of the
painter, painting the dust and the sun-
light, and we go for a like voice to St.
Francis and to William Blake who
have seemed so alien in our violent
history.



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XX GITANJALI



m



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 con-
tent to discover the soul and surrender
himself to its spontaneity. He often
seems to contrast his life with that of
those who have lived 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, draw-
ing my skirt over my face, and when
they ask me, what it is I want, I drop



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INTRODUCTION

my eyes and answer them not/' At
another time, remembering how his lif tf
had once a different shape, he will say,
**Many an hour have I spent in the
strife of the good fmd 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 is this
sudden call to what useless inconse-
quence." 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, remember-
ing 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



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xxii GITANJALI

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 sea-
shore 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 191fL



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GITANJALI



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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 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.



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GITANJALI



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 thy presence.

I touch by the edge of the far spread-
ing wing of my song thy feet which I
could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing I for-
get myself and call thee friend who art
my lord.



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GITANJALI



I KNOW not how thou singest, my
master! I ever listen in silent amaze-
ment.

The Kght 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 end-
less 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 ujitruths



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4 GITANJALI

«

out from my thoughts, knowmg 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.



5



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.

To-day the sunmier has come at my
window with its sighs and murmiu^s;



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GITANJALI 5

and the bees are plying their minstrelsy
at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quiet, face to
face with thee, and to sing dedication
of life in this silent and overflowing
leisure.



6



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

It may not find a place in thy gar-
land, 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 oflFering 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.



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6 GITANJALI



My song has put oflF her adornments.
She has no pride of dress and decora-
tion. 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.



. 8

The child who is decked with prince's
robes and who has jewelled chains
roujid his neck loses all pleasure in his
play; his dress hampers him at every
step.
In fear that it may be frayed, or



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GITANJALI 7

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 oflF from the
healthful dust of the earth, if it rob
one of the right of entrance to the
great fair of common human life.



9

O FOOL, to try to carry thyself upon
thy own shoulders! O beggar, to come
to 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 imholy — ^take not thy gifts through
its unclean hands. Accept only what
is oflFered by sacred love.



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8 GITANJALI

10

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 lost.

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

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

11

Leave this chanting and singing and
telling of beads! Whom dost thou
worship in this lonely dark corner of a



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GITANJALI 9

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 path-
maker is breaking stones. He is with
them in suji and in shower, and his
garment is covered with dust. Put off
thy holy mantle and even like him come
down on the dusty soil!

Deliverance? Where is this deliver-
ance 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 brow.



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10 GITANJALI

12

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 leav-
ing 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!"



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