Tagore Speaks online section B1

Copyright © Christine Marsh 2016

1: Introduction

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was the great Bengali poet who travelled the world in the first half of the last century, preaching his faith in human unity. A charismatic presence, with a beautiful voice, he delighted audiences in the more than thirty countries on five continents which he visited. When his words were reported in the press, and when the texts of his lectures were published, it was seen that he was critical of the modern world and the direction it was taking.

At home in Bengal he was not just a poet and preacher. He actively pursued an alternative course for his country, which he believed would ‘bring back life in its completeness’. Indian society had been severely disrupted by the British Raj. Where for centuries there had been mutually beneficial interaction between village and town, now the new urban middle class of administrators and professionals looked down upon the village people, who were unable to help themselves. The villages were ‘drained of joy’, as Tagore expressed it. Tagore’s alternative was a modernised, less restrictive form of traditional society, comprising networks of self sustaining villages or small communities. In one of his lectures on this work, Tagore explains that ‘to resuscitate our moribund villages, we have to supply to them their basic need of food for the body and the mind’, bring back the old festivals and the ‘simple joys of social contact’, ‘enriching the folk mind with entertainment and education’.[1] Tagore had a modern approach to village revival. He encouraged the adoption cooperatively of new farming methods and machinery to make life easier for the cultivators, and the best tools and technologies for craft industries. These methods would be used primarily to meet local needs, and for goods to exchange at the fairs which had always been the way villages conducted festivities and met the wider world.

Tagore had advocated his direction for India as a political programme during the ‘Swadeshi Movement’ of 1903-1908 against the plan by the British Government to partition Bengal, and had taken a leading role in the protests. He withdrew when he failed to persuade other leaders of the urban middle class in Calcutta of the viability of ‘constructive swadeshi’ (local social enterprise), and when the protests turned violent.[2] He continued with his rural reconstruction work, but as a local grassroots initiative, part of the programme of education at the school and university he had established at Santiniketan in the Bengal countryside. In his essay ‘City and Village’, his aims appear very modest. He explains that rather than think of the whole country, it is best to start in a small way: ‘If we could free even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance, an ideal for the whole of India would be established’.[3]

Tagore was an important pioneer and advocate for the principle of self-help. He believed that people should be given the freedom to work cooperatively towards self-reliance at the local community level. To some extent this was the aspiration of a Romantic poet, deriving from his own sense of the unity of the individual self with the universe. But Tagore was also ‘an indefatigable man of action’,[4] and had some success at identifying practical people with the skills to work with him to put his principles into practice. What he was unable to do was put this forward persuasively as the right and proper direction for India, at a time when an urban middle class had set its sights on India becoming an independent nation.

Tagore’s ‘constructive swadeshi’ was focussed on rural reconstruction, with the further aims of integrating village and city people and removing caste, class and religious barriers. He referred to his endeavours as ‘what has been my life’s work’,[5] and indeed, they spanned fifty years from 1891 to 1941. There were three main phases to the work: the first was while he was managing the family estates in East Bengal, now Bangladesh, in the 1890s, the second was the national programme of community building he put forward in 1903-8, the third was Sriniketan, a department of his Visva-Bharati university, in the 1920s.

There is some uncertainty about whether Tagore’s work should be judged a success or failure. There are Tagore scholars and enthusiasts, particularly those from Bangladesh, who believe there is an enduring legacy.[6] Others argue that Tagore’s visionary hopes for India have not been realised. Binoy Bhattacharjee, speaking on ‘Rabindranath’s Ideals of Rural Reconstruction’ at a seminar in 1986 on ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today’, reported that experiments had then been carried out ‘for more than six decades’, but there is no ‘ideal Sriniketan village’, and that ‘even a searching eye cannot find any difference between a Sriniketain village and any ordinary village in West Bengal, either in physical appearance or socio-economic status’. Bhattacharjee added that Tagore himself had felt this,[7] a view confirmed by historian Uma Das Gupta who has specialised in this aspect of Tagore’s work, and who has described Tagore as ‘exhausted and weak’ and clearly in despair in the 1930s. She relates how Tagore’s son had reorganized Sriniketan ‘as a business’, with profit-making dairy units and cottage industries, to the detriment of Tagore’s aim of building village self-reliance.[8]

From Das Gupta’s detailed examination of Tagore’s rural reconstruction programme, we can begin to understand what is behind Tagore’s mixed success with Sriniketan in particular – although we should not lose sight of the earlier phases on the family estates and during the anti-partition protests. I have a sense that Das Gupta became very close to Tagore as he was in life through her discovery of a neglected archive of records from the Sriniketan offices. She has said that Tagore never wrote a full and coherent account of his practical projects, and much of his thinking on this work ‘has to be pieced together from occasional comments’.[9] Given Tagore’s vast written legacy, and his primary identity having been ‘poet and litterateur’,[10] the meagreness of writing on his practical projects could suggest that he gave them little of his time and attention, but such a view may be misleading.

Tagore’s friend and literary biographer, Edward J. Thompson (father of historian E.P. Thompson), commenting on Tagore’s life and work in 1921, said that Tagore ‘has written a great deal too much’.[11] The eminent Bengali sociologist and critic Ashis Nandy wrote in 1999 that some of Tagore’s work is mediocre and dated, and that a ‘leaner and a less flabby Tagore has a better chance of survival as a relevant creative mind in the rest of the world in the twenty-first century’.[12] To say that Tagore wrote too much would be like saying that he talked too much, or thought and felt too much, so these two authorities are really implying that too much of Tagore’s writing is archived, read and studied.

Tagore is often described as a polymath, with no single identity, apart perhaps from ‘poet’ – and all his writings are to some extent poetic. Imtiaz Ahmed, Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, has challenged the practice of ‘[m]aking use of Rabindranath’s literary works, despite their creative reflection of reality, as something “real” and treating them as authentic for a social science discourse’, given that he has been ‘equally brilliant and prolific’ as a writer of essays.[13] This is not to say that Tagore’s views on society and politics cannot be gleaned from his literature,[14] but the extraordinary number of studies based on Tagore’s novel The Home and the World, in particular, does support Ahmed’s suggestion that there has been too much reliance on Tagore’s literary writing as a source of his ideas. And one often encounters fragments from Tagore being used by scholars to support their own hypotheses – a habit excused by Isaiah Berlin, who took the view that reliance on ‘scattered erudition’ is the mark of ‘imaginative genius’.[15]

Tagore has been dead for over seventy years, so it is inevitable that most Tagore scholars and enthusiasts come to appreciate him through his writing. Other sources exist for those who wish to get a sense of how he was in life, including accounts by people who knew him, or at least met him. One such is Mulk Raj Anand, renowned Indo-English novelist, who as a young man talked to Tagore a number of times in the last years of the poet’s life. In 1986, aged 81, Anand gave the inaugural address at the conference in Shimla to commemorate Tagore’s 125th birth anniversary. Anand describes how Tagore was ‘unlike the usual artists for art’s sake of the late nineteenth century in the West’, in that ‘he lived in action’. Tagore ‘wrote plays and acted in them’, ‘danced with his students and invited dancers from various parts of the country to [his school at] Santiniketan’, he ‘composed songs and made community singing part of the syllabus of the school’, and he encouraged middle class teachers and pupils to interact with ‘the tribal and village folk around’.[16]

Anand has identified Tagore as a performance artist, and others have related how Tagore had a superb singing voice, was a gifted actor and an inspiring public speaker, and there is a delightful painting by Abanindranath Tagore of the poet dancing in the role of a Baul in the play Phalguni.[17] Anand also mentions how Tagore’s desire for others to enjoy performing was an important component of his scheme of progressive education and key to bringing ‘life in its completeness’ to Indian village society.

The Mercurial-Minded Poet

In 1995, Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson published their biography of Tagore, subtitled ‘The Myriad-Minded Man’. The first paragraph of their introduction is very telling.

This is an ambivalent book. It has to be, whichever way one views Rabindranath Tagore, more than a half a century after his death. Seen from the West, Tagore appears to have come out of nowhere in 1912 and collected a Nobel prize without the least effort; to have travelled the world and enjoyed a worldwide homage for over two decades not granted to any other writer this century; and then to have evanesced until he is barely more than a name. But seen from Bengal he looks very different. Before 1912, Rabindranath was rejected by many, perhaps the majority, of Bengalis as being a product of western influence; for the rest of his life he experienced a unique blend of vilification and homage; and only after his death in 1941 was he canonized as Bengal’s greatest creative artist and raised to the Olympian pedestal he now occupies. No writer, living or dead, is today more actively worshipped in Bengal than Rabindranath Tagore.[18]

Ambivalency is a state of mind, where opposing feelings, such as love and hate, coexist. The biographers’ implication here is that their book is ambivalent in that it contains or reflects opposing feelings about Tagore: Bengalis’ worship and the West’s indifference. Dutta and Robinson go on to explain that their primary focus was ‘the man, not the oeuvre’. As biographers they were intrigued by ‘Tagore’s personality – a favourite word of his – in all its “myriad-mindedness”’.[19] ‘Myriad-mindedness’ was the quality attributed to Tagore by Oxford University, in its citation when conferring an honorary doctorate on Tagore in 1940, in recognition of the diversity of the literary and artistic genres Tagore mastered and of the themes of his non-literary discourse – in other words for his oeuvre. Tagore is known to have been ‘highly sceptical’ of the value of poets’ biographies, in his own case and in general,[20] which may lend support the criticism voiced by some Bengali devotees, that Dutta and Robinson have not done justice to Tagore’s greatness because they present him merely as a colourful character. But that was the biographers’ device for unifying Tagore’s divided reputation: a successful one considering that the book is much read and regularly cited by writers from around the world.

Tagore’s polarised reputation – as described in the Dutta and Robinson paragraph – has concerned me too, although I learned during the celebrations of Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary in 2011, that Tagore has had a more even and enduring reputation in some parts of the world, in particular in Eastern Europe and South America.[21] My aim is to present Tagore’s ideas as having down-to-earth practical value, and awe and reverence could be more of a hindrance than people never having heard of him. Tagore scholars are bound to concentrate on the literary achievements rather than the author’s life, but I question the assertion made by some that it is ‘unfortunate’ that Tagore was ‘not only a poet’.[22] I also question the view sometimes expressed that Tagore was torn between a life of reflection and a life of conscience, despite the fact that Tagore sometimes wrote about his situation in those terms. Various interpretations are possible of his frustrated outbursts at having irksome responsibilities, or his ideas being misunderstood, besides his longing to be alone to write poetry. And it would be a mistake to think of Tagore ‘sitting in a room, bleeding from the ears, just writing’, as novelist Hanif Kureishi describes the writer’s life.[23]

Anand’s observation that Tagore ‘lived in action’ is very apt, given the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to support a picture of Tagore as ‘the mercurial-minded poet’ with a spontaneous, almost effortless creative process. He wrote ‘over sixty plays’ in almost as many years,[24] many for performance at his school, and his focus was always on the show. While directing a performance, he used to make changes and additions to the spoken texts or song lyrics. Many plays were one-offs, but even when a play was published and performed repeatedly, if Tagore was directing he did not feel he had to keep to the written text.[25] There is further evidence of his spontaneity in the manuscripts of his poems and songs in the way he constantly wrote variations on favourite themes.[26] He apparently so disliked having to make crossings-out, for the way they spoiled the look of the page, that he made them into elaborate doodles – which are thought to have led to his venture late in life into painting.[27]

Seeing Tagore’s creative process as spontaneous has implications for how we might regard his vast written legacy. We can generalise the picture of Tagore, the dramatist, having his focus always on the particular show, to Tagore, the writer, concentrating on a succession of efforts to get particular pieces of writing into print, most often in journals, sometimes edited by himself. From the point of view of the Tagore who ‘lived in action’, the survival of the material is accidental; the old stuff – whether in print or manuscripts – is mere detritus left over from his successions of efforts.[28] This is not to say that he wanted it all discarded. He often recycled what he had written earlier, assembling collections for books, with an eye on earning royalties to help fund his school.

Tagore was a gifted public speaker, and there is a written legacy in the form of his many published essays. Ahmed has pointed out that ‘some two-thirds of Tagore’s writings [in Bengali and English] are serious essays, mostly on political and socio-economic problems of India and the crisis of civilization.[29] Five books of Tagore’s ‘English essays’: Sadhana in 1913, Personality and Nationalism in 1917, Creative Unity in 1922, and The Religion of Man in 1931,[30] provide the framework for the present monograph, and I argue that these writings have not been properly appreciated due to distortions around Tagore’s persona and reputation. The most obvious misunderstanding is due to Tagore having been seen in the West as an Indian mystic, a role he seems to have embraced whilst agonising about its detrimental effect on his literary reputation. Thompson describes how this came about, and how Tagore’s ‘false fame in the West seemed to have infected him also, and made him tend to be like what he was believed to be’.[31] To correct this impression and the consequent misreading of his messages, one cannot simply say that Tagore was not a mystic; the issue is more about the narrow idea in the West of what an Indian mystic says and does.[32] Tagore had a mission which was practical as well as spiritual, with a world change philosophy underpinning it. The mission and the philosophy are there to be read in the English essays if they are taken in context, especially with a full appreciation of his fifty years working on rural reconstruction in India.

The English essay texts are not the lectures themselves, in a similar way to Tagore’s dramas not being the published play texts. Lal quotes Tagore saying: ‘It needs to be kept in mind that this play is to be seen and heard, but not read’.[33] The lecture or address is a genre with features and a creative process somewhere between drama, and poetry or fiction. From what we can gather from reports by Tagore’s travelling companions, he sometimes composed the lectures he would give on the journey to the country where he had speaking engagements. A lecture text might then be duplicated as a handout for journalists, and feature in press reports the next day.[34] But Tagore would not have kept to the lecture text. Ernest Rhys has written about Sadhana, the first book of English essays, saying that the ‘warm colour’ of the lectures had ‘faded in cold print’. He observes that Tagore, as a speaker, ‘was like one drawing on a fund of ideas too fluid to be caught in a net, too subtle to be held except in a parable, or an analogy out of poetry’.[35]

I hope to show that the forty-two essays published in the five books, from Sadhana in 1913 to The Religion of Man in 1931, are the most important of all Tagore’s writings. Eminent Tagore scholars who know and admire Tagore’s literary works would dismiss such a contention, a difference of opinion which can be resolved in a trivial way by noting that their priorities: their view of what is ‘most important’, differ from my own. The books should be historicised and also ‘futurised’, read as if intended for people living ‘a hundred years from now’,[36] to reveal how relevant they are to the challenges we face in the world today. I also believe that the English essays – read in the way I am recommending – reflect what was most important to Tagore himself, his ‘life’s work’.

It was never Tagore’s aim in life to accumulate the greatest and most diverse oeuvre in the history of literature. He was able to be a multi-faceted genius because he lived and worked in the moment. He gave his full attention to the present activity and then moved on to the next. The giant oeuvre followed, spreading behind him like a cloak, held up by a retinue of devotees.

In giving priority to a particular set of essays, I am by no means disregarding the oeuvre as a whole. The devotees assert that only those whose first language and cultural background is Bengali can fully appreciate Tagore’s poetry, in particular. This view has been meekly echoed by those who cannot read Bengali, ever since Tagore came to the world’s attention for Gitanjali, the famous collection of devotional song lyrics he had translated into English himself. I confess that very few of Tagore’s own renderings of his poems into English appeal to me.[37] On the other hand, many of Tagore’s poems which have been translated into English by experts such as William Radice (a poet himself) and Ketaki Kushari Dyson (bilingual in Bengali and English from early childhood) have moved me to tears.

In a helpful essay from quite early in his career as a Tagore translator and scholar, Radice explains what makes the Bengali language such a successful vehicle for Tagore’s poetry: ‘Bengali is an inherently rhythmic language’, producing ‘subtleties of timbre and tone-colour’. ‘Rhyme and assonance come more naturally’ to Bengali than to English, and Tagore ‘seems to give us the rhythms of Nature herself’. Radice shares his view of the translatability of Tagore’s poetry. He remarks that every poem that Tagore wrote ‘had cogency of structure’, and this is something which ‘was not conveyed by his own translations into English’, hence ‘the fragility of Tagore’s reputation abroad’.[38] However, Tagore’s poems are ‘possible to translate, not impossible as is so often said’ because of their ‘essential simplicity’ and directness ‘which plays no tricks on the reader’, and yet, ‘Tagore still seems elusive’, because his poetry ‘does not marry well with worldly power and learned discourse’.[39]

I do not disagree with Radice’s last remark, but I would take it further by saying that Tagore still seems elusive because his life and work does not marry well with worldly power and learned discourse. The fault, however, lies with the worldly power and learned discourse, which has alienated and exhausted humanity and planet. Tagore issued warnings and offered solutions a century ago. He was far from alone in voicing such concerns, but he had a unique vision of the path he believed humanity is bound to return to, once the calamity of the present age is over.

There have been many efforts by Tagore scholars and enthusiasts, particularly at the time of major anniversaries of his birth or death, to reclaim Tagore’s elusive genius, and to revive and extend interest in his life and works. There have been international conferences directed at ‘contemporarising’ Tagore, showing his continuing relevance to ‘the challenges of today’.[40] Dr. Karan Singh, President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, contributed a Foreword to the published proceedings of a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth. Aware of Tagore’s reputation in Bengali speaking countries, Singh suggests that the reason for Tagore’s ‘philosophy and his remarkable views on many contemporary social, economic and political issues’ not having ‘received adequate attention’ is because they were ‘overshadowed’ by his famous poetry.[41] One way to bring Tagore out of the shadows is to listen to what he said to us many years ago.

Tagore Speaks to the Twenty-First Century

The books of English essays are important because they constitute what Tagore actually communicated to audiences and readers in the West during his tours outside India. Reading this substantial body of work: in all some 200,000 words, it is important to take account of the accidental nature of their production. It is a century since Tagore set out on his journey to England in 1912. On the eve of his departure he gathered together the students and staff of his school and told them of his feeling that the world was inviting ‘all two hundred’ of them, and only he could go.[42] It is thought that Tagore took with him a collection of short passages from the weekly discourses he had delivered at the prayer hall in Santiniketan, and started translating them when he was in the United States, and they were published as Sadhana in 1913.[43] He had not planned that book in advance. He was invited to give talks and then encouraged to publish. He did prepare the lectures published as Personality because he had been offered a fee for a speaking tour of America. His writing of the Nationalism lectures was spontaneous and unplanned. Creative Unity is a mixture of lecture material and other writings. Tagore planned the three Hibbert Lectures which forms the basis of The Religion of Man, but he added so many bits and pieces that it is hard to see the ‘unity of inspiration’ he claims for the volume.

Each of the books of English essays is an outcome of one of Tagore’s ‘foreign tours’, of which there were twelve, according to the authoritative ‘Chronicle of Eighty Years’ included in A Centenary Volume.[44]

Sadhana: The Realisation of Life (1913) came about from Tagore’s ‘Third Foreign Tour (27 May 1912 – 4 October 1913)’,[45] when he journeyed on to America after the Gitanjali episode,[46] and the book was seen as the prose counterpart to Tagore’s spiritual poems, and contributed to ‘the common notion of him as purely a mystic poet’.[47] Another reading is possible. All through the English essays there is evidence of Tagore’s sense that either a retreat from modern civilisation, or its collapse, is inevitable in order that mankind can return to the ideal society of cooperative and creative communities. We see this from the first essay in Sadhana when Tagore compares the ‘divide and rule’ culture of modern civilisation ‘nurtured in city walls’, with the forest-dwelling people of ancient Indian civilisation, ‘in touch with the living growth of nature’ and realising ‘this great harmony between man’s spirit with the spirit of the world’.[48]

Personality: Lectures Delivered in America (1917) contains the lectures Tagore intended to give on his ‘Fourth Foreign Tour (May 1916 – March 1917)’,[49] when he went to America via Japan. The lectures owe much to conversations with the close friends he made during the previous journey, particularly William Rothenstein and Charles Freer Andrews. Bengali commentators have seen Personality as largely a continuation of the discourses in Sadhana, expressing Tagore’s world-view of ‘the integration of man and nature and God’.[50] But as with Sadhana, there is an anthropological element, particularly in ‘Second Birth’, an essay on the biological evolution of the human animal, which Tagore sees as having a surplus capacity or ‘abundance’ whereby we can be moral, cooperative and creative, and yet are liable to relapse into savagery.[51]

Nationalism (1917) also came about from Tagore’s fourth foreign tour. It contains the texts of three lectures, one of which Tagore delivered many times in America, rather than the material in Personality, which he used on few occasions. Nationalism received quite a lot of press attention at the time, and is frequently cited by critics and scholars. Several new editions have been published, some with new introductions and with the order of the essays changed.[52] It tends to be read as anti-nationalist polemics, but with a knowledge of Tagore’s arguments for ‘constructive swadeshi’ one can also read it as a re-examination of the ideas in his outstanding 1904 essay ‘Society and State’ (Swadeshi Samaj),[53] applied in a global context.

Creative Unity (1922) derives from a very active period of Tagore’s life, beginning with his ‘Fifth Foreign Tour (11 May 1920 – 16 July 1921)’.[54] His journeys in India and Ceylon, Europe and America were undertaken to promote and raise money for Visva-Bharati, his newly established university. The book of essays has a more obvious structure than others in the series. In the first four essays Tagore describes various aspects of human potential, in the next four he sets out aspects of the problems he sees in the modern world. In the last essay, ‘An Eastern University’, Tagore sets out his constructive way forward. In my analysis of this work, I consider the substance and narrative form of Tagore’s human story, in contrast to works by Gandhi and Nehru.

The Religion of Man: Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (1931), is the outcome of Tagore’s ‘Eleventh Foreign Tour (March 1930 – January 1931)’, when he visited Oxford to deliver a series of lectures, in response to an invitation in 1928, but he had to postpone the voyage due to ill health.[55]. Tagore states in the Preface that in addition to the three Hibbert Lectures he has included ‘the gleanings of my thoughts on the same subject from the harvest of many lectures and addresses delivered in different countries of the world over a considerable period of my life’. He observes that his writings have carried a trace of the history of this growth from his ‘immature youth’ to the present, and only now is he seeing that they are ‘deeply linked by a unity of inspiration whose proper definition has often remained un-revealed to me’.[56] In view of these remarks, it is not a surprise to find that The Religion of Man is an elaboration of the ideas Tagore sets out in Personality. In both books Tagore refers as much to science as to religion, but Tagore’s religion is his philosophy and also his science, and everything he writes is permeated by the emotions and insights of the poet and artist.

Six chapters follow this Introduction: a chapters on each of the five books of essays plus a Conclusion. At the end of each book chapter is a substantial extract: an entire essay, from the respective book to provide an experience of immersion into Tagore’s own words. It will be important to read these extracts with open curiosity, setting aside judgements on his ideas and the way he expresses them. One should not worry, for example, about Tagore’s use of the word ‘Man’ for humankind, collectively, individually and indeed personally. The word is not gendered for Tagore, and there is no neat alternative on can substitute (in brackets) when quoting him. Other points could be made on how Tagore writes about God, Science, East and West, Nation, Truth, and so on – one must allow Tagore’s ideas to flow through his words – and just listen.



[1] Rabindranath Tagore, Appendix II, in Leonard Elmhirst, Poet and Plowman (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1975), pp. 168-73 (p. 172). [Later references in footnotes to ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ as author are abbreviated to ‘Tagore’]

[2] Sumit Sarkar, ‘The Gospel of Atmasakti—Constructive Swadeshi’, in ‘Trends in Bengal’s Swadeshi Movement’, in The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903-1908 (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1973), pp. 31-91 (pp. 53-63).

[3] Tagore, ‘City and Village’, in Towards Universal Man (London: Asia Publishing House, 1961), pp. 302-22 (p. 322).

[4] Uma Das Gupta, Preface, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. ix-xi (p. ix).

[5] ‘I hope I shall have the opportunity on my return for another talk with Your Excellency in regard to what has been my life’s work and in which I feel you take genuine personal interest.’ (Tagore, Letter to H.E., The Viceroy, 28 February 1930, The Dartington Hall Trust Archive, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE India, LKE/IN/25 Folder A, ‘Visva-Bharati correspondence’, my emphasis)

[6] Rahman, Atiur, ‘Tagore’s Thoughts on Rural Credit and Development’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, ed. by Imtiaz Ahmed, Muchkund Dubey and Veena Sikri (Dhaka: University Press, 2013), pp. 363-73 (p. 366). In her lengthy introduction to her ‘Selected Poems’ by Tagore, Ketaki Kushari Dyson declares that ‘[i]t is not an exageration to say that the Santiniketan-Sriniketan complex became an important cultural institution in twentieth-century India’. (Ketaki Kushari Dyson, I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1991), pp. 15-68 (p. 26).)

[7] Binoy Bhattacharjee, ‘Rabindranath’s Ideals of Rural Reconstruction’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today, ed. by Bhudeb Chaudhuri and K.G. Subramanyan (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 185-193 (p. 188).

[8] Uma Das Gupta, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme, 1921-41’, Indian Historical Review, 4 (1978), 354-78 (p. 376). (Included as Appendix 3)

[9] Das Gupta, p. 364.

[10] Das Gupta, Biography, dust jacket blurb.

[11] E.J. Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work, p. 70.

[12] Ashis Nandy, ‘Violence and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century: Rabindranath Tagore and the Problem of Testimony’, p. 278.

[13] Imtiaz Ahmed, ‘Contemporarising Rabindranath and the International’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, pp. 15-28 (p. 17).

[14] Such as my own first piece of academic writing: Christine Marsh, ‘The Village and the World: A Political Reading of Rabindranath Tagore’s Prose Fiction’ (unpublished master’s dissertation, Open University, 2006).

[15] Isaiah Berlin, ‘Introduction: Vico and Herder’, in Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, ed. by Henry Hardy (London: Pimlico, 2000), pp. 5-20 (p. 17).

[16] Mulk Raj Anand, ‘Inaugural Address: Rabindranath Tagore in Retrospect’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), pp. 4-11 (p. 9).

[17] Cover painting, Ananda Lal, trans. & intro. , Rabindranath Tagore: Three Plays (New Delhi: OUP, 2001)

[18] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Introduction, in Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man (New York: St. Martin’s, 1996), pp. 1-16 (p. 1).

[19] Dutta and Robinson, pp. 15-6.

[20] Sisir Kumar Das and Sukanta Chaudhuri, eds., Note to ‘A Poet’s Biography’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Writings on Literature and Language (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 385.

[21] In Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind, (ed. by Amalendu Biswas, Christine Marsh and Kalyan Kundu (London: Tagore Centre UK, 2011)), there are articles by twenty nine authors from eighteen countries, with fourteen different languages. We can see that in several countries, in Eastern Europe especially, Tagore’s literary reputation never took the dip that was so damaging for him in Britain and the United States. The poems which Tagore translated himself into English reached these countries initially through re-translation by European poets. Today, translators from countries such as Poland, Latvia and Estonia, have learned Bengali in order to translate Tagore’s works directly. English can then come into its own again, as a vehicle for scholars and admirers of Tagore to share their understanding and appreciation of his relevance to today’s world, in a similar fashion to English having a role in constructing a ‘link literature’ in India, so that works written in different Indian languages can be shared.


[22] William Radice, ed. and trans., Rabindranath Tagore: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems (London: Angel, 2001), p.25.

[23] ‘Hanif Kureishi: Writers Are Trouble – A Culture Show Special’, BBC2 television, 8 February 2014, 51 mins. from start.

[24] Lal, ‘Tagore as Dramatist’, in Three Plays, pp. 13-26 (p. 13).

[25] Lal, ‘Tagore as Theatrician’, in Three Plays, pp. 27-42 (p. 27). Rathindranath Tagore, On the Edges of Time, (Calcutta: Orient Longmans, 1958), p. 103.

[26] This is not to say that all Tagore’s poems were dashed off in moments. Perhaps the majority were quite short – and Tagore never wrote an epic – but there are many long poems like ‘Earth’ from Sonar Tari (1894) which is nearly 300 lines long in Dyson’s translation. (Dyson, I Won’t let You Go, pp. 87-93.)

[27] Tagore began painting by ‘embroidering [...] pages of his manuscripts with a tracery of corrections, “salvaging”, in his words, the poor scratches which “cried like sinners for salvation”’. (K.G. Subramanyan, ‘Tagore–The Poet Painter’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of his Life and Work, ed. by Ray Monk and Andrew Robinson (Oxford: Rabindranath Tagore Festival Committee and Museum of Modern Art, 1986), pp. 55-63 (p. 56).)

[28] Tagore ‘did not keep track of even the various edn. of his mss. Whatever remains of that list is what others made of it afterwards when the archives was being brilliantly put together (brilliant particularly because of meagre technical resources) by his son and a few dedicated bibliophiles of that time. All of them are no longer alive’. (Uma Das Gupta, 7 February 2014, personal communication.)

[29] Imtiaz Ahmed, ‘Contemporarising Rabindranath and the International’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, pp. 15-28 (p. 16).

[30] Sadhana: The Realisation of Life (London: Macmillan, 1915 [1913]); Personality: Lectures Delivered in America (London: Macmillan, 1919 [1917]); Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1921 [1917]); Creative Unity (London: Macmillan, 1922); The Religion of Man: Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1931). (The full texts are also freely available online. Sadhana: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6842; Personality: http://archive.org/details/personality00tagorich; Nationalism 1917: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/40766; Creative Unity: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23136; The Religion of Man: http://archive.org/details/religionofmanbei027987mbp.)

[31] Thompson, pp. 46-9.

[32] Lal describes a similar issue affecting the reception of Tagore’s plays in performance and his published play texts. (Lal, ‘Tagore’s Themes’ in Three Plays, pp. 43-59 (pp. 45-7) and ‘Tagore’s Reception in England and America’, pp. 60-87 (pp. 65-7).)

[33] Lal, p. 26.

[34] There are very full reports of lectures Tagore delivered in Britain in Imagining Tagore: Rabindranath and the British Press (1912-1941) ed. by Kalyan Kundu, Sakti Bhattacharya and Kalyan Sircar (Calcutta: Shishu Sahitya Samsad, 2000).

[35] Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study (London: Penguin, 1915), p. 123.

[36] ‘Who are you reading curiously this poem of mine / a hundred years from now?’, first lines of ‘1996’, composed in 1896 (One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, ed. by Humayun Kabir (London: Asia Publishing House, 1966), pp. 42-4.) ‘Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?’ is the awkward first line of Tagore’s own rendering of ‘1996’ (42 lines reduced to 8), included as poem 85 in Gardener (Sisir Kumar Das, ed., The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume ONE: Poems (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994), p. 125.)

[37] Thompson’s observations about the mistakes Tagore made in his selections and renderings annoyed the poet at first, but he came to regret ‘falsifying his own coins’. (Letter, Tagore to Thompson, 2 February 1921, in A Difficult Friendship: Letters of Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore 1913-1940, ed. by Uma Das Gupta (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 128.

[38] Radice, ‘Tagore’s Poetic Power’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of his Life and Work, pp. 39-41.

[39] Radice, p. 41.

[40] A week long seminar was held in 1986 at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla, and its full and detailed proceedings, including papers and discussions, were published in 1988 as Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today. The papers presented at a major international conference in 2011 in Dhaka was published in 2013 as Contemporarising Tagore and the World. There have been other such volumes, but these two are especially valuable and insightful.

[41] Karan Singh, Foreword, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, p. xv.

[42] Tagore, ‘On the Eve of Departure’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 158-74; Notes to essay, p. 373.

[43] Chakravarty, A Tagore Reader, p. 256. In his Preface to Sadhana Tagore writes that ‘these papers embody in a connected form, suited to this publication, ideas which have been culled from several of the Bengali discourses which I am in the habit of giving to my students in my school at Bolpur in Bengal’. (Sadhana, Author’s Preface, pp. vii-ix (pp. viii-ix).)

[44] Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyaya and Kshitis Roy, ‘Rabindranath Tagore: A Chronicle of Eighty Years, 1861-1941’, in A Centenary Volume1861-1941, ed. by Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli (Head of Editorial Board) (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1961), pp. 447-503. Hereafter ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’.

[45] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, pp. 468-70.

[46] In 1912 Tagore brought to England a collection of devotional song lyrics translated from Bengali by himself. These were received enthusiastically by the London literati, and in 1913 Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and became an international celebrity.

[47] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, ‘Editors’ Introduction’, in Purabi: A Miscellany in Memory of Rabindranath Tagore 1941-1991 (London: The Tagore Centre UK, 1991), pp. 7-8 (p.7).

[48] Tagore, ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, in Sadhana, pp. 1-22 (pp. 3-4).

[49] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, pp. 472-4.

[50] Sujit Mukherjee, Passage to America: The Reception of Rabindranath Tagore in the United States, 1912-1941 (Bookland, 1994), p. 198.

[51] ‘The Second Birth’, in Personality, pp. 77-107.

[52] Nationalism (London: Papermac, 1991) has an interesting introduction by E.P. Thompson, with the essays re-ordered, presumably to reflect the sequence in which Tagore delivered the lectures, but losing the historic sense which is behind the order he chose for the original.

[53] ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66.

[54] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, pp. 476-80.

[55] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, pp. 490-2, 488.

[56] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp. 7-8.