GITANJALI

By Rabandranath Tagore translated by Joe Winter

Rabindranath Tagore, one of the greatest names in world literature, made his mark in the West in 1912 with Gitanjali. It was a reworking in English of 103 poems taken here and there from ten books of his Bengali verse. (He wrote over fifty books of verse in all.) Abandoning the vibrant lyricism of his original tongue he discovered a deep prosaic resonance in English, reminiscent of the Authorised Version of the Bible. Lauded by Yeats, it at once made an extraordinary impression everywhere in the West, and won for its author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

Of the 103 pieces over half (53) were from one of his books alone, Gitanjali. He kept that volumeís name for the English collection but changed the meaning of the contents to an extent. Both books carry the sense of a pilgrim on a quest of the spirit (Gitanjali means Song Offerings), but Tagoreís English is prayerful more in the Western way. It is earnest, the sense of the self always an announcement, even at moments of deepest renunciation. It was a remarkable adaptation. After all this time, it is now possible for non-Bengali readers to see what the original was like. Gitanjali in Bengali is 157 pieces of pure music, a freedom of language, an expressive zest at the head of a light orchestra of rhyme and assonance. The sense of the self also is everywhere, but it is not declarative as in the English way but simply a part of the divine play, the lila, with which the speech-song is occupied.

Here is the original Gitanjali in full, in the light rhymed song of which Tagore was a master, and in English. The 157 poems make a sequence that is in effect a statement of life and death, of journey. An Upanishadic sense is there, of the formless divine; and at the same time the twentieth-century manís existentialism, the torch on the fog of the mind. But permeating the whole is something that goes beyond the human limit, ananda, for which joy or delight is an inadequate translation. It includes despair. It is of the religious essence.

Joe Winterís Gitanjali is published by Meteor Books, in agreement with Anvil Press Poetry, for sale exclusively in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and in open market in all other territories outside the European Community, U.S.A., Canada and Australia.