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Old Mar 1st, 2023, 11:32 AM
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Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

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Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali poet, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was a literary innovator, and a driver of the Bengal Renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Over his 80 years, he wrote many poems, plays, songs, and essays. He was knighted by the British Empire, but he renounced the knighthood, remaining an outspoken activist against unjust, humiliating treatment of his countrymen by the British Raj. He hung out with Einstein and Gandhi, traveled the world, and established a radical college inspired by his distaste for formal schooling. You can read more about his life here.

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Officially, we're going to be reading Gitanjali, originally written in Bengali but translated by Tagore himself into English as Song Offerings. This was the collection for which he is most famous. It's not dense -- about 100 easy-to-read prose poems, most shorter than a page. It would work well as a daily dose, or could be consumed entirely in a couple of hours. However, Tagore has written many more poems and other works, including paintings, some of which are in the public domain or legally available online. If you have one in particular you'd like to highlight or discuss, feel free to link to it and invite others to look at it.

Here is a link to Gitanjali on Project Gutenberg with different formats available.

Here is a link to his page on the website of the Poetry Foundation, with links at the bottom to many of his poems that were published in Poetry magazine.

Here is a link to a video from the Prasat Bharati Archive, that explains more about Tagore's art and music and gives examples of both.

As we explore Tagore's varied and deep body of work this month, feel free to post your own links to spark discussion!
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Old Mar 1st, 2023, 08:29 PM
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To start us off I'll offer up this poem, one of my favorites of his. He writes very beautifully about yearning and reaching to connect:

Paper Boats (1913)

Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the running stream.
In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of the village where I live.
I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and know who I am.
I load my little boats with shiuli flowers from our garden, and hope that these blooms of the dawn will be carried safely to land in the night.
I launch my paper boats and look up into the sky and see the little clouds setting their white bulging sails.
I know not what playmate of mine in the sky sends them down the air to race with my boats!
When night comes I bury my face in my arms and dream that my paper boats float on and on under the midnight stars.
The fairies of sleep are sailing in them, and the lading is their baskets full of dreams.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 09:27 AM
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OKAY I like this. It is good-hearted and hopeful---and visual, which I love.

I am bad at reading poems. I tend to read VERY quickly, for plot, with very little retention. Sometimes that is enough for me, and I put a book aside. Sometimes I reread it. Books I love I have read so many times I know them intimately. I go to them on sad days. They are full of especial pet sentences; I read and see them approaching with great joy.

Poetry is better slow. I have a hard time with it. I like to go and have it read to me more than I like to read it. Many of the contemporary poets I read, like Beth Ann Fennelly and Natasha Trethewey, I heard at events before I ever tried to read them.

I read this poem aloud to myself and immediately liked it much better. I noticed the boats and the clouds mirroring each other on the read aloud, and I always like that I AM A SPECK THE WORLD IS VAST AND YET THE FINITE SPARK OF ME MATTERS, OH HAI, GOD stuff.

Anyone else find poetry more challenging to read?
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 05:14 PM
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This poem is a paper boat. He wants it to find you so you know him.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 05:33 PM
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I've started with the Poetry Foundation link you included--thanks for that!
I think I needed Tagore's little blessing from "Gardener 85" this morning!

"In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across an hundred years."


Inexplicably, our library doesn't have any copies of his poetry or his plays. The library does have "Nationalism," which I've put on hold. A study of the causes and solutions to war in Europe--I guess that's another needed message across the decades that Tagore is giving us!
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 08:07 PM
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Oh I love this one too. It's one of the most Whitman-ish ones. Whitman talks about how he's waiting just up the road for us, which I just love. I'm going to put the whole poem here that you referenced:

The Gardener 85

Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.

From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across an hundred years.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 08:15 PM
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This is the Whitman it reminds me of... from "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass. From the second to last section:

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?


and then at the very end:

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.


These lines always get me. And the Tagore hits me the same.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 10:47 AM
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.Okay I kinda did a dive yesterday. Maybe not a DEEP one. But I read about his life (this guy had so many gifts and came into the right time and space to use them...) listened to some of his music, read his prose, and dug into the poems.

I really enjoyed the first story in the collection, The Cabuliwallah. It was thematically doing much of what we talked about already ---Looking for connection across geography and/or culture, how we are the same.

There was also a melancholy to it about the passage of time, which I also find in the poems and which appeals to me. Here is one like that I really loved:

74.
The day is no more, the shadow is upon the earth. It is time that I go to the stream to fill my pitcher.

The evening air is eager with the sad music of the water. Ah, it calls me out into the dusk. In the lonely lane there is no passer-by, the wind is up, the ripples are rampant in the river.

I know not if I shall come back home. I know not whom I shall chance to meet. There at the fording in the little boat the unknown man plays upon his lute.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 12:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fillyjonk View Post
OKAYAnyone else find poetry more challenging to read?
Pondering AetherselfI do, too! It feels like a "mood" thing, where I have to be in the right mood... but as I read your comments about reading for plot quickly, I begin to wonder if that's the issue for me, as well? Perhaps. I found myself skipping ahead when I tried to read your latest poem offering, #74, so perhaps it is.

I am late to the party, but I will pick up Gitanjali later today. I look forward to the enlightenment such a creative and open mind will bring, even across an hundred years.
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Old Mar 6th, 2023, 07:46 AM
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Here's one of his that I have found kind of puzzling. He works so much with metaphor and often there's a conceit for the poem (like the paper boats being poems). This one is strange to unpeel. What do you guys make of it?

On the Seashore
by Rabindranath Tagore

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.

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.

The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
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Old Mar 6th, 2023, 08:48 AM
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I read some of the biographical write-ups of Tagore, along with listening to a selection of his musical compositions and watching a short video on his paintings--he seemed remarkably able to create works in all kinds of fields, and have interests that continually led him into new ones. Apparently, he also wrote about education and developed a theory/program focusing on self-development. My guess is this poem might be an overlap of his interest in education and in spiritual fulfillment, even though we, as children, "know not how to swim," we are rightfully drawn toward the ocean, representing the Brahman, and we can see, touch, and meet beside it as we live our lives in attempt to transcend the self.

“Only as long as the self is separated it leads to suffering and is trapped in its finiteness, but as soon as it connects and transcends itself, our self isn’t narrow anymore but finds itself in the whole world."
--Sinha, Harenda Prasad 1994. Religious Philosophy of Tagore and Radhakrishnan. A Comparative and Analytical Study. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, p.83

But my guess feels like someone on the seashore of something much bigger. This man was a remarkable thinker and talent ... and I realize that trying to guess at his meaning in his poems with a few short reads is, of course, to miss all sorts of depths in his writing.
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Old Mar 6th, 2023, 09:31 AM
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I guess what I keep looking for as I reread it is... who are the children and who are the merchants and pearl divers. Who is the "we." The merchants and divers are doing "real" things and find themselves shipwrecked. Death is abroad but the children avoid it by misunderstanding it, as they only play with shapes and symbols. Innocence and idiocy are adjacent. I agree this one isn't so easily mapped, and I like it for that, but it has such uneasiness in it.

Sometimes when I'm kind of baffled with a poem I try to imagine the speaker saying -- this is what the world feels like to me right now. What I feel here is impending doom but maybe I'm writing that onto it and it's not meant to be there.
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Old Mar 6th, 2023, 04:38 PM
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I wouldn't go so far as impending doom so much as the cyclical nature of life? I agree with banana, there's a certain amount of "we the children" needing enlightenment and to see the wider picture, but the wider picture doesn't have the same childlike innocence to it, yet we are drawn there regardless.

I notice the poem has a certain rhythm to it, at least by phrase if not by translated word. This feels like one of many songs for the sea, the way sailors in European culture sang of the sea as their lover, their life, and their death all in one?

I wouldn't necessarily presume to know his intention, because this is clearly a genius trying to share his sight with we lesser mortals, but in sharing it does he wonder if he too is only drawing us into a wider arena that may not be what we expect?

EDIT: I find questions are easier with poetry, rather than answers. Sorry if that doesn't really help answer your questions.
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Old Mar 8th, 2023, 12:39 PM
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I ran into this quote from Paul Atreides in Dune that reminded me of our discussion of the feeling of friendly invitation that is present in Whitman and Tagore. Like as in... this would be the opposite of that!

He says this: "Try looking into that place where you dare not look. You'll find me there, staring back at you."

Poets who might have THIS kind of invitation instead of the "I stop somewhere waiting for you" approach.

Eliot? Plath? Poe?
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Old Mar 8th, 2023, 12:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fillyjonk View Post

74.
The day is no more, the shadow is upon the earth. It is time that I go to the stream to fill my pitcher.

The evening air is eager with the sad music of the water. Ah, it calls me out into the dusk. In the lonely lane there is no passer-by, the wind is up, the ripples are rampant in the river.

I know not if I shall come back home. I know not whom I shall chance to meet. There at the fording in the little boat the unknown man plays upon his lute.
[/FIELDSET]
Absolutely love this one. It reminds me of the Imagists a little? Like of H.D. a little? "The evening air is eager with the sad music of the water" is such a great line. Just the whole thing. Love it.
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