Last poems of Tagore
year marks the birth centenary of the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861 –
1941). Quite a lot has been written and said and about him. However he
is still being rediscovered all over the world by those who had read his
works translated into English.
It was 2002. I was walking one morning with my son, in a London
carboot sale where lots of second-hand books could be bought at a
surprisingly low price. My son Vidhura picked up a book and handed over
to me knowing the interest I would take on the subject. The book I got
is still with me preserved and valued.
you will note the book is titled as ‘Some Songs and Poems from
Rabindranath Tagore’ translated by Pratima Bowes (1984. East West
Publications., London and Hague). Translator Dr. Bowes was a lecturer in
philosophy at the University of Sussex. She is well known as a
translator of Bengali works with special reference to Tagore. To the
English reader, Dr Bowes gives a panoramic view of Tagore’s works and
focuses attention on some of the salient aspects of his creative
tradition and process. My intention today is to select three of the last
poems for scrutiny on the memorable event.
Perhaps some of my good elderly creative writers and scholars would
not agree with me, if I say that all creative action is a self seeking
process instead of a depiction to an external world. I felt and gripped
into it when I found myself identifiable with some of the last poems of
Pratima Bowes has translated some of the last poems selected from
Tagore’s last three collections Arogya (1941), Janmadine (1941) and
Seshlekha (1941). The poems included in these collections have been
written at the age of 80 by Tagore. They look more matured in the search
for self. Especially in his Seshlekha (last writings) he asks the most
fundamental question of all: ‘Who am I?’
The last poem I have selected is meant to address this point. The sun
asks the newly emerged existence, ‘who are you?’ shows the quest for an
answer. But the poetic persona in Tagore’s poem would not have been the
great poet that he was if he ever knew, once for all, and in this last
poem written towards the end of his life no answer was found. He had to
continually reopen all questions as life moved on and new experiences
crowded on him.
Still, he continued to love this world and life, such as it is;
continued to find a sense of beauty in man, and nature and in mystic
forces, which was titled as a suprahuman force denoted by the term God.
I am not too sure whether Tagore meant the god as is known commonly by
the religiosity. For me the term is not of a mystic but of a lover.
As noted by Pratima Bowes and many others it is in his last ten years
that he produced his best poetic works, some of which were quite short.
During the period, his amalgamation of language and thought had acquired
a rare degree of economy, sharpness, control, precision are clarity,
blended in the self searching vision. Until the end of his life, Tagore
was, according to Pratima Bowes, experimenting on the aspects of prose
and verse poems, and was observed as deriving more inspiration from
On its very first days truck by newly
‘who are you?’
No answer was found.
Years passed by.
The last sun of the day
Asked once again,
Standing on the shore of the western sea
Amidst the silence of the evening
The final question
Who are you?
No response was found
Today I feel lost
Amidst my birthday celebrations,
I wish for those friends,
Through the touch of whose hands
I could take with me
This life’s supreme grace,
Received through the flavour of pleasing communion
The best that this earth offers –
Take with me man’s final blessings.
Today my bag holds nothing,
I have emptied it,
Given away whatever I had to give.ceive something in return –
Some affection, some forgiveness –
I shall have that with me
As I take the ferry to the other side
To join in the ultimate celebration,
The heat of the sun is quite severe
This lonely mid-afternoon.
I look at the empty bed-stead
For consolation – not a trace
Its desolate bosom
Speaks, as if a language of despair
Yet, its message of emptiness is not without compassion,
Something that I do not quite understand.
Like a dog, masterless, who looks
With sad eyes, to express the loss of its inconsolable mind,
Not knowing what has happened and why,
But seeking night and day, pointlessly around
The message of the bed-stead
Is yet more pathetic, even more distressed.
The dim pain of that emptiness
Fills the room
With the absence of my beloved.