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Wednesday, 19 May 2010



Last poems of Tagore

This 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.

As 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 Tagore.

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 oriental spiritualism.


The sun
On its very first days truck by newly
emerged existence
‘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,
Beyond language

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.
( Seshlekha)


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