Critical Study of Tagore’s Gitanjali in evaluating Indo-Anglian literature

“Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.”

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941)

Indian poet, writer, and philosopher.


Indian poet, philosopher, and Nobel laureate, Tagore’s Gitanjali as translated by himself into English made Tagore internationally famous. Gitanjali is a collection of one hundred and three deeply religious and mystical poems which delight, thrill, and uplift us by their noble thoughts and feelings, and which stir and move us by their lyrical qualities. These poems were the fruit of Tagore’s meditations on God, on man, and on Nature against the beautiful natural background of Shantiniketan where Tagore founded his World University (Vishva Bharati). What is most surprising about these “songs-offerings” is the fact that philosophical thoughts and mystical longings have been expressed, and expressed most successfully, through the use of the simplest conceivable language. The simplicity of language, and the intensity, Hinduism found humanist expression and sincerity of the feelings expressed, are some of the reasons for the wide appeal of Gitanjali.

This critical study of Gitanjali is very important in evaluating Indo-Anglian literature. The important aspect of Gitanjali has   the very spirit and essence of Tagore’s philosophy of life. Here is Tagore’s unique blend of romantic longing, devotion to God, and a simple love of created things. The book is a collection of impressions of personal religious moods, and it is free from all kinds of dogmatism. All the poetry of this book is in the feeling and the tone, and in the prose-poetry which is simple, fluid, and with just enough formal organization to hold the book together. In Williams’s opinion, Tagore was wise in avoiding metre and rhyme. The imagery, pervasive but not startling, is taken from Nature and from Indian classical mythology, especially from the Radha-Krishna legends. The one hundred and three poems of this book are unified by the poet’s search for God and for happiness in his love for the spirit which lies within Nature and man; and the search is expressed with wistful melancholy in a sustained minor key. 

Rabindranath Tagore
As H.M. Williams points out, Gitanjali certainly contains the most obviously religious of Tagore’s poems, though the religion is lyrical and vague, a type of pantheism, with echoes of Hindu Vaishnavite poetry (the love of Radha for Lord Krishna) and even of Christian religious feeling for God as Father and Redeemer. The image of God as bridegroom and lover is common to the New Testament and Vaishnavism. But H.M. William does not agree that Gitanjali shows any mysticism; and in this connection he writes: “Unfortunately the exotic flavour of the poems and the vagueness of European knowledge of Indian religions led to their being labelled as mysticism, with exasperating results for the poet who was embarrassedly his new-found reputation as an Oriental Guru.”

Williams regards Tagore as a lyric poet of shifting moods and a poet of Nature, and certainly no mystic in the technical sense in which the word is applied to Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. According to Williams, Tagore had wrongly been regarded as a mystic, and some of the blame in this connection rested upon W.B. Yeats who praised Tagore for many of the wrong reasons. A more perceptive evaluation of Tagore as an English poet, says Williams, came from Ezra Pound who accurately pin-pointed the chief literary interest of Gitanjali. This literary feature of Gitanjali, according to Ezra Pound, was the use of prose-poetry as a new medium. Williams further says that, although Tagore was never completely at home in the English language, his mastery of it as a literary medium was an amazing achievement for a middle-aged foreign poet. Some of the finest hymns are those in which the poet’s longing for the divine to refresh his “arid heart” is clothed in the metaphor of the Indian seasons, as in the following verses:

 “The rain has held back for days and days, my God, in my arid heart.

The horizon is fiercely naked—not the thinnest cover of a soft cloud, not the vaguest hint of a distant cool shower.

Send thy angry storm, dark with death, if it is thy wish, and with lashes of lightning startle the sky from end to end.

But call back, my lord, call back this pervading silent heat, still and keen and cruel, burning the heart with dire despair.” (Poem No. 40)