AD's English Literature : Interrelationship between Faith and Poetry in Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’: Universal and Timeless Appeal

Interrelationship between Faith and Poetry in Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’: Universal and Timeless Appeal

Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali one of the poet’s three collections of exclusively devotional poems, the other two being Gitimalya and Gitali .These religious poems naturally raise the question of the interrelationship between faith and poetry. It is often said that poetry which is based on a particular religious faith is necessarily limited in its appeal and Dr. Johnson declared categorically that “contemplative piety or the intercourse between god and the human soul can never be poetical”. Read More Poetry  Tagore’s religious poetry may at first sight appear to be severely limited in its appeal to western readers, because its faith is too Indian to have any universal significance. 

The English critic George Sampson finds nothing beyond a common type of eastern mysticism in Tagore’s poetry. But much of the greatest poetry of the world springs from religious convictions which are not universal, for example The Divine Comedy of Dante and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Read More Rabindranath Tagore The religious faith which gives body and substance to the poems of Dante and Milton is today shared by very few even among Christians; never the less their appeal as poetry is as fresh and undimmed as ever, in his celebrated essay on Dante, T.S Eliot goes in to the whole question of the relationship between faith and poetry and emphatically asserts that poetic appreciation is not dependent upon the reader’s identification with the poet’s own faith. The truth of the assertion is borne out by the fact that Gitanjali is Tagore’s best known work among non Indians who have always been impressed by its portico appeal. Read More Poetry Many western readers like Edward Thomas, consider the poetic world of Gitanjali. As a “gentle paradise” and W.B Yeats has said that Tagore’s songs have a timeless appeal, irrespective of their faith. Such universal appeal is due also to Tagore’s miraculous power of Translation, which has made the Gitanjali poems “jewels of English Religious poetry”, in the words of Father Fallon.  

One reason why Tagore’s devotional verse has such universal and timeless appeal is no doubt the absence of any specific doctrine. Tagore’s mysticism is not linked to any cult or sect, but as he himself said in his ‘Religion of man’, a natural product of his own temperament. The pomes of Gitanjali are the sincere and noble expressions of a poet’s response to god in his own life and Tagore was right in calling them “very intimately my own”. Read More Poetry It is true that many of Tagore’s ideas are derived from the great religious writings of his country, nobly the Upanishads. Song LXIX, for exam, conveys a powerfully felt conviction of the oneness of all life, which is one of the central teachings of the Upanishads. The poet even uses Upanishadic imagery when he speaks of the “stream of life” which “runs through my veins day and night” and which also “runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures”. Read More Rabindranath Tagore  Another central idea of the Upanishads can be found in Song XCVI which uses the evocative image of “the hidden honey of this lotus that expands on the ocean of light” to every the joy and beauty that are following through the universe. The Upanishads also speak of the head to abandoned one’s narrow everyday self before being able to rise to the height of the greater self that is one with the spirit of the creator Tagore’s poem’s in Gitanjali are haunted by a sense of the narrow self preventing the desired union with the king of his heart, as in Songs LXXIV, and 51(LI).the recurring image in these poems is that of soiled close which represent the narrow self and which must be cast away in order to realize god.

The religious convictions which give life to the Gitanjali poems also have traces of Vaishnava poets of mediaeval Bengal; Tagore frequently employs erotic imagery to express his relationship with god. If the Upanishadic ideas which permeated his poetic sensibility are taken as esoteric, them one must marvel at the poetic alchemy by means of which the erotic and the esoteric have been blended. Read More Poetry Tagore presents his relationship with god in terms of the romantic relationship of a lover and his beloved and in his imagery he uses all the main experiences of romantic love, such as a sense of separation from the lover, a painful longing for union, the anguish of doubt and frustration, and finally the serenity of fulfillment. Read More Rabindranath Tagore The Gitanjali poems, taken together, run the whole gamut of these romantic experiences. Thus Song 41(XLI) begins with the anguished cry: “why tossed thou stand behind them all, my lover, hiding thyself in the shadows?” Song 79(L) conveys movingly the poet’s felling of emptiness because of his disability to merge his soul with that of his lover:”if it is not my portion to meet thee in this my life, then let me ever feel that I have missed they sight –let me carry not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.” Read More Poetry However, such a sense of romantic longing, the use of the erotic in order to convey an essentially mystical apprehension of god, is not entirely unique, for it can also be found in the religious poetry of the 17th century English metaphysical poets.

The remarkable thing about Tagore’s Gitanjali is that though it may remind educated Indian readers of the Upanishads and the Vaishnava cult, the essential appeal of the poetry cuts across national barriers. The poems of Gitanjali have spoken to countess hearts, have been a revelation to them of what they felt and experienced the magnificent poetry of Gitanjali. Read More Rabindranath Tagore Brings the readers of any faith and even readers who have no faith a fall very close to a religious experiences which is universal and yet intensely individual such poetry, voicing universal feelings of longing, separation, joy and sorrow, can be called a jewel of religious poetry in general, and since the English Translation of Gitanjali is a miracle of transformation, the book can be placed by the side of any great anthology of English religious poetry.     Read More Poetry


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