The Universal Poet: Rabindranath Tagore

Born on this day in 1861, Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most outstanding creative artists of early 20th-century India. In a career spanning six decades, Tagore wrote scores of prose, poems, essays, and plays. He even painted. Diverse as his interest was, he was best known by the public as a poet and an extraordinary one at that. Indeed, his own people christened him viswa-kabi, or “the universal poet” soon after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the first non-European to do so.

As a poet, Tagore was always innovative and given to endless experimentations. Surveying his poems, one could exclaim, as Dryden did about Chaucer, “Here is God’s plenty.” It is said that Tagore was only a child when he began to rhyme, and biographers have recorded vividly how even as the 80-year old poet lay dying in 1941, poems kept coming to him.

The love of a lyrically full life is a recurring theme in Tagore’s prose, poetry and songs, a quality which is clearly evident in the following three poems I chose which cover themes such as a life well-lived, friendship, intimacy and beauty in nature.


More life, my lord, yet more
to quench my thirst and fill me.
More space, my lord, yet more,
freely to unfurl my being.
More light, my lord, yet more,
to make my vision pure.
More tunes, my lord, yet more,
the stirrings of my heart.
More pain, my lord, yet more,
to lead me to a deeper consciousness.
More knocks, my lord, yet more,
to break open my prison door.
More love, my lord, yet more,
to completely drown myself.
More of thee, my lord, yet more,
in the sweetness of grace

I don’t want to leave this lovely world.
I want to stay in the midst of mankind.
In this sun-drenched flower-filled garden
I’d like to be at the pulsating heart of life.
Life in earth ripples on everlastingly,
Mingling unions and partings, joy and sorrow:
Out of human happiness and distress
I’d like to compose immortal songs.
But if this proves to be a vain wish
As long as I am alive, let me at least
Place myself where night and day
I can pen lyrics that blossom into songs.
Please accept my blossoms with a smile
And when they wither, cast them away!


Those who are near me do not know that you are 
   nearer to me than they are 
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart 
    is full with your unspoken words 
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I 
    am walking alone with you 
Those who love me do not know that their love 
    brings you to my heart.


To your shelter I come
to gain the sacrament of peace,
to hear the mighty utterance of the silent,
to surrender myself, head bowed
by anxiety’s heavy burden,
in your gracious green shade.

A cool green form, O drinker of sun-rays.
The strength that you have milked
from centuries fills your core.
Cooled by your loving shade,
strong by your strength,
crowned by your garland is humanity.
I come this day as a messenger, O friend of man,
Bringing the holy gifts of poetry.

Rabindranath Tagore in the 1920s.

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