Born on this day in 1861, Rabindranath Tagore (d. 1941) is one of the distinguished ports of early 20th-century India, and indeed the world. In a career spanning six decades, Tagore wrote scores of prose, poems, essays, plays. He even painted. Diverse as his interest was, he was best-known to his native people as “the universal poet” soon after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the first non-European to do so.
As a poet, Tagore was unceasingly innovative and given to endless experimentations. The love of a full life is a recurring theme in Tagore’s prose, poetry and songs, as is his reverence for nature as is evident in a poem entitled, “Hymn to the Tree”, excerpts of which are reproduced here.
Hymn to the Tree
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.
Here’s another gem by Tagore, a lyrical poem on friendship, simply entitled, “Friend”.
Art thou abroad on this stormy night
on thy journey of love, my friend?
The sky groans like one in despair.
I have no sleep tonight.
Ever and again I open my door and look out on
the darkness, my friend!
I can see nothing before me.
I wonder where lies thy path!
By what dim shore of the ink-black river,
by what far edge of the frowning forest,
through what mazy depth of gloom art thou threading
thy course to come to me, my friend?