A collection of poetry to be experienced than talked about

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Introduction to Gitanjali

You may think that you consume poetry consciously but there may come along a book, like Gitanjali, where poetry will consume you, wholly, making you feel both lost and found, leaving you with a gratified feeling.

It’s with a feeling of reverence and fondness that I attempt at writing about this book. This book is one that I don’t want to view from a reviewer’s lens. Though this post may be tagged under the category of a book review, let me be clear that this is not a book review.

This is more like a childlike joy of sharing a found treasure with friends. This is exactly that.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali is a treasure to be shared and enjoyed, consumed and let be consumed, discussed in platforms and yet relished in silence.

Written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (which translates to “Song Offerings”) is a collection of translated poems of Tagore’s collection of Bengali poems titled Gitanjali. Well, the Bengali collection had 157 poems while the English translated collection has only 103 poems.

The collection of poems captures the conversations of the poet with God in its profoundness even while keeping the language simple. It’s the simplicity in which Tagore brings out hope and the possibility to have conversations with God that makes it extraordinarily beautiful.

The poet Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature for Gitanjali in the year 1913 which put Indian Literature in high regard across the world.

Where the mind is without fear

I was introduced to Tagore’s work in my school through this poem “Where the mind is without fear” from Gitanjali

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

This poem, written by the visionary during the period when the British ruled India, at first looked like written as a yearning for freedom from slavery. But what made me feel relevant even now, making it a timeless classic is that it yearns for freedom from our very own limitations of the mind. 

This poem and all of the other poems in Gitanjali too helps work on an individual level of freedom.

As a nation, we might be free from the shackles of slavery seeing progress in the fields of science, technology, medicine, sports, etc. But are we free from discrimination at the grassroots levels?

Do we even realize what freedom of mind may actually mean?

Gitanjali gently nudges us to question ourselves leading us to the heaven of freedom where the heaven is found just within us, where God sits right inside of us making conversations with Him possible, right now.

Gitanjali-Biggest influence on my poetry (and life) journey

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali is one of the biggest influences on my poetry (and life) journey and honestly, I don’t remember how I landed up with this book. But one thing that I clearly remember is that the very first poem in it had me in tears. Here is that piece:

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure,
This is my prayer to thee, my Lord-strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart,
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands
my little heart loses its limits in joy
and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me
only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest,
and still there is room to fill.
— Tagore

More interestingly, I couldn’t move on to the rest of the poems and I didn’t force myself to do so too. I sat with the poem.

Some poems come to you to prepare you for an intense experience

while some others come in as an assurance that your path is headed the right way.

Gitanjali has poems that make me feel both ways.

A relationship with God

More often or so, our relationship with God stems from fear or an obligation or a traditional practice but this anthology will make one seek God from a space of love.

There are times when the complexities of life may drain us, making life a dreadful solo journey. But one read of even one poem from Gitanjali can make you feel comfortable assuring that it needn’t be a solo journey while He is by your side.

Tagore brings in the beauty and joy of having an honest relationship with God through his lines effortlessly and efficiently.

I ask for a moment's indulgence to sit by thy side. The works that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite, and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.
To-day the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.
Now it is time to sit quiet, face to face with thee, and to sing dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.

- Tagore in Gitanjali

Ain’t it just amazing? I sometimes feel that kids have such conversations easily while we as adults lose the connection with God because of our learned ignorance. Kids keep it simple like this conversation in the poem above. They say their fears openly, approach and own God which we as adults fear to do, afraid of being judged.

Gitanjali makes those real-time conversations with God possible and helps experience the childlike joy that comes with believing in magic and being open to it.

On another note, I would also love for you to listen to the song below penned by Tagore (not from Gitanjali though) which gives one the hope and courage to make the right choices and walk alone if the right thing is to stay away from a wrongful crowd.  

What makes Gitanjali a must read

This book has an introduction to Gitanjali by the Irish poet W B Yeats is more than enough of a reason to make Gitanjali a must-read. Yeats’ introduction clearly shows his fascination for the mysticism in Tagore’s poems and calls it the work of a supreme culture.

Where most of the divisions and discriminations creep into society out of a religious divide, this anthology has the power of changing perspectives working on an individual level to free us from such limitations.

Even for an atheist, this book has an appeal as there’s no definite portrayal of God here and it’s more of an abstraction and personification. And the poems can make one easily personify God the way they want or simply relate it to an idea they believe in.

It’s more of an experience than a depiction. It’s more of a personal belief than a traditional practice.

Gitanjali helps you shift from a religious trip to a spiritual voyage with hope and love as comfort.

Concluding Notes

Our prayers end in a hurry, we take time to do rituals but not the time to sit alone to contemplate or have a conversation with God. We don’t even think about the possibility of having a conversation with God.

We distance ourselves from God not knowing of His residence just right in our hearts. Gitanjali helps you find Him, fall in love and make Him your forever friend.

We do things out of fear but not with an open-mindedness to seek, to be called wrong and to learn right from the wrong. We forget to learn to unlearn. And it can be hard from a lot of conditioning since birth but that is where Tagore’s Gitanjali comes in as a gentle nudge and a comforting blanket.

Some poems come to you to prepare you for an intense experience

while some others come in as an assurance that your path is headed the right way.

Gitanjali has poems that can make you feel both ways.

P.S. Not every poem in Gitanjali has to be read in one go. Nor every poem of Gitanjali may appeal to you all at once. It is a growing experience.

Sit alone with one poem at a time and experience the magic it brings along. I bet, it will grow upon you and the poems will start talking to you (not necessarily in the same order of writing) right at the time when you least expect it.

Find a copy of Gitanjali here.

Happy experiencing Gitanjali.


Picture of the author.

Hi, I’m Seethalakshmi (aka) Preethi, a Poetpreneur who can help you find solace in reading, writing and/or gifting poetry. Drop an email at promisingpoetry5@gmail.com to get a customised poetry gift or to get honest feedback for your poetry.

I also write for causes & currently writing for the cause- “Raising Readers“, collaborating with my friends, Sini and Roshna.