Tagore: A remarkably long and prolific creative life

When Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, few of the judges could have anticipated that they were honouring somebody who would go on to an astonishingly long productive life extending literally to a few days before his death on 7 August, 1941, at the age of 81. Not only was the creative life extended over such a long period, but Tagore also went on to different and newer forms of artistic activity: different styles of poetry as well as other types of literature, and creation in other modes, in dance, theatre and painting. The last decade of his life—the seventies—was surprisingly the most creative period of his life, with innovations in several different artistic modes. The West seems to have stopped its adulation of Tagore by the late twenties. Free from the distraction of looking abroad for appreciation, Tagore in the 1930s was reborn as a ‘modern poet’, free from the tradition of lyrical romanticism.

In his book A Poet’s Death: Late Poems of Rabindranath Tagore (Rupa, New Delhi, 2004) ,  Professor Dipak Mazumdar has translates a selection of Tagore’s last writings. Click here to read more about the poems

    PRANTIK (Borderland)

    The messenger of death came silently, in the darkness,
    When the earth’s light was out.  He cleaned out
    The layers of fine dust, accumulated in life,
    From the horizon of eternity, washing it out with the waters of pain.

    He relieved silently, firmly, the terrors building on dreams, encroaching horrors.
    Suddenly the curtain opened on the new stage

    Of the playful God.  The flood of light spreading out of the emptiness,
    Touched the ends of the startled darkness of the universe,
    The trembling, uncertain light darted towards the endless sleep,
    Searching and searching, reducing sleep’s claim on life.

    It flooded the inner corners of my being with magical streams –
    Like the sudden floods at the end of dry summer
    Find the forgotten stream, dancing from bank to bank in its fresh liberty !
    The darkness and the light mingled, confused,
    At last they sorted out their struggle.
    The image of the past, coarse and restricted
    Dissolved into the twilight.  The new life
    Formed itself in the unclouded bright morning of renewed consciousness.
    My body, heavy with the treasures of the past,
    Looking desperately into the future, avoiding the imminent,
    Floated like the tired clouds of morning,
    Limped nervously, torn from the reaches of the skies.
    I found myself, freed from the body’s bondage, at the end of the distant horizon,
    Beyond the land of the shadows,
    On the banks of the bright river, flooded with effulgent light !

    Shantiniketan, 25 September, 1937

    NOTE: This poem was written immediately after Tagore came out of unconsciousness after serious attack of illness

SHESHLEKHA 13 (The last writings)

    The sun of the primal dawn
    Had asked
    Of the new creation of the eternal
    Who are you –
    He had no reply.
    Eons went by,
    The last sun of the day’s ending
    Asked his last question
    At the end of the western seas
    In the silent evening,
    Who are you –
    There was no reply.

    Jorasanko, Calcutta

    27 July 1941, dawn.

    NOTE: Tagore was taken to the operating table on July 30 and never regained consciousness

SHESHLEKHA 15 (The last writings)

    You have paved the path of your creation
    In myriad deceptive stones,
    O deceiver.
    You have planted snares of false beliefs, deftly
    In simple lives.
    You have marked greatness with this deception;
    But you have not yielded to him the secrets of your night.
    The path which your stars illumine
    Is really the path of his lonely soul’s inner wandering;
    It is eternally clear,
    It is lit up for ever by easy faith.
    He might be crooked outside, but his soul is tidy,
    That is his pride.
    Others call him confused.
    Nothing succeeds in deceiving him,
    He carries his last reward
    Into his own chamber of treasures.
    He who has survived the deception with such ease,
    He now receives in your blessings
    His inalienable claim to your peace.

    Jorasanko, Calcutta

    30 July 1941,morning 9:30.

    NOTE: This poem was taken down as the poet lay on his sick-bed waiting to be taken to the operating theatre. He never had a chance to see it written down

Our Tagore events

  • Oct 6, 2012 AUTUMN EXTRAVAGANZA, Michael Power St. Joseph High School, Toronto. A variety show with Tagore’s works, and a multicultural Dance Ensemble with folk dances of Ukraine, Chile, and India.

  • Sep 25, 2012 'Walking Alone: Justice and Inequality in Tagore's thought', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at Princeton University, USA.

  • May 4, 2012 Soul of Spring,McMichael Art Gallery, Kleinburg, Ontario. A medley of music, dance and poetry based on Tagore's play. It was performed during an exhibition of Tagore's paintings 'The Last Harvest' at the gallery.

  • Jan 19, 2012 'Race and Diversity in Tagore', talk by Ananya Mukherjee-Reed at the University of Toronto

  • Sept 30, 2011 Tagore reading at the Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts

  • October 2, 2011 A panel on Tagore featuring Uma Dasgupta and Martha Nussbaum on Writers & Company, CBC Radio One Broadcast time 3:05 pm Eastern. Click here for more details and podcast
  • Dec 3-4, 2011: A film festival featuring the North American premier of two films based on Tagore's work.
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