The Great Books of the World – Part 1

 

“There is a price for greatness; if you are not ready for the price, know that you
are not ready to be great.”

.                                                                          Kingsley  Vincent

 

Some time ago, one of my readers, wrote about the corrupting influence of some books. The question raised was how to recognise those books in order to avoid them. This gave me an idea about writing about ‘The Great Books of the World’ series. As a philologist (a graduate in Literature), I will do my very best to convey the universal beauty of books that will expand your mind, lift your spirit, and inspire you to greater things in life.

 

RABINDRANATH  TAGORE
7th May 1861 – 7th August 1941

Rabindranath Tagore is considered the most important poet of modern-day India. He was also a distinguished author, educator, social reformer, and philosopher. Today, Tagore is remembered as one of the foremost intellectual and spiritual advocates of India’s liberation from imperial rule.

Bengal landscape

Rabindranath Tagore was born into one of the foremost families of Bengal. He was the fourteenth child of Debendranath Tagore, who headed the Brahmo Samaj (a Hindu reform movement). The family house at Jorasanko in Calcutta (now Kolkata) was a hive of cultural and intellectual activity. Tagore was educated by private tutors and in 1873 went with his father on a tour of the Western Himalayas.

In 1875 his mother died. He first visited Europe in 1878. At that time he started to publish regularly in his family’s monthly journal, Bharati. His book Sandhya Sangit (Evening Song) was acclaimed by many.

“The buried memories of my early life seemed to come alive, to surround me again with their inexpressible sounds and scents.” This was written while Tagore was managing his family’s estate in the river-lands of Bengal in the 1890s. The thirty stories in his Selected Short Stories book represent a wonderfully fruitful period in the life of this great writer. The stories abound in exquisite descriptions of rural Bengali ways of life and landscapes – the rivers, skies, fields, and changing seasons – conveying Tagore’s profound sense of harmony with the universe even as he depicts the complexities of a society in transit.

The Tagore family estate, Jorasanko

Images of Calcutta (now Kolkata)

He started writing at an early age, and his talent was recognised by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee  (1838-1894). He was a leading writer of the day, an Indian novelist, poet, and journalist. He composed the famous Vande Mataram, originally in Sanskrit stotra personifying India as a mother goddess and inspiring activists during the Indian Independence Movement.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

In the 1890s Tagore lived mainly in rural East Bengal, managing family estates. In the early 1900s, he was involved in the svadesi campaign against the British, but withdrew when the movement turned violent. In 1912 he came to England with Gitanjali, an English translation of some of his religious lyrics. It was published by Macmillan, leading directly to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

In the 1920s and 1930s, he made an extensive lecture tour of America, Europe, and the Far East. Proceeds from the tours, and from his Western publications, went to Visva-Bharati, the school and international university he created at Santiniketan, a hundred miles north-west of Calcutta.

Visva-Bharati University

Tagore was a controversial figure at home and abroad: at home because of his ceaseless innovation in poetry, prose, drama, and music; abroad because of the stand he took against militarism and nationalism.

A depiction of the Amritsar Massacre

In 1919 he protested against the Amritsar Massacre by returning the knighthood that the British had given him in 1915. He was close to Mahatma Gandhi, who called him “Great Sentinel” of modern India; but he generally held himself aloof from politics.

His works sustained the worldwide reputation he enjoyed in his lifetime and as a Bengali writer, his eminence is unchallenged. His works run to thirty-two large volumes. They contain some sixty collections of verse; novels such as Gora and The Home and the World; experimental plays such as The Post Office and Red Oleander; and essays on a host of religious, social, and literary topics.

Tagore also wrote over 2,000 songs, which have become the national music of Bengal, and include the national anthem of India. Later in life, he took up painting, exhibiting in Moscow, Berlin, London, Paris, and New York.

Animals and Landscape compositions by Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore died in 1941, aged 80.

I would like to print here a few of his poems to demonstrate his greatness; built on clarity, poetic vision, and beauty of his unique, original verses. Tagore’s poetry represents his ‘simple prayers of common life’. Each of the poems/prayers is an eloquent affirmation of the divine in the face of both joy and sorrow. They transcend time and speak directly to the human heart. The spirit of his poems/prayers may be best symbolised by a single sentence by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the renowned philosopher, and statesman who served as president of India.

“Rabindranath Tagore was one of the few representatives of the universal person to whom the future of the world belongs.”

 

.                                     Your  Love

Let Your love play upon my voice and rest on
my silence.

Let it pass through my heart into my
movements.

Let Your love, like stars, shine in the darkness
of my sleep and dawn in my awakening.

Let it burn in the flame of my desires and flow
in all currents of my own love.

Let me carry Your love in my life as a harp
does its music, and give it back to You at last with
my life.

 

.                               Nothing But Your Love

Yes, I know, this is nothing but Your love,
O Beloved of my heart – this golden light that

dances upon the leaves, these idle clouds sailing.
across the sky, this passing breeze leaving its

coolness upon my forehead.

The morning light has flooded my eyes – this
is Your message to my heart. Your face is bent

from above, Your eyes look down on my eyes, and
my heart has touched Your feet.

.

.                                Now  In  The  Evening

You have given me a seat at Your window from
the early hour.

I have spoken to Your silent servants of the
road running on Your errands and have sung with

Your choir of the sky.
I have seen the sea in calm, bearing its

immeasurable silence, and in storm, struggling to
break open its own mystery of depth.

I have watched the earth in its prodigal feast of
youth and in its slow hours of brooding shadows.

Those who went to sow seeds have heard my
greetings, and those who brought their harvest

home, or their empty baskets, have passed by my
songs.

Thus at last my day has ended, and now in the
evening, I sing my last song to say that I have

loved Your world.

 

Kalidasa, Gupta Empire 4th-5th century CE

I have to also write here about India’s greatest ancient Sanskrit dramatist, and poet, Kalidasa, who lived during the Gupta Empire, 4th -5th century, CE. His most famous poem ‘Mghaduta’, (The Cloud), is divided into two parts – Purva-Megha and Uttara-Megha. It depicts the exiled yaksa persuading a passing cloud to take a message to his wife Alaka on mountain Kailasa in the Himalaya mountains.

The great scholar of Sanskrit literature, Arthur Berriedale Keith, wrote of his poem:
“It is difficult to praise too highly either the brilliance of the description of the cloud’s progress or the pathos of the picture of the wife, soulful and alone.”
This poem is ranked the highest among Kalidasa’s poems, for the brevity of expression, the richness of content, and the power to elicit sentiment. Quite a few composers have written music based on and titled The Cloud Messenger.

Here is an extract:

2

Eight long months passed there on the mountain,
and weak from longing,
For his distant lover, his golden bracelet slipped
from his naked forearm.
But then, on the first day of the month of Ashadha
he saw a cloud embracing
The mountaintop, like an elephant bent down low,
playfully butting his brow.

3

Lost deep in thought, Lord Kubera’s loyal servant
locked his tears within
And struggled to stand before the looming source
of his mounting desire.
The mere sight of a cloud can stir a man’s heart
even when he’s content.
What then for one so desperate to caress the neck
of his distant beloved?

 

I leave the last word to Albert Schweitzer* –

“Modern India makes a noble attempt to get really clear about itself in Rabindranath Tagore, a thinker, poet, writer, and musician. He has himself translated his important works into English. The attention of Europe was directed to him by his becoming the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. For many years he lived at Santiniketan, in Bengal, where he built up a school and college on modern educational lines. With Tagore, the ethical world and life of affirmation have completely triumphed. Joy in life and joy in creation belong, according to  Tagore, to our human nature. He is as little able as the others who had attempted it before him to really found the worldview of ethical affirmation on knowledge of the universe. The great poet of India gives expression to his personal experience that this is the truth in a manner more profound and more powerful and more charming than anyone had ever done before. This  noble and harmonious thinker belongs not only to his own people but to humanity.”

*Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), polymath, physician, philosopher, musicologist, humanitarian, and a missionary in Africa. He was known especially for founding the Schweitzer Hospital, which provided unprecedented medical care for the natives of Lambarene in Gabon. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Albert Schweitzer and his hospital in Gabon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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65 thoughts on “The Great Books of the World – Part 1

  1. Beautifully written post. Loved reading about the legends.
    They transcend time and speak directly to the human heart.
    Indeed. Thanks for sharing his work that has transcended and transformed generations.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Amazingly detailed post Joanna. I love both Mahatama Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Had read Gitanjali when I was very young. Need to read it again.

    Stay safe. Stay blessed

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you, Ashok, very much. Gitanjali is beautifully written, worth revisiting.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Ramya, I have loved Tagore for a very long time, and his poetry moves me beyond rational explanation, that is what truly great writing does to us. More next week.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, Ramya, I loved Tagore for a very long time, and his poetry moves me beyond explanation, that is what
    great writing does to us. More next week.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My pleasure Joanna. Thank you 😊

    Like

  7. Thank you, Ramya, the laptop is playing up, but I managed to answer somewhere!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much Joana,
    I heard there is a drive thru at my closest bookseller, so I’m going to buy a book written by Tagore, I need also to read it again…
    Your article reminds me my youth, and I like it 😉 ( At 15 years old, I was also fascinated by Gandhi of course and Lanza del Vasto…)
    have a very good day Joana

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you, Corinne, this is why I decided to write about the great writers. You will, I know, like next week’s post. It might remind you
    about time past but not forgotten.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you again, you are very kind, as always.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you Joanna 😉

    Like

  12. Dear Joanna, this is a beautiful post. I have tears in my heart because the poems you quote show me what I should aspire to in my own life! “Your love in my life as a harp / does its music, and give it back to You at last / with my life.” I shall strive always!
    I have ordered those books you suggested. Thank you for your guidance.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Dear Ashley, I just love your wonderful comments. I have included the poems because Tagore is the best guide, I don’t come even close.
    My aspiration is like yours; to strive to be the best I can, Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you again. You will like the next week’s, post, also very inspiring.

    Joanna

    Like

  15. I think you did great justice to Rabindranath Tagore here. I read Gitanjali a few months ago and I found it incredibly insightful and exceptionally written. The poems you have included here are beautiful.
    I didn’t know about Albert Schweitzer though. Thank you for such an informative write!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Thank you, D, as always, you leave me impressed by your knowledge. I am glad that you have discovered Albert Schweitzer, an extraordinary man. Please, read Ashley’s comment below – Tagore’s power to influence people is overwhelming. I love Him.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A) Can I just say that I LOVE Mathilda? 😀

    B) Where do you find the time to do all of this research and writing? This is unreal. I’m so impressed.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Ben, thank you so much for reading and your kind comment. I love Matilda and the book to pieces!

    Joanna

    Like

  19. You’ve introduced me to a new-to-me important voice. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Thank you, Jacqui, greatly appreciated. You will like an American writer who made an impact on my life.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  21. A wealth of interesting facts about Tagore and the other legends!

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Thank you very much for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated, also the reading of other posts and ‘liking’.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I felt very satisfied reading this post; from the lovely introduction of you the author, to the story of Nobel price winners such as Ravindranath Tagore, and Albert Schweitzer, with facts and illustrative images, to wonderful poem picks. I am truly fascinated and inspired! Thank you for this well-structured and informative post. ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  24. Yes, I think, Tagore is unique and mesmerising. Thank you, Farah.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thanks for introducing me to him ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Its an amazing post Joanna, I have read Gitanjali and found it to be deeply reflective and filled with great emotion. He was a great man indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Thank you, Uzzawal, I thought you will find this account of extraordinary, well-lived lives, interesting. Thank you for your kind comment.
    Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Home and the world, i was still in school when this story entered in me, touching various organs. And most innocently informing me about pain, about woman for the freshest first time. Dada Tagore is someone, who is seen as the roof of Bengali literature, epitome and cannot be surpassed, the only writer to have given national anthems for two countries, one once. Also fascinating and magical in his prose was Bankim da, and i am happy to see him standing beside Tagore in your article here. The composer of Vande Mataram, our national song, originally written in Sanskrit, personifying India as a mother goddess and inspiring activists during the Indian Independence Movement.

    And since i came close to this word ‘Sanskrit’, and this post being primarily attributed to two Indian writers, i felt that i should mention here the greatest of all poets, writer, and dramatist that ancient India was blessed to receive. Having personally worked on one of his poems, ‘Kalidasa’, the greatest of all authors, in his time period moved beyond philosophy and mere wisdom and wrote a lot about love and imagery. If anyone who would like imagine the magic of the old mystical Indian life, one can read his Abhigyanashakuntalam and my favourite Meghadutam.

    I feel happy to be walking along in this journey with you dear Joanna, and there is nothing better than to love, write, while sharing, exploring diamonds, in the centre of our planet.

    So much love to you.

    Narayan.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Dear Narayan, your words make me so happy that I didn’t fail in my attempt to show how unique Tagore still is and will be loved forever. However small our footsteps are, competing with his giant strides, we will continue to strive to make the world a better place
    than the one, we have found before. Every time I read his poems, I promise Him that.

    Love and thank you to you, Narayan

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Another beautiful, informative, thoroughly researched post. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you, Samreen, it is very kind of you to say so, but I have some help from an expert. Always helps.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Thank you so much, Samreen.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Pleasure my dear always ❤️😊

    Like

  34. 🙂 Keep sharing your beautiful work

    Like

  35. another beautiful post!!! Would you be so kind as to guest blog post for my site? if you’re so inclined, here’s a link to general guidelines: https://wp.me/p6OZAy-1eQ

    Like

  36. Oh I love this post! 💖 I’m deeply inspired by Rabindranath Tagore 😇

    Like

  37. I think, there isn’t a decent soul who is not inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, I love Him.
    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Lovely and informative writing. I especially loved reading the poems, thank you for the introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Thank you for your kind comment. Tagore has a magnetic effect on many people and is well worth to read more of his unique verses.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thank you also for reading and ‘liking’ Part 2

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Such a great post! This is a challenging thing to attempt, but you started off exceptionally well!

    Like

  42. Thank you, Benjamin, I aim to go on as I started…. Thank you for reading more, and your appreciation.
    Your poem almost made me write another post in the space for comment, that is the magic of the ‘ pale moon’.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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