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

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
Rabindranath Tagore

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.

“Lag Jaa Gale” (Embrace me), from the film “Woh Kaun Thi?”, sung by Lata Mageshkar, although the actress is Sadhana (courtesy of Gaane Suno Naye Purane):

 

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.

Courtesy of ETV Bal Bharat:

 

Bengal landscape

Courtesy of Take A Tour:

Courtesy of Guddu vlogs:

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.

Courtesy of Wonders of Nature:

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.

“Evening Song” from Act III of “Satyagraha” by Philip Glass:

 

The Tagore family estate, Jorasanko

Images of Calcutta (now Kolkata)

Courtesy of V Vlogs:

Tagore started writing at an early age, and his talent was recognised by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee  (1838-1894), who 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.

Excerpt from “Gitanjali” (courtesy of Echoes Of The Vacillating Heart):

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

Courtesy of DD Bangla News:

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.

Courtesy of Armancio Prada:

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.

 

“Tagore And The West: Medley” (courtesy of TagoreCovers):

 

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.

Allegretto from “The Cloud Messenger” by Gustav Holst (courtesy of h_mA):

 

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

“Look To This Day” by Kalidasa (courtesy of Bubbly Bobby):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

  1. A wonderful post that revealed to me an infinity of things about Tagore an author I only knew superficially
    Thank you so much for sharing the fruit of your in-depth research🌺🌺🌺

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you, Luisa, for your kind comments! I am glad that the new series is going to be of interest to my readers.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Joana. I remember Tagore in my Humanities class ages ago.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thank you, Adelheid, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, this is completely new territory for me Joanna, but a welcome one at that. It’s always good to find out about new things in life – and where better to find them that at your Naturetrails blog.

    Indian culture has always intrigued me, but not so much that I needed to explore it in depth. Fortunately, you have a knack of luring me into subjects which I wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with.

    I sometimes struggle to understand what wordsmiths are trying to convey in their mind, especially where poetry is concerned, but when it’s accompanied by music like the “Tagore And The West: Medley” I can understand it immediately. Thanks for opening my mind once again, and I’m already looking forward to your next post.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Thank you, Malc, for your wonderful comments! Now, I am looking forward to your delightful and uplifting words of praise coming after the next post! I loved Tagore from a very young age, long before I knew much about India and before having many Indian friends who read my posts. To see the effect of Tagore’s words mastery, just say to your wife, “my heart touches your feet” and enjoy the benefits. The post in this series will not disappoint you, not because of me but because I write about interesting people.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  7. First of all, it wasn’t until the book series came again, reading, knowing the lives, minute details of the greats, at least I was missing it very much. To start or rather to dedicate a post starting with a song which very much sits on each lover’s nerve still and every vocalist’s list to sing this song, because singing it is not even close to easy. Myself have been apprehensive of singing it every time an opportunity or situation arrived. I can say that Lata Mangeshkar was a part of every Indian’s every day life consciously or even unknowingly these past 50 odd years. Hence, thank you.

    Like, Rabindra Da- epitome of what a man could do with words- Bengalis whom I have known personally don’t think anyone in near or far future can even come close to creating what he did. He is the pride of the language who gave it international recognition. If I am informed correctly, Government of India is planning to give him his due place by bringing him on the Indian currency, only the second person after M.K Gandhi.

    But it is Kalidasa who affected me most not because I read him in Sanskrit but what he made us imagine in that time period when there were not planes, drones or even thought of far away lands and how they look from above. It was his foresight or insight which gave us not just the prose but details of the landscapes even as they stand now as if the cloud himself had told him where he was passing from. It is nothing less than pure devotion towards what he felt and what he conveyed. I am more than thankful that you could see through, even beyond the matter and the gross.

    Gem you are.
    Thank you a trillion times.
    Nara x

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you again Joanna. You astound me every time with your so well researched and organised, informative posts. How you find the time is beyond me. Well done!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Thank you, Narayan, for your very special comments! No doubt, you remember that it was you who asked me to add Kalidasa to the post on great books, next to Tagore, and I am very grateful for this as without including the remarkable writer, the post would be incomplete. In the process of researching his influence on composers and writers living hundred years later, I have learned important truths and knowledge, thank you! I had to include Lata Mangeshkar singing, as it is my favorite song and I listen to her voice daily. I think that I know one Indian writer who could become second to Tagore in making India proud, providing he is not distracted by things that are not connected with his wonderful writing.
    Thank you again, Narayan. Your words are greatly appreciated.

    Joanna x

    Like

  10. Thank you, Peter, for your kind comments! I do try my best as I have such wonderful readers!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I find your new series really interesting
    Have a lovely weekend

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you, Luisa, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is the magnificent start of a new and very interesting series on books, that too with great poets like Tagore and Kalidasa and melodious voice of Lata didi. I’m simply overwhelmed today.

    I walked down memory lane, when I read about the polymath Tagore’s work along with videos of Bal Bharti and Vishwa Bharti as also beautiful pictures of Jorasanko Thakurbari, Metropolitan Building, Victoria Memorial, Howrah bridge etc. I had last visited Kolkata and Shantiniketan in 2019. The touching song of Lata didi with philosophical tinge was icing on the cake. Incidentally, she has also sung Rabindra Sangeet, and I’m just listening to this.

    Excerpts of Kalidasa’s works were parts of my syllabus during school days. We used to enjoy reading and interpreting his poems in many ways. His early life and his marriage to Vidyottama are also very interesting. Though he had written much before, he is also called Indian Shakespeare. Today was a special day for me, because of you, Joanna. Thanks a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. An incredible post Joanna as always sharing so many wonderful books that are world wonders. Your passion and love of history and these incredible writers are astounding and very interesting and fascinating. Congratulations and thank you or sharing our knowledge. 💖

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you, Kaushal, for making my day special too because of your wonderful comments! I will look up Lata singing Rabindra Sangeet, and I have to thank you again for introducing me to Lata in your post on the day she died. I am so happy that this post pleased my Indian friends as I wrote about Tagore and Kalidasa, and another post, “India – The Empire Of The Spirit” after being asked by one of my friends and readers, Narayan, who wanted to bring world’s attention to the wonder of his beloved country. Since then, the Empire become the most read post.
    And I don’t need to tell you, Kaushal, how much I love India.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you, Cindy, for your wonderful comments! I think that you will like the new series of great books, and I am looking forward to reading your comments in the next few weeks.

    Joanna

    Like

  17. Fabulous and informative start to the new series, Joanna. Looking forward to many more installments.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Thank you, Pat, for your wonderful comment!

    I am looking forward to hearing from you again!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  19. You’re always welcome, Joanna! Yes, you must listen to the melody of Rabindra Sangeet, especially in Lata’s voice. It’s so soft and meaningful.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Goodness, Joanna, an incredible post! I still have so much to read and learn so to help me I follow your brilliant posts here! Bless you, be sure to have a restful weekend. 💖💝💌 I had a quick look to see if any great writers have their birthday this month and well there are a few: Proust, Neruda, Chandler, Beatrix Potter, Ernest Hemingway (21st) and Emily Bronte (30th). Marvellous! No studying on your day off. 🌹😊🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Thank you, Ashley, for your spirit-lifting comments! You will like the next few weeks of my posts because they all include the Nobel Prize winners, and of course, Ernest Hemingway is among them.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Wonderful Joanna. India has always seemed to be the birthplace of so much wisdom. Ut was lovely to hear the sound again and to view the videos. Thank you again for so much work.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. What a prolific life! I’ll look to add a book of his poetry to my small collection. Thank you for passing along so much great information about this brilliant man, Joanna. I’ve seen him referenced many times due to some of my favorite writers having been influenced by Eastern religions/philosophies, but I had no idea what a bright light he was and what a legacy he left. Thank you, again, my friend, for educating me! 🌞

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Thank you, Lisa, for your generous comments! Our exchange of knowledge goes both ways, and it is a fair exchange. More interesting writers will be featured in the next few weeks.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you, Carolyn, for your thoughtful comments! I do appreciate your time as you are so busy!

    Joanna

    Like

  26. What a fabulous post of information and beautiful poetry, Joanna. I am always stunned by the amount of research you insert into each of your lovely posts. Thank you and have a good weekend. 💞

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Thank you, Lauren, for your kind comments! Very much appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  28. You’re always welcome, Joanna!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. How amazingly talented some people are excelling in writing, music and philosophy. Such an interesting insight.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. You were right, joanna, this is a subject my heart loves. Thanks for opening my eyes about Mr Tagore, I did not realise that he had been so productive! In fact, I didn’t even know that he wrote stories and novels. I will, of course, be seeking them out. Thanks also for the soundtrack. It was great to listen to music whilst reading.
    Robert.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. What a wonderful post Joanna. I remember my library teacher in school gifted us the book Gitanjali by Rabindra Nath Tagore. I’ve read few of those timeless poems and they’re so wisely written. Is still have that book on my shelf.

    This post brings back so many memories about that. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Thank you, Ritish, for your lovely comments. It makes me happy that so many readers love this post because I loved his talented words for many years now.

    Joanna

    Like

  33. Thank you, Joanne, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  34. Thank you, Robert, for your wonderful comments. It will be most rewarding to read that Tagore is loved by so many new readers.Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Thank you Joanna for introducing this wonderful new series. I’m looking forward to your wonderful teachings and learning so much more, great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Thank you, Henrietta, for your kind comments. There will be many great writers as all are Nobel Prize winners.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Its understandable why so many people loves his timeless work.
    Thanks Joanna ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  38. The pleasure is all mine, Joanna, 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Joanna,
    I have gone through your post on Rabindranath Tagore.
    Marvelous composition.
    You have written every aspect of His creation and contribution towards humanity.
    One of his poetries is our national anthem. “Jana Gana”
    In the beginning of the post, you have added a song “Laagja Gale”
    Beautiful song from the movie. Once you understand the lyrics, you will be amazed.
    I am from Kolkata, the city of joy.
    Staying about 15 km away from Jorasanko Thakurbari (His residence)
    Beautiful post. I know that your post is unique. Being a foreigner, you can write much more than an resident of that nation.
    Albert Einstein also once meet Tagore and discussed about Spirituality. They shared their views.
    Tagore was a distinguished personality.
    Hi is GURUDEV ( Revered Teacher) for all his followers.
    I am delighted to read this post.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post as blog.
    People from all over the world will read and enjoy.
    Namaste 🙏
    Arun

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Thank you, Arun, for your wonderful comments and for coming back, as I have not seen you for a while. Tagore has been my favorite poet and I am elated that so many people now agree with me and are planning to buy his book of poetry. Thank you again, Arun, greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  41. Thank you so much for your beautiful reply ☺️
    Gitanjali must be read. Divine love will grow and bring closeness with Almighty God.
    Thank you so much for sharing a beautiful content.
    Those who will read and understand will feel that they are blessed.
    I am very poor in expressing my words. Gitanjali indeed a great book 📚
    Regards 😊🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Proud and Thanks for sharing masterpieces . Gitanjali is gem and is my all time favourite. To a Intersting fact ,Tagore has wrote our (India’s) National Anthem ,”Jana Mana Gana” also Bangladesh’s National Anthem. You wrote this beautifully. Love the details 🙌🏻✨🌸🌟

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Thank you for your prompt and lovely comments. Greatly appreciated. Perhaps, when time allows, you could read my most read post ” India – Empire Of The Spirit.”

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  44. I’m actually reading it 😀🌸

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Brilliant compilation as always! I’ve been a massive admirer of Tagore and “They transcend time and speak directly to the human heart.” is a splendid way of describing his works. It’s so cool you majored in Literature! There’s so much beauty and such rawness to human expression that Literature and Art embody and icons like Tagore have done and are doing a great job and spreading it and sustaining it.

    In case you haven’t read it, I think you’d like this short poem by him: https://allpoetry.com/Give-Me-Strength#:~:text=Give%20me%20the%20strength%20lightly,mind%20high%20above%20daily%20trifles.

    Thanks for the share, Joanna!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close