Mysticism and Poetry of Rabindranath Tagore

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.

- from Gitanjali (Song Offerings) (credit: Bengali, English)

by Rabindranath Tagore, may God bless his noble soul

Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 - August 7, 1941) the bard of Bengal immaculately brought out the essence of Eastern spirituality in his poetry like no other poet. His spiritual vision, as he himself said, is imbued "with the ancient spirit of India as revealed in our sacred texts and manifested in the life of today."

"The inner-seeking spirituality of India infused all of Tagore's writing. He wrote in many genres of the deep religious milieu of Hinduism. The values and core beliefs of the Hindu scriptures permeated his work." Says the Swami: "Rabindranath Tagore's philosophical and spiritual thoughts transcend all limits of language, culture, and nationality. In his writings, the poet and mystic takes us on a spiritual quest and gives us a glimpse of the infinite in the midst of the finite, unity at the heart of all diversity, and the Divine in all beings and things of the universe." - from the Preface of 'Tagore: The Mystic Poets' by Swami Adiswarananda of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York

Tagore believed that "True knowledge is that which perceives the unity of all things in God." Tagore through his vast body of immortal literary works taught us that the universe is a manifestation of God, and that there is no unbridgeable gulf between our world and God's, and that God is the one who can provide the greatest love and joy.

Tagore's 'Gitanjali' or 'Song Offerings' that contains his own English prose translations of Bengali poetry was published in 1913 with an introduction by the Irish poet W. B. Yeats. This book won Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature that year. Here's an excerpt from his introduction that helps us realize that "We had not known that we loved God, hardly it may be that we believed in Him…" (credit)

Tagore's poetry - which varied in style from classical formalism to the comic, visionary, and ecstatic - proceeds from a lineage established by 15th- and 16th-century Vaishnava poets. Tagore was awed by the mysticism of the rishi-authors who - including Vyasa - wrote the Upanishads, the Bhakti-Sufi mystic Kabir, and Ramprasad Sen. Yet Tagore's poetry became most innovative and mature after his exposure to rural Bengal's folk music, which included Baul ballads - especially those of bard Lalon. These—rediscovered and popularised by Tagore - resemble 19th-century Kartābhajā hymns that emphasize inward divinity and rebellion against religious and social orthodoxy. During his Shilaidaha years, his poems took on a lyrical quality, speaking via the maner manus (the Bāuls' "man within the heart") or meditating upon the jivan devata ("living God within"). This figure thus sought connection with divinity through appeal to nature and the emotional interplay of human drama. Tagore used such techniques in his Bhānusiṃha poems (which chronicle the romance between Radha and Krishna), which he repeatedly revised over the course of seventy years. (credit)

In 'My Reminiscences' (Jivan-smriti) Tagore has recorded the inner history of his early poetry. It is the history of his emergence from the unreal and self centered world of adolescence into the adult and super-personal world of man and nature. The emergence found expression in many early works: in the poem "Awakening of the Fountain" where the poet's soul was likened to a fountain imprisoned in a dark cave until one day the morning sun pierced the cave with its rays and set the fountain free. His gift of lyricism and song was fully in evidence in Kari o Kamal and Manishi and attained ripeness in Chitra. The Ode to Urbasi which appeared in Chitra is the highest watermark of his aestheticism. Mysticism first appeared on a considerable scale in Sonar tari, and Tagore's philosophical and devotional-mystical poetry attained maturity in Naivedya, Kheya and Gitanjali. (credit)


By all means they try to hold me secure who love me in this world.
But it is otherwise with Thy love which is greater than theirs,
and Thou keepest me free.

Lest I forget them they never venture to leave me alone.
But day passes by after day and Thou art not seen.

If I call not Thee in my prayers, if I keep not Thee in my heart,
Thy love for me still waits for my love.


He it is, the Innermost One,
who awakens my being with His deep hidden touches.

He it is who puts His enchantment upon these eyes
and joyfully plays on the chords of my heart
in varied cadence of pleasure and pain.

He it is who weaves the web of this maya
in evanescent hues of gold and silver, blue and green,
and lets peep out through the folds His feet,
at whose touch I forget myself.

Days come and ages pass,
and it is ever He who moves my heart in many a name,
in many a guise, in many a rapture of joy and of sorrow.

credit (mystic poetry of tagore)


Let all the strains of joy mingle in my last song -
the joy that makes the earth flow over in the riotous excess of grass,
the joy that sets the twin brothers, life and death,
dancing over the wide world,
the joy that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and waking,
all life with laughter,
the joy that sits still with its tears on the open red lotus of pain, and
the joy that throws everything it has upon the dust,
and knows not a word.


To take up Tagore's poetry today, then, when poetic utterance is so largely a matter of phrasal dexterity, rather than genuine passion felt in the heart's deep core, is refreshing to say the least. It is like a draught from a pure spring. It is a spiritual oasis in a desert of poetic wasteland where the "hollow men", the singers of tuneless ditties, parade their non-belief in all things sacred beneath the sun.

Tagore placed soul before form. A true poet-seer endowed with intuitive perception, he sang his songs with the careless unpremeditated rapture of one who sings because he must. An initiate info earth's high secrets, through the medium of his poetry he shares with the reader his "vision splendid" of Reality.

It is true of course that other poets before Tagore and since have bewitched the senses with grace and color of language and stirred that dim sense of the sublime inherent in us all. But who has expressed, in modern times, with equal poetic charm the grand and noble truths of India's ancient religious tradition? The teachings of the Upanishads he had imbibed with his mother's milk. Their living essence had penetrated his bones and marrow, lit the world in a glow and given to his poetry its distinctive character.

From these ancient Aryan texts have stemmed more than one religion and philosophy. Long before that American religious genius, Mary Baker Eddy, launched her revolutionary doctrine of man's divinity upon a world made receptive to such a view through the previous propagation of oriental ideas, the Upanishads had repeatedly proclaimed the same truth. It taught that the soul, ever swathed in the stainless white radiance of eternity, was omnipresent and omniscient; that it had never been born and hence could never die; and that evil, inharmony and decay were but mesmeric beliefs, inexplicable superstitions, beclouding man's vision of the Real.

In consequence, Tagore's poetry, echoes again and again the view of the world embodied in the Hebrew psalmist's cry of devotion - "Earth and Heaven are full of Thee!" He beheld the natural world with its manifold color and movement, transfigured and glorified by that light that never was on sea or land. For Nature, to Tagore, was the hieroglyphics of Spirit writ large. Even as Wordsworth, the mystic and pantheist, he responded sensitively to that living magnetic Presence that had breathed its love and ecstasy into its own lovely dreams.

Nature, the non-Self was neither perpetual motion nor inert mass but a vast panorama of vibrant symbols that electrified him into an awareness of their holy designer. And Nature's everlasting theme-song was the joy of the creator in his own cosmic rhythms and endless flow of pictorial effects.

Not in the hermitage or sequestered retreat therefore did the poet seek his Lord but in the silence of the night hung with stars, in water and rain, in the freedom of the open road. Indeed Tagore considered that a man was cabined, cribbed and confined till he realized his kinship with the outside world. For the universal spirit that had its secret abode in the heart of man hovered also in the circumambient air and was the light of setting suns. Did not the ancient Upanishads teach, from which he derived his inspiration, that the Absolute had two aspects - nature and soul, Purusha and Prakriti? How beautifully he has described his realized identity with the all -

"I feel that all the stars shine in me.
The world breaks into my life like a flood.
The flowers blossom in my body.
All the youthfulness of land and
water smokes like an incense in my
heart; and the breath of all things
plays on my thoughts as on a flute."

Time and again the poetry of Tagore gives lyric expression to this dominant idea of the Bhagavad-Gita - that the Divine or Self had separated itself into two, Nature and Soul, and that the universe was built on the reality of this sacrifice. The goal of evolution, "the one far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves", is the realization by man of this fundamental unity. Therefore in his poetry we find emphasis on the emotion of love which alone can experience the mystery of union. To the sleeping god unconscious of his at-one-ment with nature he addresses himself -

"The night is dark and your slumber is deep in the hush of my being. Wake, O Pain of Love, for I know not how to open the door, and I stand outside. The hours wait, the stars watch, the wind is still, the silence is heavy in my heart. Wake, Love, wake! brim my empty cup, and with the breath of song ruffle the night."

To Tagore, reality was not idea as it was for Hegel, for instance, but rather that ecstatic awakening when God and the soul in a vivid and transcendent moment of communion are known to be one. If this unity was an ever-recurring theme in his work how could it be otherwise for one steeped in that perennial source of Indian thought, which Schopenhauer said would be his solace during death as in life. With what rare simplicity and loveliness of image does he figuratively present this crowning moment in the following lines -

"He who can open the bud does it so simply.
He gives it a glance, and the life-sap stirs through its veins.
At his breath the flower spreads its wings and flutters in the wind.
Colors flush out like heart-longings, the perfumes betray a sweet secret. He who can open the bud does it so simply."

Why did the spiritual idealism of the Upanishads, of which the Vedanta is the peak, centre its philosophy around the idea of unity - this all-embracing love - this surrender to the All? In the Sadhana, which explains the poet's basic beliefs, we are told why the compilers of the ancient scriptures evolved such an attitude toward life. The early creators of Hindu philosophy, Tagore tells us, were dwellers in the forest primeval, free of city walls that foster naturally an attitude of separation and hostility to nature. Hence the Indian mind learned early to identify itself with the world and stressed union or devotion.

The rationalistic Greek philosophy, on the other hand, had its cradle in the city state, artificially set apart from nature. And the intellect is a devisive force, Tagore implies, seeing all things under heaven in terms of duality or as pairs of opposites - light and dark, love and hate, man and nature. But since God is beyond duality how can the intellect comprehend Him? Only the heart with its mystic intuition can know God. (credit)

# Further:
. Tagore Poems by PoetSeer
. Gitanjali of Tagore
. Baul Songs and Tagore
. Rabindranath Tagore : Sadhaka of Universal Man, Baul of Infinite Songs



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Technology of the Heart: Mysticism and Poetry of Rabindranath Tagore
Mysticism and Poetry of Rabindranath Tagore
Technology of the Heart
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