(Last Updated on : 09/06/2010)
Rabindranath Tagore was known for his different forms of creative writing such as essays, letters, short stories, novels and dramas and is best known for his poems. His poems reflected his beliefs and his feelings, be it of protest against wrong done or of support for a humanitarian cause. His first book, a collection of poems, appeared when he was 17; Tagore`s friend who wanted to surprise him published it. In East Bengal (now Bangladesh) he collected local legends and folklore and wrote seven volumes of poetry between 1893 and 1900, including Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat), 1894 and Khanika, 1900. More important was that Tagore wrote in the common language of the people and abandoned the ancient for of the Indian language. This was something that was hard to accept among his critics and scholars.
Though Rabindranath was sent by his father to manage the tenants of his family estate, it proved to be Rabindranath`s most creative and productive literary periods. Those ten years that he spent in the estates brought him into contact with nature and the common man`s life. He acknowledged the influence of that contact on his mind as `beyond measure`. Living mostly in his `Padma Boat` and watching life through its windows as he sailed up and down the rivers in it, a whole new world of sights and sounds and feelings opened up before him. The external world of nature fascinated him and became a source of deeper reflection in his works.
The years that followed his stay in East Bengal were of great sorrow in his life starting with the death of his wife in the year 1902. A few months after his wife`s death their second daughter Renuka fell ill. His renowned collection of poems for children called sisu (child) was written at this time while nursing Renuka and looking after the two daughters in absence of their mother. The poems are full of innocent delight that nobody could tell how anxious and grief-stricken he must have been at the time. It is worth noting that the sisu poems are of the same year as the collection called smaran (in memoriam) all written after his wife`s death. In 1903, nine months after the death of his wife Renuka died. In a poem written at that time he identified himself with a beggar woman who was stopped by a prince asking for alms. Embarrassed, she took out a copper coin from her bag and put it in his hand. When she returned home she found a gold coin in her bag and broke down thinking "why did I not give him my all"?
The year 1906-16 constituted a most profound phase of Rabindranath`s creative life. Much of Tagore`s ideology came from the teaching of the Upahishads and from his own beliefs that God can be found through personal purity and service to others. He stressed the need for new world order based on transnational values and ideas of "unity consciousness." Each of his work seemed like an offering to God or finding in God `the medium of higher love shorn of all superficial ornaments`. Coming from an inner surrender, after much personal pain, the language of the poems was simple and direct. Whether written to find inner peace when facing the deaths of his beloved one`s or written for the future of his country, or written as poems of romantic love, those poems of the Gitanjali genre were like prayers to his lord.
Many of his poems are actually songs, and inseparable from their music. Tagore`s `Our Golden Bengal` became the national anthem of Bangladesh. Only hours before he died on August 7, in 1941, Tagore dictated his last poem. Infact his critics say that he wrote some of his finest poetry and drama in the final decade of his life from 1930 to 1940. They term this period as the `Last Harvest`. During this period he wrote seven volumes of verse of which four were prose poems. These writings reflected the issue of `untouchability` and `depressed humanity` that was prevalent at that time.
Among his fifty and odd volumes of poetry are Manasi (1890) [The Ideal One], Sonar Tari (1894) [The Golden Boat], Gitanjali (1910) [Song Offerings], Gitimalya (1914) [Wreath of Songs], and Balaka (1916) [The Flight of Cranes]. The English renderings of his poetry, which include The Gardener (1913), Fruit-Gathering (1916), and The Fugitive (1921), do not generally correspond to particular volumes in the original Bengali; and in spite of its title, Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912), the most acclaimed of them, contains poems from other works besides its namesake. Tagore`s major plays are Raja (1910) [The King of the Dark Chamber], Dakghar (1912) [The Post Office], Achalayatan (1912) [The Immovable], Muktadhara (1922) [The Waterfall], and Raktakaravi (1926) [Red Oleanders].
Tagore remained a well-known and popular author in the West until the end of the 1920s, but nowadays he is not so much read.