Hot on the heels of Tuesday’s Mardi Gras and yesterday’s Ash Wednesday, it’s Valentine’s, that day of romance, flowers and candy and sweet nothings whispered into hopefully receptive ears. . . and poetry.
I’ve posted many poems on this blog during past three years, but too few by the man who inspired the blog’s title, The Endless Further: Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), teacher, philosopher, playwright, and sublime poet. Sadly, his works are almost unknown outside of India. But as the great master of the sitar, Ravi Shankar, wrote in his book, Raga, if Tagore “been born in the West he would now be [as] revered as Shakespeare and Goethe.”
In 1913, Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for Song Offerings, a collection of poems he translated himself from Bengali into English, based on Gitanjali, a collection published in Bengal three years earlier. He became the first non-European awarded a Nobel Prize.
Tagore’s poems are songs, chants. In English, they become prose poems. It is difficult for me, since I do not read or speak Bengali, to tell how much is lost in the translation. Yet, I find that his words are lyrical, and the beauty of his simple imagery, mystical. Many of the poems are songs of a love triangle between the poet, nature, and the divine. Others, however, are of love between two people, a devotional kind of love that transcends mere romance.
To commemorate Valentine’s Day, here are a three selections from Lover’s Gift, published by Macmillan in 1918:
Come to my garden walk, my love. Pass by the fervid flowers that press themselves on your sight. Pass them by, stopping at some chance joy, which a sudden wonder of sunset illumines, yet eludes.
For love’s gift is shy, it never tells its name, it flits across the shade, spreading a shiver of joy along the dust. Overtake it or miss it for ever. But a gift that can be grasped is merely a frail flower, or a lamp with a flame that will flicker.
She is near to my heart as the meadow-flower to the earth; she is sweet to me as sleep is to tired limbs. My love for her is my life flowing in its fullness, like a river in autumn flood, running with serene abandonment. My songs are one with my love, like the murmur of a stream, that sings with all its waves and currents.
I would ask for still more, if I had the sky with all its stars, and the world with its endless riches; but I would be content with the smallest corner of this earth if only she were mine.