A Myriad-Minded Man

Yesterday when I remembered Robert Aitken and Bobby Hebb, I should also have mentioned Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian philosopher, singer, poet, educator, who died on Aug. 7, 1941.

The title of this blog comes from Tagore’s The Religions of Man, in which he wrote of “our ceaseless adventure of the Endless Further.” I have always taken this to mean that our quest for the ultimate must remain uncompleted, for the truth of the ultimate is so vast that it is beyond our capacity to realize it. What we do then, is pick up bits of truth as we go, and keep walking toward the infinite horizon.

Tagore believed in mysticism, but not in magic. He was firmly grounded on this earthly plane, and understood that human beings have limits and that no individual possessed the power to know the entire universe.

Tagore’s poems were really songs. He was not so much a saintly mystic-poet as he was a spiritual nomad, a wayfarer, a rebel of song.  His songs were meant to be sung. They are proud, and yet solemn, like real American spirituals. They are songs of devotion, honesty, beauty, and transcendence. Nearly every word of Tagore set down is ablaze with his intellect and spirit, just as each line conveys his joy of life and his marvel at what a wonderful, strange, sad and awe-inspiring life it is.

Tagore’s last year, his 80th was excruciatingly painful, physically. In September of 1940, he was struck by erysipelas. He nearly died then, laying in a coma for almost sixty hours, and he never fully regained his strength. It was the beginning of the end, and he was well aware of it.

Not only did the state of his physical health trouble Tagore, so too did the state of the world. His dreams of universal brotherhood were going up in the flames of war that were engulfing the entire world. The as-of-yet unrealized independence of India preyed on his mind.

In 1913 Tagore became the first non-white person to receive a Nobel Prize. He was awarded the prize for literature, because, in the words of the Nobel committee, “of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

According to Wikipedia, the poem below “Named as Praan and sung by Palbasha Siddique [has been] used as the background score for Matt Harding Dancing 2008 video. The song went on to be among the top 10 of Amazon’s soundtrack downloads over a week and is also in the top 100 of all its MP3 downloads.”

The Same Stream of Life

(from Gitanjali)

The same stream of life that runs through
my veins night and day runs through
the world and dances in rhythmic
measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth in
numberless blades of grass and breaks
into tumultuous waves of leaves and
flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the
ocean-cradle of birth and of death,
in ebb and flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the
touch of this world of life. And my pride
is from the life-throb of ages dancing
in my blood this moment.

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