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Rabindranath Tagore's #13 in Gitanjali

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1961.

Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore

Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore

Introduction and Text of Gitanjali #13

Often retitled as "Waiting" across many Internet sites, Rabindranath Tagore's number 13 in the poet's Gitanjali does feature a speaker who is, in fact, still waiting to reach his goal.

Gitanjali is the collection for which the poet was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Tagore originally wrote the poems in this collection in Bengali. After the encouragement from English literary critic and painter William Rothenstein, Tagore translated his poems into English.

The form of Tagore's translations that resulted were prose renderings of his original poems. However, the poetic nature of his pieces testifies to the profundity of those pieces as prayer/poems. The addressee in most of the pieces is God, or else they speak of the speaker's journey to God-realization.

Thus, the speaker in this piece expresses his act of waiting for his soul to unite with its Creator. Devotees who practice the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, "Father of Yoga in the West," as well as other spiritual leaders, will recognize the sentiment and find its expression comforting as it describes their own pre-goal feelings.

13

The song I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.

The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.

The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighting by.

I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.

The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor; but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into y house.

I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.

Reading of #13 from Tagore's Gitanjali

Commentary

In seven poetic versagraphs, the speaker laments his failure to unite with his Belovèd Lord, but he also demonstrates that he will continue his spiritual journey to the end.

First Versagraph: His Unsung Song

The song I came to sing remains unsung to this day.

The speaker, a poet/singer of songs, confesses that the song he wishes to sing for his Divine Belovèd remains without voice. This report alerts his audience that the speaker is striving to contact the Divine but thus far has failed to make that connection.

If he had already united with his goal, he would likely be expressing his joy at having sung his song. The Divine would have let the speaker know His reaction, but at this point, the speaker remains searching.

Second Versagraph: Metaphorically Stringing and Unstringing

I have spent my days in stringing and in unstringing my instrument.

The speaker then metaphorically avers that he has continued to search, study, and meditate in order to gain the attention of his Divine Belovèd. "Stringing" and "unstringing" his instrument refers to the acts of searching and meditation.

The appropriateness of metaphorically describing his spiritual journey as attending to a stringed instrument remains on point for a poet/singer, who often accompanies himself as he sings his tunes.

Nevertheless, the stringing and unstringing must be interpreted as metaphorical in order to understand and appreciate the spiritual nature of the piece. While the speaker remains a poet using poetic and musical devices, they compare only metaphorically to his efforts to gain God-union.

Third Versagraph: The Heart-Felt Pain of Separation

The time has not come true, the words have not been rightly set; only there is the agony of wishing in my heart.

The speaker then confesses further that in addition to his attending to his stringed instrument, he has not yet been able to perfect the lyric of words. He must still work to set them right. It is critically important for the poet to set his words correctly on the page; thus, the speaker metaphorically likens his spiritual journey and search to the revision of his written words.

The speaker then expresses the "agony" that only "wishing" causes his heart. He feels the pain of time not being right for his union with the Divine. He feels the pain deeply and strongly, yet he makes it clear that his journey will continue. He will not simply abandon his spiritual journey just because he has thus far not arrived at his destination.

Fourth Versagraph: Opening the Blossoming Soul

The blossom has not opened; only the wind is sighting by.

The speaker then employs the metaphor of a blossom opening to the sunlight. His soul as a blossom has remained closed, but the wind continues to rush by. The wind is the movement along his spiritual path. The journey continues even as the wind rushes by the unopened blossom.

The speaker's metaphor again remains a useful descriptor of his situation: after the soul connects with the Over-Soul, the event is similar to the opening of a bloom to the sunlight. The union offers light and warmth to their respective receptacles.

Fifth Versagraph: The Spiritual Imagery of Sight and Sound

I have not seen his face, nor have I listened to his voice; only I have heard his gentle footsteps from the road before my house.

The speaker then reports that he has not come face to face with the Divine Creator. Nor has he heard the voice of the Divine Reality. However, he has heard "his gentle footsteps" as they tread the "road before [his] house."

Again, a useful metaphor describes the speaker's current situation. The face, the voice, and the footsteps all refer metaphorically to seeing the light of the spiritual eye, the om-sound heard in deep meditation, and gentle hints that those visual and auditory images may be nigh.

Sixth Versagraph: Before the Light Appears

The livelong day has passed in spreading his seat on the floor; but the lamp has not been lit and I cannot ask him into my house.

Through the use of the poetic device of hyperbole, the speaker reports that he has passed a whole day just adjusting his meditation seat "on the floor." Then metaphorically, he refers to the meditation event of seeing the spiritual eye as the "lamp" which has not been lit.

Because of such events, delay in beginning his mediation and failure to observe the lamp of the spiritual eye, the speaker still cannot invite the Coveted Visitor into his house.

Seventh Versagraph: Determination to Continue the Spiritual Search

I live in the hope of meeting with him; but this meeting is not yet.

Finally, the speaker admits quite frankly that even though he has not yet reunited his consciousness with that of the Superconsciousness, or God, he continues to live in the hope of attaining that blessed event.

The speaker demonstrates his honesty in stating that he remains only in hopes of that meeting. But he also makes it clear that even though that "meeting is not yet," he will continue to journey along the spiritual path until he finally achieves his goal of "self-realization" or union with the Ultimate Reality.

The Voice of Rabindranath Tagore

Questions & Answers

Question: What prompted Rabindranath Tagore to translate his Gitanjali into English?

Answer: The English painter and art critic, William Rothenstein, was fascinated by the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. The painter was drawn especially to Gitanjali, Bengali for "song offerings." The subtle beauty and charm of these poems inspired Rothenstein to prompt Tagore to translate them into English so more Westerners could experience them.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes