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Poems on Nature by Rabindranath Tagore
“Literature is news that stays news,” says the imagist figure, Ezra Pound. Literature, I believe, is one of the most scrutinised, amazing, inspiring and incredible testimonies to mortals. Literature aids in unlocking the gateway to the treasures of the world. Literature mirrors society. Literature unravels us into distant places, ancient times, other peoples and their different ways of speaking and writing. Literature begs us to analyse, compare and, most importantly, question. This article is an attempt to explore the space and scope of surrounding nature and ecology not only in the literary room but also in the existential space of our lives as cosmic men to find a mutual existence of both – the nature and man.
The present article dives into the reading of the poems of Rabindranath Tagore to explore the treatment of nature in their literary realm. Wordsworth says, “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” Poetry is considered a superior kind of amusement that brings divine enlightenment. Nature stands as an image of mother and teacher to the human beings which provides everything we need and it teaches us the secrets of a better life. Each and every activity has certain hidden secrets that the human mind and eyes need to read and observe. It has the power to connect and communicate with us, and it does do it from time to time. It has an unlimited treasure of emotions and feelings. Nature and the environment are part and parcel of all living beings in this world. For instance, Tagore writes in ‘Stray Birds’ in stanza 311, “The smell of the west earth in the rain rises like a great change of praise from the voiceless multitude of insignificant.” Only a poet in love with nature could write these lines. Also, in stanza 309 in ‘Stray Birds’, where Tagore writes, “To-night there is a stir among the palm leaves/ a swell in the sea,/ Full Moon, like the heart throb of the world./ From what unknown sky hast thou carried in/ thy silence the aching secret of love?”
Tagore vs. Keats
Tagore or Kobi Guru Rabindranath Thakur, as we Bengali felicitate him, is a poet, a dramatist, a novelist, a composer, a musician and a great singer who has given melodious renderings to Bengali music, and- similarly to another romantic luminary, Keats- is a poet of ‘beauty and truth’. Like Keats, he has travelled in ‘the realm of flora and pan’ so the entire scenery, natural background, the mountains, rivers, birds and universal elements are coloured with a mystic and divine celestial light. Tagore appears to be highly romantic in the simplicity of diction, the pasteurization of ‘nature as a friend, philosopher and guide’, and his transcendental meditation of the ephemeral and eternal world. Tagore once said, ‘A Poem is a speaking picture’. ‘Gitanjali’ is proof of his vivacious, grandeur and lofty expression. One feels like moving in a golden mine of beautiful, glittering images of his poems. Rabindranath’s contemplative imagination, like Keats', discerned truth in beauty. The same concept of Beauty is prominent in Tagore’s poetry which is picturesque, vivid and lively. In his lecture on “The Sense of Beauty” Tagore draws upon Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ which says, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” and further adds: “Upanishads too tell us that “all that is, is manifestation of His joy, His deathlessness. From the speck of dust at our feet to the stars in the heavens-all is a manifestation of truth and beauty, of joy and immortality.” Tagore said that a thing, which is beautiful, gives you the touch of the infinite. The word beauty was interchangeable with the words, ‘Truth,’ ‘Wisdom,’ ‘Nature’ or ‘God’ and was synonymous with the word ‘Love.’
Though there is tangible evidence of the impact of western romantic poets on Tagore’s poetry, the fact remains that romantic concepts in Tagore are deeply affected by his Eastern sensibility. He has always cherished the ideals of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sunderam,’ ‘Truth, Piety and Beauty’ and a harmonious relationship between Man and Nature.
Man's Essential Harmony With Nature
He considered people’s harmony with nature as an essential aspect of transcending a self-centred existence, removal of mental stress, to keep souls unsubdued by habits and unshackled by customs so that they could contemplate all things with the freshness and the wonder of a child. Rabindranath’s imagination was captivated by Indian flowers, rivers, heavy rains of Shravan and Ashada, the heat of Greeshma, the beauty of spring and some of these are present in his love poetry. In “The Gardener” he writes, “Your feet are rosy-red with the glow of my heart’s desire, Gleaner of my sun-set songs!” Tagore constantly extolled the beauty and splendour of nature. In his nature poetry, a bird’s note is never missed and the stream’s babbling finds its full wisdom. Tagore constantly longs for spiritual companionship with nature and to be identical with it. These themes are vivid in his poems such as in ‘Gitanjali’: “The evening air is eager with the sad music of water. Ah, it calls me out into the dusk,” and ‘Stray Birds’: “My heart, with its lapping waves of song, longs to caress the green world of the sunny day.”
The most ambitious nature poem of Tagore is the ‘Flower Maidan’ (Phul Bala)- a narration of the mute love of the denizens of a garden: trees, creepers, and bushes, tearfully languishing for each other. Poems like ‘Dik Bala’, ‘Chhin Latika’, and ‘Kamini Phul’ belong to the same category. In his juvenile verse, now published as ‘Saisab Sangit’, ardent verses are addressed to nature:
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“Before me, O, Shoreless Sea
You sing ceaselessly...
I long to dive and sound…
The secrets of your heart.”
In ‘The Broken Heart’ (Bhagna Hriday) nature remains the irreplaceable teacher and the cradle of the spirit. In the poems ‘The Evening Songs’ and ‘Again’ (Abar) nature is the usual refuge of his lovers, heartbroken and mocked by the callous world. To his abode of love, the only welcome visitors are, ‘the soft-hearten breeze,’ ‘the winds,’ ‘the dawn,’ which recalls the commonplace outpouring of Keats. A new theme of nature in ‘The Morning Songs,’ includes the emergence of the world from the nebulous sea of mist, instead of the indefinable “nought” of tradition. There is a keener appreciation of landscape and the universe:
“Around the ample Sun danced in unison
A hundred sweet faced moons, hand in hand.”
Lastly, other nature poetry of Tagore includes ‘Ahalya,’ ‘To the Sea,’ ‘Basundhara’ equivalent to Swinburne’s ‘Hertha’ and ‘The Lonely’ (Ekakini) which telescopes the themes of ‘The Solitary Reaper’ by Wordsworth and Keats’ ‘The Devon Maid’ and sets them in the heart of Bengal. I have quoted some lines from ‘Basundhara’ that recognizes the image of the earth as the mother who sustains us at every point:
“Take me back to your lap o earth
Bless me within your shadow
I exist within your beauty and radiate
Myself all around life the joy of spring.”
Tagore’s love of nature was not pantheistic but mystic. It was simple, natural and subjective. Nature to him was a great harmoniser and purifier. He was so bound with Nature that he was one with it. In spite of all this bonding, Tagore still longs for a spiritual companionship with Nature herself, for a more complete sense of identity with it. Those rare and intimate moments of communion, when nature will enclose his soul with her colours, sounds and odours fill the poet with infinite joy and delight.
“Ah my heart dances like peacock,
the rain patters on the new leaves of summer,
the tremor of the crickets’ chirp troubles the
shade of the tree,
the river overflows its bank washing the
My heart dances.’ (‘Poem;’ verso- 20 from anthology ‘Gitabitan’)
© 2018 Laboni Nripen