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In Search of Meaning

of 'Where the Mind is Without Fear'

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow  domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
— Rabindranath Tagore

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
— H.W. Longfellow in A Psalm of Life

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
— Robert Frost in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

‘Where the mind is without fear’ is one of the poems included in Gitanjali, Songs Offering for which Rabindranath Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and the introduction to it has been written by William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet. Though written in the form of a prayer, these are but devotional outbursts, lyrical overflows telling of the impact and influence of the Bhakti Marga as discussed in Indian philosophy as the Path of Devotion, the path shown by Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir, Mira, Rashkhan, Jayasi, Rahim and so on. How to lead unto Him, is the thing of deliberation and the truth is in it that medieval devotional poetry is classical indeed, the draughts and drinks of which transport us into a world of own with its sweet divinely flowing musical melody and the rhythm of speech with its cadence. This too much is in it that Tagore himself has translated the songs of Kabir into English. Recently, a few years ago Dilip Chitre also translated the songs of Tuka and the book was a hit.

The book, Gitanjali was published in 1910 and the poems included in it have been taken from his other Bengali works and the publication of it too has a story of its own. How he had been to England as for meeting his elder brother? The songs of Gitanjali are the songs of a devotional heart in prayer; the soul’s yearning to merge with the Soul Divine. Where do you search me, I am by you, is the mystical answer of Kabir with regard to one’s spiritual quest of life. Though the Bhakti has been focused upon mainly, instead of it the Jnan Marga and the Karma Marga have been elucidated too and these come in interconnected with. In a very submissive way, the poet tells the joys and sorrows of his life and the world to the Divine and the Lord-God too seems to be a close relative of his from whom he stands not far from. Replete with Indian philosophies, it has the overtones and undertones of Vedism, Upanishadism and Puranic tales. Apart from that, the echoes of the English masters too can be heard; the language applied in it is Biblical, of the New Testament.

The river and its waves are one
surf: where is the difference between the river and its waves?
When the wave rises, it is the water;
and when it falls, it is the same water again.
Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction?
Because it has been named as wave, shall it no longer be considered as water?
Within the Supreme Brahma, the worlds are being told like beads:
Look upon that rosary with the eyes of wisdom.
— Songs of Kabir, translated by Tagore

A poem of jnan, karma and dharma, asking to be a karmayogi and in karma lies it the dharma of man dispelling the binds of darkness, always lit by light, hope and optimism proceeding on the path of action, thinking of welfare and development with a larger heart within and a mind outreaching, never to be lowly and down, taking logic and reason to be one's guide. A poem of noble mind  and heart, it is really a marvel of human thinking and poetic composition. Nehru too in his essay An Opportunity For Youth tells us that thought without action is abortion and action without thought is folly and the happiest man is he whose thought and action are coordinated. So is the viewpoint of Bertrand Russell in the essay, Knowledge and Wisdom where he talks of comprehensive vision. The poet exhorts to come out of lethargy and idleness and inaction to dispel darkness lying within and around us. A poem it is just like Dorothy L. Sayers’ How Free Is The Press?, G.B. Shaw’s Freedom when Tagore talks of the state of being free and without fear to contrasted and compared with in similarities if any. The poet asks to be factual and clear, guided by logic and reason rather than superstitious thoughts and ideas. The poet urges to be knowledgeable, a man of wisdom and judgement and to be logical and reasonable as knowledge is power, wisdom is strength. Knowledge is light and wisdom is judgement. One should try to cull facts as far as possible. Superstition is but backwardness which likes to wrap us under darkness and will led to inaction, lethargy and  fatalism. During the medieval times India regressed into excessive ritualism and superstition which the reformers tried to correct taking the cognizance of the British. To be inactive is not at all good and to be a fatalist and leave it all as for fate and its ordaining too are not acceptable as did we in the past and during the medieval times. Fatalism is but a type of lethargy, inaction and believing in occult things. So, at this point the karmayoga of Swami Vivekananda can enlighten us in knowing how to be a karmayogi. Life is action and work is worship, as the proverb says it all. So, let us be doing without thinking about results.

‘Where the mind is without fear’ was one of the favourites of Mrs. Indira Gandhi as Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost  was of Jawaharlal Nehru.

‘Where the mind is without fear’ as a Bengali poem appeared in his Naivedya volume and is as Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo therein. It cannot be denied that there is something of course relating to the struggle for freedom and the fate of India and the Indians in it. But the tone has been universalized, generalized in Gitanjali.

If his country arises and awakes, how should be its state of things? How will be that Heaven of Freedom? Only the thoughts supported by materializing into actions with clear reasoning and logic, knowledge and wisdom can endow it otherwise the edifice will not be so strong. For this, we need to be doing and thinking about, planning for our future strategically. If our actions are right and our thinking good and positive, only then we shall be able to do something for ourselves and the nation. India needs good men, good ideas, good thoughts and keeping it view we should keep doing something. Perfection should be our goal. How to be perfect? India has never believed in division and has always believed in Vishwa-manava, World Humanism, the Universal Man. Vasudheva kutumbakam, the whole world is a relative, is our ancient thought and tradition; satyameva jayate, only truth prevails, our life-philosophy. So, how can we be so narrow, biased and prejudiced? How can we be dishonest and insincere? Satya, ahimsa, shantih, truth, non-violence, peace are but our principles and philosophies. The epithet, Satyam, shivam, sundaram, truth, goodness, beauty, is our aesthetic sense. What it is shivam is satyam, sundaram.

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.
— John Henry Newman in Lead, Kindly Light

‘Where the mind is without fear’ is a poem of action, prayer, knowledge and wisdom which instills a feeling of hope in us to do something for the nation arising from dormant slumber and to be a part of that doing, action for it otherwise the good outcome will not come out.

There are some phrases and words which are very crucial to the understanding of the poem under our perusal, as such, the mind is without fear and the head is held high, knowledge is free, the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, words come out from the depth of truth, tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action, that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Every clause and sub-clause have a meaning of its own if these are split for to be analyzed and assessed. The writer uses the words, narrow domestic walls. What are those walls? Perhaps he asks us to be on guard of casteism, provincialism, lingualism, racialism, narrow nationalism and diversities to forge an alliance and assimilation acceptable to all, looking judicious and full of wisdom. Internal rivalry, prejudice, malice, hatred, jealousy, envy, greed, selfishness, too must go. A man is a man and there is nothing beyond a man. A man should be treated as a man. Narrow nationalism with narrow loyalties and allegiances is not our goal, but to be a visva-manava our goal. What it divides us, should be flattened, must be dealt a blow. Why  should there be barriers between one man and another? We saw such a thing ourselves that the people of East Germany and West Germany, North Korea and South Korea were not allowed to meet each other for a specific period of time. By the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit, he means to say it that logic is logic, always crystal clear. There should not be any scope for inaction, superstition and fatalism here. Reasoning dispels doubts. Actions cannot left for doubts, suspicions and suspense. It is not a matter of dharma-sankat, dilemma of a conflicting man going through experimentation with dharma and sadhna, under psychic and psychological process of realization. The stories of Indian thugs and fake sadhus and astrologers and palmists and fortune-tellers are well-known to us. Too much of punditism is also not good. R.K. Narayan in An Astrologer’s Day tells about a fraud, fake Indian astrologer beautifully, how a badmash turned into a palmist to do the business and to escape from his village for the crime he committed. The dead habits must go, the old and obsolete habits and customs. We need to discard and discern them. Good habits must be formed.

All the poems of Gitanjali are without having titles as Tagore has not titled them and the first lines themselves are picked by the editors to serve the purpose. Somewhere this poem is called ‘Where the mind is without fear’ and somewhere ‘Heaven of Freedom’. Whatever be that, the title is apt and suggestive in the sense that its sets the theme of the poem going. The mind without the fear clears it all for a new beginning to be made, a new thinking to be done. The beauty lies in the fact how beautifully so many ‘wheres’ have been tagged, dovetailed and attached to say the things.

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
— H.W. Longfellow in A Psalm of Life

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
— Robert Frost in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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