A critical study ...
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure,
This is my prayer to thee, my Lord-strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart,
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands
my little heart loses its limits in joy
and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me
only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest,
and still there is room to fill.
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
— William Butler Yeats in A Coat
‘Thou hast made me endless’ is the first poem with which Gitanjali, Song Offerings begins commemorating, celebrating the bond of relationship which it exists between the Soul and the Supreme Soul, the Mind and the Over Mind, the Self and the Supreme Self; the Mortal and the Divine, whichever call you it is but the Mystical Communion which but none can analyze and annotate, elucidate and explain.
Such is the pleasure of God that He has made man endless. The vessel which He has given to man empties it from time to time filling with the fresh one is but the rule of the Law Divine. To see it otherwise in the Yeatsian term, it is but the mythological coat which he keeps changing and wearing and discarding from time to time. Human forms and bodily shapes and figures keep changing. While dwelling upon the topic, man as puppets into the hands of destiny dances before the eyes and imagery conjures upon the mind’s plane. The image of Krishna flashes upon the mind’s eyes.
The little flute of a reed He carries it over the hills and dales and pipes the melodies ever tuned, ever played melodiously. The whole world of Creation, the whole of green Nature, who has made them? It is the handiwork of the same God who has made life and death. In the midst of hills, dales, valleys, rocks, stones and trees, fields and fallows, woods and greenery, pastures and he plays the music, the Divine Music so fresh with notes and tunes, so melodious and sonorous.
At the immortal touch of the Divine Hands, his little human heart its limits of joy and means it so multifarious in dream and imagery and utterance. His gifts come to the human hands. Ages pass, days, months and years and still now the world is being carried far and the Godly Mercy at the root of all and man at the receiving end of it all. Man cannot think of existence in sole isolation. Without God and His Mercy, nothing can materialize it here.
Repeated birth, repeated death, this cycle of eternal life, eternal death, will continue for so long as has been since times immemorial as an unbreakable chain, discerning the mythological coat, singing the songs of life and the world, fluting the music of life and the world in the surroundings pastoral and countrified while on the way to, coming from, retreating back to. But it is a matter to feel, who the unknown flute-player and whose the flute? Whose it the musical notes and what about them? Who the mortal player? Who the Golden Flutist? It is but a matter of metaphor and simile. Sometimes God has been imagined as the Flute-player playing upon the flute reed of man’s notes.
Civilization is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter’s dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day bring round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.
— W.B. Yeats in Meru
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of un-ageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
— W.B. Yeats in Sailing to Byzantium
This is my prayer to thee, my Lord-strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
— George Herbert in The Pulley
This is my prayer to thee, my Lord as a poem is a prayer of a different sort other than ‘Where the mind is without fear’, ‘Have you heard his silent steps?’ and ‘Clouds heap upon clouds’ as one should keep it mind that Tagore has carried his poems from different volumes and so went on translating into English to give a new garb apart from additions and alterations he has made to transcreate and transform them into an alien tongue. To render from one language to another is no easy work. As these are simpler lyrics so these too can be, but the tedious poems cannot be. But instead of that the theme is the same and the poetical series reverberating with the same idea. Here the poet is not listening to the footsteps, but is asking God to correct his ways so that he may be submissive and humble enough to be able to see His reflection. How to reach that transcendental state of realization? How to reach that level as devotion is a thing of the heart? If the devotion is not in the heart, one will not be able to feel Him. To be devotional is to be virtuous and righteous; is to rise above ego, hypocrisy and falsehood. To be pious and holy is the main thing of deliberation. Riches and pleasures lead not unto Him. If one starts sharing the things with Him then one may come to feel it. If it is haughty and stubborn, hammer You; if it is ignorantly poor, enlighten You; if it is audaciously drunken with of power and pelf, flatten You. The intensity of feeling can only be able to forge the relationship of bonding. How should it be the path of life? How should it be the path of devotion?
The poem under our discussion is in the form of a prayer asking the Lord to strike at the root of penury so that he will have no qualm against anyone. How to give heart to God? How to get His Love? The poet asks to strike it as because without cleansing and purifying impurities he will not able to get His mercy and kindness. If the heart is not holy and pure and humble, things will come to naught. Without the hammering of it and testing of love, how can one receive His bounty? That is why the poet requests God to purge it.
Give him the strength to bear the joys and sorrows of life. In a balanced way, he wants to go his away. There is nothing as that to be disturbed with sorrows, there is nothing to be overjoyed with joy. This is life as there are sorrows so are the joys. God must give him the strength to bear with them.
Give him the strength to make his love fruitful in service. Love is at the root of all; all inspiration and work. If one loses the inspiration, one will not get the energy to do something. If he is loveful only then he will be able to view the whole world as his own. It is love which gives one a broader outlook if one seeks to utilize that energy. So he wants to use it in some fruitful service. It is love which but narrows the gap between the personal and the impersonal. Such a thing it is in Arnold’s Dover Beach and Browning’s The Last Ride Together. But Tagore wants to channelize that thing of love and lost love in the service to mankind.
Give him the strength to see the poor with the same eyes. Give him the power to stand before the mighty and the powerful. There should not be anything which will cause disdain in him for the poor. What is it if they are poor? Are they not men? They too are men, they too are important for us.
Give him the strength to rise above the daily trifles. Man remains engrossed in day-to-day activities of life and the world in such a way that he gets no time to devote to and that is why the poet prays to God to lift him from the mire of it. Wordsworth too denounces the materialism of the age in his poem, The World Is Too Much With Us, but here the Kabirite thing is the point of deliberation. The things of the world will remain as they are.
Give him the strength to surrender the same strength to Him finally with all his love. The poet as a human being knows it that he has nothing his own here. Everything is but of Lord-God. Even if he is with strength, He has got from the same God, who is the source of all. The word strength means moral strength, spiritual strength.
How to see Him? How the path of man? What should it be the goal of life? Without the sense of humility, we cannot God. His Will is the real thing; His Word is that which lasts it here.
Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.
— George Herbert in Virtue
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens.
Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone?
In the busy moments of the noontide work I am with the crowd,
but on this dark lonely day it is only for thee that I hope.
If thou showest me not thy face, if thou leavest me wholly aside,
I know not how I am to pass these long, rainy hours.
I keep gazing on the far away gloom of the sky,
and my heart wanders wailing with the restless wind.
Strange fits of passion I have known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.
When she I loved was strong and gay,
And like a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath the evening Moon.
— William Wordsworth in Strange Fits of Passion
‘Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens’ is not at all a simple poetry piece, but a song so lucid, musical, sonorous and melodious and a wordy and structural poem cannot be as such and here lies in the beauty of it as for the inherent lyrical content, the devotional fervor and picturesque setting against the backdrop of the clouds darkening the sky, cast around, looming over to come with a burst or downpour, storm, thunderbolt and lightning. What it distinguishes the prose lines is its lucidity, singing quality, lyrical note and one cannot without humming, singing it, just as a soul’s prayer, so full of self-surrender, utter submission and utmost humility. It is time to go home, stay put in, indoors, but the beloved still waiting for.
After a reading of the text, one will definitely say it, poetry is song and music, picture and images, all combined in one, but what we love utmost is his singing quality, lyrical tone and poetic expression with which he has endowed it with, as he is more poetical here than expected.
It is a poem of love and Divine Love when one takes to love soulfully, heartfully so full of emotion and feelings showing it utmost intimacy and the poem transports us to a different world of simple imagery and reflection where serenity and quietude claw each other, pastoralism and classicism compete with for a space. The hut, the mud-house, the courtyard, the country, the solitary landscape and the ways losing sight of in the midst of the fair country and the woods, how can we without these archetypal images so scenic and picturesque of Radha and Krishna taking to Brindavan and the banks of the Yamuna? Without giving one’s heart and soul, one cannot say what it is love so is bhakti rasa, devotional spirit. The journey of life is also almost the same when one undertakes the final journey of life. At that time the images of the resting places and inns conjure upon the mind’s space.
Ah love, why do you let me outside the door all alone? Here lies in the beauty of the Love Divine. The pain of Mira twitches us to quote from her. How to lead unto Him? What is the pathway? Is love a type of burning? Is love a type of tireless waiting, pining? What is love? Who a lover? The pains of love only a lover can whisper into the ears of a lover, as William Wordsworth says it in Strange Fits of Passion, whatever be the context full of nature mysticism or amorous expression.
All through the day one remains busy with day-to-day activities and thus failing to get time to think of any meeting, but on this dark and lonely day, one may hope for.
The beloved keeps it thinking within when the lover will turn up. When will she be able to meet up as it is dark and lonely? Clouds are gathering and it will thunder. Lightning will flash and strike upon. At that time who will be with? For this time man needs companionship and that too during the bad times as for to share the joys and sorrows.
If you show it not the face, if you keep aside, letting not meet, then how to pass these long hours? If she is kept waiting, how will she pass? If he turns not up, how to be in? How to pass the time? How will she the long hours in the absence of the lover? The soul’s fears, a lover’s heart, how to analyze it? What it passes over the heart? It is only a heart-matter, a soul-matter. Love is the name of waiting, yearning, burning. The meeting may be or may not be in fate. Love is without any desire. The poem though written in the form of prayer seen through the pains of love is personal as well as impersonal. Maybe it the poet is raying, saying it all the joys and sorrows of life, maybe it he about the same of human life and it may also be that these the words of a beloved. It is difficult to understand the mystic poetry of love, the Sufistic philosophy of ram and Rahima, who the piya and who the priyatama. The answer is, God is Piya and the soul the priyatama, as the beloved and it happens in love, deeper love; in devotion, deeper devotion.
Against the backdrop of the clouds gathering and the stormy scene, on finding the lover unturned, what can she do? She has seen pathways for so long and has waited outside the house. But instead of, the lover has not turned up. She keeps gazing at the far away gloom of the sky getting lost into the spaces of vacant reflections of far. Her heart also keeps wandering and wailing with the restless wind.
It is really difficult to dive into the sea of bhakti and to gather pearls and corals as is the case with the saints coming with the stones and rudraksha beads. It is a poem of faith and devotion; imagery and reflection; prayer and submission. The pains of love only a devotee can feel it what it is in the Love Divine how to undergo the tests of Love? Without reading Mira, Sur, Tulsi, Kabir, Jayasi, Dara and Rahim one cannot what it is in devotional poetry; the Divine Music of Devotion.
Mira’s bhajans, classical thumri, khayals, ragas and ghazal can enlighten on this topic. Mahadevi Verma’s poems are also expressive of such a content.
There is also a layer of meaning. The poet lies it waiting for when he will be able to meet. It is dark and lonely outside. When will he be called in? Is that also not in his destiny scheduled to be held as the inner heart feels within? When none is around, it is none but God seems to be the closer relative and who else can be if one who has given birth is not then who is own in this world, the same giver and take of human life?
Addressing the personal sorrows of life, Tagore could have written it. It is both impersonal as well as personal. The other thing too is this that as the songs of Gitanjali are never the same, somewhere the childish heart is the protagonist, somewhere the singer, somewhere the musician, somewhere the painter, somewhere the philosopher. The images of the boat, the boatman and he singing also lie in inherent. All are but offerings to the Divine. But the periphery is one, the bonding between the Soul and the Supreme Soul. The soul is always in quest of God. But when will that meeting be held?
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens as a song lyric is a song of love so mystical and classical in content, theme and expression telling of the bhakti-tradition, Vaishnava philosophy and the singing Bauls mad in spiritual ecstasy. Though all the poems are but Song Offerings, so this too is one of the flowers embedded in the flower-garland offered to the Divine. When the trifle things of the world humble the soul, it prays, God, You are the Ocean of Love. The love of the heart takes him to the Divine and the poem is a glaring example of the mystic poetry of love. There is a continuity of Indian thought and tradition in it and without being a saint-singer one cannot write it.
Let us see how Andrew Marvell writes in To His Coy Mistress though a bit different proposition, Wordsworth too tells of the strange fits of passion but in a different context.
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
— Andrew Marvell in To His Coy Mistress
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
And, all the while, my eyes I kept
On the descending Moon.
My Horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopp'd:
When down behind the cottage roof
At once the bright Moon dropp'd.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover's head—
"O mercy!" to myself I cried,
"If Lucy should be dead!"
— Wordsworth in Strange Fits of Passion
He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much;
And, Lord, contentment still I crave
Because Thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is
That go in pilgrimage;
Here little and hereafter bliss
Is best from all to age.
— John Bunyan in He That Is Down Needs Fear No Fall