Rabindranath and the World of Nature – 1 by Kumud Biswas SignUp

Rabindranath and the World of Nature – 1
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When Rabindranath was born 150 years ago in Calcutta the city was completely different from what it is today. Built by the British on the adjoining sites of three sleepy villages of Kalikata, Sutanuti and Govindapur on the banks of the Ganges, it was gradually shedding its rural character and becoming increasingly urban – man-made artificial environment was replacing the natural environment. Because of its posh European quarters it came to be known as the ‘city of palaces’ no doubt but the native quarter, where the house of the Tagores was located, was still something between a village and a town. The poet has graphically described it in his Jivansmriti (Reminiscences) and Chhelebela (My childhood), both available in English translations. It was still rather a magnified market town of palanquins and hackney carriages rattling along dusty roads at a snail’s pace, keeping pace with the slow rhythm of those times, open drains, without even gas light or kerosene, let alone electricity, lacking water supply and sanitation. Without gaining the facilities and conveniences of town life, by the time the poet was born it had almost completely lost the sylvan serenity, peace and tranquility of the countryside. It was becoming congested and there was a lot of dust and noise. It was being denuded of trees and plants, open spaces were steadily shrinking where you could hardly experience the changing moods of the day or of the seasons – the glorious sunrise and sunset, the quiet noon or moonlit nights. In their house there was a small patch of ground with a few trees which was a misnomer of a garden and in one corner there was a small pond with a banyan tree on its bank. Living virtually a Spartan life in confinement within the servants’ quarters looking through the windows this highly imaginative child used to enjoy these morsels of the natural world as best as he could. It was however more imaginary than real. Starved thus of the enjoyment of the beauties of nature in his childhood his appetite for them must have become acute in his nature and when the opportunity came he feasted on them. He became a great lover of nature. Both his life and works bear testimony to this.


About Calcutta of those days one very important fact the poet seems to have forgotten to mention – it was full of malaria, mosquitoes and dengue and subject to occasional attacks of epidemics. In his childhood during one such attack, that of dengue, (Calcutta is still not free from this menace) the entire Tagore family had to temporarily remove to a place called ‘Peneti’ or Panihati, a northern suburb situated on the bank of the Ganges, then a rural area but now an integral part of greater Calcutta. For the first time in his life the poet got the opportunity to experience a large open space on the bank of a flowing river. Although he became a globe trotter later, he cherished the memory of this visit throughout his life. He also never forgot the pain he keenly felt when during this visit on a flimsy ground he was not allowed to accompany some elders in their further explorations of the countryside.


He was yet to win his freedom. It came with his journey with his father to the Himalayas. On the way he also visited Santiniketan for the first time which was to become his home   and workplace during the greater part of his life. The Tagores had extensive zamindari or estates in Eastern Bengal and Orissa. In his adolescence the poet once accompanied his elder brother Jyotirindranath during an excursion in their East Bengal zamindari when he took part in a tiger hunt and also experimented with the use of extract of flowers as ink! But his real encounter with the world of nature took place when his father entrusted him with the management of this zamindari. He had conclusively proved himself to be a good-for-nothing fellow – he dropped out of school, failed to become a barrister or an ICS after his stay and sporadic study in England! His elders were worried about his future; they used to say, ‘What will happen to our Robi!’ He was therefore hurriedly married off with a minor and illiterate village girl and in due course was sent off with his family to Shilaidaha, the field headquarters of the East Bengal zamindari. The region where this zamindari was located is one of the most fertile floodplains in the world, made of silts deposited by the great river systems of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra and watered by their innumerable distributaries and creeks and small channels that criss-cross the lower reaches of the Bengal delta. As a town bird, like the post master in his famous short story Post Master (filmed by Satyajit Ray as a part of his film Tinkanya) here he could have felt like a fish out of water. Instead he fell in love with the place. He used to extensively and intensively explore his charge almost continuously traveling in the houseboat Padma, built by his grandfather Prince Dwarakanath for the same purpose. Here he found himself in complete harmony with nature which infused him with a new vigour. It was a kind of rebirth for him. In one stroke the barriers of his urban background and aristocratic birth were removed. The ten years (1891-1901) he spent here proved to be the most fertile period of his life. He came not only close to nature but also to men. Poetry, short stories, letters, novels – in fact works in all literary genres - flowed from his pen in a spontaneous flow and each of them is a masterpiece. Our poet could very well say with Wordsworth that it was here that a ‘fair seed-time had my soul’. If you want to read many of his best poems, best stories, best letters and novels you blindly choose from his writings of this period. Nature here not only inspired his poetic genius but also shaped his character as a complete man – a patriot, a socio-economic reformer, an administrator, an educationist, an institution builder and finally the God-intoxicated man that he was. It was here that he began to translate his songs and lyrics into English that fetched him the Nobel Prize. In his life the influence of nature became deeper and enduring as time went by. Nature features in his works not as a mere literary trimming or fashion but is germane to them.


What was his attitude towards nature? According to him man is an integral part of nature. Let us refer to two famous poems Sukh and Madhyahna from the collections Chitra and Chaitali respectively, published in boloji in my translation as Happiness and The Noon. Both were written during this period. Here are the links - https://www.boloji.com/poetry/1301-1400/1350.htm and https://www.boloji.com/poetry/1500-1600/1591.htm. To elucidate this the concluding lines of Madhyahna are reproduced below –


In the midst of all these
I am a stranger
Yet I do not feel estranged
I feel I am one of them
It also seems
After a long time
I have returned
To my own native place
I have gone back in time
To my former life
To that fresh morning
When like an infant
Clinging on to its mother's breast
I was inseparably mixed
With land, air, water and the sky
And along with all living beings
That thrive on this earth
I was joyously sucking
The elixir of my first existence.’


And nearness to nature is nearness to God. That is what he says in the poem Palligrame from the collection Chaitali, also published in boloji in my translation –


In The Country


Here I get him closest to my heart –

As close is the earth beneath my feet

As are close to me

The fruits, flowers and the air and water.

Here I love him too

As I love the songs of birds

The murmur of streams

The mellowness around

The light of dawn and the greeneries of trees.

Here I find him beautiful

As the evening is beautiful

As the fragrance of flowers filling the night

And the dew-drenched morning

With its clean air

And a lone star in its sky.

Here he is dear to my heart

As the rain water dropping from the sky

The sweet sleep of night

The water of rivers

And the cool shade of trees.

Like the tears trickling down my eyes

Here my song flows with ease.

Here his love fills my heart

As life fills all my limbs.


Examples can be multiplied from his writings, here only some of those poems which are available in translations on boloji have been cited. A few more links are given below.


All These I loved


Akash bhara surya-tara




The Music of the Rains


The Call of the Far



 Most significant are his songs written exclusively on the seasons. They are about 283 in number and all of them were set to tune by the poet himself. He introduced the celebration of different seasons when accompanied with dancing these songs were sung. Perhaps in world literature they have no parallel. Tagore rarely, if ever, boasted about his writings, but his songs were a different matter. He once said that everything else of his writings may be forgotten but his songs will never die. One has only to listen to his wonderful songs to know how eminently he was justified in making such a large claim. Let us conclude by quoting one rainy day song in my translation, also published in boloji under the caption – My friend, come in these rains – which was recited in the poet’s prose translation by W.B.Yeats during the reception given to the poet at Trocadero Restaurant in London in July, 1912. The poet’s own translation may be read in the English Gitanjali (no. XXII).


 My friend, come in these rains


On this misty overclouded rainy day

Evading all

Like silent night

In stealthy steps you have come.

The morning has closed its eyes

The wind is hopelessly sighing

And the blue naked sky

Is overcast with endless clouds

In the woodland the birds do not sing

In every home the doors are closed

You are a lonely wayfarer on a lonely road.

Now you are alone, O my dearest friend,

My doors I have kept open

Ignoring me

Like a dream

Please don’t glide past my home.


Transcreation of one of the sweetest rainy day songs – Aji shravanghanagahan mohe/gopan tabo charan phele/nishar mato nirab ohe/sabar dithi eraye ele – by Rabindranath Tagore. Best recording of this song is by Debabrata Biswas. 

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Comments on this Blog


Index.. Great idea :)
06/05/2011 09:55 AM

Comment Dear Index, You may very well do so with the permission of the editor of boloji.

05/28/2011 09:43 AM


Index.. May I repost it? :)
05/28/2011 05:42 AM

Comment Dear Dr. Mallick, Thanks for visiting my blogpage and reading the translations.

11/22/2010 09:21 AM

Comment Dear Kumud, well I have been reading all your translations of Tagore poems. You have created a niche for yourself by your dedication. Thanks.

11/20/2010 19:55 PM

Comment Dear Mouri, Very happy to know that all your time is not taken by your naughty son and your work - you have time to spare for the things of the mind. And don't forget the films.

07/01/2010 17:29 PM

Comment Enjoyed this write up immensely! Thank you for sharing this with us at Boloji.

07/01/2010 11:26 AM

Comment Dear Dipankar, My condition you can compare with a fly that has fallen into a pot full of honey.  Thanks for your appreciation of my modest efforts.

06/16/2010 18:45 PM

Comment Dear Kumud-babu:

Finally I got the chance to read your second blog post. I have to admit that I was not aware of all the details that you have brought out, though I have had some exposure through chhinna-potraboli and other writings. And, of course, through his songs dedicated to nature. The depth as well as breadth of Tagore is, to say the least, mind boggling. I admire your one track dedication -- the endless love for the man -- the uncompromising desire to present him to the world. I do wish you the success that you richly deserve. In trying to translate Tagore, I have often felt that he defies translation. He defies translation not because of a language barrier. He defies translation because he was too deep a thinker to be translated. Nonetheless, at least the language barrier should be removed between him and the rest of the world.

I am hoping to learn a lot from your blog. Your knowledge and reading of Tagore is vast and increases the thirst in any sensitive soul.

Wishing you all the best.


06/16/2010 14:19 PM

Comment Thank you Mr. Ghosh for your appreciative comments. Compared to the vast works of Rabindranath his writings available in English translation is very negligible. It is the moral obligation of his fellow Bengalis to make him available to those who cannot reach him because of language barrier. In my first blog 'Meeting Rabindranath' I have invited you all to explore the poet. To my modest efforts I would request to join yours too.

06/10/2010 03:37 AM

Comment A very nicely researched article.  I admire the writer's dedication on Tagore. Have read quite a few of poetry transcreations and it has helped me to understand Gurudev better.

Kanu Ghosh
05/28/2010 18:46 PM

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