Rabindranath Tagore [Thakur] (1861-1941), recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his collection of poems Gitanjali [Song Offerings], was the first Asian to achieve world renown and recognition in the field of literature. One of his most famous poems, “Nirjharer Svapnabhanga” [Awakening of the Waterfall], was composed sometime in 1881-82 in Calcutta [renamed Kolkata since 2001] when he was barely 21 years old. Most Tagore scholars agree that this piece “heralds the birth of Rabindranath, the future Bisvakabi [World Poet]. It is fairly certain that the inspiration behind this literary masterpiece was the poet’s sister-in-law [Kadambari Devi, 1858-84] and that there developed an intimacy between the two young and impressionable individuals of almost the same age” (Narasingha P. Sil, “Devotio Humana: Rabindranath’s Love Poems Revisited,” Parabaas, 2005 ). Tagore’s poem is reproduced below in its Bengali original, followed by my translation.
Aji e prabhate rabir kar
kamane pashila praner par,
Kamane pashila guhar a?dhare prabhat pakhir gan!
Najani kena re eta din pare jagiya uthila pran.
Jagiya utheche pran,
ore uthali uthechhe bari,
ore praner basana pranera abeg rudhiya rakhite nari.
Thara thara kari kanpichhe bhudhar,
Shila rashi rashi padichhe khase,
Phuliya phuliya phenil salil
garaji uthichhe darun rose.
Hethay hothay pagaler pray
ghuria ghuriya matiya beday—
bahirite chay, dekhite na pay kothay karar dvar.
Kenare bidhata pasan hena,
chari dike tar ba?dhan kena!
Bhang re hriday, bhang re ba?dhan,
sadh re ajike praner sadhan,
laharir pare lahari tuliya
aghater pare aghat kar.
Matiya yakhan uthechhe paran
kiser a?dhar kiser pasan!
uthali yakhan u?hechhe basana
jagate takhan kiser dar!
Ami dhaliba karunadhara,
ami bhangiba pasan kara,
ami jagat plabiya bedaba gahiya
akul pagal para.
Kesh elaiya, phul kudaiya,
ramdhanu-a?ka pakha udaiya,
rabir kirane hasi chhadaiya diba re paran ?hali.
Shikhar haite shikhare chhutiba,
bhudhar haite bhudhare lutiba,
hese khalakhal geye kalakal tale tale diba tali.
Eta katha achhe, eta gan achhe, eta pran achhe mor,
eta sukh achhe, eta sadh ache—pran haye achhe bhor.
Ki jani ki hala aji, jagiya uthila pran--
dur hate shuni yena mahasagarer gan.
Ore, chari dike mor
e ki karagar ghor—
bhang bhang bhang kara, agahte aghat kar.
Ore aj ki gan geyechhe pakhi
esechhe rabir kar.
Awakening of the Waterfall
How did the sun’s rays
touch my life this morn,
how did the song of the morning bird,
penetrate this dark cavern,
how did my soul wake up from the slumbers of the ages?
My spirit longs to burst out
like the waters,
with unbridled passion.
The hills are shaking
and heaps of rocks rolling down.
The savage surging waters
roaring in rousing rage
and rushing in all directions
in mad craze
to shatter the invisible prison door.
Why, my God! Why was I
chained inside the stone?
I’ll break loose from all shackles, and
hurl my cascading waves to strike with a terrific force,
to my heart’s delight.
When the spirit is aroused,
and the will summoned,
there is nothing to fear from
the dark dungeon.
What is there to fear in the world?
I shall bare the floodgate of my love,
I’ll break open the stone prison,
I’ll flood the world
with my airs singing madly and merrily.
With unlocked hair I’ll pick flowers,
and spread my rainbow-colored wings.
I’ll sprinkle the sun’s rays with my laughter
and giggling, gurgling I’ll clap at every step
laughing my heart out and singing aloud.
My heart is astir with
passion, music and mirth.
I’ve so much to say.
Now I know why I am awakened today.
I hear the symphony of the mighty ocean from afar.
Why am I caged in this terrible cell?
Break open its doors.
I want to hear the song birds in this sunlit dawn.
I have taken the liberty to ignore literalness and made some adjustments in a couple of stanzas for the sake of cogency and clarity.
*An earlier version of this translation along with the poem in Bengali was read at a gathering of “Dead Poets in Silverton,” Oregon on March 28, 2009.