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Themes of Tagore's Poetry


Rabindranath Tagore was the only author to combine the terms "Brahmin" and "Renaissance Man" within himself. A Calcutta-born Hindu who achieved astonishing literary successes, honored as the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, his serene poetry's major theme is that of man joined with nature.

Nature Links with Man

The poetic works of Tagore thrill to nature, much as did Emerson's "transparent eyeball," and they find divinity in silence, wood, the sea. In "On the Seashore," a beach that should be deserted is overrun with life: "The hildren meet with shouts and dances . . . have their play on the seashore of worlds . . . the sea surges up with laughter and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach." Not only humanity but also inanimate nature is gamboling here; the communion between child and ocean is complete.

Tagore Wrote Cycles

Tagore created remarkable cycles of poetry as well. In his "Lover's Gifts" series, he creates poem after poem in which the loved one is compared to time, the sea, the wind, the cosmos and the mind of eternity. The climactic poem of the cycle, XLIV, remarks that, on beholding the beloved, "the sea is beating its drums in joy, the flowers are a-tiptoe to kiss you." Few poets fuse sensual desire into natural elements so boldly.

Fragments Create Natural Whole

Even Tagore's fragmented poems, called "Stray Birds," depict a speaker obsessed with connecting to nature. "What language is thine, O Sea?" he asks at one point; going further inward, he adds "the rustle of leaves . . . have their whisper in the joy of my mind." A breathtaking image concludes the work: "The birth and death of leaves are the rapid whirls of the eddy whose wider circles move slowly among stars." In a single stroke, the poet brings earth into the heavens; natural death becomes eternal orbit.

Tagore's Theme Exemplified

The poem that is closest to exemplifying Tagore's theme is "The Last Bargain," where supplicants try to "free" the poet with power, money and lust. He is not free until "a child . . . playing with shells [said] 'I hire you with nothing.' That bargain struck in child's play made me a free man." The lost innocence of humanity joined with natural sea treasures create a man's freedom in Tagore's poetic vision.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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