Gitanjali is a collection of poems that were collected and translated from Bengali into English by their author, the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, for which he won a Nobel Prize. Once published, this volume made Tagore into an international celebrity. Perhaps the first modern Indian work to be recognized by readers of another language, Gitanjali also brought recognition to an older tradition of Indian poetry that preceded Tagore and influenced much of his work.
In his introduction to the first version of Gitanjali published in 1913, the Irish poet W. B. Yeats enthused over the religious nature of the work. In the tradition of Indian poetry, there was no real difference between writing poetry and engaging in religious practice. As Yeats wrote, it was "a tradition where poetry and religion are the same thing." In the work, Tagore gives accounts of everyday life a greater spiritual significance.
Many of the poems in Gitanjali are love poems. When talking about the love between two people, Tagore always expands it so that the love takes on a greater meaning, having to do with the nature of the universe. He does this not to diminish the everyday love that can exist between two people, but to show how this kind of love is more deeply woven into the very nature of the world and reality.
Following both poets within the Indian tradition, and also western poets such as Walt Whitman, Tagore writes very emphatically about sensuality and the enjoyment of the material world. As with Whitman, Tagore does this while at the same time attempting to show how this very enjoyment of physical sensations has a greater spiritual meaning and depth. By doing this, he bridges the gap that is often placed between spiritual enjoyments and more carnal material ones.
Tagore was greatly influenced by both an ancient tradition of Indian poetry and a more modern one that was existing at the time internationally and in the West. Tagore was personal friends with poets such as W.B. Yeats and was a quick study of many modern poets, such as Walt Whitman. Part of the intention of Gitanjali was to introduce these two separate traditions and influences to one another, and then combine the best of both.