Creation and Criticism
a literary e-journal
Creation and Criticism
(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Rabindranath Tagore: A Poet of the Common Man
Dr Nishi Chauhan
Rabindranath Tagore is a poet of the masses. He sees God not in the temple but in the common man. For him work is worship. He never talks of renunciation but of work. He is not an ascetic but a common man who will take pleasures out of senses. He dreams of India where people will be honest, truthful and free from prejudice. He is a rishi who thinks of the welfare of the masses and sings the song of love for making India a heaven of freedom.
Key words: Humanitarian, masses, prejudice, rishi, ascetic, deliverance, renunciation, intolerance
The name of Rabindranath Tagore is enough to make anyone’s head bow in honour. It is his abiding contribution that makes him ‘Gurudev.’ It is he who got Indian Poetry in English recognized on the international scene through his magnum opus Gitanajli for which he got the Nobel Prize in 1913. Sudhir K. Arora in Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English: Pathfinder Volume II calls Rabindranath Tagore “Pathfinder” along with Derozio, Toru Dutt, Aurobindo and Sarojini. He writes:
Rabindranath Tagore is the pathfinder who makes the Western readers spellbound by offering the Indian feelings through Biblical touches. His poetry reveals that he is a world poet whose only mantra is to offer love with the conviction that it will bring joy and peace culminating in ananda, leading a man to an inward journey. He is spiritual and free from narrowness and prejudices even when he visualizes India of his dream. He is a true patriot who dreams of India, a free India that will be free from caste, colour and creed. He is progressive and wishes that Indian should be faithful and educated. His humanitarianism lessens the gap, and brings the East and the West together. What makes him a poet of the masses is that he talks of the common man and service to humanity. (Pathfinders 158-9)
Tagore’s poems reflect his philosophy. He is humanitarian to the core. In all his poems, in one way or the other, he talks of the common man and his priority. He gives expression to their melancholy, anger, happiness, moods, and emotions. He also highlights the plight of the poor, the lost, the broken and the lowest, and tries to channelize his emotions into the emotions of the individual.
Tagore’s God is not the God of the rich but is the God who dwells among the poorest, the lowliest and the lost. He believes in work and for him work becomes worship. His God is common as he lives among the common men. He does not like the traditional kind of prayer. He does not like that a devotee should enter the temple with incense and flower and sit in one corner with the closed eyes for praying. He knows that God cannot be found in this way. It is a useless kind of prayer. What is the use of prayer when a man does not work hard? He scolds the devotee and asks him to open his eyes to see that God is not in the temple. Hence, praying in one corner with the closed eyes is useless. God loves the poor and so how He can live in the temple. God can be found in the company of the poor people like the tillers, pathmakers, stone breakers, labourers etc. In one of the song of Gitanjali, Tagore says:
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil! (CP 7)
The poet advises the devotee to put off the holy cloak. God does not wear the holy cloak. His own clothes are covered with the dust. Hence, he asks him to come out of the temple to the dusty soil without caring that his clothes will become dirty.
The poet Tagore knows that most of the people are laymen. They work from morning till night. They never talk of deliverance or mukti. The worshipper worships for the deliverance. Tagore does not like this idea of the deliverance. There is no deliverance at all. God Himself is busy in creation. God never thinks of deliverance. How can a devotee think of deliverance when God never thinks of deliverance? Deliverance is not the reality; it is simply an illusion. God is busy with creation. The poet asks the worshipper to leave the idea of deliverance and advises him to go to the field where the common men or the masses are laboring. He can have the darshan of God in the company of the common men or the masses. He asks the worshipper:
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow. (CP 7)
Like a common man, he believes in work, not in renunciation. He likes the physical pleasures as he is not ascetic. Physical pleasures are equally essential in life. One should not close the eyes to the physical pleasures. If a person longs for spiritual pleasures and neglects the physical ones, his life remains incomplete. God has created pleasures. This earth is full of beautiful pleasures. These pleasures are meant for love and not for renunciation. The poet loves pleasures and so likes to light the lamps of pleasures. He will find the light of love out of these lamps of pleasures. The poet says:
My world will light its hundred different lamps with thy flame and place them before the altar of thy temple.
No, I will never shut the doors of my senses. The delights of sight and hearing and touch will bear thy delight.
Yes, all my illusions will burn into illumination of joy, and all my desires ripen into fruits of love. (CP 35)
So he likes to light the hundred different lamps. He will never close the door of senses. He will enjoy the pleasures of the world with all his senses. He likes to burn all his illusions in order to find out light of joy and love. He has desires but wishes that his desires should yield the fruit of love.
What the poet likes in life is not asceticism. What he wishes is to live life fully. He knows that the physical pleasures will take him towards spiritual pleasures. He declines the idea of being an ascetic. He is satisfied with his daily life. Home attracts him. He will never leave home for forest. He will never wear saffron cloak. He says:
No, my friends, I shall never be an ascetic, whatever you may say.
I shall never be an ascetic if she does not take the vow with me.
It is my firm resolve that if I cannot find a shady shelter and a companion for my penance, I shall never turn ascetic.
No, my friends, I shall never leave my hearth and home, and retire into the forest solitude, if rings no merry laughter in its echoing shade and if the end of no saffron mantle flutters in the wind; if its silence is not deepened by soft whispers.
I shall never be an ascetic. (CP 119)
God also does not wish that a man should leave home. If he leaves home, it will be like leaving God. God also asks him not to leave but the would-be ascetic does not hear. God sighs at the decision of the ascetic. Here the poet shows a conversation between God and the man who wishes to be an ascetic.
At midnight the would-be ascetic announced:
“This is the time to give up my home and seek for God. Ah, who has held me so long in delusion here?”
God whispered, “I,” but the ears of the man were stopped.
With a baby asleep at her breast lay his wife, peacefully sleeping on one side of the bed.
The man said, “Who are ye that have fooled me so long?”
The voice said again, “They are God,” but he heard it not.
The baby cried out in its dream, nestling close to its mother.
God commanded, “Stop, fool, leave not thy home,” but still he heard not.
God sighed and complained, “Why does my servant wander to seek me, forsaking me?” (CP 140-141)
What he wishes from God is love. He asks for the shower of love. He knows that this love will bring joy in his life. Love is life.
Give me the supreme courage of love, this is my prayer — the courage to speak, to do, to suffer at thy will, to leave all things or be left alone. (CP 450)
This is not the prayer of the so-called devotee or worshipper who asks for renunciation but a common man who asks for courage of love. He wishes for courage so that he may speak courageously. He may do any work courageously and if suffering comes, he may suffer it courageously.
The poet finds himself a common man who gives respect to a woman. He is not such type of a man as worships a deity but curses or insults a woman. For him a woman is not less than a deity. He respects woman who, no doubt, is the creation of God but a man also gives something or adds something. Poets, painters and others also give her something which makes her more beautiful. He addresses woman saying:
O woman, you are not merely the handiwork of God, but also of men; these are ever endowing you with beauty from their hearts.
Poets are weaving for you a web with threads of golden imagery; painters are giving your form ever new immortality.
The sea gives its pearls, the mines their gold, the summer gardens their flowers to deck you, to cover you, to make you more precious.
The desire of men's hearts has shed its glory over your youth.
You are one half woman and one half dream. (CP 128)
Most of the people are peace-loving and so never like violence or disturbance. The poet is also peace loving man and so does like weapons which destroy peace. He also wishes to win victory but not with the weapons but with love. He likes to win hearts of the people. The man who gets victory with weapons is actually a defeated man. Love and pain are inseparable. He knows that pain gives him power to move the soul. He loves God who becomes sometimes lover, sometimes mother, sometimes father, sometimes beloved and the like. He loves peace and so continues to sing the songs of love.
The song “Where the mind is without fear” is Tagore’s dream of India. He dreams of India where people will be honest, truthful, hardworking, educated and free from prejudices. He sees a vision of India where there will be no limitation of caste, colour and creed. What he wishes from the people is that they should work continuously so that India may progress. He wants to make India a heaven. Here is the popular song which has become a kind of prayer, not of Tagore only but of every man who is a true Indian.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. (CP 16)
His vision of India is very relevant in the present day scenario when some destructive forces talk of intolerance and prejudice. This song gives a message of love—love with the country. He dreams of making India a heaven of freedom.
Thus, Tagore is not simply a poet; he is Guru Dev, a rishi. He is not the poet of the few but of the masses. He is a poet of the common man, rather every man. Service to humanity is his religion. K.R.S. Iyengar writes: “He was thus many persons, he was a darling of versatility, and still he was the same man; he was an integral whole, the Rishi, the Gurudev. (99).
Arora, Sudhir K. Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English: Pathfinders Volume II. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2016. Print.
Iyenger, K.R.S. Indian Writing in English. Mumbai: Asia Publishing House, 1962; New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, rpt. 2010. Print.
Tagore, Rabindranath. Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore. London: Macmillan, 1962. Print.
About the Contributor:
Nishi Chauhan teaches Linguistics in Moradabad Institute of Technology, Moradabad. She completed her Ph. D. on Matthew Arnold: A Critic. Her research papers have been published in various national and international journals. Her area of interest is Linguistics and Indian Writing in English. She can be contacted through email firstname.lastname@example.org