The other morning I came across this passage from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali which touched something deep inside me. “Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them. Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed. I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee, and that thou art my best friend. But I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room. The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death. I hate it, yet hug it in love. My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy. Yet when I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.” Would you please comment?
Rabindranath Tagore is the very heart of this country. He is the most contemporary man, and yet the most ancient too. His words are a bridge between the modern mind and the ancientmost sages of the world. In particular, Gitanjali is his greatest contribution to human evolution, to human consciousness. It is one of the rarest books that has appeared in this century. Its rarity is that it belongs to the days of the upanishads – nearabout five thousand years before Gitanjali came into existence.
It is a miracle in the sense that Rabindranath is not a religious person in the ordinary sense. He is one of the most progressive thinkers – untraditional, unorthodox – but his greatness consists in his childlike innocence. And because of that innocence, perhaps he was able to become the vehicle of the universal spirit, in the same way as the upanishads of old are.
He is a poet of the highest category, and also a mystic. Such a combination has happened only once or twice before – in Kahlil Gibran, in Friedrich Nietzsche, and in Rabindranath Tagore. With these three persons, the whole category is finished. In the long history of man, it is extraordinary…. There have been great poets and there have been great mystics. There have been great poets with a little mysticism in them, and there have been great mystics who have expressed themselves in poetry – but their poetry is not great. Rabindranath is in a strange situation.
I have heard about a man who loved two beautiful women and was always in trouble, because even one woman is trouble enough. Both of the women wanted to know whom he loved the most. They took him for a ride on the lake in a motorboat, and just in the middle of the lake they stopped the boat and they told the man: “It has to be decided, because it is heavy on our hearts…. Once we know we will become slowly, slowly tolerant about it; we may accept it. But remaining in the dark and always thinking about it has become a wound.”
The man said, “What is the matter? Ask directly.”
Both the women said together: “Our question is, ‘Whom do you love the most?’“
The man fell into deep silence – it was such a strange situation in the middle of the lake – but he must have been a man of great humor. He said, “I love each of you more than the other.” And both women were satisfied. That’s what they wanted.
It is difficult to say about Rabindranath whether he is a greater poet or a greater mystic. He is both – greater than each – and to be in the twentieth century….