Tagore's Gitanjali: Delving into Profound Themes and Concepts of Poetry

The variety and abundance of themes makes Gitanjali a source of eternal fascination. The spiritual voyage in Gitanjali starts from the very truth of the eternity of God. Tagore's desire for the ecstasy of oneness with God initiates his quest for God. Throughout his journey towards achieving this destination, the ultimate realization of God, he encounters many profound truths.

These truths include:

  • Love
  • Self-purification
  • Devotion
  • Charity
  • Perseverance
  • Simplicity
  • Innocence
  • Dedication
  • Self-annihilation
  • Humility
  • Detachment
  • Humanism

These truths collectively pave the way to the poet's ultimate destination, giving Gitanjali its richness of themes. Tagore's exploration of these concepts offers readers a profound journey through various dimensions of spirituality, self-discovery, and the search for divine unity.

Gitanjali remains a timeless work that continues to inspire and resonate with readers around the world.

Mysticism in Gitanjali: Tagore's Exploration of the Divine

Introduction: Gitanjali's Mystical Themes

At the heart of Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali lies the profound theme of mysticism, which in turn gives rise to a myriad of interconnected themes. Rooted in Indian philosophy, mysticism signifies an elevated state where the human soul enters into direct communion with the Divine. It encapsulates the belief that the ordinary realm of sensory perception is an illusion, and beyond this visible facade lies a deeper, truer reality that can only be apprehended spiritually, transcending the limitations of the senses. Mystics strive to establish an immediate and intuitive connection with this inner, ultimate reality. However, mysticism often stands in contrast to realism and common sense, as it defies rational explanation.

Quest for Inner Reality

Mysticism thrives on the notion of withdrawing from the material world to align with the inner realm. Renunciation, detachment from worldly pursuits, and asceticism are its tenets. Tagore's mysticism is influenced by figures like Walt Whitman and Kahlil Gibran, and to some extent, Sri Aurobindo. However, Tagore's mysticism bears a distinct nuance. He doesn't reject reason and sensory perception entirely. Instead, he cherishes life's pleasures and does not advocate disengagement from the everyday. His mysticism is harmonized by a strong sense of humanism that tempers its fervor. In his poem number 73, he asserts:

"Deliverance is not for me in renunciation"

Tagore appreciates the multitude of human connections and bonds, suggesting that a person who is detached yet actively engaged with the world is more courageous than one who simply renounces it. Unlike poets who distance themselves from sensory experiences and dwell in intellectual abstractions, Tagore does not close off his senses. He believes:

"The delights of sight and hearing and touch will bear thy (God) de-light."

Mysticism Balanced by Humanism

Tagore's mysticism is harmoniously counterbalanced by his fervent humanism. He acknowledges that a path to the Divine does not involve ignoring humanity, friends, or fellow beings. Renouncing them is not the way to attain the Divine. He believes that standing "In pleasure and in pain" (lyric-77) beside one's fellow humans provides eternal joy. To stand by God while being distanced from mankind creates a sense of absence. Tagore's mysticism suggests that amidst the bustling world of "buyers and sellers," humans can still achieve union with the Divine. True love, devotion, gratitude, purity of heart and mind, and awareness of spirituality are the keys. God does not dwell solely in temples; He resides alongside the humble and the lowly. Tagore's mysticism underscores that humans can find the Divine while immersed in the throes of everyday life.

Conclusion: The Journey to the Divine

Gitanjali serves as a poignant exploration of mysticism's multifaceted dimensions. Tagore's mystical verses invite readers to ponder the possibility of transcending the mundane and embracing a deeper, spiritual connection. The interplay of mysticism and humanism in Tagore's poetry underscores the idea that the path to the Divine is not one of isolation but of connection, not of renunciation but of embracing life's experiences with a pure heart and a yearning for the eternal.

Devotion: A Central Theme in Gitanjali

Introduction: The Essence of Devotion in Gitanjali

A pivotal theme interwoven throughout Gitanjali is that of devotion, beautifully encapsulated in the book's very name, which translates to "Song Offerings." Each exquisite lyrical blossom within the collection symbolizes an offering of love and unwavering devotion to the Supreme, the Inscrutable One. Tagore's verses resonate with the constant and intense yearning of the poet's individual soul, seeking reunion with the Infinite. This collective devotion transforms Gitanjali into a "mighty piece of prayer, pleading, and exaltation," a work where poetry transcends into a state of prayer.

Yearning for Divine Union

The human soul, inherently a part of the Divine despite forgetting this connection at times, seeks reunification. Yet, it contends with the allure of worldly temptations. Amid life's challenges, man turns to God as the ultimate source of strength, offering sincere prayers and unwavering devotion. Gitanjali rejuvenates the tradition of Vaishnava devotional poetry by infusing it with a new and unique treatment. This fresh perspective captivated the Western audience, prompting Abbe Bremond to declare that this poetry is "half a prayer from below and half a whisper from above." The interplay of prayer and whisper gives birth to a harmonious song.

The Divine Presence and Its Manifestations

The human soul only finds significance when imbued with the spirit of God. Birth and death become a cycle of the soul's filling and emptying by the supreme soul. Through this rhythm, man experiences the immortal touch of the Divine. Just as Lord Krishna's melody animates the lifeless reed, perpetual music emanates. The Divine is the guiding light, a source of enlightenment, courage, and illumination. As expressed in lyric no 72:

"He it is, the innermost one, awakens my being with his deep hidden touches."

The omnipresent Divine resides in all facets of existence, encompassing Nature, the expansive sky, the bustling life, and even solitude. The gifts of the Divine are boundless, as verse no 75 states: "Thy gifts to us mortals fulfill all our needs." Nature thrives under the Divine's grace, the river and the flower imparting vitality, fertility, and fragrant allure. With folded hands, the poet extends gratitude to the "lord of my life" whose worship enriches existence without impoverishing it.

A Symphony of Devotional Expressions

Tagore's poems encompass various forms of devotion. In some, the poet immerses himself in selfless love for God, akin to Meera's devotion. Others evoke the image of the beloved surrendering entirely to the Divine's love, reminiscent of the devotion of Gopis. Tagore's poems alternate between being the awaiting bride and the eager beloved, embodying diverse aspects of devotion.

Moreover, the poet's prayers to God adopt numerous forms to suit his needs. In poem no 36, he prays for spiritual enrichment to become more worthy of divine connection:

"Give me the strength lightly to bear joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles."

The essence of devotion, or Bhakti, is brilliantly portrayed in poem no 38, where the poet repeatedly expresses his longing for God through metaphors:

"As the night keeps hidden in its gloom the petition for light, even thus in depth of my unconsciousness songs the cry - I want thee, only thee."

Conclusion: The Profound Language of Devotion

Within the pages of Gitanjali, devotion resonates like a soul-stirring melody, embodying the essence of the human spirit's pursuit of the Divine. Tagore's verses capture the myriad forms of devotion, transforming poetry into a channel of prayer and whisper that resonates between the human and the Divine. Each offering of devotion in Gitanjali not only enriches the poetic tapestry but also enriches the souls that partake in its verses.

Death: A Profound Theme in Gitanjali

Introduction: Exploring the Theme of Death

The theme of death reverberates through more than fifteen poems in Gitanjali, painting a profound exploration of mortality and transcendence. Initially, the poet celebrates the joy of death as being intertwined with the joy of life itself. He eloquently asserts that both life and death are like "twin brothers, dancing over the wide world," united in their divine essence. However, as the collection progresses, Tagore delves deeper into the theme of death, portraying it as the enigmatic "king of the Dark chamber." The imagery of Krishna, a recurring motif, gradually transforms into an imagery of death.

The Reverence for Death

Tagore's treatment of death is nuanced; he perceives death as a servant, an errand, or even the embodiment of the Supreme Inevitable force. The poet's relationship with death is one of reverence and devotion, symbolized by folded hands and heartfelt tears. He poignantly expresses:

"On the day when death will knock at thy door, what wilt thou offer to him? Oh, I will set before my guest the full vessel of my life - I will never let him go with empty hands." (Poem-90)

The poet's respect for death is further articulated in the sentiment: "I will worship him with folded hands and place at his feet the treasure of my heart." The portrayal of death as a revered guest mirrors the acceptance of life's finite nature and the offering of one's existence as a token of devotion.

Death's Intrinsic Connection to Nature and the Self

Tagore contemplates death's inherent presence in both nature and within himself. He views death as the ultimate fulfillment of life, and even likens the soul's embrace of death to "a bud in the forest at midnight." This merging of life and death is grounded in the profound acceptance that "because I love this life," the poet affirms, "I know I shall love death as well." Dying into death, in this context, is akin to transcending mortality into the realm of the deathless, an amorous adventure reminiscent of a stormy night's union or a sacred wedding.

As the poet evokes the imagery of Krishna and the Gopis, he draws a parallel between their longing and the soul's quest for union with the Divine through death. Just as the Gopis transcended physical bonds to attain Krishna, the soul liberates itself from earthly struggles to traverse the path of death and reunite with the beloved.

Embracing Death with Honor and Devotion

Tagore's perspective on death is multifaceted. He both prays for death to come to him and asserts that he will receive death with honor, unafraid. The theme often intertwines with self-surrender, as exemplified in poem no 17. The poet waits for death to finally claim him, symbolizing a willingness to relinquish himself to death's embrace. Similarly, in poem no 91, the poet envisions the readiness of the bride, symbolizing the soul, to meet the bridegroom, death, in the solitude of the night. Through vivid imagery, Tagore portrays death as an auspicious event that consummates the union of the soul and the Supreme.

Death as an Intimation of Immortality

In Gitanjali, death serves as a gateway to immortality, a transition from the finite to the eternal. The vast sea of eternity guides man toward the abode of the Eternal. The concept of death as the "all-devouring" phenomenon becomes synonymous with the fulfillment of life and the genesis of the new. The union with death brings ecstasy, a sense of consummation that transcends physicality. Through this union, man gains a profound wisdom, seeing the world's true treasures illuminated by the light of death. Divinity, devotion, spirituality, and eternity emerge as the noblest treasures, overshadowing all else.

Conclusion: A Holistic View of Life and Death

Tagore's portrayal of death in Gitanjali diverges from the somber tones of other poets like Donne and Hardy. He paints death as an inseparable companion to life, forming the two nurturing breasts of an affectionate, caring mother—the Almighty. This theme explores the interconnectedness of existence and the transformative journey death offers, where the finite meets the infinite, and mortality becomes a pathway to transcendence.

Communion with Nature: A Reverent Connection

Introduction: Nature as a Nexus between Man and God

Within Gitanjali, the theme of communion with nature takes center stage, embodying the profound connection between humanity and the divine. Tagore perceives a profound affinity between man and nature, viewing nature as a manifestation of God—an exquisite fragment of the divine essence. He often identifies himself with the forces and elements of nature, comparing his existence to a reed through which the breath of God creates music.

Nature as the Divine Manifestation

Tagore encapsulates the notion that the closest union between man and God occurs within the embrace of nature. Through poetic expression, he crafts a depiction of nature as an avenue through which communion with God is attainable. In one of his verses (Poem no 80), the poet likens himself to an autumnal cloud remnant, juxtaposed against the glorious sun—God. This juxtaposition highlights his yearning to meld with the divine radiance, transcending the separation he perceives and emphasizing the unbreakable bond.

Nature as the Pathway to God

According to Tagore, the pinnacle of the human soul's journey is realized through its harmonious connection with nature. Communing with nature serves as a prelude to forging a deeper connection with God, the immanent will. In Poem no 48, the poet acknowledges the presence of God in nature, extolling the beauty, innocence, and splendor inherent within its elements. The Creator's joyful spirit is palpable in the songs of birds, the vibrancy of flowers, and the golden embrace of the sun's scattered light.

The intimate bond with nature is synonymous with a direct connection to the divine, as echoed by Radhakrishnan's commentary: "Tagore beautifully depicts how enthusiastic surrender to the spontaneity of natural scenery leads one toward their ultimate goal. Thus, upon awakening from slumber, one encounters God's radiant presence, flooding sleep with divine smiles."

Nature Reflecting Human Emotions

Tagore's engagement with nature isn't solely centered on divine affinity; he also employs it to mirror his diverse emotional states. Nature becomes a canvas upon which he paints his moods and sentiments. In Poem no 2, he expresses his joy for the arrival of summer, celebrating its sighs and whispers that have graced his window. The poet emphasizes the synchronization between man's mood and nature's response, suggesting that nature mirrors and harmonizes with human emotions.

Unlike some spiritual seekers who view the world of nature as a potential trap, Tagore perceives nature as God's "immortal gifts" to humanity. He imbues natural elements—the river, flowers, leaves, clouds, sky, stars, sun, and golden light—with a shared sense of rejoicing, acknowledging their role in reflecting God's affection.

Tagore's Immersion in Nature's Splendor

Gitanjali is a reservoir of vivid imagery drawn from the natural world, a testament to Tagore's profound love and intimate connection with nature. His meticulous observations and eloquent descriptions mark him as a keen observer. The collection is replete with descriptions of seasonal pageantry, particularly the monsoon season. Among these verses, Poem no 5 stands out, capturing the entrancing arrival of summer:

"Today, summer has arrived at my window with its sighs and murmurs. Bees play their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove."

Much like Wordsworth, Tagore perceives nature as a friend, mother, and guide to humanity. His masterful use of images, similes, and metaphors solidifies his stance as a romantic-realist, showcasing his profound vision of nature's divine significance.

Conclusion: The Divine Language of Nature

Within the tapestry of Gitanjali, Tagore elevates nature to a realm where it becomes the bridge connecting humanity to the divine. Nature's beauty, its responsiveness to human emotions, and its divine essence resonate as a testament to the profound interconnectedness between the natural world and the spiritual realm. Through Tagore's eloquent verses, nature emerges as a sacred language that speaks of God's presence and reveals the intricate harmony of existence.

The Innocence of Childhood: A Glimpse of Divine Glory

Introduction: Childhood as a Manifestation of Divine Glory

Amidst the pages of Gitanjali, the theme of childhood shines forth as a celebration of the innate happiness that reflects the glory of God. Childhood's essence encapsulates the original purity and magnificence of the soul. In its simplicity, the child symbolizes innocence, fearlessness, and unfettered joy. An exemplary illustration of this theme can be found in Poem no 60, where children play on the seashore of limitless worlds, oblivious to the specter of death and the afterlife. Their contentment arises from the sheer joy of playing with empty shells and sand.

Innocence Amidst Worldly Concerns

While merchants and pearl divers immerse themselves in the pursuit of profit, their thoughts tainted by the shadow of impending death, children remain untouched by such worldly worries. Their happiness emerges from the simplest of things, unaffected by material wealth. Their beauty emanates from the profound love enveloping their mothers' hearts. Even Nature is stirred by their unburdened mirth, as Tagore poetically describes:

"The sea surges up with laughter" (Poem 60)
"The sea plays with children, and the smile of the sea beach gleams" (Poem 60).

Childhood: A World of Pure Hearts

The universe of children diverges markedly from that of adults. Poem no 60 celebrates childhood while critiquing the artifice, cunning, avarice, and materialism often associated with adulthood. Children exist free from such burdens:

"They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets." (Poem 60)

We see that the allure of riches and extravagant adornments holds no power over them. A child's mystic smile, their colorful toys—all these facets delight both humanity and nature. While childhood might not be the predominant theme in Tagore's collection, a handful of poems, such as 8, 60, 61, and 62, capture the enchantment and purity of this phase.

The Divine Play of Childhood

In another poem (no 97), Tagore employs imaginative language to depict a scenario where he playfully engages with God in a childlike manner. Here, he skillfully portrays God as a child, embodying the concept that even the Almighty Himself can be likened to the innocence of a child. This poem paints a vivid picture where God indulges in His own divine play, or "leela," and presents an innovative perspective on the theme of childhood.

Resonance with Blake and Wordsworth

In exploring the theme of childhood, Tagore's sentiments align with those of Blake and Wordsworth. These poets also champion the virtues of simplicity and innocence found in children. They all share the belief that the untainted purity of childhood draws them closer to spiritual enlightenment and the radiance of the divine realm.

Conclusion: The Heavenly Echo of Childhood's Innocence

Within the spectrum of Gitanjali, childhood emerges as an embodiment of divine simplicity and innocence. It magnifies the purity of existence, reminding humanity of the joyful and unburdened state that reflects God's glory. The verses celebrating childhood not only rekindle the memory of innocent years but also amplify the divine thread that connects the human soul to its creator. Through Tagore's eloquent verses, the innocence of childhood becomes an eternal echo of God's divine grace.

Humanism: Tagore's Embrace of Humanity

Introduction: Balancing Detachment with Humanism

In Gitanjali, Tagore's stance is far from that of an escapist. While he acknowledges the value of detachment, asceticism, and deliverance, he counterbalances these ideals with a profound love for humanism. He refuses to uphold a rigid belief in renouncing the sensory world. To Tagore, the relationship between the soul and God is intrinsically tied to human relationships. He asserts that God resides among humans—within you, me, and every living being. Loving every being in the world equates to loving the Almighty, and serving humanity equates to serving the Supreme, the Immanent Will. God is not confined to temples but resides with the lowliest and most humble.

"Here is thy footstool, and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, lowliest, and lost." (Poem no 10)

Tagore condemns the blind worship and idolatry that permeates his society. He sternly criticizes in Poem no 11:

"Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!" (Poem 11)

He identifies with laborers, tillers, and stone breakers—those who toil honestly and whose garments are covered in dust. His affinity is with the companionless and those living on the fringes. He shuns the bourgeoisie and the wealthy, who, due to their artificial existence, are distant from God. In fact, the Bible echoes Tagore's sentiment: "Blessed are the poor for they shall see God."

"Raise the stone, and there thou shalt find me; cleave the wood, and there I am."

Tagore adamantly opposes complete asceticism or renunciation as an evasion of worldly responsibilities:

"Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all forever."

Tagore posits that God himself is bound to this world. Hence, how can mortals escape their own bonds? He disapproves of a life of renunciation, instead praising a life of action. His humanistic tone rings clear. Although born into aristocracy, Gitanjali's prevailing tone is that of human dignity and equality.

Humanism in National and Social Contexts

Tagore's humanism extends to his concerns for his country's redemption, as seen in Poem no 35. He fervently yearns for a "heaven of freedom." He envisions a nation devoid of caste, creed, and national divisions. This theme of humanism serves as a critique of the emptiness of Indian traditions and rituals. Tagore takes aim at the futility of religious rites and ceremonies, often associated with orthodox Hinduism. For instance, in Poem no 64, Tagore depicts a scene where the poet's humble abode remains dark amid the wasteful glow of burning lamps. He implores a girl to illuminate his home, but she remains engrossed in empty rituals of dedicating lamps to the river and sky.

The lights are intended to reach the souls of departed ancestors. The affluent dedicate their lamps to the empty expanse of the sky, letting them burn pointlessly, while the impoverished live in darkness due to their inability to afford light. Through this satire, Tagore critiques the ostentation and indifference of the upper-middle class, who remain callous to the suffering of their less fortunate counterparts.

Spiritual Illumination: The Quest for God's Presence

The overarching spirit of Gitanjali centers around the pursuit of God, and man only attains realization of Him through spiritual illumination. The poet initiates his verses with the conviction that man is a "frail vessel whose own existence is short-lived, and God fills it with fresh life." His "immortal touch" imparts joy to man. God is all-encompassing, immanent, the life of life, truth, love, and the source of power and illumination. Thus, it becomes imperative for man to endeavor to make himself deserving of union with God. Self-purification becomes essential for the mystical union with God, launching the voyage toward this union. The poet implores for "a moment's indulgence" to sit by God's side. Restlessness consumes him when separated from God. He understands that communion with humanity and participation in ordinary human activities are vital for both enjoyment and spiritual growth. He perceives God's presence, His footstool, even among the poorest, lowest, and the lost.

"I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement. The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on. My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly struggles for a voice. I would speak, but speech breaks not into song, and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music, my master!" (Poem no 23)

Man, the poet, yearns to meet Him, yet he finds himself entangled in sensual pleasures. His lesser self—proud, assertive, arrogant, and egoistic—acts as a barrier between his elevated, individual soul and the Infinite. Life's quest encompasses the ongoing effort to suppress this petty self and allow the loftier self to gain strength and ascend the throne before completing this earthly pilgrimage. These two distinct aspects of the self lead to two stages: one that encompasses joy, sorrow, parting, and meeting, and the other that entails the bliss of spirituality and detachment. The poet believes that these two aspects—the petty and the lofty—cannot be dissociated; they are inseparable like light and shadow. Liberating oneself from this petty self is a challenging task, as it embodies a person's ego. Tagore aptly puts it:

"I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not. He is my own little self, my lord; he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company."

Tagore understands that:

"Pride can never approach to where thou walkest."

He yearns for freedom from these worldly temptations, and his anguish is profound due to the separation from God. However, when the sudden burst of spiritual illumination dawns upon him—often overlooked— he realizes that God is within him, beside him. He is an integral part of the Almighty. God severed Himself to create man. "Thou settest a barrier in thine own being and then callest thy severed self in myriad notes. This thy self-separation has taken body in me." All of His creation is this fragmented part, separated from Him. He exists in clouds, leaves, streams, the golden light of the sun, and the chirping of birds. This self-revelation, the realization of God's presence within him, constitutes the spiritual illumination that paves the way across the sea of eternity. Recognizing the Supreme as a spirit within the finite heralds sudden illumination, elevating the soul with enjoyment and contentment.

Spiritual Illumination: The Quest for God's Presence

The overarching spirit of Gitanjali centers around the pursuit of God, and man only attains realization of Him through spiritual illumination. The poet initiates his verses with the conviction that man is a "frail vessel whose own existence is short-lived, and God fills it with fresh life." His "immortal touch" imparts joy to man. God is all-encompassing, immanent, the life of life, truth, love, and the source of power and illumination. Thus, it becomes imperative for man to endeavor to make himself deserving of union with God. Self-purification becomes essential for the mystical union with God, launching the voyage toward this union. The poet implores for "a moment's indulgence" to sit by God's side. Restlessness consumes him when separated from God. He understands that communion with humanity and participation in ordinary human activities are vital for both enjoyment and spiritual growth. He perceives God's presence, His footstool, even among the poorest, lowest, and the lost.

"I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement. The light of thy music illumines the world. The life breath of thy music runs from sky to sky. The holy stream of thy music breaks through all stony obstacles and rushes on. My heart longs to join in thy song, but vainly struggles for a voice. I would speak, but speech breaks not into song, and I cry out baffled. Ah, thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music, my master!" (Poem no 23)

Man, the poet, yearns to meet Him, yet he finds himself entangled in sensual pleasures. His lesser self—proud, assertive, arrogant, and egoistic—acts as a barrier between his elevated, individual soul and the Infinite. Life's quest encompasses the ongoing effort to suppress this petty self and allow the loftier self to gain strength and ascend the throne before completing this earthly pilgrimage. These two distinct aspects of the self lead to two stages: one that encompasses joy, sorrow, parting, and meeting, and the other that entails the bliss of spirituality and detachment. The poet believes that these two aspects—the petty and the lofty—cannot be dissociated; they are inseparable like light and shadow. Liberating oneself from this petty self is a challenging task, as it embodies a person's ego. Tagore aptly puts it:

"I came out alone on my way to my tryst. But who is this that follows me in the silent dark? I move aside to avoid his presence but I escape him not. He is my own little self, my lord; he knows no shame; but I am ashamed to come to thy door in his company."

Tagore understands that:

"Pride can never approach to where thou walkest."

He yearns for freedom from these worldly temptations, and his anguish is profound due to the separation from God. However, when the sudden burst of spiritual illumination dawns upon him—often overlooked— he realizes that God is within him, beside him. He is an integral part of the Almighty. God severed Himself to create man. "Thou settest a barrier in thine own being and then callest thy severed self in myriad notes. This thy self-separation has taken body in me." All of His creation is this fragmented part, separated from Him. He exists in clouds, leaves, streams, the golden light of the sun, and the chirping of birds. This self-revelation, the realization of God's presence within him, constitutes the spiritual illumination that paves the way across the sea of eternity. Recognizing the Supreme as a spirit within the finite heralds sudden illumination, elevating the soul with enjoyment and contentment.

Charity: A Parable of Giving

One of the poems in Tagore's collection delves into the theme of charity. This poem takes the form of a parable to convey the significance of this virtue. In poem no 50, Tagore's message is that one receives in proportion to what one sacrifices. The poet, masquerading as a beggar, goes from door to door seeking alms, until he encounters a prince in a magnificent chariot. He anticipates receiving a substantial donation from the prince. However, the prince's response shocks him as the prince extends his own hand and asks what the poet has to give him. Fueled by greed, the poet offers the tiniest grain of corn. As a reward, he finds a golden grain in his wallet at home. He repents and realizes the value of giving. The parable draws inspiration from the myth of Krishna and Sudama. Sudama, a dear friend of Lord Krishna, visits Krishna in his destitution and offers him some stale cornmeal. Each morsel Krishna takes increases Sudama's wealth. Sudama finds himself transformed with riches and splendor. Such is the potency of the virtue of charity, a dominant theme in poem no 50.

Love Theme: Diverse Expressions of Love

The theme of love permeates numerous poems. Almost every poem in Gitanjali is imbued with the essence of love. It surfaces in different forms: at times, as a lover's entreaty to the beloved God; elsewhere, as the pure love between Radha and Krishna, dancing to the melodious tune of Krishna's flute. At other moments, it appears as a yearning woman in search of her beloved.

There are diverse pathways to reach God, but the simplest and most direct is through love. Selfless and pure love is the loftiest virtue, transcending all codes and rules. The beloved feels desolate and yearns for union with the divine. As Tagore expresses in one poem:

"I am only waiting for love to give myself up at last into His hands." (Poem 17)

In poem no 19, the poet-lover waits for his beloved God, drawing a parallel with the night's patient vigil. Love flows like air from Krishna's flute, evoking an exhilarating response within the poet. Divine love engenders joy when the beloved God personally graces His devotee with His presence. Poem no 32 elevates spiritual love—self-effacing, self-sacrificing, and devoid of possessiveness. A lesser love seeks to possess and captivate, while divine love allows freedom and endures even if prayers wane.

The beloved is sought in various forms: as a flowery maiden, as a bride awaiting union, or as a nocturnal visitor who leaves gifts. "I sit and muse in wonder, what gift is this of thine?" (Poem 52). God's love reaches mankind through Nature, enlightening them with:

"Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!" (Poem 57)

The golden sunlight symbolizes God's love. Tagore's heart is filled with joy:

"Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy love, O beloved of my heart—this golden light that dances upon the leaves."

God's love manifests in the form of "immortal gifts"—in rivers, flowers, moons, clouds, and the sun.

"Thy gifts to us mortals fulfill all our needs and yet run back to thee, undiminished." (Poem 75)

The poems also celebrate various forms of love: the love of a mother for her child, the affection between individuals, the camaraderie of friends, and the patriotism of a brother. Towards the end of Gitanjali, while love resonates throughout the book, Tagore extols his love for God, expressing gratitude:

"In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet."

The love between man and God, and the reciprocal love of the Almighty for man, defy articulation. Tagore acknowledges this:

"Ah, who knows what they mean!"

Only a genuine, pure, simple, and innocent heart can fathom it.

The Theme of Music and Lyric

Tagore bestows the epithet "the poet of poets" upon God, embellishing Him with the title of a superb master of music. In poem no 3, the poet is both puzzled and amazed by the manifestation of God's melody. The entire world is illuminated by the light inherent in His music. His music is akin to a sacred stream, surging forth to overcome all obstacles. It even moves stones in its path. Tagore perceives the entire creation as a manifestation of divine music. God's flute fills the world with joy, leaving the poet utterly captivated by the eternal strains of His musical composition.

"Ah, thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music."

At times, the poet envisions himself as a musical instrument, becoming a conduit for God's music. He imagines himself journeying to the heavenly abode with his life's harp, intending to

"tune it to the notes of forever." (Poem no 100)

Overflowing with joy and pride, the poet heeds God's command to sing in poem no 2. During such moments, the harsh elements of life dissolve into harmony, and his worship of God soars across the sea like a bird.

"and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across the sea."

The theme of another poem, no 7, revolves around music. Here, the poet likens his song to a beloved. She will unite with Him without any ornament interfering with their union. In a similar vein, he pledges not to adorn her with any ornament.

"Ornaments would mar our union."

Tagore extols the incomparable music of God, the Master poet:

"My poet's vanity dies in shame before thy sight. O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music."

In another poem, Tagore sings of music, lamenting that he has yet to sing the song he was born to sing. In poem no 13, he rues having wasted time preparing for it—stringing and unstringing his instrument. Shortcomings have combined to thwart him, leaving him with intense heartache over the unexpressed song. Nonetheless, hope lingers. In the tradition of true Bhaktas like Surdas, he finds contentment in singing God's songs in "this hall of thine." He seeks no further honors. In poem 49, the poet easily captures God's heart with his simple carol, winning the grace of God himself. The Master musician visits the poet's cottage door with a flower as a reward. Filled with praise, thanks, and gratitude for divine inspiration, the poet sings in poem no 65. It is through God's inspiration that he composes songs leading him through the mazes of secret mysteries. These songs have guided him through realms of pain, pleasure, and various attributes, eventually leading him to the palace gates of God. The poet pursued God with songs, and those songs, in turn, guided him through hidden paths. Through his songs, the poet expresses God, and these songs serve as offerings to the Master musician. The poet's songs brim with gratitude.

"gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation of thee." (Poem 103)

And they will undoubtedly reach the "eternal home."

While there are other themes present in the poems, they may not be as dominant in Gitanjali, yet they possess an alluring quality.

Spiritual Voyage

The theme of Spiritual Voyage is evident in Tagore's poetry, particularly in poem number 42, where he discusses his soul's journey after death. The metaphor of a boat as a spiritual symbol is used to convey the poet's anticipation of a holy voyage across the ocean of eternity. The poet's longing for the heavenly abode is palpable, with his self as the traveler and God as the companion.

Patriotism and Idealism

Another prominent theme is patriotism, exemplified in poem number 35. Here, the poet prays to God for guidance towards a realm of fearlessness, knowledge, and perfection. He envisions a place where narrow-mindedness is absent, and truth and reason prevail. The famous line "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake" (Poem no 35) encapsulates this aspiration.

Detachment and Inner Strength

Tagore explores detachment in his poetry, as seen in poem number 53. While acknowledging the beauty of the created world, the poet emphasizes the significance of detachment, symbolized by a sword's curve of lightning. Detachment, rather than worldly pleasures, bestows spiritual enlightenment and fearlessness, allowing the soul to courageously face challenges.

Quest for Perfection

Poem number 78 critiques those who find fault with the world, highlighting unbroken perfection in creation. The poet challenges the inclination to pine for what is lacking and instead encourages an appreciation of the inherent perfection that permeates all aspects of existence.

Embracing Farewell and Gratitude

The theme of farewell is depicted in poems such as number 94, where the poet parts from worldly possessions and embarks on a journey with open hands and an expectant heart. There is no bitterness towards the world; instead, the poet's sentiment is one of gratitude, having received more than he could give. The metaphor of a harp of life being laid at God's feet in the final poem (Poem 103) reflects this sense of fulfillment.

Human Weakness and Temptation

Tagore's poetry delves into human weaknesses, evident in poems like number 85. The poet questions the source of the unbreakable chain that binds humanity, attributing it to worldly temptations such as wealth, power, and lust. These temptations become barriers that hinder the soul's connection with the Supreme Father.

Rebirth and the Passage of Time

The theme of rebirth is explored in poem number 24, where the rejuvenation of the earth is likened to the potential for spiritual renewal. The passage of time is a recurring theme, illustrated in poem number 70. While relative time is transient, the poet emphasizes the timelessness of God's grace, which is always accessible.

Tagore's poetry offers insights into various aspects of the human experience, spirituality, and the fleeting nature of existence.

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