A sweet poem for dog lovers takes the spotlight in this week’s Featured Poem from Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Hailed as ‘The Bard of Bengal’, Rabindranath Tagore is celebrated as a Renaissance man who reshaped the literature and music of his native land. He became the first non-European to be awarded a Nobel Prize, winning the Literature prize in 1913 for his renowned collection Gitanjali, yet his work remains largely unknown outside of Bengal.
Born in 1861, Tagore began writing poetry at just eight years old, releasing his first collection at 16 under the pseudonym Bhānusiṃha, meaning ‘Sun Lion’, which were seized upon by literary authorities as long-lost classics. By 1877 he had begun publishing fiction under his own name.
A humanist and ardent anti-nationalist, Tagore denounced the British Raj, supporting independence from Britain and promoting a Bengali Renaissance. He also revolted against classical forms of art, breaking with the rigid, traditional models based on Sanskrit by introducing new styles of prose and verse, and promoting the use of colloquial language in Bengali literature.
Tagore became highly influential in Bengal and in the West, producing a rich archive of novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas and essays. Celebrated primarily for his poetry, he also wrote thousands of songs. Both India and Bangladesh chose compositions by Rabindranath Tagore for the national anthems and its thought that his work also inspired Sri Lanka’s anthem. His legacy also includes the foundation of the Visva-Bharati University in West Bengal.
The breadth of Rabindranath Tagore’s work is almost overwhelming and the importance and influence of his canon in Bengali and Indian culture is immeasurable. Many critics have suggested that Tagore’s poetry loses it’s magic in translation and in a biography of the poet Amartya Sen said:
“Anyone who knows Tagore’s poems in their original Bengali cannot feel satisfied with any of the translations … the charms have ‘vanished in translation'”.
However, we’ve chosen a poem universal in it’s sentiment and charm, This Dog.
Every morning this dog, very attached to me,
Quietly keeps sitting near my seat
Till touching its head
I recognize its company.
This recognition gives it so much joy
Pure delight ripples through its entire body.
Among all dumb creatures
It is the only living being
That has seen the whole man
Beyond what is good or bad in him
It has seen
For his love it can sacrifice its life
It can love him too for the sake of love alone
For it is he who shows the way
To the vast world pulsating with life.
When I see its deep devotion
The offer of its whole being
I fail to understand
By its sheer instinct
What truth it has discovered in man.
By its silent anxious piteous looks
It cannot communicate what it understands
But it has succeeded in conveying to me
Among the whole creation
What is the true status of man.