150th birth anniversary of India’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore


In Paris this past May, in honor of next year’s Rabindranath Tagore sesquicentennial, UNESCO launched the beginning of a year-long commemoration—including worldwide cultural events and exhibitions—that will culminate on May 7, 2011, the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth. The first Asian writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913), Tagore (1861–1941) was a poet, philosopher, playwright, musician, artist, reformer, and educator. In the Winter 1967 issue of Books Abroad, Albert Howard Carter wrote that “our image of India may owe more to Tagore than to any other.”


Bird-seller says, “This is a black-coloured chanda.”

Bird-seller says, “This is a black-coloured chanda.”
Panulal Haldar says, “I’m not blind –
     It is definitely a crow – no God’s name on his beak.”
Bird-seller says, “Words haven’t yet blossomed –
So how can it utter ‘father’ ‘uncle’ in the invocation?”


In Kanchrapara

In Kanchrapara
     there was a prince
[wrote but] no reply
     from the princess.
With all the stamp expenses
will you sell off your kingdom?
Angry, disgusted
     he shouts: “Dut-toor”
shoving the postman
     onto a bulldog’s face.


Two ears pierced

Two ears pierced 
     by crab’s claws.
Groom says: “Move them slowly,
     the two ears.”

Bride sees in the mirror -
in Japan, in China -
thousands living
     in fisher-folks colony.
Nowhere has it happened - in the ears,
     such a big mishap.


In school, yawns

In school, yawns
     Motilal Nandi —
says, lesson doesn’t progress
     in spite of concentration.
     Finally one day on a horse-cart he goes –
tearing page by page, dispersing them in the Ganga.
                        Word-compounds move
float away like words-conjoined.
            To proceed further with lessons –
these are his tactics.

Translator’s note: All four poems are taken from the Visva Bharati edition of Tagore’s nonsense verse, Khapcharra (Out of Joint). They are all untitled, so I have used the first line of each poem as its symbolic title. “In school, yawns” appears on page 4, “In Kanchrapara” on page 5, “Two ears pierced” on page 10, and “Bird-seller says, ‘This is a black-coloured chanda’” on page 11.


Translations from the Bengali 
By Sudeep Sen with Satyabrata Sengupta



In the dense obsession of this deep dark rain

In the dense obsession of this deep dark rain
You tread secret, silent, like the night, past all eyes.
The heavy eyelids of dawn are lowered to the futile wall of the winds
Clotted clouds shroud the impenitent sky
Birdless fields
Barred doors upon your desolate path.
Oh beloved wanderer, I have flung open my doors to the storm
Do not pass me by like the shadow of a dream.


on this last night of spring, I have come empty-handed, garlandless

on this last night of spring, I have come empty-handed, garlandless
a silent flute cries, the smile dies on your lips
in your eyes a wet indignation
when did this spring pass by, where is my song?


I lose you, my beloved, so that I may rediscover you

I lose you, my beloved, so that I may rediscover you
Though oft immersed in a tide of some other enchantment
You remain invisible, yet you are not of the shadows.
I seek you, my mind trembles with fear, waves terrify my passion
You conceal your boundlessness under a cloak of void
But my grief washes away the mirth of that deception.


The night wind has quenched my light

The night wind has quenched my light
And you come without haste to bid farewell
Passing upon this path in darkness
The scent of night flower will drown you.


if the doors to my heart should someday close upon you

if the doors to my heart should someday close upon you
break them down and enter my soul, do not turn away
if on these violin strings your beloved name does not play
still, I beseech you, do not turn away
if someday, at your call, I remain encased within dead dream
wake me with the agony of thunder, do not turn away
and if someday, upon your throne, I seat someone else with care
remember, you are my only king, do not turn away.

Translations from the Bengali 
By Sunetra Gupta



I could speak to her on a day like this

I could speak to her on a day like this,
on a day when it rains as heavily.
You can open your heart on a day like this –
when you hear the clouds as the rain pours down
in gloom unbroken by light.

Those words won’t be heard by anyone else;
there’s not a soul around.
Just us, face to face, in each other’s sorrow
sorrowing, as water streams without interruption;
it’s as if there’s no one else in the world.

This earthly web’s as untrue
as the constant noise of life.
Only our eyes drinking their own nectar
as the heart feels what’s only true to the heart – 
all else melts in the dark.

Surely no one in this world would come to harm
if I rid my mind of this burden?
If I said a couple of words to her
in one corner of this room in Sravan’s downpour
surely the world would remain unaffected?

The day passes in anxious waves
lit by flashes of lightning.
Now’s the time it seems I could say
the words that, all my life, I’d kept to myself –
on such a day, when it rains heavily.


You may as well sit beside me a little longer

You may as well sit beside me a little longer,
            if you have something to say, say it now.
See - Sarat’s sky begins to pale,
            the vaporous weather makes the horizon shine.
I know you’d longed to see something,
that’s why you came to my door at dawn,
did you see it before daylight faded again?
            Tell me, traveller -
for that thing, at the most unapproachable reaches
of myself, has blossomed like a flower in my blood.

Full of doubt, you’ve still not entered my room,
            you made music lightly in the courtyard outside.
What will you take with you when you go abroad?
            Dear guest, this is the last hour of farewell.
In that first hour of dawn, when you left your work to one side
and set out in search of that profound
message, did you find any hint of it anywhere?
            Tell me traveller -
that message, lighting its hidden fire
in my blood, burns its lamp with the flame of my life.


What you wrote has, in the dust, turned to dust

What you wrote has, in the dust, turned to dust.
The letters you inscribed are lost.
Chaitra night, I sit alone,        once again, it becomes visible -
            among trees and branches, the illusion of your curved hand
in new-sprouted leaves           by some error they return      your old letters.

            The mallika blossom in tonight’s forest
            is filled with fragrance - like your name.
Tender, the missive traced by your fingers    brought back to mind today
            some sorrow-filled script of parting.
On madhavi branches, dancing, dancing       your old handwriting.

Translations from the Bengali 
By Amit Chaudhuri

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