Rabindranath Tagore: Inheritor and Creator of Traditions

  • Kristine M. Rogers


Try to imagine it. The setting is rural and riverine: a zamindāri, or estate, in East Bengal. A boat has been secured to the sandy shore. This wooden vessel is large enough to house a man, small enough to make its way on the slender streams these East Bengali rivers become in the dry season. Most of the boat is enclosed, but both sides of the enclosure are actually a solid line of large windows which can be opened completely for the light and the breeze or shut tightly against the rain and storms. The roof doubles as an open upper deck, from which boatmen extend long poles to propel the boat when there is no wind. There are two narrow masts, one fore and one aft, to hold the sails when breezes are favourable.


Nursery Rhyme Family Estate Bengali Language Fleeting Moment Rhyme Scheme 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    This information and many other fascinating, well-written facts appear in Blair B. Kling, Partner in Empire: Dwarkanath Tagore and the Age of Enterprise in Eastern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Rathindranath Tagore, ‘Father as I Knew Him,’ A Centenary Volume: Rabindranath Tagore 1861–1961 (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1961) pp.47–55.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kristine M. Rogers, ‘Uncommon Harvest: Poems and Letters of Rabindranath Tagore 1886–1896’, unpublished manuscript. Prepared with a National Endowment for the Humanities translation grant, 1981–82.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Tagore wrote to his niece on 11 March 1895, asking that she return the letters to him so that he might note down for himself some of their more meaningful passages to save for the time when his memory of these moments would become dim. ‘It’s not that what is contained in them concerning my personal life is so precious; rather that which I have collected from the external world, a certain rare beauty, things of priceless enjoyment, these are the uncommon harvest of my life — what perhaps no one has seen besides me, what has been preserved only within the pages of my letters, nowhere else in the world — perhaps no one understands their worth as I do,’ Rogers, ‘Uncommon Harvest’, p.22.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    These reminiscences are ‘Uncle Rabindranath’ in A Centenary Volume, pp.3–11; and Rabindrasmriti (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1962). Most of the information in this section came from these two sources.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    P. K. Mukherji, Life of Tagore (New Delhi: Hind Pocket Books, 1977) p.13.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Indira Devi Chaudhurani, Rabindrasmriti p.45.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    P. K. Mukherji, Life ofTagore, pp.59–60.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Chaudhurani, ‘Uncle Rabindranath,’ A Centenary Volume, p.3.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Chaudhurani, Rabindrasmriti, p.14.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Chaudhurani, ‘Uncle Rabindranath,’ A Centenary Volume, pp.6–7.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Chaudhurani, Rabindrasmriti, pp.40–1.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., p.46.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., p.43.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Chaudhurani, ‘Uncle Rabindranath’, A Centenary Volume, p.6.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    This metre consisted of rhymed couplets with fourteen syllables to a line. There was generally a pause after the first eight syllables, and again at the end of the line. Michael Madhusudan Datta (1824–73) was the first to experiment with the traditional payar metre, enjambing the lines and eliminating end rhyme, in his epic poem Meghnādbadh. This payār was the ‘blank verse’ of Bengali. Michael also introduced the sonnet form into the Bengali language. Initially, his sonnet consisted of 14 lines of 14 syllables, each line divided into two sections of 8 and 6, as in ordinary payār. He followed Petrarch at first, in grouping the lines themselves into an 8–6 division and used the Italian’s rhyme scheme. Later, Michael used a variety of rhyme schemes. In some of his sonnets he varied the placement of the pause as he had done in Meghnādbadh, but he always retained the rhyme. For a much more detailed discussion of Bengali metric patterns, see Kristine M. Rogers, ‘The Tap of Time: Fleeting Moments from Rabindranath Tagore’, unpublished manuscript. Adapted from author’s unpublished dissertation, ‘Citrā Caitāli, and Kshanikā: A Translation and Analysis of Three Books of Poetry by Rabindranath Tagore.’ Expanded for a paper presented to the Association for Asian Studies, 1982.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Sumit Mitra, ‘The Nobel Riddle,’ India Today, 8 (1983) 68–70.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Tagore, Chanda (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1976).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Rogers, ‘Appendix: An Overview of Bengali Metre’, in ‘The Tap of Time: Fleeting Moments from Rabindranath Tagore’, unpublished manuscript, pp. 179–94.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    As quoted by P. K. Mukhopadhyay, Rabindrajibani (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1933) I, 448.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Sukumar Sen, Bāngālā Sāhityer Itihās (Calcutta: Eastern Publishers, 1969) III, 124.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ibid., p.125.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Upendranath Bhattacharya, Rabindra-Sāhitya-Parikramā: Kābya (Calcutta: The Book House, 1954) I, 246.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Sen, Bāngālā Sāhityer Itihās, I, 246.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    S. B. Das Gupta, Obscure Religious Cults (Calcutta: K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1962) p. 160.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    E. C. Dimock, Jr., ‘Rabindranath Tagore - “The Greatest of the Bāuls of Bengal”,’ Journal of Asian Studies, 19 (1959) 33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Mary Lago and Ronald Warwick 1989

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  • Kristine M. Rogers

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