The Stream of Life
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves
of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death,
in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood
~ Rabindranath Tagore; from Gitanjali (Song Offerings)
Nobel Prize for Literature 1913*
“I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics—which are in the original, my [Bengali] Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention—display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my live long.”
~ William Butler Yeats, 1912
Excerpted from the Introduction to Gitanjali (Song Offerings)*
I discovered Rabindranath Tagore gradually, in dribs and drabs: an inspiring quote and a stirring verse here, another brilliant quote there. Many of the quotes intrigued and touched me, but it wasn’t until I’d heard a simple, breathtaking verse from Gitanjali being eloquently read aloud that I was compelled to finally ascertain the true genius and magic of Tagore. Why it took me so long, I’ll never know. I’m only glad I finally did.
Though virtually unknown in the west, Rabindranath Tagore is one of the most prolific writers the world has ever known. He was born in 1861 in the Bengal region of South Asia during the confluence of three great movements on the Indian subcontinent—spiritual, literary and political—a period sometimes referred to as the Indian Renaissance. Although he is mainly known for his poetry, Tagore’s body of work included much more. When he died in 1941, he left thousands of pages of poetry, prose, novels, plays, essays, songs, letters, humorous stories, autobiographical writings and travel literature. Though revered in the east, today he is still little known to westerners. Tagore is most known in the west for being the first non-European recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 for his slim book of verse, Gitanjali. The Nobel Prize for Literature selection committee delighted in introducing the world to a new genius.
I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door.
Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.
~ Rabindranath Tagore
But the fact that Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature, or that he was the first non-European to do so, little interests me. What captivates me, what stirs my soul, is the way I feel when I read his words. Even though it is often said that much is lost in the translation of the beauty of Tagore’s original Bengali prose, his poetry and prose nevertheless touch something deep, something knowing, something familiar yet ineffable in me. I know that what deeply stirs one person may not move another. Still, all I can say is: read Tagore–and perhaps you too will feel something beautiful pulse through your veins. That something, I believe, is the Stream of Life.
Gitanjali, by Rabindranth Tagore,
*Public Domain since 1992 (the Berne Convention)
The Essential Tagore, by Rabindranath Tagore, edited by Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, with a foreword by Amit Chaudhuri
Many of Tagore’s works are available as free downloads on iTunes, iBooks and Amazon Kindle.
Playing by the Riverside, photography by madlyinlovewithlife;
© 2013 madlyinlovewithlife
Mountain Wildflowers, photograph by madlyinlovewithlife;
© 1998 madlyinlovewithlife
Blades of Grass, digital art by madlyinlovewithlife;
© 2014 madlyinlovewithlife