Rabindranath Tagore: The Stream of Life

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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
this moment.

~ Rabindranath Tagore; from Gitanjali (Song Offerings)
Nobel Prize for Literature 1913*

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“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)*

TAGORE’s MAGIC

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.

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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.

 

References:
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.

 

Photo credits:
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

15 thoughts on “Rabindranath Tagore: The Stream of Life

  1. I love the poem that starts this beautiful piece of journalistic writing. I have direct experience with this beautiful discourse about the stream of life. Years ago, while on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, I entered such a quiet state that I could see quite clearly how there was only one stream of life, it was universal and it was shared by all living beings. I truly believe this is the source of energy that we know as God. Beautiful post my friend.

    • David! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and eloquently written comment. You’ve perfectly articulated exactly how I feel about this beautiful, glorious Stream of Life. Thanks again for your words, my friend. It’s always an honour to have you drop by.

  2. Hey Jeannie! I love this blog! I love this site! I love this post as well! Thank you for introducing this Westerner to Tagore. I am looking forward to your new posts, and to reading your previous posts. Your photos and your thoughts are so uplifting! Your spirit, your creativity and your love for life and all that really matters is truly inspirational! I am so proud of you!

    • Teddy! What a nice surprise! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and gracious comment–you are very kind. I’m so happy that you enjoyed visiting my blog. It’s a pleasure to have you stop by.

  3. I first learned about this poem thanks to the song Praan by Garry Schyman which was sung by Palbasha Siddique and was used as the background music for Matt Harding’s “Where the hell is Matt?” video in 2008. Needless to say that the song intrigued me so much that I had to know what it meant. Which led me here. Thank you for enlightening me with your thoughts, Yeat’s thoughts and the realization that Tagore won the nobel prize for this masterpiece.

    I agree that this poem is beautiful in English. What still surprises me is that even though I don’t speak Bengali it seems more powerful to hear the original words. I guess its because these words have so much power that they transcend language barriers.

    • Hello Matt! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. And thank you for mentioning that the verses of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, The Stream of Life, are used as the lyrics in Garry Schyman’s beautiful song, Praan, as it bears mentioning here. I LOVE that song, so much so that I downloaded it after I first saw Matt Harding’s video a few years ago. I listen to it often and, like you, I find it tremendously uplifting. But it wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the lyrics to Praan were from a verse in Rabindranath Tagore’s Gatanjali—and one of my favourite verses too! I agree with you that there is something about the original language which conveys the energy more directly. Interestingly, my yoga teacher used to say the same thing about using the original Sanskrit words to refer to the name of the yoga postures, rather than using the English translations—something about using the original language helps one to incorporate the meaning and energy of the posture into one’s practice of it. Thanks again for your wonderful comment. ~ Jeannie :))

  4. Absolutely beautiful. I thank you very much for opening my eyes to another wonderful writer. I will definitely be looking up much more of his writing. Thanks again.

  5. Hi,

    I too love Rabindranath Tagore. I was just sitting around feeling really great about my own life and I wanted to read “Stream of Life”…again. I did a search on my phone and found your site. Thanks for placing these words for everyone’s easy access. The reason for my post is: I’m writing a book of my own in dedication to humanity and when I read your elephant description of reverence for this great man I felt deeply that your own words are a tribute worth remembering. I ask your permission to include your tribute in my work. There is no way I can express what we both feel any better. Your words encourage others to know more about this enlightened man and read more of his work which we both know can only be of great benefit for all that do. Of course I will give the citation you most definitely deserve and promise to send you a copy of my work when completed. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. If you agree please help me out with all the information I will need for the citation.

    With the utmost sincerity,
    Trenton McNary
    Heuristic@mail.com

    • That was supposed to be eloquent description. Even though elephant aptly symbolizes the enormity of your gracious contributions.

    • Hello Trenton! Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s always a lovely thing to come across a fellow Tagore appreciator, which you obviously are! It’s so true that this man’s words inspire, teach, and open up new perspectives of how to see this beautiful world. But the best part of your comment for me is this: “I was just sitting around feeling really great about my own life…” For me, nothing is better than simply loving and appreciating one’s own life. And, that, I believe, is what Tagore wishes to inspire in each of us.
      I am deeply honoured that you wish to include my tribute to Tagore in your wonderful sounding book, but I shall have to respectfully decline your very kind offer at this time as I have made a choice to stay anonymous at this point. But please keep getting inspired by beautiful writing, such as Tagore’s, and do keep writing! Good luck with your book. For me, there can never be too many books that inspire humanity.

      Thanks again for your kind comment. Have a great weekend!

      P.S. No worries about the”elephant” in the mix! :)) I figured it was probably one of the those fun iPhone autocorrect bloopers! It made me smile! :))

      ~ Jeannie :))

      • Well thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate and respect your desire to remain anonymous. That’s why I asked. But I’d still love to send you a copy of my book. It will have loads of great poetry, and other insightful writing, I’m sure you’ll appreciate. I thought I’d be so bold as to post a sample. Enjoy!

        Sincerely,
        Trenton

        Gaia

        I wished upon a falling star, I remember the moment well.
        I watched the Northern lights that Eve my heart began to swell.
        The night was crisp, and clean, and still, like freshness in my gaze.
        My tears of joy in love expressed I hoped would last for days.

        I stood and stared at nature’s lighted dance, wrapped in natural bliss.
        I looked to hold the moon that night, and desired from her a kiss.
        Wonder was the sky that night, my spirit soured so high.
        Instant faith for all that is I need not ask of nature why.

        In loving all these sights so pure, nature gave yet another lift.
        So rare a sight, so divine it was I returned with a reverent gift.
        For upon that moon lit natural dance, I saw a thing of Grace.
        I wished upon that falling star, for creation’s warm embrace.

        I felt as though my heart would burst, with those feelings I had found.
        To love without condition my destiny now is bound.
        As nature showed me how it is I accepted without a thought.
        For all the things I may desire this love can not be bought.

        Today I sit and write these words, my secret now is shared.
        And all these days have passed since then I forgot how much I cared.
        Lost in lonely days was I and forgot the beauty I have seen.
        And then your smile was seen by me to remind me were I’ve been.

        I wished upon that falling star so long ago it seems.
        Could it be that love endured through all my painful screams?
        Intrepid where my heart may lead, I remember that I can.
        With your gentle smile my dear you remind me who I Am.

        Trenton McNary

        • Hello Trenton! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful words. The natural beauty that permeates our Planet Gaia and the feelings you describe are indeed ineffable—that’s why poetry was invented. Poets throughout the ages have somehow found a way to use mere words to hint at the indefinable, to evoke something deeper within us, and you have surely done that. Your poem has lovely rhythm and you paint a wonderful picture of the glory and beauty this world has to offer us, often, at times when we need it most. It’s a story I can totally relate to. Thanks so much for sharing your talents. Keep writing and do let me know when your book is published. I look forward to it. Wishing you all the very best. Have a happy week ahead! ~ Jeannie :))

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