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An outstanding poet, a legend of prose and a perfect philosopher – Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is the greatest of the Indians writing in English. His fine writings which have been popularly described as ‘magical poetry and elegant prose’, are an impeccable metrical achievement. His fame as a poet in English rests chiefly on Gitanjali, which is a transcreation of the Bengali original, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, making him the first non-European to win the coveted honour. Apart from his literary work, he gave the gift of Rabindra Sangeet (songs written and composed by Tagore) also known as Tagore Songs to the people of India.

The main features of his poetry are, its humanistic essence combined with spirituality, a love of nature and man and the expression of their beauty and splendour of the earth. The poet’s spiritual message does not enjoin us to run away from the fret and fever of life and seek shelter in a hermitage but insists on our full participation in the joys and sorrows of life. He perfected a kind of incantatory rhythmic prose and demonstrated that Indian sentiment thought and imagery can be well expressed in English as in any Indian language. 

Tagore’s poetry is a vehicle for the expression of his mystical philosophy, but his mysticism finds a concrete sensuous expression. It also has the richness of diction and imagery, and yet- this is his uniqueness- it has the open-air atmosphere of a folk song. As the folk song, there are constant references in it to the common things of nature which provide Tagore with his imagery. They are also used symbolically and thus the physical universe is invested with a human significance. For example, objects of nature are eternal; they have continued since time immemorial and in their eternity, they symbolise eternity and the infinitude of God himself. The ever ceasing flow of water in the river symbolises the ceaseless flow of life, the intense longing of the human soul which is a recurrent theme of Tagore’s poetry.

Images from Tagore’s pen are colourful, highly sensuous and sometimes voluptuous. They are drawn from the most common and ordinary objects and phenomena of nature, and yet they enable Tagore to communicate highly abstract truths to his readers. It is in this way that in his poetry the difficult is made easy, the abstract is made concrete, the unfamiliar is made familiar, and the spiritual is made sensuous. These commonplace images create a deceptive impression of simplicity; in this way, Tagore achieves a rare union of simplicity and sublimity.

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δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges coming under this directorate and is now posted at the Department of English, Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of the lecture notes that she prepared by referring to various sources, for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

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