Rabindranath Tagore

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Let this be my last word, that I trust in thy love.
God, the Great Giver, can open the whole universe to our gaze in the narrow space of a single land.

Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 18617 August 1941), also known as Rabi Thakur, was a Bengali philosopher, poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

Quotes[edit]

My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.
  • The truth comes as conqueror only because we have lost the art of receiving it as guest.
    • The Fourfold Way of India (1924); this has become paraphrased as "Truth comes as conqueror only to those who have lost the art of receiving it as friend."
  • God, the Great Giver, can open the whole universe to our gaze in the narrow space of a single land.
    • Jivan-smitri

Gitanjali (1912)[edit]

In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play, and here have I caught sight of him that is formless.
  • I thought that my invincible power would hold the world captive, leaving me in a freedom undisturbed. Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip.
    • 31
  • When old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart; and where the old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders.
    • 37
  • The smile that flickers on baby's lips when he sleeps — does anybody know where it was born? Yes, there is a rumor that a young pale beam of a crescent moon touched the edge of a vanishing autumn cloud, and there the smile was first born in the dream of a dew-washed morning.
    • 61
  • In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play, and here have I caught sight of him that is formless.
    • 96
  • Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
    Where knowledge is free

    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
    By narrow domestic walls
    Where words come out from the depth of truth
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
    Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
    Where the mind is led forward by thee
    Into ever-widening thought and action
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Sādhanā : The Realisation of Life (1916)[edit]

Love is the ultimate meaning of everything around us. It is not a mere sentiment; it is truth; it is the joy that is at the root of all creation.
When we define a man by the market value of the service we can expect of him, we know him imperfectly.
Civilisation must be judged and prized, not by the amount of power it has developed, but by how much it has evolved and given expression to, by its laws and institutions, the love of humanity.
The human soul is on its journey from the law to love, from discipline to liberation, from the moral plane to the spiritual.
Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.
The infinite being has assumed unto himself the mystery of finitude. And in him who is love the finite and the infinite are made one.
  • All the great utterances of man have to be judged not by the letter but by the spirit — the spirit which unfolds itself with the growth of life in history.
    • Preface
  • The meaning of the living words that come out of the experiences of great hearts can never be exhausted by any one system of logical interpretation. They have to be endlessly explained by the commentaries of individual lives, and they gain an added mystery in each new revelation. To me the verses of the Upanishads and the teachings of Buddha have ever been things of the spirit, and therefore endowed with boundless vital growth; and I have used them, both in my own life and in my preaching, as being instinct with individual meaning for me, as for others, and awaiting for their confirmation, my own special testimony, which must have its value because of its individuality.
    • Preface
  • The human soul is on its journey from the law to love, from discipline to liberation, from the moral plane to the spiritual. Buddha preached the discipline of self-restraint and moral life; it is a complete acceptance of law. But this bondage of law cannot be an end by itself; by mastering it thoroughly we acquire the means of getting beyond it. It is going back to Brahma, to the infinite love, which is manifesting itself through the finite forms of law.
  • Want of love is a degree of callousness; for love is the perfection of consciousness. We do not love because we do not comprehend, or rather we do not comprehend because we do not love. For love is the ultimate meaning of everything around us. It is not a mere sentiment; it is truth; it is the joy that is at the root of all creation. It is the white light of pure consciousness that emanates from Brahma. So, to be one with this sarvānubhūh, this all-feeling being who is in the external sky, as well as in our inner soul, we must attain to that summit of consciousness, which is love: Who could have breathed or moved if the sky were not filled with joy, with love?
  • Of course man is useful to man, because his body is a marvellous machine and his mind an organ of wonderful efficiency. But he is a spirit as well, and this spirit is truly known only by love. When we define a man by the market value of the service we can expect of him, we know him imperfectly. With this limited knowledge of him it becomes easy for us to be unjust to him and to entertain feelings of triumphant self-congratulation when, on account of some cruel advantage on our side, we can get out of him much more than we have paid for. But when we know him as a spirit we know him as our own. We at once feel that cruelty to him is cruelty to ourselves, to make him small is stealing from our own humanity...
  • Man is not entirely an animal. He aspires to a spiritual vision, which is the vision of the whole truth. This gives him the highest delight, because it reveals to him the deepest harmony that exists between him and his surroundings. It is our desires that limit the scope of our self-realisation, hinder our extension of consciousness, and give rise to sin, which is the innermost barrier that keeps us apart from our God, setting up disunion and the arrogance of exclusiveness. For sin is not one mere action, but it is an attitude of life which takes for granted that our goal is finite, that our self is the ultimate truth, and that we are not all essentially one but exist each for his own separate individual existence.
  • We never can have a true view of man unless we have a love for him. Civilisation must be judged and prized, not by the amount of power it has developed, but by how much it has evolved and given expression to, by its laws and institutions, the love of humanity. The first question and the last which it has to answer is, Whether and how far it recognises man more as a spirit than a machine? Whenever some ancient civilisation fell into decay and died, it was owing to causes which produced callousness of heart and led to the cheapening of man's worth; when either the state or some powerful group of men began to look upon the people as a mere instrument of their power; when, by compelling weaker races to slavery and trying to keep them down by every means, man struck at the foundation of his greatness, his own love of freedom and fair-play. Civilisation can never sustain itself upon cannibalism of any form. For that by which alone man is true can only be nourished by love and justice.
  • In love all the contradictions of existence merge themselves and are lost. Only in love are unity and duality not at variance. Love must be one and two at the same time.
    Only love is motion and rest in one. Our heart ever changes its place till it finds love, and then it has its rest. But this rest itself is an intense form of activity where utter quiescence and unceasing energy meet at the same point in love.
    In love, loss and gain are harmonised. In its balance-sheet, credit and debit accounts are in the same column, and gifts are added to gains. In this wonderful festival of creation, this great ceremony of self-sacrifice of God, the lover constantly gives himself up to gain himself in love. Indeed, love is what brings together and inseparably connects both the act of abandoning and that of receiving.
  • In love, at one of its poles you find the personal, and at the other the impersonal. At one you have the positive assertion — Here I am; at the other the equally strong denial — I am not. Without this ego what is love? And again, with only this ego how can love be possible?
    Bondage and liberation are not antagonistic in love. For love is most free and at the same time most bound. If God were absolutely free there would be no creation. The infinite being has assumed unto himself the mystery of finitude. And in him who is love the finite and the infinite are made one.
  • Compulsion is not indeed the final appeal to man, but joy is. And joy is everywhere; it is in the earth's green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul. Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.
  • That side of our existence whose direction is towards the infinite seeks not wealth, but freedom and joy. There the reign of necessity ceases, and there our function is not to get but to be. To be what? To be one with Brahma. For the region of the infinite is the region of unity. Therefore the Upanishads say: If man apprehends God he becomes true. Here it is becoming, it is not having more. Words do no gather bulk when you know their meaning; they become true by being one with the idea.
  • Though the West has accepted as its teacher him who boldly proclaimed his oneness with his Father, and who exhorted his followers to be perfect as God, it has never been reconciled to this idea of our unity with the infinite being. It condemns, as a piece of blasphemy, any implication of man's becoming God. This is certainly not the idea that Christ preached, nor perhaps the idea of the Christian mystics, but this seems to be the idea that has become popular in the Christian west.
    But the highest wisdom in the East holds that it is not the function of our soul to gain God, to utilise him for any special material purpose. All that we can ever aspire to is to become more and more one with God. In the region of nature, which is the region of diversity, we grow by acquisition; in the spiritual world, which is the region of unity, we grow by losing ourselves, by uniting. Gaining a thing, as we have said, is by its nature partial, it is limited only to a particular want; but being is complete, it belongs to our wholeness, it springs not from any necessity but from our affinity with the infinite, which is the principle of perfection that we have in our soul.
  • Knowledge is partial, because our intellect is an instrument, it is only a part of us, it can give us information about things which can be divided and analysed, and whose properties can be classified part by part. But Brahma is perfect, and knowledge which is partial can never be a knowledge of him.
  • Indeed, the realisation of the paramātman, the supreme soul, within our antarātman, our inner individual soul, is in a state of absolute completion. We cannot think of it as non-existent and depending on our limited powers for its gradual construction. If our relation with the divine were all a thing of our own making, how should we rely on it as true, and how should it lend us support?
    Yes, we must know that within us we have that where space and time cease to rule and where the links of evolution are merged in unity.
    In that everlasting abode of the ātaman, the soul, the revelation of the paramātman, the supreme soul, is already complete. Therefore the Upanishads say: He who knows Brahman, the true, the all-conscious, and the infinite as hidden in the depths of the soul, which is the supreme sky (the inner sky of consciousness), enjoys all objects of desire in union with the all-knowing Brahman.
  • This "I" of mine toils hard, day and night, for a home which it knows as its own. Alas, there will be no end of its sufferings so long as it is not able to call this home thine. Till then it will struggle on, and its heart will ever cry, "Ferryman, lead me across." When this home of mine is made thine, that very moment is it taken across, even while its old walls enclose it. This "I" is restless. It is working for a gain which can never be assimilated with its spirit, which it never can hold and retain. In its efforts to clasp in its own arms that which is for all, it hurts others and is hurt in its turn, and cries, "Lead me across". But as soon as it is able to say, "All my work is thine," everything remains the same, only it is taken across.
    Where can I meet thee unless in this mine home made thine? Where can I join thee unless in this my work transformed into thy work? If I leave my home I shall not reach thy home; if I cease my work I can never join thee in thy work. For thou dwellest in me and I in thee. Thou without me or I without thee are nothing.

Glimpses of Bengal (1921)[edit]

  • The light of the stars travels millions of miles to reach the earth, but it cannot reach our hearts - so many millions of miles further off are we!
  • Every person is worthy of an infinite wealth of love - the beauty of his soul knows no limit.
  • When sorrow is deepest...then the surface crust is pierced, and consolation wells up, and all the forces of patience and courage are banded together to do their duty. Thus great suffering brings with it the power of great endurance. So while we are cowards before petty troubles, great sorrows make us brave by rousing our truer manhood.
  • The world is ever new to me; like an old friend loved through this and former lives, the acquaintance between us is both long and deep.
  • One of the many suppressed longings of creation which cry after fulfilment is for neglected joys within reach; while we are busy pursuing chimerical impossibilities we famish our lives...The emptiness left by easy joys, untasted, is ever growing in my life. And the day may come when I shall feel that, could I but have the past back, I would strive no more after the unattainable, but drain to the full these little, unsought, everyday joys which life offers.
  • It sometimes strikes me how immensely fortunate I am that each day should take its place in my life, either reddened with the rising and setting sun, or refreshingly cool with deep, dark clouds, or blooming like a white flower in the moonlight. What untold wealth!
  • Reason tells us that creation never can be perfectly happy. So long as it is incomplete it must put up with imperfection and sorrow. It can only be perfect when it ceases to be creation, and is God. Do our prayers dare go so far?

Stray Birds (1916)[edit]

Your idol is shattered in the dust to prove that God's dust is greater than your idol.
Stray Birds online as translated from Bengali to English by the author
  • If you shed tears when you miss the sun, you also miss the stars.
    • 6
  • Your idol is shattered in the dust to prove that God's dust is greater than your idol.
    • 51
  • The roots below the earth claim no rewards for making the branches fruitful.
    • 134
  • Let this be my last word, that I trust in thy love.
    • 326

The Gardener (1915)[edit]

The wise man warns me that life is but a dewdrop on the lotus leaf.
In the world's audience hall, the simple blade of grass sits on the same carpet with the sunbeams, and the stars of midnight.
  • Ah me, why did they build my house by the road to the market town?
    • 4
  • I am restless. I am athirst for faraway things. My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance. O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute! I forget, I ever forget, that I have no wings to fly, that I am bound in this spot evermore.
    • 5
  • We do not stray out of all words into the ever silent;
    We do not raise our hands to the void for things beyond hope.
    • 16
  • Please is frail like a dewdrop, while it laughs it dies. But sorrow is strong and abiding. Let sorrowful love wake in your eyes.
    • 27
  • My heart, the bird of the wilderness, has found its sky in your eyes.
    • 31
  • Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.
    • 45
  • To the guests that must go, bid God's speed and brush away all traces of their steps.
    • 45
  • The wise man warns me that life is but a dewdrop on the lotus leaf.
    • 46
  • O Woman, you are not merely the handiwork of God, but also of men; these are ever endowing you with beauty from their own hearts … You are one-half woman and one-half dream.
    • 59
  • In the world's audience hall, the simple blade of grass sits on the same carpet with the sunbeams, and the stars of midnight.
    • 74
  • Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
    I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
    Open your doors and look abroad.
    From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before.
    In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.
    • 85

Fireflies (1928)[edit]

Wishing to hearten a timid lamp
great night lights all her stars.
God seeks comrades and claims love,
the Devil seeks slaves and claims obedience.
Life's errors cry for the merciful beauty
that can modulate their isolation
into a harmony with the whole.
  • Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hand
    With a grip that kills it.

    Wishing to hearten a timid lamp
    great night lights all her stars.

    • 24
  • The child ever dwells in the mystery of ageless time,
    unobscured by the dust of history.
    • 26
  • Jewel-Like the immortal
    does not boast of its length of years
    but of the scintillating point of the moment.
    • 29
  • While God waits for his temple to be built of love, men bring stones.
    • 41
  • I touch God in my song
    as the hill touched the far-away sea
    with its waterfall.
    • 42
  • Light finds her treasure of colours
    through the antagonism of clouds.
    • 43
  • The one without second is emptiness,
    the other one makes it true.
    • 46

Interview with Einstein (1930)[edit]

Color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.
Interview with Albert Einstein (14 April 1930), published in The Religion of Man (1930), p. 222 - 225, and in The Tagore Reader (1971) edited by Amiya Chakravarty
  • Our passions and desires are unruly, but our character subdues these elements into a harmonious whole. Does something similar to this happen in the physical world? Are the elements rebellious, dynamic with individual impulse? And is there a principle in the physical world which dominates them and puts them into an orderly organization? … It is the constant harmony of chance and determination which makes it eternally new and living.
  • In India, the measure of a singer's freedom is in his own creative personality. He can sing the composer's song as his own, if he has the power creatively to assert himself in his interpretation of the general law of the melody which he is given to interpret.
  • Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.

Quotes about Tagore[edit]

Arranged alphabetically by author
  • In “The Religion of the Forest,” Tagore wrote about the influence that the forest dwellers of ancient India had on classical Indian literature. The forests are sources of water and the storehouses of a biodiversity that can teach us the lessons of democracy—of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution.

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