Art, Culture and Aesthetics

Musings on Rabindranath Tagore – 1: A mysterious message

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In many of Tagore’s songs and poems on nature, we find an intense yearning for the distant – for something inexplicable and otherworldly; for something or someone, far away in space and time. Some of these songs and poems convey a sense of restlessness and yet in some cases a sense of being in profound peace – depicting flow and movement in nature as well as total stillness.

The predominant images and feelings associated with these songs and poems are that of: a sense of pining or contemplation; the feeling of intense nostalgia for a place visited long back or for a time long gone; the sudden awakening of a long dormant, deeply buried memory; a vague dream; a crossing over; and of some mysterious message from a distant past or from a realm unknown, carried in by a sudden wind, a sudden fragrance, the rains/clouds or changing seasons, or even a flock of birds.

The emotions are often mixed – of love, separation, pain, melancholy and surrender; at the same time colored with a ting of joy, hope and expectation. Only those who know the Bengali language well and are familiar with the Bengal landscape will fully appreciate this, for even the best translations of Tagore (including those by the poet himself) are merely vague effigies of the originals in Bengali.

শ্রাবণবরিষন পার হয়ে কী বাণী আসে ওই রয়ে রয়ে।
গোপন কেতকীর পরিমলে, সিক্ত বকুলের বনতলে,
দূরের আঁখিজল বয়ে বয়ে কী বাণী আসে ওই রয়ে রয়ে॥
কবির হিয়াতলে ঘুরে ঘুরে আঁচল ভরে লয় সুরে সুরে।
বিজনে বিরহীর কানে কানে সজল মল্লার-গানে-গানে
কাহার নামখানি কয়ে কয়ে
কী বাণী আসে ওই রয়ে রয়ে॥

What mysterious message comes across, time and again
Through this relentless ‘Shravan‘ rains

With the fragrance of the unseen ‘Ketaki‘,
From the rain-drenched groves of the ‘Bakul
What words do the distant tears bring to bear
Deep within the poet’s heart, gathering melodies in swirls

In the whispers heard by the lonely forlorn lover
In the rain soaked melody of the ‘Malhaar
Whose name resonates
What mysterious message comes across, time and again

(Translation: Shumon Sengupta)

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