Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore was born in Bengal to a religious leader named Brahmo Samaj. He was homeschooled and found success as a writer early in life. Once his poems were translated, he became a favorite in the Western world. While he was wildly successful as a poet, Tagore was accomplished in all literary genres.
Here are ten poems by Rabindranath Tagore that we feel are timeless and well worth the read.
Tulsidas, the poet, was wandering, deep in thought, by the Ganges, in that lonely spot where they burn their dead.
He found a woman sitting at the feet of the corpse of her dead husband, gaily dressed as for a wedding.
She rose as she saw him, bowed to him, and said, “Permit me, Master, with your blessing, to follow my husband to heaven.”
“Why such hurry, my daughter?” asked Tulsidas. “Is not this earth also His who made heaven?”
“For heaven I do not long,” said the woman. “I want my husband.”
Tulsidas smiled and said to her, “Go back to your home, my child. Before the month is over you will find your husband.”
The woman went back with glad hope. Tulsidas came to her every day and gave her high thoughts to think, till her heart was filled to the brim with divine love.
When the month was scarcely over, her neighbours came to her, asking, “Woman, have you found your husband?”
The widow smiled and said, “I have.”
Eagerly they asked, “Where is he?”
“In my heart is my lord, one with me,” said the woman.
After the first reading of this poem, the wisdom of Rabindranath Tagore hits you right in the heart. Losing a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences a human being has in their life. Through the wife’s realization, this poem teaches us that our loved ones will always be with us, in our hearts.
On the Seashore
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
In this poem, the words dance the way the children dance on the seashore. It illustrates the innocence of childhood by throwing in comparisons of adult activities like work. The virtue of the children is deepened when the poet talks about “Death-dealing waves.” No matter how innocent children may be, the natural world and its dangers are always looming.
Sanatan was telling his beads by the Ganges when a Brahmin in rags came to him and said, “Help me, I am poor!”
“My alms-bowl is all that is my own,” said Santan. “I have given away everything I had.”
“But my lord Shiva came to me in my dreams,” said the Brahmin, “and counselled me to come to you.”
When suddenly Sanatan remembered he had picked up a stone of priceless value from the pebbles on the banks of the river, and thinking that someone might need it had hid it in the sands.
He pointed out the spot to the Brahmin, who dug up the stone and was surprised.
The Brahmin sat on the earth and mused alone till the sun went down behind the trees, and cowherds went home with their cattle.
Then he rose and came slowly to Sanatan and said, “Master, give me the least fraction of that wealth that disdains the wealth of all the world.”
And he threw away the gem into the water.
Here we see a holy man and a pauper. When the pauper tells the religious man that he is poor and his dream told him to ask, the sacred man gives the pauper the only value he has. Sanatan gives it to him so easily that the pauper is compelled to contemplate that. The pauper realizes the holy man has something better than material wealth.
The holy man has a freedom that money cannot buy, so the pauper chooses to follow him and rid his life of the desire for wealth.
Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig all the morning.
I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twig.
I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour.
Perhaps you glance at me and think, “What a stupid game to spoil your morning with!”
Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies.
I seek out costly playthings, and gather lumps of gold and silver.
With whatever you find you create your glad games, I spend both my time and my strength over things I never can obtain.
In my frail canoe I struggle to cross the sea of desire, and forget that I too am playing a game.
This piece is compelling because we see the innocence of youth and the burden of adulthood, yet it recognizes that our memories can serve us well. This man is working and recalling his days of “sticks and mud-pies” and acknowledges that his life is still a game. Although the game he plays now is not as enjoyable as the child’s.
Sing the song of the moment in careless carols, in the transient light of the day;
Sing of the fleeting smiles that vanish and never look back;
Sing of the flowers that bloom and fade without regret.
Weave not in memory’s thread the days that would glide into nights.
To the guests that must go bid God-speed, and wipe away all traces of their steps.
Let the moments end in moments with their cargo of fugitive songs.
With both hands snap the fetters you made with your own heart chords;
Take to your breast with a smile what is easy and simple and near.
Today is the festival of phantoms that know not when they die.
Let your laughter flush in meaningless mirth like twinkles of light on the ripples;
Let your life lightly dance on the verge of Time like a dew on the tip of a leaf.
Strike in the chords of your harp the fitful murmurs of moments.
There is so much in this piece I could write a ten-page paper on all it has to say. When reading it, do you feel a sense of excitement about life? I felt that way because each line is filled with straightforward advice and jam-packed with the type of wisdom that resonates. It’s about letting life go as it moves before you and savoring it as you would a poem.
Only one lotus braved the blast of winter and bloomed in the garden of Sudas the gardener. He took it to sell to the King.
A traveller said to him on the way, “I will buy this untimely flower, and take it to my master Buddha. Ask your price.”
The gardener asked one golden masha, and the traveler readily agreed. Just then the King came there.
“I must take that lotus to Lord Buddha,” he said to the gardener. “What is your price?”
The gardener claimed two golden mashas. The King was ready to buy it. The traveler doubled the price and the King’s offer ran stil higher.
The gardener thought in his greed he could get much more from the man for whom they were eagerly bidding.
He hastened with his flower to the grove where Buddha sat silent. Love shone in his eyes, on his lips was wisdom beyond words.
Sudas gazed at him, and stood still. Suddenly he fell on his knees, placing the lotus as Buddha’s feet.
Buddha smiled and asked, “What is your prayer, my son?”
“Nothing, my lord,” Sudas answered, “only a speck of the dust off your feet.”
In this poem, Tagore touches on the subject of riches versus the bliss of inner peace. The gardener became greedy, which is a human trait, but once he looks at the Buddha, he realizes that the pleasure of self-actualization is the most valuable treasure of them all.
You came to my door in the dawn and sang; it angered me to be awakened from sleep, and you went away unheeded.
You came in the noon and asked for water; it vexed me in my work, and you were sent away with reproaches.
You came in the evening with your flaming torches.
You seemed to me like a terror and I shut my door.
Now in the midnight I sit alone in my lampless room and call you back whom I turned away in insult.
A lot is going on in these few lines. Mostly, we learn about appreciating what we have and the nice things people do for us. We also understand that turning away the needy can harm your life. In five lines, we watch this one person be adored, reached out to, hated, and then shunned.
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.
When reading this short piece, I feel he is speaking of where we find enlightenment. These places are where we can see that inner peace is so much more valuable than material wealth or possessions. This theme is ongoing in many of Tagore’s works, but it is a timeless lesson and beneficial to all that read these words.
The Last Bargain
“Come and hire me,” I cried, while in the morning I was walking on the stone-paved road.
Sword in hand, the King came in his chariot.
He held my hand and said, “I will hire you with my power.”
But his power counted for nought, and he went away in his chariot.
In the heat of the midday the houses stood with shut doors.
I wandered along the crooked lane.
An old man came out with his bag of gold.
He pondered and said, “I will hire you with my money.”
He weighed his coins one by one, but I turned away.
It was evening. The garden hedge was all aflower.
The fair maid came out and said, “I will hire you with a smile.”
Her smile paled and melted into tears, and she went back alone into the dark.
The sun glistened on the sand, and the sea waves broke waywardly.
A child sat playing with shells.
He raised his head and seemed to know me, and said, “I hire you with nothing.”
From thenceforward that bargain struck in child’s play made me a free man.
When reading this, it’s difficult to understand why the man won’t take on work. But, I think it goes back to the value of innocence and inner peace, which is an ongoing trope in Tagore’s work. It is within that innocence where one finds freedom of the self and the ego.
The Gardener 38
My love, once upon a time your poet launched a great epic in his mind.
Alas, I was not careful, and it struck your ringing anklets and came to grief.
It broke up into scraps of songs and lay scattered at your feet.
All my cargo of the stories of old wars was tossed by the laughing waves and soaked in tears and sank.
You must make this loss good to me, my love.
If my claims to immortal fame after death are shattered, make me immortal while I live.
And I will not mourn for my loss nor blame you.
This poem also has a lot going on. It tells the tale of a young person with great life expectations but found that the road was not easy. This person carries these bad times and learns to let them go in the “laughing waves.” Then, the subject realizes she will love the loss of her expectations of immortality if need be.