Tagore, Rabindranath (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941)
Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941)
University of Dhaka
This entry was updated by Alam from his Tagore entry in DLB 323: South Asian Writers in English.
SELECTED BOOKS IN ENGLISH: Gitanjali (Song Offerings), introduction by William Butler Yeats (London: Printed at the Chiswick Press for the India Society, 1912; Boston: International Pocket Library, 1912; London: Macmillan, 1913);
Glimpses of Bengal Life: Being Short Stories from the Bengali of Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Rajani Ranjan Sen (Madras: G. A. Natesan, 1913);
The Gardener (London: Macmillan, 1913; New York: Macmillan, 1913);
Sâdhanâ: The Realisation of Life (London: Macmillan, 1913; New York: Macmillan, 1913; Calcutta: Macmillan, 1920);
The Crescent Moon: Child-Poems (London: Macmillan, 1913; New York: Macmillan, 1913);
Chitra: A Play in One Act (London: India Society, 1913; London: Macmillan, 1914; New York: Macmillan, 1914);
The King of the Dark Chamber (London: Macmillan, 1914; New York: Macmillan, 1914);
The Post Office: A Play, translated by Devabrata Mukerjea, preface by Yeats (Churchtown, Ireland: Cuala Press, 1914; London: Macmillan, 1914; New York: Macmillan, 1914);
Fruit-Gathering (London: Macmillan, 1916; New York: Macmillan, 1916; Calcutta: Macmillan of India, 1916);
The Hungry Stones and Other Stories, translated by Tagore, C. F. Andrews, Edward J. Thompson, Panna Lai Basu, Prabhat Kumar Mukerji, and Sister Nivedita (London: Macmillan, 1916; New York: Macmillan, 1916);
Stray Birds (New York & Toronto: Macmillan, 1916; London: Macmillan, 1917);
My Reminiscences, translated by Surendranath Tagore (New York: Macmillan, 1917); republished as Reminiscences (London: Macmillan, 1917);
Sacrifice and Other Plays (London: Macmillan, 1917; New York: Macmillan, 1917);
The Cycle of Spring, translated by Andrews and Nishikanta Sen, translation revised by Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1917; New York: Macmillan, 1917);
Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1917; New York: Macmillan, 1917);
Personality: Lectures Delivered in America (London: Macmillan, 1917; New York: Macmillan, 1917);
Lover’s Gift and Crossing (London: Macmillan, 1918; New York: Macmillan, 1918);
Mashi and Other Stories, translated by various writers (London: Macmillan, 1918; New York: Macmillan, 1918);
Stories from Tagore (New York: Macmillan, 1918; Calcutta: Macmillan, 1945);
The Parrot’s Training, translated by Tagore (Calcutta: Simla, Thacker, Spink, 1918); translated by Debjani Chatterjee (London: Tagore Centre U.K., 1993);
The Home and the World, translated by Surendranath Tagore, translation revised by Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1919; New York: Macmillan, 1919);
The Fugitive (London: Macmillan, 1921; New York: Macmillan, 1921);
Greater India (Madras: S. Ganesan, 1921);
The Wreck (London: Macmillan, 1921; New York: Macmillan, 1921);
Thought Relics (New York: Macmillan, 1921); enlarged as Thoughts from Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1929);
Creative Unity (London: Macmillan, 1922; New York: Macmillan, 1922);
Poems from Tagore, edited by Andrews (Calcutta: Macmillan, 1923);
The Curse at Farewell, translated by Thompson (London: Harrap, 1924);
Gora, translated by Tagore, translation revised by Surendranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1924; Madras: Macmillan India, 1968);
Talks in China: Lectures Delivered in April and May, 1924 (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati Book-Shop, 1925);
Red Oleanders: A Drama in One Act (London: Macmillan, 1925; Madras: Macmillan India, 1961);
Broken Tiles and Other Stories (London: Macmillan, 1925);
Lectures and Addresses, edited by Anthony X. Soares (London: Macmillan, 1928; Calcutta: Macmillan India, 1970);
Fireflies (New York: Macmillan, 1928);
The Tagore Birthday Book: Selected from the English Works of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by Andrews (London: Macmillan, 1928; New Delhi: Rupa, 2002);
The Religion of Man: Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1931);
The Child (London: Allen & Unwin, 1931);
The Golden Boat, translated by Bhabani Bhattacharya (London: Allen & Unwin, 1932; Bombay: Jaico, 1955);
Mahatmaji & the Depressed Humanity (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati Bookshop, 1932);
Crisis in Civilization: A Message on Completing His Eighty Years, translated by Kshitis Roy and Krishna R. Kripalani (Santiniketan: Santiniketan Press, 1941);
Four Chapters, translated by Surendranath Tagore from Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Char adhyaya (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1950);
Letters from Russia, edited by Sasadhar Sinha (Calcutta: Visua-Bharati, 1960);
Binodini: A Novel, translated by Kripalani from Tagore’s novel Chokher bali (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1959; revised edition, New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1968);
Wings of Death: The Last Poems of Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Aurobindo Bose (London: Murray, 1960).
Editions and Collections: Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by Amiya Chakravarty, C. F. Andrews, and Ernest Rhys (London: Macmillan, 1936; New York: Macmillan, 1937);
A Tagore Reader, edited by Chakravarty (New York: Macmillan / Boston: Beacon, 1953; London: Macmillan, 1961);
Towards Universal Man (Bombay & New York: Asia Publishing House, 1961; London: Asia Publishing House, 1961);
The Housewarming and Other Selected Writings, translated by Chakravarty, Mary Lago, and Tarun Gupta, edited by Chakravarty (New York: American Library, 1965);
Selected Poems, translated by William Radice (Harmonds-worth, U.K.: Penguin / New York: Viking Penguin, 1985; revised, 1987);
I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems, translated by Ketaki Kushari Dyson (Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K.: Bloodaxe, 1991; New Delhi: UBS Publishers’ Distributors, 1992);
Selected Short Stories, translated by Lago and Krishna Dutta (London: Macmillan, 1991; Calcutta: Rupa, 1991);
Selected Short Stories, translated by Radice (London & New York: Penguin, 1991; revised, 1994);
Nationalism, introduction by E. P. Thompson (Calcutta: Rupa, 1992);
Quartet, translated by Kaiser Haq (Oxford, U.K.: Heinemann, 1993);
The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, 3 volumes, edited by Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1994–1996);
The Post Office, translated by Dutta and Andrew Robinson (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996);
The Post Office, translated by Radice, set as a play within a play by Jill Parvin (London: Tagore Centre U.K., 1996);
Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology, edited by Dutta and Robinson (London: Picador, 1997);
Particles, fottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems of Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Radice (New Delhi: HarperCollins, 2000; London: Angel, 2001);
Selected Short Stories, edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri, Sankha Ghosh, and Tapobrata Ghosh (New Delhi & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001);
Selected Writings on Literature and Language, edited by Chaudhuri, Das, and Sankha Ghosh (New Delhi & New York: Oxford University Press, 2001);
Final Poems, edited and translated by Wendy Barker and Saranindanath Tagore (New York: Braziller, 2001);
Selected Writings for Children, edited by Chaudhuri and Sankha Ghosh (New Delhi & New York: Oxford University Press, 2002; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002);
Show Yourself to My Soul: A New Translation of Gitanjali, translated by Brother James (James Talarovic) (Notre Dame, Ind.: Sorrin, 2002);
Selected Poems, edited by Chaudhuri and Sankha Ghosh (New Delhi & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
PLAY PRODUCTION: The Post Office, translated by Devabrata Mukhopaddya, Dublin, Abbey Theatre, 1913.
OTHER: Ratan Devi and Ananda Coomaraswamy, eds., Thirty Songs from the Punjab and Kashmir, foreword by Tagore (London: The Authors, 1913);
Kabir, One Hundred Poems of Kabir, translated by Tagore and Evelyn Underhill (London: India Society, 1914); republished as Songs of Kabir (New York: Macmillan, 1915).
Rabindranath Tagore was the thirteenth recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first Asian to be awarded this prize. Tagore received the prize as much for being representative of what Asia had to offer to the West as for the quality of his verse. It is as if through the award the Occident had decided to connect with a spirit-nurturing Orient in a darkening world where armies were clashing and faith receding. Tagore himself seemed to reciprocate on behalf of the East when in his telegram acknowledging the Nobel Prize he stressed “the great understanding that has brought the distant near and has made a stranger a brother.” But this understanding is, of course, tenuous even in the best of times. Indeed, in a few decades, the Nobel Prize not withstanding, Tagore faded from public view in the English-speaking world. Now, except for those who take a special interest in Indian literature, Tagore is of interest in England and America only as a literary phenomenon, as an episode in the annals of taste. And yet, he was richly deserving of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1913 the Nobel Prize, then awarded for “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction” published during the preceding year, was won by Tagore for Gitanjali (1912), the slim volume of verse, rendered in translation as prose poems, that represents a fraction of his literary output. Qualitatively, this collection of mostly devotional poems represents Tagore at his poetic best, but he has excelled in many forms of writing. He was not only the greatest poet to have come out of Bengal but also an extraordinary writer of fiction, an exceptionally versatile playwright, and a gifted and pioneering writer of nonfiction. He was, in addition, a first-rate critic, an eminent and innovative educationist, an ardent social reformer, an original thinker, a mystic, and also a practical and efficient manager of the vast property that he inherited. In addition, he was a brilliant lyricist and composer with thousands of songs to his credit. By all accounts, he was a talented actor and an accomplished singer. When he was almost in his seventies, he suddenly emerged as a major painter. Although outside the subcontinent he is at present known, if at all, as a lyric poet tending to meditative verse, he was a man of exceptionally broad talent.
Tagore’s grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore was one of the key figures of what is known as the Bengal renaissance, the flowering of Bengali culture around the middle of the nineteenth century after its exposure to Western humanism. A fabulously wealthy man, which caused many to call him “Prince Dwarkanath, Tagore,” the grandfather of the poet was steeped in enlightenment values and culture. But because of his extravagant lifestyle he left behind huge debts. Tagore’s father, Debendranath, was a religious reformer but also a practical businessman who managed to restore the family’s fortunes. Despite being an ascetic in religion, he was very broad-minded and ensured that his children were brought up on a diet of modern subjects as well as traditional Indian learning.
Tagore, born in Calcutta on 7 May 1861, was the fourteenth of Debendranath’s fifteen children and his father’s favorite. He imbibed very early his father’s love of poetry, music, and mysticism, as well as his reformist outlook. Several of his brothers and sisters distinguished themselves, either in public service or in the arts and culture. The literati of Calcutta were welcome at the Tagore house: amateur theater was performed there, and progressive ideals were taught side by side with religious education. Western music was cultivated by many of Debendranath’s children along with traditional Indian classical music and poetry.
Rabindranath was a precocious child. He refused to be hemmed in by conventional schooling and was taught mostly by tutors and elders; he read widely on his own. He had begun publishing poetry in periodicals by the time he was thirteen. In 1877, when he was sixteen years old, he went to England for studies but came back the next year, relieved to escape formal schooling. Subsequently, he wrote an amusing and sharp-eyed account of his year’s stay and seemed to have no regret at not having a degree to show for the time he had spent overseas. At home, he published his first collection of verse in 1878, participated in verse dramas that he had scripted, gave public lectures, published book reviews, and began to compose devotional songs for the Brahmo Samaj, the Hindu reformist sect his father was doing so much to promote.
Rabindranath Tagore married Mrinalini Devi in 1883, and the couple had five children He was soon given the responsibility of managing a few of the family’s far-flung estates, a duty he discharged efficiently. As part of his work in managing the estates, he resided for a time in Shajadpur, Pabna, and Shilaidaha in Kushtia, two regions that are now part of Bangladesh. His stay in Shilaidaha was particularly memorable for him. Coming in close touch with the people and rivers of Bangladesh, its greenery and its distinctive seasons, Tagore was inspired to write his first major collection of verse, Sonar Tari (The Golden Boat, 1932) in 1894. He was enthralled by what he saw, and the landscape and people of East Bengal became a perpetual source of joy and inspiration for his work.
From the 1880s to the first decade of the twentieth century Tagore continued to develop rapidly as a writer of Bengali verse. He moved through several phases at this time: he began as a devotee of beauty, then turned to sharp social and political criticism, and then to verse exploring the manifestations of the spirit in this world. If he began in the manner of the late romantics, he soon became a writer of realistic fiction about everyday situations and people from all spheres of life. Steadily, his reputation developed in his country as the author of poems, novels, short stories, prose essays, plays, verse dramas, travelogues, and books for children.
Tagore had proved to his fellow Bengalis by the turn of the century that he was a major force in their literature given to experimentation; he frequently reinvented himself, creating new forms and introducing new genres and styles to Bengali literature. It has been said that he is one of the founders of the modern Bengali language. He stirred controversy in his country, as much for his nonconformist views on issues such as education and nationalism as for the innovations he introduced to Bengali verse and prose. Nevertheless, his standing as the leading Bengali writer seemed to be confirmed in 1911 when he was given a public reception in Calcutta on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.
However, the world outside Bengal still knew little about Tagore and the way he was almost single-handedly transforming the language and literature of his nation. Some Bengalis residing in England had mentioned his work in their English writings, and one or two of them had even attempted translations of some of his verse. The famous art critic Ananda Coomaraswamy had translated a handful of his poems in Modern Review. But these efforts hardly produced a ripple in England.
In 1911, as the fifty-year-old Tagore was about to visit England for the third time, he fell ill, and his trip was delayed. In convalescence, he did not feel strong enough to compose anything new, but thought he had just enough energy to translate some of the lyrics he had written recently. In a way, he was reacting to the translations by his Bengali admirers in England. He considered the translations insufficient and felt that rendering his poems into English was something he should undertake himself.
When Tagore finally sailed, he completed the task of translating his verse en route. By the time he landed in England he had produced a sizable number of English-language versions of poems he had published in the Bengali edition of Gitanjali and a few more from other recent collections of verse. In London, the English painter Sir William Rothenstein, who knew about the Tagore family and had read a few of his poems translated by other hands, became enthusiastic about Tagore’s own translations and decided to introduce the poet to the English literati. On 30 June 1912, Tagore read his translations to a select group that included Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats.
The response was overwhelming. It was memorably articulated by Yeats in his introduction to the first English limited edition of Gitanjali published by London’s India Society in November 1912:
I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger see how much it moved me. These lyrics—which are in the original … full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of color, of metrical invention—display in their thought a world I dreamed of all my life long. The work of a supreme culture, they yet appear as much the growth of the common soil as the grass and the rushes.
Ezra Pound wrote in Fortnightly Review, 18 March 1912:
The hundred poems in the present selection are all songs to sing. The tunes and words are knit together…
The next easiest things to note are the occasional brilliant phrases now like some pure Hellenic, in “Morning with the golden basket in her right hand,” now like the last sophistication of De Gourmont or Baudelaire.
But beneath and above all is this spirit of curious quiet…this sense of a saner stillness come now to us in the midst of our clangor of mechanisms…
There is in him the stillness of nature…
Briefly, I find in these poems a sort of ultimate common sense, a reminder of one thing and of forty things of which we are ever likely to lose sight in the confusion of our western life.
If these poems have a flaw—I do not admit that they have—but if they have a quality that will put them at a disadvantage with the “general reader,” it is that they are too pious.
Yet I have nothing but pity for the reader who is unable to see that their piety is the poetic piety of Dante, and that it is very beautiful.
During his stay in London, Tagore continued to impress most English writers and intellectuals with his poetry as well as with what Rothenstein characterized as his “dignity and simple presence.” For his part, Rothenstein continued to promote Tagore as best he could. When the limited edition of 750 copies of Gitanjali published by the Indian Society was sold out, he persuaded Macmillan to publish the book. Macmillan became the publisher of almost all of Tagore’s English writings for the next fifteen years. The Macmillan Gitanjali was published on March 1913 and was an immediate best-seller, having gone through ten printings by the time Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize on November 13 of that year.
The 103 brief lyrics of Gitanjali impress the reader by their high seriousness, their mystical moments, their sincerity, and their simplicity. The poems have a music and beauty that survive the passage into English and even the occasional infelicities of expression inevitable in the English of someone who did not speak the language regularly. But there can be no doubt that the phenomenal success of Gitanjali mostly resulted from the image of Indian spirituality and calmness that the poems appeared to articulate to a war-torn Europe. As an anonymous reviewer put it in the Times Literary Supplement: “In reading these poems one feels not that they are prophetic of the poetry that might be written in England if our poets could attain to that same harmony of emotion and idea. That divorce of religion and philosophy which prevails among us is a sign of our failure in both. … As we read his pieces we seem to be reading the Psalms of a David in our time.” The devotional aspects of the book and its combination of poetry, religion, and philosophy seemed to be just the kind of solace many Europeans needed at the time.
Tagore sailed to America in October 1912 to join his son who was completing his studies at the University of Illinois. Pound, always indefatigable in promoting poetry and poets throughout the West, played a key role in introducing Tagore to influential literary people in America. He persuaded Harriet Monroe to publish six of Tagore’s poems in Poetry. Tagore visited her in Chicago in January 1913, when she recorded her impressions of listening to him talk: she said she thought then that she was “sitting at the feet of the Buddha.” Soon he was lecturing at the University of Chicago and Harvard, among other places, on topics such as ancient Indian civilization and “the ancient spirit of India.” His lectures were much appreciated, and afterward he was frequently invited to give lectures in the West.
When Tagore returned to London on 14 April 1913, he was greeted as a literary celebrity. He attended the staging of one of his plays, The Post Office, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and he enjoyed favorable reviews in England of three books— Sadhand, a collection of his lectures on spiritual themes, and The Gardener and The Crescent Moon, two new collections of verses that he had himself translated. Although the poems in these collections were not exclusively on spiritual themes, Tagore was being typecast in the role of a religious poet and a seer. Pound, so often percipient about poetry, was one of the few reviewers who saw the dangers of such stereotyping. As he pointed out in his Freeman review:
Why the good people of the island are unable to honor a fine artist as such; why they are incapable, or apparently incapable, of devising for his honor any better device than that of wrapping his life in cotton wool and parading about with the effigy of a sanctimonious moralist, remains and will remain for me an unsolvable mystery. I think what I am trying to say about these poems is that one must read each poem as a whole and then re-conceive it as a song, of which you have half-forgotten the chords. You must see them not as you see stars on a flag, but as you have seen stars in the heaven.
On the whole, however, the efforts of Pound, Yeats, and other poets such as Robert Bridges, T. Sturge Moore, and Saint-John Pearse, as well as distinguished artists such as Rothenstein meant that when Tagore returned to India from England in September 1913, he left behind a distinguished group of admirers who played a major role in his subsequent fame and reception in Europe.
In his capacity as a fellow of the Royal Society, Moore recommended Tagore to the Swedish Academy. The proposal had apparently taken the selection committee by surprise. Harald Hjarne, its chairman, could not make up his mind whether Tagore’s verse was wholly original or too dependent on the classical traditions of India. The front-runner for the prize in 1913 initially appeared to be Emile Faguet, a French writer. But the prize was awarded to Tagore mainly because of the efforts of the Swedish poet Verner von Heidenstam, who himself was named a Nobel laureate three years later. Heidenstam had read Gitanjali in translation and wrote of his reactions:
I was deeply moved when I read them and I do not remember having read any lyric writing to equal them during the past twenty years or more. They gave me hours of intense enjoyment; it was like drinking the water of a fresh, clear spring. The intense and loving piety that permeates his every thought and feeling, the purity of heart, the noble and natural sublimity of his style, all combine to create a whole that has a deep and rare spiritual beauty. There is nothing in his work that is controversial and offensive, nothing vain, worldly and petty, and if ever a poet may be said to possess the qualities that make him entitled to a Nobel Prize, it is he. Now that we have finally found an ideal poet of really great stature, we should not pass him over. For the first time and perhaps for a long time to come, it would be vouchsafed to us to discover a great name before it has appeared in all the newspapers. If this is to be achieved, we must not tarry and miss the opportunity by waiting till another year.
Such conviction proved overwhelming. It only remained for Heidenstam to emphasize that Gitanjali fulfilled one essential condition stipulated by Nobel: the prize should be given for a book published in the previous year (a stipulation later broadened to include all of an author’s works). As Per Hallstrom, another member of the Selection Committee, noted: “What Nobel in his innocence believed that we could do each year—present a new genius to the world—is something we are now free to do, for once.”
And so the Nobel Prize for 1913 was given to Tagore, glorifying him in most of the Western world for at least a generation. Tagore himself received the news on November 14 of the year when he was in Santiniketan, the school he had set up in a relatively remote part of West Bengal. The prize gratified Tagore, but the sensation it created in Bengal also alarmed him; he was never going to be out of the public eye in India again. Not surprisingly, the British administration in India responded by making Calcutta University confer an honorary degree on him; a few years later, he was made a knight of the British Empire.
The trip to England and America had been extremely fruitful for Tagore not only because it brought him the Nobel Prize and some vital friendships but also because it stimulated his interest in world travel and made him opt for an epithet often applied to him by his admirers: “the universal poet.” During the next two decades he crisscrossed the globe, meeting old friends, making new ones, lecturing, seeing new books into print, raising funds for the university he would establish soon, and responding to invitations from institutions and distinguished individuals. The process had started whereby Tagore the poet became Tagore the phenomenon until, perhaps inevitably, he was remembered in England and America, if at all, as only an Indian poet of esoteric appeal.
The Nobel Prize made Tagore and his books instantly popular in the rest of the world. After a two-year stay in India he traveled to Japan for three months in 1916. In his lectures there he cautioned Japan against uncritical admiration of the West and rapid modernization, since this would not lead to “freedom of mind” but “slavery of taste.” He then went across the United States on a lecture tour where he was greeted, on the whole, with immense enthusiasm. As he wrote to Monroe: “I am like a show lion in a circus now—I have lost my freedom…. However, I shall try to look cheerful and go on dancing to the tune of your American dollar.” Tagore stuck to such an exhausting schedule of lectures because he wanted to raise money for his school in Santiniketan. Paradoxically, one of the themes of his lectures was Western materialism. As the Minneapolis “Tribune so caustically put it: he was intent on reprimanding Americans “at $700 per scold” while making a pitch for funds “at $700 per plead.” However, the main focus of his lectures was nationalism, the excesses of which he always decried.
Tagore returned to India in 1917 only to witness the rising tide of nationalism at home, like that he had seen in the war-entangled West, and an anti-imperialist movement in high gear. He resigned his knighthood on 29 May 1919 to protest against the incident in the Punjab when British troops fired on a mob and killed 400 people. As far as he was concerned, “The time has come when badges of honor make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen who for their so-called insignificance are liable to suffer a degradation not fit for human beings.” Now a major figure in the movement for national emancipation, he became close to leaders such as Mahandas Karamchand Gandhi, though he always had reservations about the violent methods often pursued and the uncritical rejection of everything Western by many leaders of the nationalist movement.
His next major project was to set up Visva-Bharati, a university built on the foundations of his school at Santiniketan. This university was designed to be a center of learning where the best in Indian thought could mingle with the best of Western education and philosophy. Tagore spelled out its goals clearly: “Visva-Bharati acknowledges India’s obligation to offer to others the hospitality of her best culture and India’s right to accept from others their best.” Visva-Bharati began functioning formally on 22 December 1918. The institution almost immediately began to attract learned men and women from all over the world.
Tagore traveled to the West again in May 1920. This time he was not always received warmly in the English-speaking world as he had been before. In England, his criticism of warmongering in Europe, his rejection of his knighthood, and criticism of British rule in India seemed to have rankled many. Moreover, chauvinism was on the rise everywhere. Writers such as D. H. Lawrence appeared to have reverted to the Ten-nysonian dictum of “Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.” The vitriolic comment by one of Lawrence’s close acquaintances, Lady Ottoline Morell, expressed the resentment of some at his popularity and also partially accounts for the beginning of the downturn in Tagore’s fortune in England and America: “But this fraud of looking to [India]—this wretched worship-of-Tagore attitude—is disgusting. ’Better fifty years of Europe’ even as she is. Buddha worship is completely decadent and foul nowadays: and it was always only half-civilized.” The United States seemed lukewarm in its response to the Indian poet, and the lecture tours he undertook there toward the end of the year indicated clearly that his reputation in North America, too, was on a downward curve.
Nevertheless, on the Continent itself, Tagore’s reputation held somewhat longer. Prominent writers such as Romain Rolland befriended him; eminent European poets took over the task of translating his verse into the major European languages; and he lectured and attended receptions in Paris, Strasbourg, Geneva, Hamburg, and Copenhagen before arriving in Stockholm, where King Gustavus V received him. Then he was back in Germany, where he was feted in Berlin and Munich by leading writers and intellectuals. Next, he was in Vienna and Prague before finally returning to India in 1921, where he urged Gandhi and other nationalist leaders never to abandon the positive aspects of Western learning in their zeal for upholding Indian traditions and values. Rolland observed: “Just as Goethe in 1813 refused to reject French civilization and culture, Tagore refuses to banish western civilization.” The comparison with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe appeared inevitable to many people; Albert Schweitzer, for example, called him “the Goethe of India” as did the German scientist Arnold Sommerfield.
The Nobel Prize boosted the sales of Tagore’s books already in print. The many trips to the West and what seemed like an ever-growing Tagore cult also meant that there was a demand for more of his works. The poet responded to the apparently insatiable appetite for his books in the West by translating extensively from his Bengali verse in the next few years. Fruit-Gathering (1916), and Lover’s Gift and Crossing (1918), for example, are selections of English translations of his poetry in the years following the prize. These books were accompanied by Sacrifice and Other Plays (1917) and The Cycle of Spring (1917), two volumes of translations of his plays; The Hungry Stones and Other Stories (1916) and Mashi and Other Stories (1918), two anthologies of his short fiction; Stray Birds (1916), a collection of epigrams; My Reminiscences (1917), an autobiography; and publication of some of his lectures, including Nationalism (1917), and Personality (1917). Macmillan published Poems from Tagore, an anthology of poems and songs, in 1923 and Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore in 1936.
But Tagore’s reputation as a poet in England seemed to suffer with every new volume of verse that he published after Gitanjali. Why did Gitanjali translations meet with such praise, and why did his subsequent translations fail to interest the reading public in England and America? What explains the decline in Tagore’s reputation in England and America from the 1920s, although on the Continent, especially in Germany, his fame continued to grow for at least one more decade?
As was indicated earlier, the English Gitanjali was conceived in leisure. The evidence suggests also that it was a volume that had the benefit of poetic inspiration. As Tagore explains his position in a letter, “I simply felt an urge to recapture through the medium of another language the feelings and sentiments which had created such a feast of joy” while composing the Bengali Gitanjali poems. No wonder the eminent Bengali poet-critic Buddhadeva Bose has called the English version of the book “a miracle of translation,” the miracle being “not that so much has survived,” but that “the poems are re-born in the process, [and] the flowers bloom anew on a foreign soil.” Bose even found “moments when the translation surpasses the original,” and noted the advantages to be derived when a great poet who also has a good command of the target language sets about to translate his own verse, for he has the license to take liberties denied to other translators.
On the whole, then, the English Gitanjali was an astonishing performance from a man who had written in a letter only a couple of years after the book had been translated: “That I cannot write in English is such a patent fact that I never had even the vanity to feel ashamed of it.” Conceived and executed in haste, the subsequent volumes of translations seemed also tailored to perpetuate the image of Tagore as a seer and a mystic poet, even though this was only one aspect of the man. Edward Thompson, perhaps the first Englishman to have translated him from Bengali and the author of Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist, also noted that the poet had “avoided his boldest, strongest poems or watered [them] down to prettiness.” Poem after poem appeared to be written in the same style. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that Tagore the poet lacked variety and invention, both in theme and technique.
Bose pointed out other problems with the English Gitanjali. For one thing, the translated versions are not poems and lack the lyrical qualities of the original that come from arrangement of sounds, lines, and stanzas in an intricate pattern. The English collection lacks the music of the original. Also, its images are occasionally too flowery and there are quite a few poeticisms. On the other hand, they have become, inevitably, more prosaic in the prose versions. One can add also that Tagore uses for his prose versions a formal, artificial kind of English that has its own soothing cadences, but that is at a remove from spoken English, unlike the original poems, which are quite idiomatic and light in movement.
Moreover, although the artificial prose cadences of the English Gitanjali seemed comforting in war-torn, Edwardian England, to the next generation of readers who were exposed to modernist verse, Tagore’s efforts appeared antiquated. The language, like the subject matter, is far removed from everyday life. Yeats had once championed Tagore wholeheartedly and had written eloquently in the introduction to the English Gitan-jalihow stirred he was by the translations. But by 1935 Yeats was registering his dismay at the later Tagore publications by dismissing the contents as “sentimental rubbish” and by declaring that Tagore “knows no English … no Indian knows English. Nobody can write with music and style in a language not learned in childhood and since then the language of his thought.” As even Bose, the most acute of the Bengali critics who have assessed Tagore’s English works, has observed in An Acre of Green Grass, the books that followed the English Gitanjali were “wrong books, wrongly served.”
There were other problems with the translations Tagore did that would not be apparent to anyone who did not know the original Bengali versions. Tagore condensed many of the poems in translating them. Some of them were no more than paraphrases of the original. Often they were needlessly truncated, making them appear disjointed and confused.
As Bose remarked in 1948, the translations published after Gitanjali can only pain anyone who knows the Bengali poem and make him or her wonder: “why did he do these translations? And even if he did them, why did he publish them?” And what Thompson observes about one of the translations—“an insult to the original”—could be applied to many of the other translations. Sisir Kumar Das, the editor of the three-volume The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, makes one further observation that is relevant: “What escaped Tagore’s notice in the uninterrupted flow of production of his works in English was not only the growing monotony of style and diction of the translations but also the unimaginative selections and arrangements.”
In fact, anyone who is familiar with Tagore’s work as a poet will know that far from being monotonous, he was a poet of endless variety and a tireless experimenter. Every volume of his poetry is distinctive and whether in form or content he kept developing until the end of his very long poetic career. By giving the impression in his English verse of lack of variety, he was therefore misrepresenting his work in the worst possible manner.
Tagore himself seemed to have realized by 1921 that he had done himself considerable disservice by rushing into print and by his poor choice of poems. In a letter sent to Thompson that year he thus confessed: “Like a coward, I avoided all complexities in my translations; as a result they have become emaciated.” And again: “to hide the gaps in my translations, the cracks in them, I gave them some pretty designs to give them the semblance of wholeness.” In another letter to the Bengali poet Amiya Chakravarty, Tagore wrote: “I have done great injustice to the translations. … I could be so careless and insolent simply because they were my own writings.” But the damage to his reputation had been done, and it needed only the publication of The Collected Poems and Plays in 1936 to tarnish Tagore’s reputation in England and America for generations (though Tagore continued to be read by a small but devoted band of admirers, as attested by the fact that this volume never went out of print; he had, evidently, still some attraction as the Indian English poet!). Not only were many of the translations insipid and monotonous in style as well as content, but also the volume was not even close to being representative of his wide range. Moreover, Tagore himself did not translate all the poems and plays in the collection. For people who do not know the originals, they give the impression that he was an English poet, since nowhere in the book is there a statement that those works are translations.
As Tagore’s popularity in English declined in the 1920s he attempted far fewer translations of his work. Among the books he did translate into English are The Fugitive (1921), a collection of poems and songs; Thought Relics (1921, enlarged as Thoughts from Tagore in 1929); Creative Unity (1922), an anthology of essays and lectures; Red Oleanders (1925), a play; and Fireflies (1928), a collection of epigrams. But more often than not he was now letting other people translate his works for him. After all, he had become infected by wanderlust and would spend a substantial part of the decade traveling. In any case, he had become a public figure, both at home and abroad, unable to cultivate the muse, let alone translate his own work, with the single-mindedness he had exhibited earlier. The translators, too, had little success in countering the growing indifference of the English-speaking world to the Indian poet. When W. W. Pearson’s translation of Tagore’s most impressive novel Gora was published in 1924, the Natal Mercury termed it “an awful book … long, turgid, and meandering … utterly without the genius of Kipling,” although the novel is an intricate and very ingenious inversion of Kim (1901), tightly plotted, and full of memorable characters interacting intensely with each other while representing tensions in Hindu religious thought in Bengal at the turn of the century. When Red Oleanders was published, The Sheffield Telegraph expressed its displeasure: “Mr. Tagore is too serious a writer to be suspected of publishing absolute nonsense on purpose, so one must suppose he did it by accident.” The play is considered a masterpiece in Bengali and is even now performed to great acclaim regularly in theaters in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
But if Tagore’s reputation had begun to decline, seemingly irreversibly, in the English-speaking West, he continued to be welcomed elsewhere in the world with great enthusiasm. In 1924 he toured China. Leonard Elmhirst, an English agricultural economist who devoted his life to working for Tagore’s rural reconstruction projects and who had accompanied him on the trip, noted: “It was not until he had met with the scholars at Peking that the Chinese progressives suddenly realized how much common ground they shared with Tagore. Like Dante and Chaucer in their own day and age, Tagore and [the great Chinese writer] Hu Shih were both determined to use the vernacular of their peoples as the ordinary medium for literary expression rather than some classical dialect that had been the monopoly of a limited group of literati.” Tagore traveled to Japan from China. On this trip, he espoused the cause of Asian unity. The Christian Science Monitor commented on the significance of the stance he took on the issue: “There is on foot an important movement to establish Asiatic concord through the common culture of Asian nations. … It has been accentuated by … the recent visit to the Far East of Rabindranath Tagore, who preached the doctrine of idealism opposed to western materialism.” Filled with missionary zeal, he embarked on another trip to the Far East in 1927, when he visited the Malaysian Peninsula and a few islands of Indonesia. In addition, he traveled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) thrice (1922, 1928, and 1934), and Persia (Iran) and Iraq in 1932, in addition to the numerous trips he undertook to Japan over the years.
Later in 1924, Tagore headed for Peru. En route, he fell ill, and had to land in Buenos Aires. There he was befriended by the Argentian publisher and writer, Victorio Ocampo, and spent three months in her home recovering from his illness. Already recognized in the Spanish-speaking world as a poet of the highest stature because of the translations of his verse by Juan Ramon Jimenez and Zenobia Camprobi, Tagore became even better known amongst Hispanics because of his extended stay in this part of South America. Philosophers such as Jose Ortega y Gasset analyzed the Tagore phenomenon, while poets such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz acknowledged him as a major influence on their work. His presence continued to be felt on the Continent for the rest of the century. Writing in 1967, Paz observed how in Mexico the young were still reading Tagore “with the same fervor with which their grandfathers had, a hundred years back, read the great romantic poets.” His comment, incidentally, also reveals Tagore’s affiliation with romanticism, although late in his poetic career he translated T. S. Eliot and attempted free verse dealing with modern subjects.
Tagore returned from South America to India via Italy in 1925, but his stay was cut short because of ill health. He returned to the country in 1926 at the invitation of Mussolini, perhaps the most controversial of his overseas excursions. The dictator gave him a grand reception and strove to extract the maximum publicity from the trip. Tagore was initially impressed by the show, but eventually came to see the extent of fascist rule in the country. His good friend Rolland confirmed his misgivings afterward when he met Tagore in Switzerland. Tagore eventually published a letter in Manchester Guardian stressing that while he had admired Mussolini’s capacity for organization, he had come to see him “essentially” as a small person.
From Switzerland he embarked on another grand tour of the Continent, visiting twelve European countries in the process, watching productions of his plays, lecturing and giving readings, being feted by royalty and leading intellectuals and politicians, attracting large crowds in most places, and encountering translations of his work throughout Europe. In Berlin, for example, the lecture he gave at the city’s largest concert hall had been sold out very early; Albert Einstein had tea with him; and the president of Germany received him officially. His biographers Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson note that by 1922 “800,000 copies of Tagore’s works” had been sold in Germany alone.
The Indian poet took two more extended trips to the West in his lifetime. The first was in 1929 when he accepted an invitation to lecture in British Columbia and talk about “The Philosophy of Leisure” and “The Principles of Literature” to delegates assembled at Canada’s National Council of Education. He then lectured at Los Angeles before returning to India via Japan. In 1930 he sailed for Europe for the last time to deliver the Hibbert Lectures at Oxford and to be present at the showing of his paintings in Paris. The lectures were subsequently published as The Religion of Man (1931) and are a statement of his essentially humanist position: “We can never go beyond man in all that we know and feel.” The exhibition of paintings in Paris was, on the whole, a success, and critics noted the originality and expressive quality of the work. There he met Andre Gide, who was one of the many distinguished writers who chose to translate his works into their languages. From Paris he went to Germany where he attended a civic reception given to him in Munich and then watched a Passion Play. The performance evidently inspired him to write what is his only original poem composed in English, The Child (1931), a long narrative poem on the coming of a prophetic figure to a benighted people.
He was next in Russia, where he expressed his regret at the excesses of Stalinist rule but also wrote admiringly of the experiments being conducted at that time to build what appeared to be an egalitarian society. As he explained in a book inspired by the trip that has been translated into English as Letters from Russia (1960): “Who could be more astonished than an unfortunate Indian like myself to see how in these few years they have removed the mountain of ignorance and helplessness?” But that he was almost always a sharp-eyed observer in his travels is also indicated in the caveat he has about the Communist experiment: “They forget that by enfeebling the individual the collective being cannot be strengthened. If the individual is in shackles, society cannot be free. They have here the dictatorship of the strong man. The rule of the many by one may perchance have good results for a time, but not forever.”
This trip to the West eventually found him in New York where he was given a warmer reception on this occasion than he had received in the United States during his last two trips. He lectured at Yale and the New York Historical Society, attended a civic reception at New York, was received by President Herbert Hoover at the White House, participated in a joint recital of poetry and dance with Ruth St. Dennis, and was present at exhibitions of his paintings in New York, Boston, and Washington.
In the second half of the 1930s, old age, failing health, nationalist turbulence in India that demanded his attention, and the beginning of the world war put a stop to Tagore’s international travels. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the Nobel Prize, the innumerable translations of his works into most of the major languages of the world, and the many overseas trips he took until he was in his seventies meant that he was constantly in the limelight in most of the world. True, in the English-speaking West his reputation had been affected adversely by a changing climate of taste and indifferent translations, but at his death on 7 August 1941 he had achieved what the contemporary Indian-American writer Pico Iyer sees as a unique position: he had become “not just the world’s leading symbol of India, but India’s leading spokesman for the world.” Iyer, an indefatigable world traveler himself, wrote “Around the World With Tagore” where he reveals how the poet had guided him in his travels over the years like an “unacknowledged grandfather,” as Iyer moved from Asia to South America to Africa, although in England and America he had “never heard much about Tagore: his poems had been too easily written off in terms of their time, or drowned out by the louder Indian voices of today.” But his travels outside these regions, Iyer declares, revealed to him that Tagore’s popularity elsewhere was evidence “that his verses, like folk songs, or mnemonics of a kind, [were] speaking to people at some level deeper than mere circumstance. And like only a few other writers of the century—Yeats or Steinbeck or Hesse, perhaps—he seemed to give voice to feelings that could be translated into any tongue or faith.”
But what is Tagore’s real achievement as a writer? To Bengalis, assessing the poet’s worth was never a problem. Indeed, his stature continues to increase in West Bengal and Bangladesh with every passing year. Almost single-handedly, he transformed Bengali literature and enriched its culture; he always sought inspiration from what he had described as his “golden Bengal.” For their part, Bengalis continue to find in him an endless source of inspiration. His poems, his plays, his songs, and his stories have become part of the lives of the people of the Indian subcontinent. It is, surely, no coincidence that he is not only the author of the national anthem of Bangladesh but also that of India.
The English-speaking world had all of Tagore’s own translations and the translations he had overseen in his lifetime made available in 1944–1996 when The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore was published in three volumes. Five volumes of The Oxford Tagore Translations were published by 2006, and many other competent translations have been published since the 1980s. Fresh attempts can now be made to understand Tagore’s significance in our time and to assess his contribution to world literature, although the translations, taken together, still represent only part of his work.
To take the case of his verse, even though the world has considered him primarily as a poet devoted almost exclusively to spiritual themes, that view is based on a selection of his poetry that is not indicative of the variety of his poems and their depth and relevance. It should be easier now to see that he has excelled in poems that range from tightly woven lyrics to works in free verse, from stately meditations on love and suffering to nonsense rhymes, from poetry embodying fanciful flights to an ethereal world to deeply religious verse to realistic depictions of the lot of ordinary men and women. He has excelled in nature poems, but has also written memorable verses on urban themes. His poetry has dealt with historical themes and public occasions, but they have also been about the intensity of the poet’s own emotions evoked by private events. One can find in his poetic corpus universal themes as well as local ones treated with consummate craftsmanship. His early verse was suffused with a vague romanticism, but the last poems deal with death and dying and silence. He wrote fairly long discursive poems and very short, gnomic ones; he was, above all, a lyric poet, but also composed dramatic, narrative, patriotic verse, and verse for children.
Regarding his fiction, it should be noted that he excelled both in the shorter forms of storytelling as well as the novel. His short stories depict the everyday lives of ordinary people, whether in rural settings, in Calcutta, or in remote parts of India; they describe ordinary emotions such as the love of a father, the fear of the unknown, or loneliness. Occasionally he portrays characters from outside his region, as is the case with the famous tale, “Kabuliwala” (The Man from Kabul). A favorite theme of his stories is the misfit or the outsider, and he has written many powerful stories about the plight of women in conservative Hindu Bengali society. The social reformer is to be seen in stories that target issues such as child marriage, the havoc wrought by the dowry system, decadence in feudal society, nationalist follies, or the tyranny of landlords. The tone of his stories varies from gentle humor to satire to pathos, while realism often gives way to romance, or the Gothic, or the fabulous in several of them. As in his verse, Tagore experiments in his fiction, often manipulating narrative perspective and tone. His stories must be taken into account in any contemporary evaluation of Tagore’s relevance as a writer.
The first of Tagore’s novels to be available in English was The Home and the World (1919). When it was first published E. M. Forster dismissed it as a work dealing with “boarding-house flirtation that masks itself in patriotic talk”; but the contemporary Indian-American novelist Anita Desai prefaced the 1985 reissue of the book in the Penguin Modern Classics series by claiming that it was “astonishingly relevant” for us because of the way Tagore shows how romantic idealism can end up in terrorism. Gora (1924) was unfavorably reviewed when it was first published, but it deserves to be reread as a major novel of ideas and as a critique of notions of purity and nationalism as valid now as it was in its turn-of-the-century setting. Kaiser Haq, the translator of Tagore’s novella Quartet (1993), stresses “the daring originality” of the work and the “economy and concentration” with which the writer presents this “tale of archetypal conflict—between reason and emotion, orthodoxy and liberalism, spiritual aspiration and earthly passion.” Many other Tagore novels still await worthy translations, but those in print provide ample evidence of his mastery of the form.
Perhaps the best known in the West of Tagore’s nonfiction prose are his lectures. At times prophetic in tone, at times impassioned, often profound and never mundane, they represent the writer reacting to events in his time, such as the two world wars and the independence movement in his own country, militarism, modernism, and imperial rule. They also show him reacting to timeless themes, to issues such as nationalism, religion, the unity of humanity, and the factors impeding the coming together of peoples. They reveal his unwavering faith in man, his belief in the freedom of thought and the life of the spirit. In them he explained his ideas about literature and India and attempted to represent his country to the world. But they also reveal him as a writer who had thought through political, social, and economic issues as well as literary ones. Some of his ideas have traveled well. His lecture on nationalism is often cited, because of what Sisir Kumar Das has noted as its critique of nationalism as “an instrument of political hegemony and an ideology to legitimize the oppression of one nation over the other.” A sustained look at his lectures reveals that Tagore’s words can still promote international understanding and connect peoples and races. Take, for example, “What is Art?” the lecture he gave on his eightieth birthday in 1941 where he sees in the war-devastated world “the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility” but where he urges his listeners to retain faith in man: “A day will come when unvanquished man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage.” The lectures were, on the whole, written in English. Though they often contain memorable phrases and sharp formulations and are occasionally witty and often elegant, they seem at times wooden and artificial—faults perhaps inevitable in works written in a nonnative language.
Tagore wrote more than forty plays in Bengali and as is the case with his verse, his fiction, and his prose, they display his fertile imagination. Few of his plays have yet been translated into English, although one can still get a glimpse of the inventiveness and versatility of Tagore the playwright from those that have been translated. They deal with themes such as love and patriotism (King and Queen, translated as Nationalism 1917), idol worship (Sacrifice, translated 1917), the quest of the soul for God (Raja, translated as The King of the Dark Chamber, 1914), death as the release from this world into another one (ThePost Office, translated 1914), and mechanization and dehumanization (Red Oleanders, translated 1925). Technically, he experimented with symbolism and expressionism, although realism and naturalism are also features of several plays. The plays reveal themselves as the work of a poet and humanist but also of someone who had had practical experience staging and acting in plays since his childhood. He also wrote and choreographed dance dramas that are performed regularly in the two Bengals.
Tagore’s infinite variety and fecundity as a writer can also be seen in Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Writings for Children (2002), a book published in the Oxford Tagore Translations series. Dissatisfied with the existing books children were exposed to in their schooling, he wrote what he could for them—from textbooks to nonsense verse, from comic plays to moral tales. Sometimes he followed the manner of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, while on other occasions he appeared to be sparked by nursery rhymes and tales from the Bengali oral tradition. Sometimes a story he wrote for a child seems to be equally suited for adults. Formally, these works indicate something of the ingenuity and technical mastery he was capable of in whatever form he attempted.
Selected Writings on Literature and Language (2001), another volume in the Oxford Tagore Translations series allows a view of Tagore’s art in the perspective of his aesthetics. These essays reveal a writer who opened himself to Western influences as well as the canonical works of Indian literature, but also a poet with a keen interest in folk literature and the oral art traditions of his own country. Most important, they reveal an aesthetics premised on a sense of community and on the links between tradition and individual talent, between the reader and the writer. The key to this aesthetic is to be found in an essay he had written originally in English called “What is Art?” reprinted in the second volume of The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore: “Man has a fund of emotional energy which is not occupied with his self-preservation. The surplus seeks its outlet in the creation of Art, for man’s civilization is built upon his surplus.”
Do all these recent republications of his works indicate that there is, finally, a Tagore revival internationally? Perhaps so. Yet, there is a need for more translations that will lift his international reputation out of the moribund state it had fallen into even in his lifetime. Also, many more of his works need to be translated competently to represent the breadth and depth of his genius. Tagore’s collected works in Bengali now exceed thirty large volumes. Much more, obviously, needs to be done then to represent Tagore as a writer of international standing in the new century.
When the Nobel Committee gave Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for Gitanjal they thought they had found a gold nugget that they had appraised at its true value. The Tagore devotee knew even then that they had only seen one nugget in what was a veritable mine, where new deposits were accumulating every year. Later, when too much poorly translated work was published in the English-speaking West, many saw only artificial gold. The new translations will, perhaps, give a better estimate of the riches in the vein that the committee had struck somewhat by chance. They will confirm what Bengali specialists of Tagore’s work have known for a long time now: the Nobel Prize Selection Committee had hit upon a gold mine, one of the richest in the history of the award.
Glimpses of Bengal: Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore, 1885–1895 (London: Macmillan, 1921; Calcutta: Macmillan, 1960);
Letters from Abroad (Madras: S. Ganesan, 1924);
Letters to a Friend, edited by C. F. Andrews (London: Allen &Unwin, 1928);
Letters from Russia, translated by Sasadhar Sinha (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1960);
Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, 1911–1941, edited by Mary M. Lago (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972);
Glimpses of Bengal: Selected Letters, translated by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson (London: Paper-mac, 1991);
A Rich Harvest: The Complete Tagore/Elmhirst Correspondence and Other Writings, edited by Kissoonsingh Hazareesingh (Stanley, Rose-Hill, Mauritius: Editions de l’ocean Indien, 1992);
Selected Letters, edited by Dutta and Robinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997);
Poets to a Poet, 1912–1940: Letters from Robert Bridges, Ernest Rhys, W. B. Yeats, Thomas Sturge Moore, R. C. Trevelyan and Ezra Pound to Rabindranath Tagore, edited by Bikash Chakravarty (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1998);
The Geddes-Tagore Correspondence, edited by Bashabi Fraser (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Review, 2002);
A Difficult Friendship: Letters of Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore 1913–1940, edited by Uma Das Gupta (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyah, Rabindranath Tagore: A Bibliographical List Issued on the Occasion of His Centenary Celebration (Cairo: National Library Press, 1961);
Katherine Henn, Rabindranath Tagore: A Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ. & London: Scarecrow Press / Philadelphia: American Theological Library Association, 1985).
Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study (London: Macmillan, 1915; New York: Mac-millan, 1915);
Edward J. Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (Calcutta: Association Press / London: Oxford University Press, 1921); revised as Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist (London: Oxford University Press, 1948);
Vincenc Lesný, Rabindranath Tagore: His Personality and Work, translated by Guy McKeever Phillips, foreword by C. F. Andrews (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939);
Mohinimohan Bhattacharya, Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Thinker (Allahabad: Kitab Mahal, 1961);
Krishna R. Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962; London: Oxford University Press, 1962; revised edition, Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1980);
Gangadhara Devarava Khanolakara, The Lute and the Plough: A Life of Rabindranath Tagore (Bombay: Book Centre, 1963);
Hiranmay Banerjee, Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1971);
Probhat Kumar Mukherji, Life of Tagore, translated by Sisirkumar Ghosh (New Delhi: Indian Book Company, 1975; Thompson, Conn.: InterCulture Associates, 1975);
Buddhadeva Bose, Tagore: Portrait of a Poet (Calcutta: Papyrus, 1994);
Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man (Calcutta: Rupa, 2000);
Uma Das Gupta, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography (Delhi & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Beena Agarwal, The Plays of Rabindra Nath Tagore: A Thematic Study (New Delhi: Satyam, 2003);
R. S. Agarwala, Aesthetic Consciousness of Tagore (Calcutta: Abhishek Agarwal, 1996);
B. K. Ahluwalia and Shashi Ahluwalia, Tagore and Gandhi: The Tagore-Gandhi Controversy (New Delhi: Pankaj, 1981);
Mulk Raj Anand, Homage to Tagore (Lahore: Sangram, 1946);
Anand, The Humanism of Rabindranath Tagore: Three Lectures (Aurangabad: Marathwada University, 1979);
Anand, Poet-Painter: Paintings by Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Abhinav, 1985);
Anand, The Volcano: Some Comments on the Development of Rabindranath Tagore s Aesthetic Theories and Art Practice (Baroda: Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, 1967);
Alex Aronson, Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of His Life and Work (Oxford: Museum of Modern Art, 1986);
Aronson, Rabindranath through Western Eyes (Allahabad: Kitabis tan, 1943);
Aronson and Krishna R. Kripalani, eds., Rolland and Tagore (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1945);
David W. Atkinson, Gandhi and Tagore: Visionaries of Modern India (Hong Kong: Asian Research Service, 1989);
Abu Sayeed Ayyub, Modernism and Tagore, translated by Amitava Ray (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1995);
Ayyub, Tagore’s Quest (Calcutta: Papyrus, 1980);
Asoke K. Bagchi, Rabindranath Tagore and His Medical World (Delhi: Konark, 2000);
Srikumar Banerji, Phases of Tagore’s Poetry, Tagore Memorial Lectures, 1968–1969 (Mysore: Prasaranga, University of Mysore, 1973);
Sudhansu Bimal Barua, Studies in Tagore and Buddhist Culture (Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1991);
Kakoli Basak, Rabindranath Tagore, a Humanist (New Delhi: Classical Publishing Company, 1991);
Sankar Basu, Chekhov and Tagore: A Comparative Study of Their Short Stories (New Delhi: Sterling, 1985);
K. S. Bharathi, The Political Thought of Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Concept, 1998);
Vivek Ranjan Bhattacharya, Relevance of Tagore (New Delhi: Metropolitan, 1979);
Bhattacharya, Tagore: The Citizen of the World (Delhi: Metropolitan, 1961);
Bhattacharya, Tagore’s Vision of a Global Family (New Delhi: Enkay, 1987);
Abinash Chandra Bose, Three Mystic Poets: A Study of W. B. Yeats, A.E., and Rabindranath Tagore (Kolhapur: School and College Bookstall, 1945; Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1970);
Buddhadeva Bose, An Acre of Green Grass: A Review of Modern Bengali Literature(Calcutta: Papyrus, 1948), pp. 13–25;
Somendranath Bose, ed., Tagore Studies 1970 (Calcutta: Tagore Research Institute, 1970);
Mohit Chakrabarti, Philosophy of Education of Rabindranath Tagore: A Critical Evaluation (New Delhi: Atlantic, 1988);
Chakrabarti, Rabindranath Tagore: A Miscellany (New Delhi: Kanishka, 2003);
Chakrabarti, Rabindranath Tagore: A Quest (New Delhi: Gyan, 1995);
Chakrabarti, Rabindranath Tagore: Diverse Dimensions (New Delhi: Atlantic, 1990);
Chakrabarti, Tagore and Education for Social Change (New Delhi: Gyan, 1993);
Santosh Chakrabarti, Studies in Tagore: Critical Essays (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2004);
Bishweshwar Chakraverty, Tagore, the Dramatist: A Critical Study (Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 2000);
Byomkesh Chandra Chakravorty, Rabindranath Tagore: His Mind and Art. Tagore s Contribution to English Literature (New Delhi: Young India Publications, 1971);
Bhabatosh Chatterjee, Rabindranath Tagore and Modern Sensibility (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996);
Ramananda Chatterjee, ed., The Golden Book of Tagore: A Homage to Rabindranath Tagore from India and the World in Celebration of His Seventieth Birthday (Calcutta: The Golden Book Committee, 1931);
Amit Chaudhuri, The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature (London: Picador, 1961), p. xviii;
Bhudeb Chaudhuri and K. G. Subramanyan, eds., Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988);
B. M. Chauduri, ed., Homage to Rabindranath Tagore: In Commemoration of the Birth Centenary of Rabindranath Tagore (Kharagpur: Tagore Centenary Celebrations Committee, Indian Institute of Technology, 1961);
Luciano Colussi, Universality in Tagore: Souvenir of a Symposium on Rabindranath Tagore (Calcutta: Nitika/Don Bosco, 1991);
P. K. Datta, ed., Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World: A Critical Companion (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003); republished as Tagore’s Home and the World: Modern Essays in Criticism (London: Anthem, 2003);
Bimalendu Dutta, ed., Tagore in Abroad: From the Pages of the Modern Review, August 1912-July 1934 (Calcutta: Papyrus, 2001);
Nissim Ezekiel, Selected Prose (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992);
Sisirkumar Ghose, The Later Poems of Tagore (London: Asia Publishing House, 1961; New York: Asia Publishing House, 1961);
Verinder Grover, ed., Rabindranath Tagore, Political Thinkers of Modern India, no. 25 (New Delhi: Deep & Deep, 1993);
Stephen N. Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West: Tagore and His Critics in Japan, China, and India (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970);
Patrick Colm Hogan and Lalita Pandit, eds., Rabindranath Tagore: Universality and Tradition (Madison, NJ.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press / London: Associated University Presses, 2003);
Manindranath Jana, Education for Life: Tagore and Modern Thinkers (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1984);
Kalyan Kundu, Sakti Bhattacharya, and Kalyan Sircar, eds., Rabindranath and the British Press, 1912–1941 (London: Tagore Centre UK, 1990); republished as Imagining Tagore: Rabindranath and the British Press, 1912–1941 (Calcutta: Shishu Sahitya Samsad, 2000);
Mary M. Lago, Rabindranath Tagore (Boston: Twayne, 1976);
Lago and Ronald Warwick, eds., Rabindranath Tagore: Perspectives in Time. International Tagore Conference: Selected Papers (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1989);
Roger Lipsey, Coomaraswamy: His Life and Work (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977);
Ray Monk and Andrew Robinson, eds., Rabindranath Tagore: A Celebration of His Life and Work (London: Tagore Festival Committee, 1986);
Sujit Mukherjee, Passage to America: The Reception of Rabindranath Tagore in the United States, 1912–1941 (Calcutta: Bookland, 1964);
B. C. Mukherji, Vedanta and Tagore (New Delhi: M.D. Publications, 1994);
Dhurjati Prasad Mukherji, Tagore: A Study (Bombay: Padma, 1944);
Anupam Ratan Shankar Nagar, Mysticism in Tagore’s Poetry (Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1995);
M. K. Naik, A History of Indian English Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1982), pp. 58–66, 79–81,101–103;
Vishwanath S. Naravane, An Introduction to Rabindranath Tagore (Delhi: Macmillan India, 1977; Columbia, Mo.: South Asia Books, 1978);
Joseph T. O’Connell and others, eds., Presenting Tagore’s Heritage in Canada (Toronto: Rabindranath Tagore Lectureship Foundation, 1989);
D. K. Pabby and Alpana Neogy, eds., Rabindranath Tagore i The Home and the World: Mew Dimensions (New Delhi: Asia Book Club, 2001);
Ratan Parimoo, ed., Rabindranath Tagore: Collection of Essays (New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi, 1989);
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1918);
G. V. Raj, Tagore, the Novelist (New Delhi: Sterling, 1983);
Mohit K. Ray, ed., Studies on Rabindranath Tagore, 2 volumes (New Delhi: Atlantic, 2004);
T R. Sharma, ed., Essays on Rabindranath Tagore: In Honour of D. M. Gupta (Ghaziabad: Vimal Praka-shan, 1987);
Sharma, ed., Perspectives on Rabindranath Tagore, Indo-English Writers, no. 7 (Ghaziabad: Vimal Prakashan, 1986);
Rita D. Sil, ed., Profile of Rabindranath Tagore in World Literature (New Delhi: Khama, 2000);
K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, Indian Writing in English (New Delhi: Sterling, 1985), pp. 99–143;
Srinivasa Iyengar, Rabindranath Tagore: A Critical Introduction (New Delhi: Sterling, 1985; London: Oriental University Press, 1986);
Ira G. Zepp Jr., ed., Rabindranath Tagore: American Interpretations (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1981).
Rabindranath Tagore’s papers are at the University of London Library and in Rabindra Bhavan, Santiniketan.