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On Tagore

Reading the Poet Today

Amit Chaudhuri

Infosys Prize for outstanding contribution to the Humanities in Literary Studies

Rabindranath Tagore is widely regarded as a romantic poet, speaking of beauty and truth; as a transcendentalist; a believer in the absolute; a propagandist for universal man; and as a national icon. But, as Amit Chaudhuri shows in these remarkable and widely admired essays about the poet and his milieu, his secret concern was really with life, play, and contingency, with the momentary as much as it was with the eternal. It is this strain of unacknowledged modernism, as well as a revolutionary life-affirming vision, that gives his work, Chaudhuri argues, its immense power.
Acute, challenging, and path-breaking, Amit Chaudhuri’s collection will become a classic reading of Rabindranath Tagore and the way he is perceived today.
On Tagore was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the West Bengal government’s highest literary honour, in 2012 in recognition of the ‘significance, in the English language, of its critical analysis of Tagore’s works’.


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Acknowledgements and Prefatory Note


vii i Acknow l edgemen t s and P re fa t o r y Not e critical essays Clearing a Space (Permanent Black and Peter Lang, 2008). ‘The Flute of Modernity’, in a slightly different version, was delivered as the first Tagore lecture at the Royal Society of Literature in 2008. As I write this, these essays, or extracts from them, are to be broadcast on the Radio 3 slot on the BBC, ‘The Essay’, in early 2012. To all the publishers, publications, and venues I’ve mentioned, I’m grateful. For a while now, some readers who have encountered these essays in one or more of the locations mentioned above have been asking me, for whatever reason, to put all my writings on Tagore into one small volume. The 150th birth anniversary seemed like a good moment to do so—it’s an occasion I’ve regarded with ambivalence, but the anniversary year (7 May 2011–7 May 2012) is probably as good a time as any to present this short book to the world. I’m grateful to Chiki Sarkar for responding to the idea with alacrity. ix Acknow l edgemen t s and P re fa t o r y Not e My reasons for writing about Tagore are both personal and writerly. Writers don’t admire or think about other writers because they’re famous or national icons, but because of affinities and concerns that excite and provoke them—or because, simply, one writer can’t escape another. That time in my life,...

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