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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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Poetry as Polemic


119 ‘Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in the flesh.’ —D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse I began to feel put off by Tagore in my late teens, around the time I discovered Indian classical music, the devotional songs of Meerabai, Tulsidas, and Kabir, not to speak of the work of the modernists. I was also— to place the moment further in context— reading contemporary European poetry in translation, in the tremendous series edited by Al Alvarez, The Penguin Modern European Poets. My father knew of my promiscuous adventurousness when it came to poetry, and, 120 On Tago re in tender deference to this, he (a corporate man) would buy these books from bookshops in the five-star hotels he frequented, such as the mythic Nalanda at the Taj. Among the poets I discovered through this route of privilege was the Israeli Dan Pagis, of whom the blurb stated: ‘A survivor of a concentration camp, Dan Pagis possesses a vision which is essentially tragic.’ I don’t recall how my seventeen-year-old self responded to Pagis, but I do remember the poem he is most famous for, ‘Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car’. Here it is in its entirety: here in this carload i am eve with abel my son if you see my other son cain son of man tell him i The resonance of the poem escaped me at the time: this history was not mine. What 121 Poe t r...

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