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On the Nature of Love -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Sandhya Gopal
(Poem #1094) On the Nature of Love
 The night is black and the forest has no end;
 a million people thread it in a million ways.
 We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
 or with whom -- of that we are unaware.
 But we have this faith -- that a lifetime's bliss
 will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
 Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
 brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.
 Then peradventure there's a flash of lightning:
 whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
 I call that person and cry: 'This life is blest!
 For your sake such miles have I traversed!'
 All those others who came close and moved off
 in the darkness -- I don't know if they exist or not.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
 (From Chaitali (1896), Translated from Bengali by Ketaki Kushari Dyson)

This poem is about the quest for a life partner every individual goes through
in his or her life. The curiosity to know the Indian perspective on love first
induced me to reading this poem. And I must say, till today, this is one of my
favorite poems. What I really like about the poem is that it metaphorically
portrays the reason for living through the eyes of a romantic.

The speaker of the poem is the poet himself. The subject is the physical
search for a life partner or a companion - or, on a deeper level, the search
for a 'soulmate', the main theme being that the choice of a life partner is
predestined. Examining the imagery, we see how Tagore uses the vehicle, a
physical search, to represent the tenor, an emotional search. The search
through a forest represents the search for true love; the lightning
represents destiny, which the poem sees as the final end of the search
("whomever I see that moment, I fall in love with").

The internal structure of the poem is chronological. The lines 1-4 gives the
setting, the lines 5-11 tells us why that setting was chosen and lines 12-14
explain to us the aftermath of the occurrence of the search. The external
choice is free verse, but the poem is in a logical and chronological
sequence.  The choice of free verse is appropriate since the search for true
love is not confined to a set of rules. The logical chronological sequence
of the lines portrays the reasoning sequence of the mind. As time passes and
as our interactions with others increase, our criteria for true love are

In synopsis, the poem says that life is mysterious and that the quest for a
soulmate seems to be never-ending.  The millions of people, living on the
face of the earth, search for their soulmates in a million different ways.
There is interaction between the various travelers along their journey of
life. The meetings take place with the fervent wish that one of them will
lead to a soulmate. The driving force, for pursuing the search, is the
belief that it would bring eternal happiness on its completion.


[Martin adds]

This poem is not quite 'free'; despite the lack of rhymes and metre (which
may, indeed, be an artefact of the translation - has anyone read this in the
original?), it follows the 4-4-4-2 structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. Or
seems to follow it, at any rate - again, I can't tell from a translation.
Either way, as Sandhya has noted, the poem follows a strict logical
progression, building up to a final 'couplet' fully as satisfying as
anything Shakespeare concluded a sonnet with.

[Biographical Note]
  Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
  Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in Calcutta. He was India's
  greatest modern poet and the most creative genius of the Indian
  Renaissance. Besides poetry, Tagore wrote songs (both the words and the
  melodies), short stories, novels, plays (in both prose and verse), essays
  on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, polemical writing,
  travelogues, memoirs and books for children. Apart from a few books
  containing lectures given abroad and personal letters to friends who did
  not read Bengali, the bulk of his voluminous literary output is in
  Bengali. Gitanjali(1912), Tagore's own transalation of the poetic prose
  from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910) won him the Nobel prize for Literature
  in 1913. Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in the family house in Calcutta
  where he was born.

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