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Last Poems #13 -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Daniel Bennett
(Poem #1203) Last Poems #13
 The first day's sun
 questioned
 the new appearance of being –
 Who are you?
 There was no answer.

 Years went by.
 Day's last sun
 asked the last question from the shores of the west
 in the soundless evening –
 Who are you?
 There was no answer.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
         (July 27, 1941 morning)

Rabindranath Tagore wrote until the end which came for him on August 7, 1941.
This poem is from Final Poems recently published. They are translated from the
Bengali jointly by Wendy Barker Saranindranath Tagore, a great grandson the
venerable Tagore. Difficult for English speakers to know, the pronunciation is
Rab-IN-druh-nath rather than Rab-in-DRA-nuth.

For me, this poem catches the unanswered question of existence from the Hindu
point of view: "There was no answer." I find this profoundly sad. I am thankful
for the courage of a sick old man gazing at his last sunsets who penned these
stark and simple words from the heart of another tradition. As Keats said about
Tagore, he gives us another way to see.

According to the authors of  Final Poems, this poem is the  most famous of
Tagore's later poems in the Bengali language. They point out its similarity to
the Creation Hymn of the Vig Reda (c. 2000 BCE). This hymn begins with the
unforgettable line, "There was neither nonexistence nor existence then." It
ends with these lines:

        Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence
        was it produced? Whence is its creation? The gods
        came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who
        then knows whence it has arisen?

        Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it formed itself,
        or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in
        the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does
        not know.

There is a good short bio with the first Tagore poem in the WonderingMinstrels
collection, "Where the Mind Without Fear" (Poem #177).

Daniel

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Raj said...

> Guest poem sent in by Daniel Bennett
>
> who penned these stark and simple words from the heart of another
> tradition. As Keats said about Tagore, he gives us another way to see.

Keats? He lived a century before Tagore, if it's John Keats you refer to.
You probably mean William Butler Yeats, who provided an introduction to
the first English version of Tagore's Gitanjali.

The creation hymn has also been on Minstrels.

Raj

Philip S Tellis said...

> the Creation Hymn of the Vig Reda (c. 2000 BCE). This hymn begins with the
^^^^^^^^

Shouldn't that be Rig Veda?

Philip

divya s. iyer said...

Good note to start one's life with....." Who are you...?'', But a sad one to end with.."Who are you..?'' After all the mission of one's life is to find an answer to this unanswered query!
Sail through the tides of fortune and misfortunes,
The waves of mirth and glum,
In the ocean of a truth called life...........
With the oars of hardwork and hope
To reach the horizon of success!!!
Best wishes,
D.S.Iyer

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Krishna bhanu said...

Bhanu said

As Mr.Raj said, it would be Yeats as Yeats has said a similar comment in his preface to Geetanjali. And Tagore also has said an almost same comment on Walt Whitman's poems. We request Mr.Daniel to clarify the comment provided. Thank you.

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