The Indian Analyst

Rabindhranath Tagore - The Poet and the Philosopher

Rabindranath Tagore is a poet dramatist, novelist, actor, composer, educator, painter, and a Philosopher. In a word he is the Leonardo-da–Vinci of our Renaissance True to the Indian Tradition, he had a Particular Philosophical Vision of his own, which he depicted is his essays, sermons and interwoven is his poems.- by Prof. Y.S. Gowramma.

Rabindranath Tagore is a poet dramatist, novelist, actor, composer, educator, painter, and a Philosopher. In a word he is the Leonardo-da–Vinci of our Renaissance True to the Indian Tradition, he had a Particular Philosophical Vision of his own, which he depicted is his essays, sermons and interwoven is his poems. ‘Gitanjali’, ‘Gardener’, ‘Sadhana’, ‘Fruit gathering’ etc. are precious spiritual document to which we must turn again and again for consideration, inspiration and illumination. ‘Gitanjili’, was the book that brought Tagores genius and art prominently before the gaze of the world. His position as a world poet is universally recognised through the English translation of some of his works. He is a great religious poet – one of the greatest that the world has ever seen. But at the same time, he is a nature poet, a love poet, a patriotic poet, a mystic poet etc, etc…

While explaining the relations between poetry and philosophy, Aristotle says, “poetry is the most philosophic of all writings as, its objects is truth. The true poet is he, who sees the whole in every part and makes his poetry to express his whole vision.”  According to Colderidge, “No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time, a profound philosopher.”  Tennyson points out that ‘poetry must embody an ideal vision or a true philosophy’.  But there are some critics who challenge to call Tagore, a philosopher, because of the various interpretations of his writings and the absence of a presentation of his philosophy in a systematic academic manner.  This view is not acceptable.  Because if intuitions is the true source of religion and philosophy, and if the different systems of thought descend from the high perception of the soul, then, Tagore may be truly called a philosopher.  He is a mystic poet for whom experiences and enjoyment of god’s presence is higher than the intellectual conclusion of a metaphysician.  Sri Vastava in his ‘Contemporary Indian Philosophy’ says, that, “if it is true that we perceive the truth in inspiration and that truth is self-evident and perceptible to be a seer, then Tagore may be called one of the greatest philosophers of modern India.”  His philosophy is based on his intuitions and not on logic or reason.  It is the enjoyment and realization of truth that overflow in his philosophy.  The experiences of a mystic get manifested in different channels of art, literature, painting, music, poems and philosophy.

Rabindranath Tagore in one of his short stories – ‘The victory’ points out that “‘Intellectual poetry’ is a contradiction in terms.  So if by philosopher we mean an intellectual juggler, then his philosophy has little to do with poetry.  But if by philosopher we mean the intellectual seer, who has risen above his small self, a man who has attained true freedom of consciousness then, he is one with the poet who hears the whispers of the soul and gives voice to them.”  In his opinion, poetry individualizer the vision of philosophy.  That is all. 

Togore is a reflective thinker in whom; reason and reflection are subordinated to imagination and education. His philosophical views are caught up in his spiritual vision and held captive is his poetic creation. The spirit of his poetry is the spirit of his life.  Both poetry and philosophy are in his opinion, the mirrors of life, not at its surface but at to deepest and the best side of it. Tagore says, poetry should not just be an expression of ones feeling but a creation of form. That means the basis of true and great poetry should be a creation and not a copy; a vision and not an imitation; a painting and not a photograph. The poet recreates the vision which the philosopher sees. Hence philosophy lives in poetry. In the opinion of Tennyson for the spread of philosophy and true knowledge nothing is so good a medium as poetry. That may be the reason for Togore to become first and foremost a poet. 

Though his expressions are those of an artist, his thoughts are those of a philosopher. Therefore to know the philosophical views of Togore, it is necessary to investigate into his very poems. For eg. ‘Gitanjili’ which brought him the ‘Noble prize’, contains the finest expressions of his mystic literature and has a place equally in mystic literature of the world as is finest poetry of our time. The communion of man with god, a new understanding of man’s relation to the world are converged to us is masterly efforts which are intensely mystic. ‘Gitanjili’, which is a religious poetry, breathes a noble devotion. In the eleventh poem of it, he points out that god is to be found in the hard toil of daily life and not always from the haunts of man. 

The philosophical aspects like the immortality of soul, yearning of the soul for its freedom, assurance of the perfect dawn of knowledge for the spirit to awaken into, etc. have been picturesquely brought is the analogy of odour and the bud, is his ‘Fruit – Gathering’. This shows that there is as mush beauty as of philosophical vision to consider him both as a prophet and a poet. All his poems point to this end, whatever may be their immediate subject. He says, “Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind but all these notes have proclaimed he comes, comes, Evercomes.”

He prays, “Let all songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.” 

He mystery of creation presence of god is everything, the transcendental nature of god, the beauty of nature etc., our pies the central theme of his poetry, which assures him the place of a mystic poet. His poetry reveals either the devotional mysticism or the natural mysticism. His spiritual vision has got a beauty, power and sweetness of ‘its’ own, which is unique, unequalled and original. 

He uses the universal language of man, dispersing with all mythological symbols, sectarians names and forms and speaks of god as ‘king’, ‘master’, ‘friend’, ‘father’, ‘poet’, ‘bridegroom’ or ‘lover’.  One of the marked lectures of his religious teaching is, its severe condemnation of asceticism and quietism.  His life of prayer and adoration does not lead him to ‘sanyasa’ or ‘renunciation’ of the world.  He says, God is a worker and if we love Him, we must work with Him.  Thus he was a prophet of humanity.  His philosophy is frankly geo-centric and man the divine is for him the measure of all things.  In his conversation with Einstein, he is reported to have said that, “if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity, then for us, it is absolutely non-existing.”  In all his books, he pleads for the recognition of man as spirit and then climb to godhead through right action, right knowledge and love.  His works display not only his poetic vision but also his insight into philosophy.  His achievement as a poet and an artist is equally the same as those of a philosopher as his words are fused into beauty, love and the realization of god.