At the heart of symbolism

The enlightened poetry


Rabindranath Tagore

A rich and tragic life

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was born in Calcutta into one of the foremost families in Bengal. Fourteenth of a fifteen children family, he was brought up in a house full of artists, social reformers and religious devoted in an atavistic manner to the spiritual renewal of Bengal. He rebelled against school and finally educated by private tutors. When Tagore created his own school later on, he wanted to break usual educational moulds and develop all facets of a child's personality rather than prepare them for exams or jobs only. He studied in Calcutta and England and started to write at an early age. His talent was quickly recognized.

In the 1990s, Tagore lived mostly in Eastern Bengal. Even if he did not share all Mahatma Gandhi's views, he was close to him and involved in the campaign against the British. Nevertheless, he withdrew from the movement when it became violent. In 1912, he came to England with a translation of some of his religious lyrics entitled “Gitanjali”. It was acclaimed by Yeats and crowned by the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913.

All his life, he constantly fought, in his poems, stories, novels, essays and plays, all forms of prejudice against women, non-Hindus or foreigners (the British included) as well as chauvinist attitudes. His work owes something to the poetry of the Upanishads and a lot to his own sense of creativity, reflecting the creation of the World as a whole. In life and art, Tagore was a talented innovator in many areas: he created new forms in poetry; he introduced fundamental changes in Bengali vocal music; he promoted new kinds of drama, opera and ballet; he explored various subjects in his essays and developed a proper drawing and painting style. And, above all, he extended the richness of the Bengali language. He also wrote over 2000 songs, which have become part of the national music of Bengal as well as both national anthems of Bengal and India.

In the 1920s and 30s, he made lecture tours in America, Europe and Far East. He wanted to raise funds to create his university and talk about the world future. He was coolly received in England and in the United States, especially after having written songs praising the Indian independence movement and renounced his knighthood in protest against the massacre of Indians in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. He mostly got success in other parts of Europe where he notably met Henri Bergson and Romain Rolland.

For his 80th birthday, he wrote a message to the world entitled “The civilization crisis” before dying in the house he was born in.

Overall, Tagore's life was rich, but also tragic. He lost almost all his family and was a witness of the decline of Bengal. However, his life's work endured through his poetry and the Visva-Bharati University he founded.

The poem entitled “Light”, from the “Gitanjali” anthology, will help us to get a glimpse into his overall creativity.


  • Light, my light, the world-filling light,
  • the eye-kissing light,
  • heart-sweetening light!
  • Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life;
  • the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;
  • the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.
  • The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.
  • Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.
  • The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,
  • and it scatters gems in profusion.
  • Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,
  • and gladness without measure.
  • The heaven's river has drowned its banks
  • and the flood of joy is abroad.

Translated from the original Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore.

Detailed page