Jan 10 2018

Rabindranath Tagore – Listen, can you hear it?

Published by at 9:20 am under Poetry

Listen, can you hear it? (from The Lover of God)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Tony Stewart and Chase Twitchell

Listen, can you hear it?
His bamboo flute speaks
the pure language of love.
The moon enlightens the trees,
the path, the sinuous Yamuna.
Oblivious of the jasmine’s scent
I stagger around,
disheveled heart bereft of modesty,
eyes wet with nerves and delight.
Tell me, dear friend, say it aloud:
is he not my own Dark Lord Syama?
Is it not my name his flute pours
into the empty evening?

For eons I longed for God,
I yearned to know him.
That’s why he has come to me now,
deep emerald Lord of my breath.
O Syama, whenever your faraway flute thrills
through the dark, I say your name,
only your name, and will my body to dissolve
in the luminous Yamuna.

Go to her, Lord, go now.
What’s stopping you?
The earth drowns in sleep.
Let’s go. I’ll walk with you.

— from The Lover of God, by Rabindranath Tagore / Translated by Tony Stewart

/ Image by Rajesh Nagulakond /

There is a fascinating story behind this poem and the other poems of Tagore’s The Lover of God… In the late 19th century, a respected Bengali journal published a newly discovered collection poems by a previously unknown 17th century poet, Bhanusimha, or Sun Lion. The critics celebrated these newly unearthed bhakti masterpieces.

The problem was that Bhanusimha never actually existed. Bhanisimha was the pseudonym used by a brilliant 14-year-old boy — the young Rabindranath Tagore.

He of course matured into one of the greatest poets of modern India.

Tagore continued to edit and refine these poems over his lifetime, leaving us with a collection of modern bhakti masterpieces.

Just a few notes about this selection:

As with many bhakti poems, this is, on the surface, a poem of love and longing. Radha pines for her beloved, Krishna. But these are usually understood to reflect deeper truths. Radha is the soul, the spiritual seeker. Krishna is God, the Beloved.

Krishna plays a flute, an enchanting melody that calls all souls to himself. The sound of his flute is the hum that underlies all creation, the soft sound heard in the silence of meditation.

His beauty is often compared with the moon. This moon is also the luminescence of enlightenment.

The Yamuna is one of the great rivers of India, but she is also a goddess who fell in love with Krishna. So the reference to the sinuous Yamuna is meant to evoke both an erotic femininity and also emphasize that love for Krishna. To dissolve in the Yamuna is to disappear into eternal love for God/Krishna.

The final verse switches from Radha’s voice to the poet’s, encouraging Krishna to respond to the longing of the soul. Something quite playful in that…

Go to her, Lord, go now.
What’s stopping you?
The earth drowns in sleep.
Let’s go. I’ll walk with you.

Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

Rabindranath Tagore (sometimes rendered in a more modern transliteration as Thakur or Thakura) was one of the great writers of the early 20th century.

Rabindranath Tagore was born to a wealthy Brahmin family in Calcutta (Kolkata) in West Bengal during the British occupation of India.

His mother died when “Rabi” was a young child and his father’s responsibilities often required travel, leaving Rabindranath to be raised by elder siblings and family servants. His family was central to regional political, intellectual, and artistic social circles, however, ensuring that the young Tagore was exposed to great art and learning from an early age.

Tagore began composing poetry by the age of six and showed such a natural gift that he, at the age of sixteen, published a set of poems under a pseudonym that was mistakenly received by critics as a long-lost masterpiece. Only later was it revealed that the author was the adolescent Tagore.

As an older teenager, Tagore was sent to study in England, but soon left school to more actively feed his wide-ranging interests through self-study.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Tagore established an ashram as a place for learning, teaching, and agricultural experimentation.

Tagore was a strong advocate for Indian nationalism in opposition to British imperial rule, while, at the same time, criticizing the most violent expressions of revolution.

During his lifetime, Tagore traveled extensively, meeting the world’s great writers, scientists, political leaders, and social reformers.

Rabindranath Tagore was also an accomplished painter, as well as a musician and prolific composer, with more than 2,000 songs to his credit.

Tagore’s poetry draws from the rich devotional poetic traditions of India, but rendered in a highly fluid, contemporary style. His impact on world poetry and literature is immense, especially writing that explores the modern mind through the mystic’s lens. Countless literary figures of the 20th century cite Tagore as an important influence and source of inspiration. Although his library of poetry is extensive, his most widely read and loved collection is The Gitanjali.

In 1913, he became the first non-European to with the Nobel Prize in Literature.

More poetry by Rabindranath Tagore

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