May 09 2018

Rabindranath Tagore – I want thee, only thee

Published by at 10:09 am under Poetry

(38) I want thee, only thee (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

That I want thee, only thee — let my heart repeat without end. All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.
      As the night keeps hidden in its gloom the petition for light, even thus in the depth of my unconsciousness rings the cry — I want thee, only thee.
      As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is — I want thee, only thee.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by madrush08 /

I want thee, only thee

This is the prayer of every heart, regardless of belief, regardless of how we live. Every kind gesture says, “I want thee.” So too does every angry action. Amidst our distracted lives, “I want thee” is the inner mantra. We just have to recognize it and encourage it to come forth.

All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.

I don’t write often about the nature of desires. Religious voices have a tendency to speak about desire with a certain gleeful cruelty, creating environments of suppression, rigidity, and shame. Fully realized spirituality does not foster those qualities and,instead, nurtures self-awareness, presence, and flow. If joy and a sense of fullness are not present, something is off balance.

Keeping that important point in mind, we should still take a moment to consider why legitimate spiritual teachers talk about desires as a problem. When we speak of desires, we immediately think of sexuality. But desires are anything we want or crave or seek out. Yes, desires can be about sex and sensual pleasures. Desires can be about possessions and wealth and acquisition. Desire can be directed toward social position or life goals. Desire is anything at everything that hooks our attention and pulls at the will.

Here’s the real issue: The things and experiences we desire are not necessarily bad or “unspiritual.” It is the dynamic of desire itself that is the problem. We imagine that if we get this or experience that we will be happy or fulfilled. When we finally get that experience or attain that sought thing, we do indeed receive a burst of satisfaction — for a moment, or a day. And then something is missing again. We are already angling for the next thing we want. A new desire.

That’s the nut of the problem: Individual goals are attainable, specific experiences can be had, but desires are endless. Satisfying those desires never brings happiness in a lasting way. We become caught on an endless road of pursuit, disappointment, and more pursuit. Yet we persist in the chase. Sometimes we think we are being smart by deciding we have been chasing the wrong things, and so we start to pursue different desires. Yet the problem remains. Experiences can be achieved, but desires themselves are never satisfied. In the process, they siphon off large portions of our awareness and life energy.

It takes real wisdom and courage to step off that treadmill. Actions cease to be about fulfilling desires and, instead, become an expression of the inner self. Possessions and experiences are received with a sense of gratitude and a light grasp, knowing that they will pass and true fulfillment is attained elsewhere.

But how do we free ourselves from desires without resorting to repression and self-cruelty? Perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. Let’s allow the question itself to simmer in our thoughts and see what rises to the surface. What do you think?

As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is — I want thee, only thee.

This closing line is my favorite. There is a kindness in how Tagore assesses our “rebellion” and stumbling. Even in our anger, even in self-destruction, even amidst our worst faults, we are seeking peace. Picturing Tagore’s storm, I imagine the individual with an excess of unfocused energy striking repeatedly against this mountain of peace, wanting to spend itself against that immutable stillness, until, in exhaustion, the soul settles and finds its own peace.

In the end, we are all trying to express the words, I want thee, only thee.


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 fourteen, 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

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Rabindranath Tagore – I want thee, only thee”

  1. Colleenon 09 May 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Dear Ivan
    A profound poem. I am with Ignatius here that desire is the heart of the spiritual life, which is the one life ultimately. I agree with you about desire can be distorted but when focussed is our most powerful ally. The scene in Harry Potter where he looks at the mirror of Erised is wonderful. How we can be enthralled and stop our life’s quest if we are obsessed by even the most innocent desire.
    Thanks again Ivan for your gift to all of us and for the help it is on the journey.
    Blessings and love
    Colleen

  2. Prition 10 May 2018 at 12:09 am

    Hello Ivan
    What a great poem and your commentary beautifully explored yet highly provocative.

    In the asking of this question: “But how do we free ourselves from desires without resorting to repression and self-cruelty?”

    I have some offerings for your contemplation: I believe our inner landscape is formed not only of our ideas and emotions but physically through the condition of our internal organs. If we were to take the teachings of the Chinese 5 elements we would find 5 pairs of organs either working harmoniously or in opposition. As the body and life are ever changing the secret to maintaining balance whilst riding these changes is through the Stomach, Spleen & Pancreas. Here we can co-exist with the outer world and this is the centre, the fulcrum by which every individual pivot. This is the place where balance can be achieved where we ride a stormy tempest or glide glacially with grace and ease over the molten glass like still sheer surface of life.

    This choice we can have enormous impact upon by paying attention to every aspect of our stomachs energy, through the quality of food we eat, the quantity, the way in which we eat it, how it was made, if we are emotional or distressed, in a hurry, is there pleasure or otherwise in chewing, if it is a chore, a necessity or a sheer delight. The attention to detail at this very simple everyday occurrence can restore a far greater, more stable balancing capability, and thus be a way to free ourselves from repression or self-crudity in relation to desires or any other noble expression of being human. The choice of foods can also have the opposite effect to exaggerate and make more extreme the reaction from external stimuli.

    I have been studying this as a living experiment for 25 years, I am still learning and yet I gain more and more personal experiences that enrich my life in a more stable, boarder and with less attachment, greater watching than any of my recollections. These notions do indeed begin the process of freeing oneself from desires without resorting to judging them as self-cruelty or repression. They simply exist along with all the other diverse aspects life has to offer us an experience of.

    It is the ultimate way of using the body to still one’s mind for clarity, peace and serenity.

    Food for thought?

    Kindest regards
    Priti-pauline

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