Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, the collection of poems that won him the Nobel Prize in 1913, is the work that most people remember him by. And for most English language readers, it’s also the work that makes them see Tagore as an hyper-sentimental, maudlin out-of-date poet.
Tagore’s own English translation is much to blame, as is the manner in which WB Yeats and other western contemporaries read the poems — and the poet.
Radice, in his introduction that resets the poems to its context, is right when he writes that “the real Gitanjali was far from calm [as Yeats saw it]” missing out on its musicality and its sense of ‘rapture’.
So instead of “Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresher life” (Tagore’s translation) we have “You’ve made me limitless,/ it amuses you so to do/ You exhaust me, then fill me up again with new life/ You’ve made me limitless,/ it amuses yo so to do” (Radice’s).
What we finally see is the strength and the rapture of Tagore’s collection of poems in English.