Rabindranath Tagore was an important Bengali writer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 (the first non-European to do so). The following poems are from his acclaimed collection Gitanjali:
On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying,
and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.
Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my
dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the south wind.
That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it seemed to
me that is was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.
I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that this
perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.
Little of Me
Let only that little be left of me
whereby I may name thee my all.
Let only that little be left of my will
whereby I may feel thee on every side,
and come to thee in everything,
and offer to thee my love every moment.
Let only that little be left of me
whereby I may never hide thee.
Let only that little of my fetters be left
whereby I am bound with thy will,
and thy purpose is carried out in my life—and that is the fetter of thy love.
Give Me Strength
This is my prayer to thee, my lord—strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.
Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy love,
O beloved of my heart—this golden light that dances upon the leaves,
these idle clouds sailing across the sky,
this passing breeze leaving its coolness upon my forehead.
The morning light has flooded my eyes—this is thy message to my heart.
Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes look down on my eyes,
and my heart has touched thy feet.
Old and New
Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not.
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own.
Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter;
I forget that there abides the old in the new,
and that there also thou abidest.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others,
wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same,
the one companion of my endless life
who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.
When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut.
Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose
the bliss of the touch of the one
in the play of many.
I am like a remnant of a cloud of autumn
uselessly roaming in the sky, O my sun ever-glorious!
Thy touch has not yet melted my vapor,
making me one with thy light,
and thus I count months and years separated from thee.
If this be thy wish and if this be thy play,
then take this fleeting emptiness of mine,
paint it with colors, gild it with gold,
float it on the wanton wind and spread it in varied wonders.
And again when it shall be thy wish to end this play at night,
I shall melt and vanish away in the dark,
or it may be in a smile of the white morning,
in a coolness of purity transparent.
Ocean of Forms
I dive down into the depth of the ocean of forms,
hoping to gain the perfect pearl of the formless.
No more sailing from harbor to harbor with this my weather-beaten boat.
The days are long passed when my sport was to be tossed on waves.
And now I am eager to die into the deathless.
Into the audience hall by the fathomless abyss
where swells up the music of toneless strings
I shall take this harp of my life.
I shall tune it to the notes of forever,
and when it has sobbed out its last utterance,
lay down my silent harp at the feet of the silent.
I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this king of all kings!
My hopes rose high and me thought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to he given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.
The chariot stopped where I stood. Thy glance fell on me and thou earnest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last Then of a sudden thou didst hold thy right hand and say “Whit hast thou to give to me?”
Ah, what a kingly jest it was to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.
But how great was my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied the bag on the floor to find the least little grain of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.
Image by: Lord Koxinga, via Wikimedia Commons