07 March 2008


Rabindranath Tagore [1861-1941]

Rabindranath Tagore, the greatest of India's modern poets, was born in an ancient Bengali family in 1861. He showed remarkable poetic talent even at an early age. Besides being a poet, he was a novelist, essayist and dramatist. In the West, his fame rests primarily upon his translations and versions of such mystical verses as the Gitanjali, which were brought to the attention of scholars by W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his Gitanjali. In India, and particularly in his native state of Bengal, he is noted equally for his other achievements. Besides being a versatile writer, he was an educator with great originality and imagination. He was the founder of the internationally famous educational institution known as Vishvabharati at Santiniketan. He was also the exponent of a new style of music called 'Rabindra Sangeet'; and in his later years, he came to be looked upon as one of the best painters.

Tagore's poetry is profoundly and unmistakably Indian. He restates the wisdom of India in verse by a mingling of love, friendship and music. He is a mystic "who can hear the voice of God in the tempest and see His hand in the stilling of the wave." Tagore's own translations of his works are mostly free renderings and not literal translations. They have been called English 'transcreations'. Besides Gitanjali, his works include the Crescent Moon, The Gardener, etc. Writing in free verse, Tagore has the credit of creating a new form of poetry, namely the prose-poem. Tagore's poems show that he was an inspired poet, and a conscious artist.

The poem Upagupta is a part of his writings in English in an anthology of 86 poems translated from the original Bengali version by Tagore himself. The anthology is entitled Fruit Gathering



1. Upagupta asleep on the dusty ground.
2. The dancing girl invites him.
3. His promise to visit her when the time is ripe.
4. The woman driven away from the town.
5. Upagupta keeps his promise and visits her.

Poem in Detail

One night, Upagupta an ascetic, a disciple of Lord Buddha, lay asleep on the dusty ground by the city of Mathura. The sky was overcast with clouds, and the doors were all shut. In the prevailing darkness, a dancing girl passed that way. Though she was carrying a lamp in her hand, her feet tinkling, touched the chest of the ascetic. He woke up startled; he saw the light of the woman's lamp. She wore precious jewels. She saw the face of the young 'ascetic'. His eyes were full of tolerance and compassion. His face reflected peace and austerity.

The young woman begged to be forgiven for her fault. At the same time, struck by his physical charm, she invited him to come with her to her house. She said lovingly that the bare dusty earth was not a fit bed for a handsome young man as he was. Upagupta simply advised her to go to her house. He, however, promised to visit her at the proper time. Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning in the clouds. The dancing girl was frightened to hear the thunder of the coming storm.

Days passed, and it was the festival of flowers in spring season. The trees on the roadside were laden with flowers. The people were in a merry mood. Some of them played sweet notes on the flute. A large number of people went to the woods to celebrate the festival. The night was lit with the full moon. The streets of the town were lonely. Upagupta was going on his way while love-sick 'koels' were singing out their complaint from the mango trees. The ascetic passed through the city gates and stood at the base of the city wall.

Suddenly, Upagupta saw a woman lying in the shadow of the wall. She was the same dancing girl who had once invited the ascetic to her house. At the moment she was afflicted with a deadly disease. Her whole body was covered with wounds. She had been forced to leave the town lest she should spread the disease there by her touch. She was alone and forsaken. The ascetic took pity on her. He did not hesitate to give her service and help. He sat by her side, took her head on his knees, offered water to her thirsty dry lips, and finally applied medicine to her wounds. The woman felt extremely grateful to him. She asked the kind ascetic who he was. Upagupta told her that he had kept his word and come to her at an appropriate time.

disciple: follower of a religious leader.
murky sky: dark gloomy sky.
tinkling: making a pleasant metallic sound.
anklets: ornamental chain worn around the ankle of a lady.
startled: extremely surprised.
forgiving: merciful.
starred: shining like stars.
clouded: covered.
mantle: loose cloak.
drunk with the wine of her youth: proud of her youth and beauty.
austerely beautiful: reflecting the beauty of an ascetic.
ascetic: a religious person who practices a life of self-sacrifice.
graciously: kindly.
when the time is ripe: at an appropriate time.
showed his teeth: the sky broke into forks of lightning.
growled: made a rumbling sound.
trembled: shivered.
wayside: roadside.
aching with blossoms: heavy with flowers.
afar: far away.
gazed: looked down.
koels: singing birds.
plaint: complaints, messages.
base: support.
rampant: fort-like structure.
struck: affected.
black pestilence: a deadly epidemic disease.
moistened: made slightly wet.
smeared: applied.


zaina said...

thanx a lot i m very thankful it will help me a lot in my Monday test thank you once again

Anonymous said...

Was a great, great great explanation. Thank you!!

Srishti said...

Excuse me, can you give a similar explanation for 'The ode to a grecian urn', along with the proper clarifictaion of the line 'heard melodies are sweet , but those unheard are sweeter?
IF possible explain the motive of the poem.

Anonymous said...

thanx..thanx.. thanx a lot . i neede the summary of this poem badly

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot Kuzaima. It was very useful to me.

Natasha said...

this information was very useful to me........

Anonymous said...

thanx a lot.helped much for my exam tomorrow

Anonymous said...

Please write about poetic elements, figures, symbols etc