Rabindranath Tagore: Nobel Literature Prize Winner from the past

After this year’s shock announcement that no Nobel prize for Literature will be awarded in 2018 due to a sexual harassment scandal (when, oh when will these scandals cease? I suppose when the perpetrators are all exposed, and that could take some time…), I thought I’d say a few words about a Nobel prizewinner for literature from the past: Rabindranath Tagore. Winning the coveted prize over one hundred years ago in 1913, Tagore was awarded this accolade“…because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

I was lucky enough to recently visit Shantiniketan, a small University town in West Bengal (North East India) that Rabindranath Tagore founded on the site of his father’s ashram. It has, over the years, grown from a humble seat of learning to one of India’s top avant-garde arts universities.

A building in the arts faculty, Shantiniketan

Five reasons why you need to have heard of Rabindranath Tagore:

☆ Poet, musician, artist, philosopher and author, Tagore was a pioneering figure of the Indian (most notably Bengali) Renaissance, spearheading a cultural movement and inspiring generations of artists, writers and musicians the world over.

☆ Tagore was the first non-European to win this prize, no small feat.

☆ Tagore was virtually unknown outside his native Bengal until he was well into his fifties, a fact that stands in the face of modern society’s cult of heralded youth, instant fame and notoriety.

☆ He spent considerable time exchanging letters, thoughts and personal conversations with such notable figures as Gandhi, W.B Yeats (who largely introduced his work to western audiences) and Einstein.

Rabindranath Tagore & Mahatma Gandhi

☆ Nestled within his poem Gitanjali (that was to win him the Nobel Prize for Literature) was the following celebrated verse:

 Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 
Where knowledge is free 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls 
Where words come out from the depth of truth 
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 
Where the mind is led forward by thee 
Into ever-widening thought and action 
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 

Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941

If you enjoyed this post, complement it with Searching through the Jungle for Rudyard Kipling; Uncovering Enid Blyton&a reflection on speaking to students in India about creativity.

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