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Rabindranath Tagore's "The Journey"

Updated on May 26, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Rabindranath Tagore

Source

Introduction and Text of "The Journey"

Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was born 7 May 1861 in Kolkata, translated his collection of poems, Gitaljali, into English. He numbered each poem and rendered them into prose. However, they remain poetry of the highest order.

Gitaljali's number 48 focuses on the spiritual "journey" of the speaker, even as at the outset, the fellows involved seem to be merely taking an ordinary hike. What happens to the speaker is truly astounding, as he realizes the true nature of the idea of a "journey."

The Journey

The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of bird songs;
and the flowers were all merry by the roadside;
and the wealth of gold was scattered through the rift of the clouds
while we busily went on our way and paid no heed.

We sang no glad songs nor played;
we went not to the village for barter;
we spoke not a word nor smiled;
we lingered not on the way.
We quickened our pace more and more as the time sped by.

The sun rose to the mid sky and doves cooed in the shade.
Withered leaves danced and whirled in the hot air of noon.
The shepherd boy drowsed and dreamed in the shadow of the banyan tree,
and I laid myself down by the water
and stretched my tired limbs on the grass.

My companions laughed at me in scorn;
they held their heads high and hurried on;
they never looked back nor rested;
they vanished in the distant blue haze.

They crossed many meadows and hills,
and passed through strange, far-away countries.
All honor to you, heroic host of the interminable path!
Mockery and reproach pricked me to rise,
but found no response in me.

I gave myself up for lost
in the depth of a glad humiliation
—in the shadow of a dim delight.

The repose of the sun-embroidered green gloom
slowly spread over my heart.
I forgot for what I had traveled,
and I surrendered my mind without struggle
to the maze of shadows and songs.

At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes,
I saw thee standing by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile.
How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome,
and the struggle to reach thee was hard!

Reading of "The Journey" from Gitanjali #48

Commentary

What happens to the speaker is truly astounding, as he realizes the true nature of the idea of a "journey."

First Movement: Beautiful Morning Landscape

The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of bird songs;
and the flowers were all merry by the roadside;
and the wealth of gold was scattered through the rift of the clouds
while we busily went on our way and paid no heed.

In the first movement, the speaker describes the beautiful morning landscape that surrounds him and his fellow travelers as they set out on their trek. The first line features an exquisite metaphor; the early "silence" is compared to a sea that breaks into "ripples of bird songs."

As the birds are singing, the flowers by the pathway appear to be "all merry." The sky spreads out a golden glow that is "scattered through the rift of the clouds." The speaker then asserts that he and his fellow travelers are in a hurry to begin their hike, and they therefore do not notice nor appreciate the beauty that has already welcomed them.

Second Movement: Deadly Somber

We sang no glad songs nor played;
we went not to the village for barter;
we spoke not a word nor smiled;
we lingered not on the way.
We quickened our pace more and more as the time sped by.

The speaker then declares that he and his companions are quite serious in their travel experience; thus, "[w]e sang no glad songs nor played." They did not even bother to visit anymore, nor did they go, "to the village for barter." They were so deadly somber that they did not even bother to speak or smile. They did not dawdle anywhere. They were in such a great hurry that they "quickened [their] pace more and more as the time sped by."

Third Movement: Taking a Breather

The sun rose to the mid sky and doves cooed in the shade.
Withered leaves danced and whirled in the hot air of noon.
The shepherd boy drowsed and dreamed in the shadow of the banyan tree,
and I laid myself down by the water
and stretched my tired limbs on the grass.

By noon, the speaker is paying attention to the position of the sun, and he notes that doves are "coo[ing] in the shade." He notices that a shepherd boy is reclining in the shade of a tree. With the sun so hot and the doves and shepherd boy partaking of a relief from action, the speaker decides to stop his own trek; thus, he "laid [him]self down by the water / and stretched [his] tired limbs on the grass."

Fourth Movement: Suffering Ridicule

My companions laughed at me in scorn;
they held their heads high and hurried on;
they never looked back nor rested;
they vanished in the distant blue haze.

The speaker's travelmates taunt him for desiring to rest, and they continue on with their journey: "they held their heads high and hurried on; / they never looked back nor rested; / they vanished in the distant blue haze." The speaker, nevertheless, keeps his position with the intention of enjoying his rest as the others continue with their rushed pace.

Fifth Movement: Continuing To Be Lazy

They crossed many meadows and hills,
and passed through strange, far-away countries.
All honor to you, heroic host of the interminable path!
Mockery and reproach pricked me to rise,
but found no response in me.

The speaker observes that his fellows are continuing to march over "meadows and hills,"—not being lazy as he was. The speaker's fellow travelers continue to move "through strange, far-away countries." He gives them kudos for their venturesome nature, and he admits that he had experienced some guilt for remaining in leisure and not accompanying them, but he just could not spur himself on to continue on that particular journey.

Sixth Movement: Ambiguity

I gave myself up for lost
in the depth of a glad humiliation
—in the shadow of a dim delight.

The speaker then testifies that he has ambiguous feelings: on the one hand, he feels "lost" because he is not with the crowd; but on the other hand, his possesses a "glad humiliation," and he feels that he must be standing "in the shadow of a dim delight."

Seventh Movement: Reconsidering Reason for the Trek

The repose of the sun-embroidered green gloom
slowly spread over my heart.
I forgot for what I had traveled,
and I surrendered my mind without struggle
to the maze of shadows and songs.

As the speaker continues to lounge about, he notices that sunset is "spread[ing] over his heart," unveiling for a second time his feelings of ambiguity: the gloom is "sun-embroidered," similar to the expression, "every cloud has a silver lining."

The loafing speaker then confesses that he can no longer even recall why he set out on this trek in the first place, so he just lets himself go, no longer combating his true leanings any longer. He permits his mind and heart to go musing through, "the maze of shadows and songs."

Eighth Movement: Approaching the Door of the Divine

At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes,
I saw thee standing by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile.
How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome,
and the struggle to reach thee was hard!

At last, the speaker is awakened from his ambiguous stupor, and he realizes that he has found what he was looking for. He had feared that "the path was long and wearisome / and the struggle to reach [the Divine Beloved] was hard."

But in the end, he has finally discovered that all he had to do was allow his inner self to approach the door of the Divine Beloved. All extraneous journeys become unnecessary in that exalted environment.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

    gyanendra mocktan,

    Thank you for the kind words. I wish you all the best. Blessings and continued success in all you do!

    Sincerely,

    lsg

  • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

    gyanendra mocktan 

    3 weeks ago

    Linda Sue Grimes:

    I am grateful to you for your treasures here. I will make a point every day that I am going to do what you have advised me here.

    Thank you.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

    gyanendra mocktan:

    As you keep practicing, reading, and writing, your fluency and facility with the language will continue to improve. Your words will learn to follow your heart. You have a fine master in Tagore! Have a blessed day!

  • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

    gyanendra mocktan 

    3 weeks ago

    Linda Sue Grimes, Thank you for our compassionate response here. In your article, I not only went through the poems, importantly, I glided through your words. The way explain is so lucid.

    I have the book Gitanjali with me. I sing This is my prayer to Thee my Lord, Strike, Strike, Strike at the penury of my heart.

    Will I be able to describe it in your way? That is the biggest challenge for me.

    Thank you

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, gyanendra mocktan!

    Rabindranath Tagore's poems are always inspiring and deserve much close reading. His Gitanjali was responsible for helping him earn the 1913 Nobel in Literature Prize. Both Western and Eastern readers appreciate this marvelous craftsman's works. And many of his hymns have been employed as chants used in meditation. Our world literary canon is much richer because of this divinely inspired poet and thinker.

  • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

    gyanendra mocktan 

    3 weeks ago

    Linda Sue Grimes, thank you for your gentle tough with Tagore's poem. In fact, our life also seems to be of the same kind. Thank you/

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Tijani! Tagore's works are always worth close study, and they always offer a marvelous inspirational journey. He certainly deserved to win the 1913 Nobel in Literature Prize. Western culture is richer for having known and appreciated this fine craftsman.

  • James-wolve profile image

    Tijani Achamlal 

    2 months ago from Morocco

    Very interesting.Thanks for sharing.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    5 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Shubhda Ahlawat. Tagore's work is always a pleasure to read, with beautiful mages that uplift and inspire. He remains one of the most famous Indian writers of all time. And he was also an educator who founded his own school. He was a true Renaissance man, achieving excellence in many different areas of thought and endeavor.

  • Shubhda Ahlawat profile image

    Shubhda Ahlawat 

    5 months ago from India

    that's an amazing insight.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    6 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Sean. Tagore's work always offers a pleasurable read that enlightens as well as entertains. He remains one of my favorite poets, and his life work in education is inspiring also.

  • Sean Dragon profile image

    Ioannis Arvanitis 

    6 months ago from Greece, Almyros

    Excellent work, dear Linda! Your approach shows a noble Heart!

    Thank you so much for this gift!

    Gratitude!

    Sean

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    7 months ago from U.S.A.

    Best of luck with your exams, Labdheekumari from India! You are blessed to be studying Tagore.

  • profile image

    Labdheekumari from India 

    7 months ago

    Mam it is in my book. N I am having my exams today. So your explanation is very precious for me. Thanks a lot.

    N about Rabindranath Tagore, he is composer of our national enthem, he was incredible......

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    7 months ago from U.S.A.

    In 1913 when the prize was still prestigious, Rabindranath Tagore earned the Nobel Prize for Literature for his collection titled Gitanjali, which he translated into English prose paragraphs. His poems are always spiritually uplifting. He was a great poet, skilled craftsman, and deep thinker.

    Thank you for your response, Labdheekumari!

  • profile image

    Labdheekumari 

    7 months ago

    Best explanation ever!

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    15 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Xyz. Glad you found the hub useful.

    Blessings for the day!

    --lsg

  • profile image

    Xyz 

    15 months ago

    Excellent explanation

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    17 months ago from U.S.A.

    It is always an inspiration to read, study, and comment on the works of Tagore. He was an amazing thinker and craftsman of fascinating, endearing, and enduring poetry.

    Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize inLiterature in 1913, back when that award had credibility and prestige.

    Thank you for your comment, Ra. Have a blessed day!

  • profile image

    Ra, 

    17 months ago

    Beautifull explanation

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    20 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you for the comment, Debangee.

    Yes, Tagore is a truly great artist, who has uplifted and inspired many readers for many years. He earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 back when that prize was truly prestigious.

  • Debangee Mandal profile image

    DEBANGEE MANDAL 

    20 months ago from India

    Rabindranath Tagore is an inspiration himself.. thanks for the article

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