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Of Myself

Atmaparichay

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter

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Categories: 20th Century, BAME, Bengali, Indian
Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (120 pages)
(Pub. Jul 2006)
9780856463891
£8.95 £8.05
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    Extract from his fiftieth birthday address

    The greatest thief in the world is the ego. He does not feel embarrassed to claim even what belongs to God Himself. This is why there are many elaborate procedures to suppress the rogue, keep him under. This is why Manu said: “Know that honour is as poison, insult is as nectar.” Wherever honour entices, it is better to shun all contact, as far as possible.
         I have reached the age of fifty. Now the call of the forest has come. Now is the time for renunciation. Now it will not do to take onto one’s head the new burden of one’s accumulated possessions. So if God rewards me with honour even after the age of fifty, I must understand, it is only to give me a lesson in renunciation. I cannot accept such honour simply as my own. I must set down the head-burden in the place where my head is to bow. So I can give you all only this much assurance, that I will not insult the honour you have given me, by using it as material for my ego.
         In our country at the present time one may well rejoice at reaching fifty – for long life is rare. A country where people die young is deprived of the riches of experience of old age. Youth is a horse and maturity a charioteer. At times we have undergone the danger of driving the country’s chariot without a charioteer for the horses. So in a land where people are short-lived the person who has reached fifty may be cheered on his way.
         But the poet is neither scientist nor philosopher nor historian nor politician. Poetry is the dawn-of-grace of man’s first expression. When the expanse of life before one has not yet discovered its boundaries, when hope is full of pure mystery – only then does poetry’s song rise in notes ever-new. Still the beauty of the mystery is by no means of dawn alone; even at the dusk of life’s completion the radiant hints of the pure mystery of eternal life announce its deeper beauty. But the quiet solemnity of that mystery silences the exuberance of song. So I ask, what is a poet’s age worth?
        The appreciation I receive, then, at the beginning of old age may not be regarded as a fitting tribute to maturity. Even at this age you have given me a young man’s due. Indeed it is a poet’s true tribute. It is not respect, nor devotion, it is the heart’s affection. We offer someone our devotion according to the measure of his greatness, our respect according to the measure of his competence; but affection uses no rule of measurement. When love begins its homage it gives itself entire.

    1911

    Translated by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter

    In the great Bengali poet’s autobiographical writings we discover what his translators describe as ‘a heart of love, a mind at its service that can cut like a knife, and in some sense the spirit of a child.’ The six prose pieces, centering on the poet’s quest, were composed at landmark moments during the second half of his life and published posthumously. At each point he looks back on a long creative journey. Here in their first English translation, the essays offer an insight into the intellectual and spiritual world of a twentieth-century genius.

    Rabindranath Tagore
    Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) became the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, largely on the strength of his own prose versions of his poems, greatly admired by W.B. Yeats. He was a Renaissance man – poet and writer of fiction, composer and artist and playwright, educationalist and ... read more
    Devadatta Joardar
    Devadatta Joardar (born 1965) is a resident of Calcutta and a Bengali scholar. He works as an engineer but his interests take him into other fields. He occasionally writes for English-language dailies in India. ... read more
    Joe Winter
    Joe Winter, born in London in 1943, taught English in secondary schools in London from 1967 to 1994. He lived in Calcutta from 1994 to 2006 before returning to England. His Bengali translations include Das’s Naked Lonely Hand and Bengal the Beautiful, and Tagore’s Song Offerings (Gitanjali), Lipika (stories) ... read more
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