It is not known to any certain degree when and where Rabindranath Tagore published the Bengali version of the poem known as “60.” This title is derived from the poem’s numerical placement in his English translation of Gitanjali, which was first published in England in 1912. This English volume, although it shares the name of one of Tagore’s earlier volumes of Bengali verse, is actually comprised of poems from several of Tagore’s previous volumes of Bengali poetry. As a result, scholars have been unable to trace the origins of most of the poems in the English Gitanjali. In addition, Tagore heavily altered the structure and, in some cases, the content of the poems when he translated them into English. Because of this, it is appropriate to use the year 1912 for the purpose of dating the poem’s creation.
The English Gitanjali was a landmark event that happened almost by accident. Tagore translated a group of his poems into English to pass the time while he was sick, then showed his translations to some influential English writers and editors, including William Rothenstein and William Butler Yeats—both of whom helped to publish and promote the English Gitanjali. A year later, Tagore made history by becoming the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Westerners were initially enamored of Tagore’s poems for their peaceful, mystical qualities, which contrasted sharply with a world on the verge of a harsh, global war. “60,” which features children playing on a universal seashore, contrasts metaphysical and religious ideas with the human world to demonstrate the blissful ignorance of children, who do not know about the adult world. The poem also emphasizes the idea of unity, underscoring Tagore’s lifelong goal to unite Eastern and Western traditions—a challenge at the time in British-controlled India. Generally speaking, Bengali readers know Tagore for his body of work, while many Westerners still associate Tagore only with Gitanjali. A current copy of Tagore’s “60” can be found in the latest paperback English edition of Gitanjali, which was published by Scribner Poetry in 1997.
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