How would you explain the important lines of Rabindranath Tagore's poem "Where the Mind is Without Fear"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Based on your own reading of the poem and your own understanding of its themes, I think that you might have to determine for yourself where the important lines in the poem lie.  I think it is difficult to determine this from an outside source as the identification and justification have to be developed from one's own criteria of importance.  I think that if the overall meaning of the poem can be seen as a search for elevated notions of truth and justice, then the second line of "where knowledge is free" helps to set the tone of seeking to strive beyond what is into what can be.  The opening line that indicates the present setting causes individuals to not embrace this realm of transcendence and capitulate into what is might be another moment where the feeling of the poem is fundamentally established.  The second to last line which brings together thought and action is very powerful as it indicates a sense of praxis, that theory and realization must be linked together in order for change to happen to a social order.

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This poem clearly expresses Tagore's personal philosophies about freedom, religion, nationalism, and self-determinism.

Tagore lived through the partition of Bengal, a partition ordered by Lord Curzon on religious grounds. In East Bengal, the Muslims had dominated, while in West Bengal, the Hindus were preeminent. The British rationale for partition was administrative, but many suspected the British were wary of Bengali nationalist pride provoking an uprising against the Empire. For his part, Tagore had always been a great supporter of religious unity and, later, of Bengali independence from the British.

He alluded to his preferences for Muslim and Hindu unity in the lines

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

He saw his countrymen thriving in a world without the specter of British hegemony hanging over their heads.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free

It was a world

Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Tagore believed both Hindus and Muslims could be unified in their culture and communal desire to be self-reliant. He believed in the right of the people of Bengal to seek their own truth, apart from that defined for them by British paternalism. Tagore had stated that his own family was an amalgamation of British, Muslim, and Hindu cultural influences. The last lines of his poem directly expressed Tagore's respect for empiricism ("clear stream of reason") and mental receptivity ("into ever-widening thought and action"). He valued less traditionalist views and was willing to veer away from the "dead habit" of relying on established norms.

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.

Tagore's openness was unique, even for his time. When the orders for partition came into effect on October 16, 1905, it was Tagore who began the rakhi tradition among the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal. The rakhi was a bracelet of unity and love originally used in a festival celebrated by brothers and sisters. In appropriating the rakhi tradition, Tagore was celebrating what he hoped would be a Bengal swathed in Muslim-Hindu unity and unbroken by "narrow domestic walls."

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Rabindranath Tagore is a well-known poet and writer who combines the best of his Eastern culture with his expansive education and western influences. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and even received a knighthood in 1915 although he resigned his knighthood four years later after the British massacre at Amritsar. His genuine desire was for world peace and for a universal humanity encompassing all cultures, races and religions. His philosophy transcends all the differences and strives to unite mankind.

In his prayer / poem  Where The Mind is Without Fear, Tagore expresses his vision of a future of informed individuals who are united by "ever widening thought and action." Tagore acknowledges the restrictions and debilitating effects of "narrow domestic walls" which represent the self-imposed boundaries that people place upon themselves and particularly upon the mind which do not allow for the free flow of thoughts. In the place where "knowledge is free," every man can be proud and as "the head is held high" there is no judgment and there is a sincerity because "words come out from the depth of truth."

For Tagore, an ideal model exists for India when "tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection" indicating the value of deep thought and consideration without clouding the mind with "dreary desert sand" which suggests that the danger lies in a failure to recognize what makes sense and what doesn't (what is logical and what is not). It is essential to follow "the clear stream of reason" and to be guided by "my father." The ending reveals Tagore's aspirations for his people as he implores "let my country awake."  



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