In the poem "Where the Mind is Without Fear," what is reason compared to? Are our actions governed by "reason" or by "dead habit"?

In "Where the Mind is Without Fear," reason is compared to a clear stream. The poet suggests that people's actions are governed by dead habit now but that this is unsustainable.

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In Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali 35: "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high," reason is compared to a clear stream in the line

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.

The poem takes...

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In Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali 35: "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high," reason is compared to a clear stream in the line

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.

The poem takes the form of a prayer. Tagore is asking that his country may awake into the state he describes. This suggests that, as matters currently stand, the clear stream of reason has lost its way into the sand of dead habit, and it is habit that governs people's actions, or lack of them. Tagore's hope for change, however, is predicated on the idea that this habitual passivity is not an endemic state. Habit muddies and blocks the stream of reason, but this may not be so in the future.

The images Tagore uses are themselves hopeful. Habit is not actively malevolent; it is merely sluggish and unimaginative. A sufficient quantity of reason would overcome it, as a river or a cataract would overwhelm the sand where a stream merely dries up. The actions of most people are governed by dead habit now, but this is not a state of affairs that can last forever, precisely because there is no life in habit. It is the water which symbolizes reason that gives life and enables growth.

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In this poem, Tagore compares reason in its ideal, perfect state to "a clear stream." In its imperfect state—improperly directed—reason is, Tagore implies, comparable to "a dreary desert sand of dead habit."

A clear stream connotes clarity, movement, and direction. The implication is that reason, in its ideal state, should be clear rather than muddled, lively rather than still, and directed or purposeful rather than purposeless. A stream also eventually "becomes" or feeds a river, which, in turn, eventually becomes or feeds an ocean. Thus the comparison implies that reason purposefully directed will eventually become or feed something bigger than itself, whether that be a bigger thought or a practical application of the initial thought.

On the other hand, a desert is a barren environment, lifeless and still. A desert is a hostile environment for life just as a mind that is lifeless and still is a hostile environment for thought. A desert, unlike a stream, also does not obviously become anything bigger than itself.

In response to your second question, I think the poem implies that our actions are governed by both the clear, purposeful reasoning symbolized by the stream and by the still, lifeless reasoning symbolized by the desert. One might infer that the better actions are governed by the first type of reasoning.

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In this poem, Tagore compares reason to a clear stream; this is meant as a very positive image. A clear stream shows what is at its bottom without distortion. It is water we might trust as drinkable. (This poem was written in a time before pesticides were dumped into water.) A clear stream is attractive: its waters help renew us, and it is not deceptive. Tagore says that reason is like this.

He contrasts reason with "dead habit," which he says is like "dreary desert sand." Desert sand does not help, sustain, or renew us—while clear water does. Desert sand is dead and arid.

Tagore wrote his poem when the Indian people were still oppressed under British rule in India. He wanted his people to embrace reason and not be stranded on the desert of dead habit. He believed that if/when the Indian people could get beyond fear and to a place of dignity and knowledge, they would be able to see clearly and find their way to a "heaven of freedom." He urged them to awake from their dead habit and not be held back.

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In the poem 'Where The Mind Is Without Fear' by Rabindranath Tagore, the poet considers tjhe concepts of truth, reason,knowledge,language and aspiration :

'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 ...'

and reason is compared to a desert of dead habit. The poet is hoping that a free and unfettered mind, not constrained or repressed by duress or moves against free speech will lead to a society that is not governed by slavish unquestioning adherence to dead habits such as prejudice, bigotry and hatred. In some religions everyday thoughts and actions may be spurred by arid irrelevant traditions which cause believers to hate other people and perhaps even wage war upon them just for being different. The poet hopes that a new open and free way of thinking will lead his country to a knowledge and love of a fair God.

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