Where the Mind Is Without Fear (Gitanjali 35)

by Rabindranath Tagore
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In the poem "Where the Mind Is Without Fear," what is the explanation of the lines "Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way / Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit"?

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Tagore, an Indian polymath and proponent of Indian independence, is writing this poem in address to God, "my Father," in the hopes that his country will be permitted to "awake . . . into that heaven of freedom." It is this heaven, then, that Tagore is describing as a place where "the clear stream of reason has not lost its way / Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit." His hope is that the Indian people will be able to see their way into a future uninhibited by the complacency that has come over many of them out of force of habit—the habit being the British rule that had existed in India for all of living memory by the time the Independence movement began to gain force.

Tagore knows that to many of his people, the idea that India is a colony, even a possession, of Great Britain has simply become the way things are, and that this can make it difficult to stir others into action. However, he appeals to the "clear stream of reason" to cut through this complacency as water cuts through sand, rather than getting lost in such an abundance of sand that is "desert[ed]" of reason.

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In "Where the Mind is Without Fear," Tagore hopes people will take an active role in making decisions that define the world and their place in it.

The vision that Tagore reveals in "Where the Mind is Without Fear" is steeped in contrasts.  His fears counter his hopes.  For example, when he wishes to see that "the clear stream of reason has not lost its way," it reflects how he wants people to make informed and substantive decisions. Tagore envisions the "clear stream of reason" as people caring about what affects them.  He wants people to use their voice to take action.  This image is contrasted with the "dreary desert sand of dead habit." Tagore sees the informed and active way that people can make their decisions as the opposite of simply conforming to external standards. We can see this in Tagore's use of "dead habit." For Tagore, when people passively make decisions, it resembles a "dreary desert."  This is the opposite of the "clear stream" of his hopes.

Tagore is terrified by a world where people are alienated and withdrawn.  He rejects a world where people do not use their voice to make decisions.  When Tagore seeks to avoid "the dreary desert of dead habit," he wants people to use reason to actively guide their voice as they take meaningful action.

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