What is a summary of Song 36 from Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The following is "Song 36" from Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali Song Offerings.

This is my prayer to thee, my lord - strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart. Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows. Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service. Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might. Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles. And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.

As the only Indian poet to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1913, Tagore is renowned for his spiritual writings which were embedded with magic and elegance.

The above song is found in Tagore's Gitanjali Song Offerings. This text is a collection of poems, 103 to be exact, which Tagore translated from his original language into English. The text was he one responsible for his Nobel Prize.

To summarize Song 36, one must understand the utter spirituality of Tagore.

In Gitanjali Song Offerings, it is evident that Tagore regards his deity as an ever-present companion. In Tagore's fiction and his plays, it is equally clear that he sees life as a struggle between good and evil. Neither creed nor class can guarantee virtue.

Therefore, Song 36 is a prayer to Tagore's god whom he gives all power over his life to. Tagore is asking for the strength to be a good man, live a honorable life, and live for his god.

This song can be paralleled to the "Lord's Prayer". Here, those of Christian faith ask of God to give them the strength to live good Christian lives.

"Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come,your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,and forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil." (Matthew 6: 9-13)
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Song 36, Tagore describes the cry of every Hindu penitent. The song is a prayer to transcend the earthly soul through a wholehearted surrender to God.

Tagore prays that God will strike at the root of "penury" in his heart. This "penury," or spiritual poverty, originates from the elevation of Self. Tagore continues his song by praying for strength. This strength is, of course, of a divine nature. Tagore suggests that the prayer for strength is essentially a prayer to annihilate the carnal nature of the Self.

He prays for strength to bear the joys and sorrows of life equally and for the strength to manifest his love for God in fruitful service. Tagore also prays for strength to never ignore the plight of the needy. Interestingly, he also prays for strength never to bow before "insolent might." In other words, Tagore wants God to give him the courage to stand up against those who would oppress the poor and disenfranchised.

Next, Tagore prays for strength to rise above "daily trifles" or the material considerations of life. He considers the intricacies of daily living to be a pettiness, compared to the wholehearted worship of God. Lastly, Tagore prays for strength to surrender his intensely carnal nature to God; he desires that his will be subsumed by God's will.

In Song 36, Tagore makes the point that man cannot love God without a wholesale surrender of all his earthly desires, even natural ones such as the desire for free will. A devotee of God can only realize contentment when his love for God is all-absorbing. So, complete self-surrender to God is always manifest in service to others, hence the prayer to be "fruitful in service" and to "never . . . disown the poor." 


sreelekha | Student

Rabindranath Tagore in Sadhana - The Realization of Life writes, "When man's consciousness is restricted only to the immediate vicinity of his human self, the deeper roots of his nature do not find their permanent soil." Influenced by the Upanishads Tagore underlines that man has to discover that mere accumulation of earthly knowledge is not realization - instead "it is the inner light that reveals him and not outer things."

Song 36 from Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali highlights the transformative power of the Divine on the poet's soul. The benevolent almighty is a metaphorical woodcutter, in the first line, to whom the poet appeals to strike at the roots of spiritual paucity within his heart. The prayer, then, develops consequent ideas of true humanity. The poet asks for strength to experience both the joys and sorrows of life with equanimity. He prays for the resolve to utilise his love for his brethren by serving those in need. Tagore goes on to contrast his attitude towards both the poverty stricken and the unethically powerful - he wishes to uphold the poor and champion their basic rights while resisting the imposition on his will by the materialistic might of the corrupt.

Tagore echoes the following line from Song 35 – “Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever – widening thought and action” – in his plea to God to raise his mind above the meaningless minutiae of daily existence. He ends the poem on a note of submission, once again reflecting his innate spirituality. The poet wishes to submerge his individual strength within the Divine’s all encompassing powers. He believes that it is through this process of negating one’s all consuming ego and avoiding worldly distraction that one can achieve a true union with God.