Where the Mind Is Without Fear (Gitanjali 35)

by Rabindranath Tagore
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Where The Mind Is Without Fear Critical Appreciation

What is a critical appreciation of the poem "Where the Mind Is Without Fear" by Rabindranath Tagore?

A critical appreciation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem "Where the Mind Is Without Fear" would recognize the quality of the poem with thoughtful analysis. A critical appreciation might detail the poem’s tone, its imagery, or how its message links to the struggles of India.

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Before beginning a critical appreciation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, it should probably be clear what a critical appreciation entails. Typically, it involves a thorough evaluation of a work. The writing should not be off the cuff, but deep and considered. Remember, “critical,” in this context, refers to a scholarly, discerning analysis. With a critical appreciation, a person recognizes the qualities of a work—in this case, a poem—in an erudite fashion.

Consider a critical appreciation that focuses on the repetition of “Gitanjali 35.” The poem has a noticeable tone, and that tone is probably tied to the repetition. By repeating “where” at the start of each line except the last one, it’s like Tagore is creating a chant. It’s as if he’s leading a protest, and this poem is a rallying cry.

While on the topic of protest, a critical appreciation could dive into the content of the poem and dissect what Tagore is trying to say. It might look into the connection between Tagore’s Indian identity and his call for reason, knowledge, and truth. One might investigate the subject and tone of the poem in relationship to India and its history with colonialism and oppression.

Finally, it’s possible for a critical appreciation to discuss the imagery used in the poem. Throughout the poem, there appear to be two main types of imagery; they play off one another and help Tagore get his message across. It’s clear that reason and knowledge are good because they are pictured in a healthy, inspirational light. Reason is a “clear stream”—it’s something worthy of admiration. The status quo is a “dreary desert”—it’s abject.

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In "Where The Mind Is Without Fear" (also known as "Gitanjali 35"), Tagore imagines a place wherein people are allowed to thrive, free from the yoke of fear and stratification. The imagery oscillates between hopeful and bleak, as Tagore envisions the future while realistically facing the present. For instance, the speaker believes in the existence of the "clear stream of reason" but acknowledges that it currently veers into the "dreary desert sand of dead habit." Tagore's metaphors sketch the disparity between the present time and place and a future where people are truly free. 

Other elements of the poem besides imagery also reflect this in-between feeling, this liminal mood of being aware of the present and trying to envision a better future. The first six lines of the poem end in semi-colons, punctuation which indicates both a stop and a continuation—a complex feeling of staying put yet moving forward.

The last two lines, on the other hand, resound with hope. There is a comma at the end of the seventh line, gracefully pushing the eye to the final line, where the speaker ends definitively with a period: "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake." It is a hope, a prayer, and a call to action for the reader to "awaken" and allow our mind to be "led forward." We also know this line is the true essence of the speaker's meaning, the real point of the poem, because of how it begins. The last line begins with "Into," whereas every single other line begins with the word "Where." The last line is hereby made more distinct, and we can identify it as the meaning on which the poet wishes our thoughts to land.

(It's also important to know that Tagore was the architect of international education methods, and even at one time had his own experimental school. His belief in the unifying power of education certainly comes through in his description of a place "Where knowledge is free / Where the world has not been broken up into fragments / By narrow domestic walls.")

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Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941, lived and wrote this poem while India, his country, was still a colony under the rule of the British. This short, simple poem is directed to his fellow Indians but spoken to God, who Tagore addresses as "thee," meaning "you," and "Father." He asks God to lead his people, who have long been oppressed, to a higher plane of being, where they can live with dignity, striving for perfection and no longer trapped by bad habits from the past. In the end, he asks that the people become awakened so they can become free.

The poem is effective because of the clarity with which Tagore expresses his desire that his people be freed. Freedom is a universal desire, and by asking a wise and powerful being like God for this, Tagore points to how deep the longing runs.

The poem speaks as a voice for all the Indian people who are oppressed by British rule, which means it transcends the merely personal and becomes an articulation of the desires of a group. The image of yearned-for unity

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

offers an effective visual image of people pulled together for a common purpose.

Likewise, the images of "the clear stream of reason" and "the dreary desert sand of dead habit" offer visual images of the direction in which Tagore hopes his people will head. Overall, starting with the image of a head "held high," the poem offers quiet inspiration to a nation.

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