Where the Mind Is Without Fear (Gitanjali 35)

by Rabindranath Tagore

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What is the theme of Tagore's poem, "Where the Mind is Without Fear"?

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The theme of "Where the Mind is Without Fear" by Rabindranath Tagore is freedom from colonization and what it takes to achieve that.

Tagore lived in India during British Crown rule of the country. According to the BBC, Britain ruled India from 1858 until 1947. Tagore was born in 1861 and died in 1941. He never lived in an India that wasn't ruled by the British—and yet dreams of what his country could be if it was free, as described in "Where the Mind is Without Fear."

The British rule of India created a system that prevented many Indian people from gaining education or positions of power in the country. Tagore speaks to that when he says:

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

He's aware that his own people are being kept from knowledge—and not because it's the right thing to do. Instead, it's caused by the "dreary desert sand of dead habit" that British rule became in India. 

Tagore believes that education, working together, and "ever-widening thought and action" can change things. That's why he says that the world he describes is "that heaven of freedom" and asks "[his] Father [to] let [his] country awake."

The entire poem functions as a prayer. He's addressing his father, but not the one he was born to. Rather, it appears that he's addressing God and asking that India, his nation, be released into the world he describes. 

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Explain the imagery in Rabindranath Tagore's poem "Where the Mind is Without Fear."

In his poem "Where the Mind is Without Fear," Rabindranath Tagore uses clear visual and sensory descriptions to ensure that the reader understands the struggle for identity and freedom as it exists physically and spiritually. His poem is a plea or prayer and he wishes for "ever widening thought."

Tagore uses alliteration throughout, and in the first line the emphasis is on a proud people as "the head is held high." Other examples are when he mentions how "tireless striving stretches..." The pace created by the repeated "s" sound gives the sense of many years of struggle. This is not going to be attained easily. When Tagore talks of the "dreary desert sand of dead habit," the repeated "d" sound helps the reader to imagine the stunted and fruitless attempts of others to prevent the attainment of this place of freedom where there is no fear. Finally, when Tagore says, "...freedom, my Father," through the repeated f-sound he is associating real freedom with spiritual freedom as the one would be worthless without the other. 

Personification , which attributes human characteristics to non-human objects (or animals), is used in this poem. The quest for freedom requires the very essence of a person and Tagore personifies the act of "striving," which "stretches its arms," giving even more emphasis to the amount of effort required. Personification is also used when Tagore infers that rational thought ("the clear stream of reason") has the potential to lose "its way," and in...

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fact as he speaks that is the reality he faces. He is trying to make the reader understand that without the freedom he refers to and a state of being where there is no fear, there can be no "reason."  He speaks of letting "my country awake," and personifies India ("my country"), praying that it can be inspired to recognize the problems with which it is faced and deal with them.  

The "depth of truth" where "words come out" symbolizes the endlessness of truth, and the depth could also signify deep meaning rather than the mere appearance of truth. When Tagore speaks of "narrow domestic walls," he really hopes that India's internal (domestic) struggles do not restrict it, and that people do not lack real vision and can see beyond "where the world has not been broken up into fragments." India was part of the stifling environment of the British Empire. Tagore uses metaphor to describe freedom as if it is a place like heaven; he desires this for all his people. 

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

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

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

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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What attributes of Rabindranath Tagore does the poem “Where the Mind Is Without Fear” reflect?

The poem “Where the Mind Is Without Fear” seems to reflect the worldview of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Let's look at how this works.

This poem is a prayer, which shows us that Tagore is a person of faith. He is directly addressing “my Father,” God, in a prayer for freedom for his country. But Tagore has a particular type of freedom in mind. In fact, it is a freedom of the mind. This kind of freedom involves a lack of fear, a readily accessible knowledge, and a companionship among people. It is a kind of freedom in which “words come out from the depth of truth” and people can strive toward perfection. Reason is prominent over the “dreary desert sand of dead habit,” and people think clearly and widely and then act, only after thinking.

This is the “heaven of freedom” that Tagore wants for his country. We can see that the poet values intellect and truth. He is dedicated to reason and knowledge. He wants to fight the unthinking fear and habit that keep people bound. And he is a patriot. He wants what is best for his country and his people, and he is willing to pray to God for it.

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