Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1291
Tagore’s “60” is a prose poem, so it uses paragraphs in place of poetic stanzas. The first paragraph begins with the line: “On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.” Based on the phrase “endless worlds,” one can see that this poem may have some metaphysical, or supernatural, qualities. The idea of endless worlds suggests a universal or infinite quality of some sort. In addition, Tagore introduces the image of a seashore in this sentence. He could be talking about an actual seashore, but the metaphysical context suggests that Tagore is talking about a symbolic one. A symbol is a physical object, action, or gesture that also represents an abstract concept, without losing its original identity. Symbols appear in literature in one of two ways. They can be local symbols, meaning that their symbolism is only relevant within the context of a specific literary work. They can also be universal symbols, meaning that their significance is based on traditional associations that are widely recognized, regardless of context. In “60,” the symbols are universal. Tagore is talking about a seashore, which is the opposite of the sea. The sea traditionally represents infinity—an idea that Tagore has already suggested with “endless worlds.” Following this line of thinking, the opposite of infinity, or heaven, is the mortal, human world. So, the seashore could represent this human world.
The next line addresses the idea of infinity directly: “The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous.” Once again, Tagore could be simply describing a day at the beach, where children meet on the beach, the sky is calm, and the sea is choppy. The next line—“On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.”—certainly supports this idea of children playing by the sea. This line also repeats part of the first line, so that the paragraph is bookended by the same image—a technique that Tagore uses throughout the poem. However, looking at the poem symbolically, one can find significance in many of the images. First of all, besides the idea that the sea represents infinity, water in general is a symbol for life or creation, in a feminine sense. Likewise, the “infinite sky” traditionally symbolizes heaven, and is often associated more generally with the male forces of creation. So, taken together, the sky and sea represent male and female creation forces. Next to these two cosmic forces, the seashore, representing the human world, seems almost insignificant, except for the presence of the children.
The second paragraph describes the children in more detail. The first line notes that they “build their houses with sand and they play with empty shells.” When sand is used to build a house, it suggests impermanence, since the “vast” ocean will just wash away these sand houses with the tide. This idea of impermanence is reinforced by the idea of empty shells, since the animals that inhabited the shells have died and left only their shells behind. In general, however, shells are linked to the water from which they come, so they share water’s creation meaning, especially in the feminine sense. The second sentence notes: “With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep.” The withered leaves suggest death, as do the boats, since journeys across water have traditionally been associated with death. So far, Tagore’s symbolism seems to be pointing to a cycle of birth and death, although it is still too early in the poem to understand why this might be. The last sentence states: “Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.” In the first stanza, the children were meeting “with shouts and dances;” now, they are playing.
The middle paragraph gives more information about these children. “They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets.” The children are ignorant about the ways of the world, unlike the “Pearl fishers” and “merchants” who are forced to make a living. Instead, the children engage in idle activities that have no economic purpose: “children gather pebbles and scatter them again.” The last sentence in the paragraph reaffirms the fact that the children are not concerned about money. They do not seek “hidden treasures,” and they do not know “how to cast nets.” This is a surface reading of the middle paragraph. However, once again, when one looks at the symbolism of the paragraph, it takes on a deeper meaning. Traditionally, a “net” symbolizes the power of the gods to trap humans and hold them in the mesh of life. Since the children know nothing of nets, Tagore could be saying that they are not yet bound to life, as adults are bound. The pearls that the pearl fishers search for are also significant. Pearls have many symbolic meanings. If Tagore is indeed using pearls in a symbolic way, he is most likely including them as a sign of the permanence that is lacking elsewhere. Mortals like the pearl fishers seek out these symbols of permanence because most other aspects of their lives are not permanent. Also, at one point, pearls were thought to be the tears of the gods. Both of these interpretations fit in with the religious tone of the poem.
In the fourth paragraph, the focus shifts from the children to the sea, which is suddenly very active: “The sea surges up with laughter and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.” Although Tagore uses terms like “laughter” and “smile,” one should not be fooled. The sea is dangerous, as the next line notes: “Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle.” Once again, Tagore is giving the sea an image of feminine creation, or motherhood. However, this image has an ominous undertone because the unsuspecting children are at risk, even though they do not understand the danger of the “death-dealing waves.” As if to reinforce the juxtaposition of innocence and death, the last sentence notes: “The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.” One can imagine the children playing in the waves of the sea, unaware that this may be dangerous and perhaps fatal.
The final paragraph repeats the first line of the poem: “On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.” Since the first line, the situation in the poem has changed drastically. The “restless water” has churned up into “death-dealing waves.” In the second sentence of this paragraph, Tagore notes: “Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play.” In the sky, which was “motionless” in the beginning, a “tempest” now rages. It is interesting to note that the sky is “pathless.” Not even a tempest can disturb the permanent quality of the sky. Likewise, not even “wrecked ships” can leave a mark in the water, which is “trackless.” The poem does not indicate whether or not Tagore is referring to the children’s toy boats that have been wrecked or the ships of the merchants and pearl fishers. One suspects the latter, since this image is more tragic, and is consistent with the rest of the sentence, which states that “death is abroad.” Yet, the “children play.” No matter what natural catastrophes have taken place over the course of the poem, Tagore ends with the certainty that “On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.” Given the heavy symbolism of creation, life, and death evident in the poem, Tagore seems to be underscoring the blissful ignorance of childhood, which makes children more susceptible to death, but which is more peaceful than the stressful adult world.
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