Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

When Tagore first published the English Gitanjali in 1912, it featured an introduction by the celebrated Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who notes: “I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me.” This was just one of the many glowing comments that Yeats made about the volume, which he helped Tagore publish. This lavish praise, coupled with the fact that the volume led to Tagore becoming the first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913), whipped the public into a frenzy. Critics and readers both agreed with Yeats’s comments, praising the book and buying enough copies to warrant several printings. For example, in an influential 1913 article on Tagore for the Fortnightly Review, Ezra Pound notes: “There is the same sort of common sense in the first part of the New Testament, the same happiness in some of the psalms.” Pound also says that Tagore “has given us a beauty that is distinctly Oriental.” This tendency to associate Tagore with the Orient, coupled with the mystical quality of his Gitanjali poems, reinforced the idea of Tagore as a mystic— an idea that Yeats had helped to create. Not everybody agreed with this assessment. In his 1915 article about Tagore in America, Joyce Kilmer notes: “I wish that Mr. Yeats would stop calling Mr. Tagore a mystic. It is so silly! Mystics don’t commune with the Infinite and then sell their communings to a magazine.” Still, even Kilmer agreed that Tagore was a great writer: “No one will deny that Mr. Tagore is an able literary craftsman. He is not, as he has been called, the greatest living poet, but he is the most versatile writer living.”

However, this tide would soon turn. As K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar notes in his foreword to Rabindranath Tagore: His Mind and Art, “after 1919, there was a reaction...

(The entire section is 757 words.)