Gitanjali Song Offerings is a collection of 103 prose poems, selected by Tagore from among his Bengali poems and translated by him into English. The collection brought Tagore international attention and won him the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although Tagore later published more than twenty additional volumes of his poetry in English translation, Gitanjali Song Offerings remained one of his most beloved works.

Western readers immediately noted similarities between Gitanjali Song Offerings and the biblical Song of Songs, which most theologians insist deals not with a human union but with Christ’s love for his church. Though Gitanjali Song Offerings also is filled with sensual imagery, there is no doubt that Tagore’s subject is the relationship between a human being and the divine. When Tagore mentioned his admiration for Vaishnava poetry in an essay published in 1912, undoubtedly he had in mind the Gita Govinda, a long poem written in the twelfth century by the Bengali poet Sri Jayadev, which Westerners have often called the Indian Song of Songs. The Gita Govinda shows the god Vishnu, in his incarnation as Krishna, in passionate pursuit of the cowgirl Radha. Since Vaishnavism, or the worship of this very human god, was especially popular in Bengal, Bengali poets often wrote about Krishna’s love for Radha. Though Tagore himself, reared a theist, did not adhere to...

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