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Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 687

Introduction

The Gitanjali Song Offerings poetry collection by Rabindranath Tagore was first published in the Bengali language in 1910. The English version, Song Offerings, was published in 1912 with translations by Tagore, with a second edition following in 1913. Later that year, Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Introduction

The Gitanjali Song Offerings poetry collection by Rabindranath Tagore was first published in the Bengali language in 1910. The English version, Song Offerings, was published in 1912 with translations by Tagore, with a second edition following in 1913. Later that year, Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The English edition of Gitanjali is divided into 103 sections of prose poetry. Not all of these poems come from the Bengali version; Song Offerings also contains poems from Tagore’s previously published books.

The 1913 edition begins with an introduction by W. B. Yeats, the Irish poet who helped Tagore to find a Western audience. Yeats describes his interest in Tagore’s work and notes the poet’s ability to combine authentic feeling with spiritual concepts.

Throughout the Gitanjali collection, Tagore expresses a joyful, personalized spirituality with emphasis on devotion, faith, and an individual’s relationship with the divine in contrast with the official rules and practices of orthodox religion.

Although the poems in the English-language edition come from various collections, they still can be understood with a narrative arc. The collection begins with the poet’s joy at serving God, describes his suffering through separation from God and his re-awakening to God’s presence, shares his accumulated wisdom through song and story, and, at the end, relates his acknowledgment of his mortality and fulfillment of his life’s purpose.

Plot Summary

In numbers 1 through 15 of Song Offerings, the poet presents himself as a singer who is devoted to God and expresses joy with this relationship. He seeks to develop a voice in order to carry God’s love into the world: he says in number 4, “And it shall be my endeavour to reveal thee in my actions, knowing it is thy power gives me strength to act.”

A note of sadness enters with number 16, in which the poet expresses his desire to leave earthly existence to unite with the divine. He describes in number 18 his dismay at feeling a separation from God and his previous good spirits diminish as he struggles to cope with the mundane world: “Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens. Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait outside at the door all alone?” When God visits, the poet is in such a state of despair he doesn’t notice. He admits he has imprisoned himself through arrogance. Yet even in this dark state, God is still with him: he writes in number 32, “If I call not thee in my prayers, if I keep not thee in my heart, thy love for me still waits for my love.”

Number 35 marks a shift from spirituality to politics with a call for freedom regarded as the poet’s support for Indian independence from the British.

Number 36 takes up spiritual themes again with the humbled poet praying for God’s help. He reasserts his faith and waits for the divine presence to return to his life. Finally, in number 49, the poet is rewarded when he sings and God visits: “I was singing all alone in a corner, and the melody caught your ear. You came down and stood at my cottage door.” The poet expresses his gratitude, experiences a spiritual reawakening, and receives God’s message.

Starting with number 60 with the parable of children at the seashore (referred to by Yeats in his introduction), the poet relates a series of stories and praise songs illustrating divine presence, love, and wisdom. He concludes on an ecstatic note in number 73, “Yes, all my illusions will burn into illumination of joy, and all my desires ripen into fruits of love.”

In number 74, which starts the last part of the narrative arc, the poet acknowledges his mortality. In the following poems, he reflects on his work, recognizes the presence of Death, and expresses his peace with earthly life. He states his readiness to meet Death, as he has done God’s bidding as a singer. In the final song, he expresses his wish that his works return to God, his source: “Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.”

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