Gitanjali Song Offerings Summary
by Rabindranath Tagore

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Gitanjali Song Offerings Summary


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...

(The entire section is 687 words.)