A multifaceted genius, Rabindranath Tagore did not leave any literary genre unexplored. His worldwide fame rests chiefly on his achievements as a poet; the quality and quantity of his poetry have tended to overshadow his contributions in the areas of drama, fiction, and nonfiction. He published nearly sixty collections of poetry, consisting of short lyrics generally characterized by a unique metaphysical strain, a yearning spiritual quest set against the beauty of the natural landscape of Bengal, his home state. This elemental force also manifested itself in the production of about three thousand Rabindrasangit, poignantly evocative songs for which Tagore both wrote the lyrics and composed the music.
Tagore produced ten novels and close to one hundred short stories in a comparatively “realistic” mode, unflinchingly examining social problems of the day and depicting their impact on representative characters. He translated many of his Bengali works into English, albeit with varying degrees of artistic success; some are justifiably regarded as original compositions in English. Tagore also wrote essays and letters, travelogues and memoirs, and delivered lectures and sermons on a wide variety of subjects; these considerable prose writings illuminate his personality and provide important insights into Tagore’s intellectual life as well as into the lives and times of the many people with whom he came into contact. He was both a pragmatist and philosopher, writing simple and eminently practical manuals (for example, on methods of village reconstruction in Bengal) and significant treatises on social, political, and educational, as well as religious and literary, matters. Toward the end of his life, he began to take up painting seriously, creating several striking works that are included in two portfolio collections.