Rabindranath Tagore

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Analyze the poem "Freedom" by Rabindranath Tagore line by line.

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Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali poet and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He supported Indian independence from Britain and desired the end of the British Raj, which is the subject of "Freedom." 

In the first two lines of the poem, he refers to India as the "motherland" and states that he wants India to be free from fear. His use of alliteration, or repetition of the "f" sound in the words "freedom," "from," "fear," and "freedom" again in the first line, emphasizes the urgency of his call for Indian independence. The word "freedom" is repeated throughout the poem to express the poet's deep wish for his country to be independent. In the third line, he builds on the image of India as an aging mother, and he wants her to be free from the "burden of the ages," which refers to the yoke of English control of India. The aged woman who represents India bends her head, bends her back, and blinds her eyes under the burden of colonialism. These lines also use alliteration with the repetition of the "b" sound. Tagore speaks of the way in which India does not see the future or imagine a brighter future for herself by blinding her eyes.

Instead of looking forward, India sleeps with what Tagore calls "shackles of slumber," or time spent not thinking of her future. Instead, India is fastening herself "in night's stillness," meaning that the country is committed to the past and to the current situation of colonialism. The country "mistrusts the star that speaks of truth's adventurous paths," meaning that the country does not look around in its dark time (represented by night) and imagine a brighter future for itself as independent.

When Tagore asks for "freedom from the anarchy of destiny," he means that he doesn't want his country to just blindly and passively follow the fate that has been given to it, and he compares this fate, or destiny, to a sailboat that has to follow winds that are blowing in every direction and that is captained by an uncaring hand. This is a metaphor in which his country is compared to a sailboat following uncertain winds with an uncaring person at the helm. 

Then, Tagore asks for freedom from India living in a "puppet's world," by which he means a world in which India is controlled by other countries and forces as a puppet is controlled by a puppeteer. The movements are orchestrated through "brainless wires," meaning that England controls India without thinking and by following "mindless habits," meaning customs that are followed without reason. In this extended metaphor comparing India to a puppet show, figures, who are clearly Indians, wait obediently just to follow the master of the show, meaning their English rulers. Therefore, the Indians live "a mimicry of life," meaning an inauthentic life controlled by others.

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Read "Freedom" by Rabindranath Tagore. Provide an interpretation that explicates specific lines and present an overall theme and focus of the poem. Show understanding of the whole picture and how particular words and lines fit into the poem.

Rabindranath Tagore's "Freedom" is a lyrical expression of his personal culture, emotions, and imagination.

A Modernist poem, "Freedom" moves away from mere personal expression--

Freedom from fear is the freedom
I claim for you my motherland!--

to an intellectual and political statement:

Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet's world,
where movements are started through brainless wires...
to be stirred into a mimicry of life. 

The theme of this poem is that living under the colonial rule of England is a "mimicry of life," not truly living.
The poet "claims" this freedom for his motherland of India, urging that his people not live as "puppets," but instead remove the "shackles of slumber" (a metaphor for the thought-deadening subjugation of colonial rule) from themselves by breaking with the past and joining in the non-violent movement initiated by Gandhi.

As is characteristic of his poetry, there is a metaphysical tone to this poem of Tagore. For, the positive implications of Hindu belief are developed in this verse as there is the emphasis that change is necessary for the renewal of the spirit. Since people all have divine souls, there should be tolerance, respect, and love for one another. Colonial rule does not allow these conditions, so the poet urges his people to strive for freedom from British rule in order to achieve the essential renewal of the spirit.

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