Where the Mind Is Without Fear (Gitanjali 35)

by Rabindranath Tagore

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What are the figures of speech in the poem "Where the Mind Is Without Fear"?

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A figure of speech occurs when a word or group of words have a meaning beyond the literal. In the case of Tagori's poem, figures of speech include the following metaphors and personifications:

"the head is held high": This can literally mean that people are going around with their heads held high, but it stands as a metaphor for the idea of the Indian people regaining their pride and no longer being abject under British rule.

"Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 
By narrow domestic walls": Obviously, walls don't literally break the world into fragments. This metaphor means that people must transcend their petty differences and think beyond the needs of themselves and their immediate family.

"Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection": Abstract concepts like striving don't literally have arms, but the personified image of  stretching one's arms to reach a goal does seem to describe what striving feels like.

"Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way": Reason is not literally a clear stream, but the metaphor lets us visualize what it is like to think clearly. Just as a clear stream lets us see what is at the bottom of it, so does clear thinking get us to the bottom of a problem.  

"Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit": Habits don't literally die, especially not while we are still using them, so "dead" here stands as a metaphor for things we do repeatedly and unthinkingly. Habits are also not a desert, but a dreary desert of endless sands is an image of monotony and barrenness that suggests that unthinking habits get us nowhere and yield no harvest.

Finally, in "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake": freedom is not literally heaven, and God is not literally the poet's biological father, so the poet in both cases is speaking metaphorically. Countries can't literally awaken: the poet is personifying his country.  

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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; "head held high" is figurative; it means to assume a proud posture. Refers to emancipation and an independent India.Where knowledge is free; could be considered personification if not taken literally; knowledge being free as in without bounds, or people are free to give their knowledge to others.Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; "broken into fragments" refers to boundaries, borders, and caste; the walls, if not taken literally, are social boundaries and limitationsWhere words come out from the depth of truth; truth has no literal depth, not being a concrete objectWhere tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; personification againWhere the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; personification againWhere the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action ... the mind itself cannot be led forward; people canInto that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake. personification again; also, comparison metaphorically of freedom to heaven.

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