Noted as the first Nobel Laureate of Asia, Rabindranath Tagore’s works span across many genres beside poetry. His acquaintance with literature and language started at a very early age. He learnt Bengali, Sanskrit and English apart from math, history, art, science and the Upanishads. His introduction to classic literature began with the plays of Macabeth and poetry of Kalidasa, both of which he partly translated into Bengali.
During these early years Tagore published his poems and translations anonymously becoming a regular contributor to the magazines Balaka and Bharati. One of his first poems include Abilasha(Desire) and his first narrative in verse is titled, Banaphul(The wild flower).Tagore worked with almost all forms of writing. Other than having collections in poetry, he also wrote short stories, novels, musical dramas and dance dramas. To this we can add essays, travel writings and two auto-biographies and songs. Some of his collections of poems are Manasi (1890) [The Ideal One], Sonar Tari (1894) [The Golden Boat], Gitanjali (1910) [Song Offerings], Gitimalya (1914) [Wreath of Songs], and Balaka (1916) [The Flight of Cranes]. With reference to his poems Manasi (The Ideal One), published in 1890, is said to mark the maturation of his poetic genius. He was influenced by the mysticism of the Upanishads, Bhakti-Sufi mystics Kabir and Ramprasad Sen.
In his essay “Tagore’s Poetic Greatness”, William Radice states, “Tagore always attached great value to craftsmanship.” We can see this in the careful construction of his poems where he skillfully blends metre (six foot/four foot alternating pattern with six stress and four stresses respectively as seen in Maran-Milan when reading in Bengali), rhyme and verse structure with such control that, to us as readers, the experience of the poem’s respective theme is deeply experienced.
His structural ingenuity is crowned by vivid phrasing, moral depth and imagery that he weaves into the verses, with simple diction yet sublime language as seen when we read the Gitanjali.
He fused poetic idealism with stark realism in his short stories which reflected the contemporary life in rural and urban Bengal. Themes throwing light on the conflicts between the new and the old, cruelty and sensitivity, solitude and the crowd, male and female were brought out in them. He drew from the spiritual richness of the women-folk, the typical male types of the bourgeois class and the deep troubled psyche of the both Bengali men and women.
It was Tagore who helped turn the short story into a serious art form, even though as a genre it had been in use in India much before he started using it himself. His stories, though, gained much criticism when they were initially published. Prof.K.V.Dominic critiques, “Tagore deviated from the traditional way of story-telling and devised for himself a new structure. The short story of Tagore begins abruptly, develops around a trivial and ordinary incident or situation and ends with a twist when the readers’ curiosity about the story is almost acute. He presents life as vignettes and not in its totality or completeness. Thus Tagore’s stories are deliberately fashioned works of art and not straightforward tales of one event or more. Tagore’s stories were original creations having no influence from any Western writers. Realism mixed with Romanticism, insight into human minds, absence of excessive passion and absence of exaggerated situations, make his stories singular.”
A strong supporter for the cause of emancipation of women in nineteenth century Bengal, his works Samapti (The Conclusion, 1893), Katha (The Exercise Book, 1894) and Streer Patrar (The Wife’s Letter,1914) show the strong influences that this wave of emancipation had on him. The female protagonists of these three books reflect the issues of subjugation by society verses individuality (Mrinmayi’s subjugation from a strong...