I was an obscure individual in those days. My name was hardly known outside my own province, but I was quite content with that obscurity, which protected me from the curiosity of crowds. And then came a time when my heart felt a longing to come out of that solitude and do some work for my fellow beings, and not merely give shape to my dreams and meditate deeply on the problems of life, but try to give expression to my ideas through some definite work, definitive service.
The one thing, the one work, which came to my mind was to teach children. It was not because I was specially suited for this work of teaching, for I have not had myself the full benefit of a regular education. For some time I hesitated, but I felt that as I had a deep love for nature, I had naturally love for children also. My objective in starting this institution, Shanti Niketan, was to give children full freedom of joy, of life and of communion with nature. I myself had suffered when I was young, the impediments which were inflicted upon most boys at school and I have had to go through the machine of education which crushes the joy and freedom of life for which children have such insatiable thirst. My objective was to give freedom and joy to children.
So, I had a few boys around me, and I taught them, and I tried to make them happy as their playmate and companion. I shared their life, and I felt that I was the biggest child of the party. And we all grew up together in this atmosphere of freedom.
The vigour and joy of children, their chats and songs filled the air with a spirit of delight, which I drank every day I was there. In the evening, at sunset, I often used to sit alone, watching the trees of the shadowing avenue and in the silence of the afternoon, I could hear distinctly voices of children in the air, and it seemed to me that these shouts and songs and glad voices were like those trees, which come out from the heart of the earth like fountains of life towards the bosom of the infinite sky. And it symbolised, it brought before my mind, the whole cry of human life all expressions of joy and aspirations of men rising from the heart of humanity up to this sky. I knew that we also, the grown-up children, send up our cries of aspiration to the Infinite.
In this atmosphere, I used to write my poems Gitanjali, and I sang them to myself at midnight under the glorious stars. In the early morning and afternoon glow of sunset, I used to write these songs till a day came when I felt impelled to come out once again and meet the heart of the large world.
I could see that my coming out from the seclusion of life among these joyful children and doing my service was only a prelude to my pilgrimage to a larger world. I felt a great desire to come in touch with people of the West, for I was conscious that the present age belongs to the Western man with his superabundance of energy.
I felt that I must, before I die, come to the West and meet the man of the secret shrine where the Divine presence has his dwelling, his temple. And I thought that the Divine man with all his powers and aspirations of life is dwelling in the West. And so I came out. After Gitanjali had been written in Bengali, I translated those poems into English, without having any desire to have them published, being diffident of my mastery of that language, but I had the manuscript with me when I came out to the West. And you know that the British public, when these poems were put before them, and those who had the opportunity of reading them in manuscript before, approved of them. I was accepted, and the heart of the West opened without delay….