by Jan Christensen
A volume of Rabindranath Tagore’s selected short stories had a permanent home in my college backpack in the early 1970s. It was through his prose that I first realized storytelling could open up a foreign world-view in ways that history or sociological studies never could. His tales of Bengali life revealed the background cosmology that shaped a culture very different from our own.
The book stayed with me for some twenty years after that, until it disappeared on permanent loan to some friend impressed with my enthusiasm for the author.
Imagine my delight to find that Milwaukee Poet Laureate Jeff Poniewaz has planned an afternoon of Tagore for us.
Join Jeff for a special screening of Satyajit Ray’s documentary on Rabindranath Tagore, followed by a performance of Tagore’s poetry by Poniewaz and former Milwaukee Poet Laureate Antler. Members of Milwaukee’s Bengali community will then play and sing a few of Tagore’s many songs. This event is free and open to the public.
Tagore was contemporary and friend to Mahatma Gandhi, and is sometimes referred to as “the Whitman of India.” Tagore is India’s best-loved poet and its best-known poet around the world. In addition to poems and songs, Tagore wrote stories, plays, novels and essays, and created paintings later in life. In 1913, he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Although he wrote primarily in Bengali, he translated some of his poems into English. These translations came to the attention of William Butler Yeats during Tagore’s visit to England in 1912-13.
“I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days,” Yeats reported, “reading it in railway trains or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me.”
This enthusiastic response led to a thirty-seven year association between these great poets of Eastern and Western tradition.
Tagore’s poetry reflects the Indian classical style, but is presented in a way accessible to Western scholars, reflecting the modernist and realist movements. He wrote the lyrics of both the Indian and Bangladesh national anthems.
If you’re not familiar with Tagore, this event will introduce you to new delights; if you’ve encountered him before, this will be an afternoon spent with a treasured and erudite friend.
While you’re at the Library, be sure to visit the Special Exhibit on the second floor where you can view first editions of Tagore’s books and other rare items.
If You Go:
Tagore: A Celebration
Saturday, March 22 2-4 p.m.
Centennial Hall, Loos Room
733 N. Eighth St.
p>Special Tagore Exhibit
Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Kohler Display Case, second floor
Rare Tagore first editions and additional items of interest.