August 6, 2014
Anita Desai and Andrew Robinson —
The Modern Resonance of Rabindranath Tagore

He bestowed the title “Mahatma” on Gandhi. He debated the deepest nature of reality with Einstein. He was championed by Yeats and Pound to become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath — a writer and a painter, a philosopher and a musician, and a social innovator — but much of his poetry and prose is virtually untranslatable (or inaccessibly translated) for modern minds. We pull back the "dusty veils" that have hidden his memory from history.

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is an Indian novelist of Bengali descent. Her novels include Clear Light of Day, The Village by the Sea, and Fasting, Feasting.

is a biographer and writer. He is the co-author of The Myriad-Minded Man, a biography of Rabindranath Tagore.

Pertinent Posts

An artist of the Bharatanatyam classical dance tradition, Ranee Ramaswamy reflects on how she lives forward the art and imagination of Rabindranath Tagore into the 21st century.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

Honoring Tagore: Sacred Earth

In this live performance at On Being on Loring Park, the renowned Ragamala Dance company lives forward the poetry and the art of Rabindranath Tagore through Indian classical dance.

» "I Surrendered Without Struggle"
» "My Life Has Been One Long Secret"
» "One Final Look From You and I'll Be Gone"

Selected Paintings

"The Art of Rabindranath Tagore" by Andrew Robinson

In his sixties, Rabindranath Tagore took up painting. His prodigious aptitude for the art produced nearly 2500 paintings and drawings in a span of just 15 years. His works range from subtly perceptive portraiture to fantastical landscapes and mythic creatures, imbued with striking color. In this essay Andrew Robinson introduces Tagore's technique and his place within the art world — featuring a curated collection of Tagore's most evocative paintings.

Selected Audio

The Dulcet Tones of Anita Desai

During Anita Desai's interview, we were captivated by her quiet recitations of Rabindranath Tagore's poems and stories. We loved them so much, we made this collection. Listen to the stories you heard and a few you didn't.

» "The Notebook"
» "The Postmaster"
» "The Arrival"

Selected Writings

Tagore's Lyrical Landscape

Read a selection of the Nobel laureate's most beloved poetry and prose — including an essay by his friend William Butler Yeats.

» "Where the Mind is Without Fear"
» "Recovery"
» "Shesh Lekha" (Last Writings)
» "Introduction to Gitanjali" by W.B. Yeats
» "Sadhana: The Realization of Life" (An Excerpt)

About the Image

Albert Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore at Einstein’s Berlin home in 1926.

Episode Sponsor

Funding was provided in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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About 35 years ago I lived with my family in Bangladesh. While there I "discovered" Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali. His sacred poetry and spiritual depth captured me at a most difficult time in my life...and made me fall in love with the Bengali people and their new country. I still keep a much loved and read copy of Gitanjali on my bedstand, and it travels with me wherever I've gone for 35 years.

There seem to be a lot of insight that is left behind that is so relevant to Tagore. There has been no discussion about his freedom of education and his contribution towards the creation of the University in Santiniketan near Calcutta, India. His religious ideologies that stem from his father; The creation of a monotheistic reformist and renaissance movement of Hindu religion, The Bramho Samaj. The various dimensions of his songs and the messages they carry should be elucidated in a manner that could open up doors for reading and understanding Tagore and his contribution to literature and poetry.