This line from Donne’s The Canonization is found in the lips of Tagore’s hero Amit in Sesher Kobita. And question arises why out of so many poets Tagore choose Donne’s line, when Tagore has once claimed that of all English poets John Keats has influenced him the most. But it can be assumed that the idea of ‘platonic love’ is the reason behind it.
John Donne and Rabindranath Tagore both belong to two different ages but there are certain things in both Tagore and Donne which make their writings similar in thoughts. In my paper I want to discuss mainly about the similarity that they share. But they are dissimilar too, mainly in their style of writing, and my paper also focuses on those dissimilarities. Love, to them is something or someone who is a divine entity who is being loved or rather who crave for love. In Donne’s poetry and in Tagore’s song and in writings one found this tension. This research will also show how the words of the Vedanta1 and Sri Krishna’s2 words in Bhagvat Geeta3 get mingled with the words of Donne and obviously with the words of Tagore. Not only that this paper of mine will also show have that Sufism4 and the mysticism that is there is Sufism also had a great recurrence in their work. The research also questions that why the great poets like Tagore and Donne have a definite positive attitude to the question of death.
In this paper of mine I have used the theories of Is Upanishad5 and have also taken the help of the Vedanta; especially the analysis of the Vedanta made by Swami Vivekananda. In this project theories of Sufism too helped me a lot. Jaidev’s Vaishnav Padavalli 6 helped med to understand this theme of divine love. Helen Gardner’s essay on Metaphysical Poets was also of great help to me. And finally, Rabindranath Tagore and European Romanticism by Bikash Chakravarty and Rabindra-Sarani by Promothonath Bishi helped me to rediscover Rabindranath once more.
The connection and the love between the divine and the human is an old tradition of Indian or rather Bengali literature. In Jaidev’s Vaishnav Padavalli we see the love between the divine and the human. The love of Sri Krishna and his beloved Radha7. This same kind of love or this Radha- Krishna is also been reflected in Rabindranath Tagore’s song, that were written by him in his youth in the Brajabuli language. The collection of these songs together is known as Bhanushingher Padaballi. But Bhanushingher Padaballi is just a pebble in a vast ocean. There are many Tagore’s song and poem which talks about the same divine and the human love. In an essay on Rabindranath, Promothonath Bishi had said that Tagore’s poems in Kori and Komol had created a sensation during that age. The reason behind this was that, the poems describe heavenly women figures (like Urvasi) in a very sensuous manner. But Promothonath Bishi disagrees with the contemporary criticism. According to him through these poems the poet has tried to reach the infinite world while being in the limited world. Thus the poet says:
“Eki durashar swapno hai go Ishwar
Toma chara a milan ache konkhane” [What a dream sans hope hey almighty it is/without you this meet thus always cease] [Purnamilan]
Here we hear in Tagore, the plea to get united with the Almighty God. And if Tagore wanted to get united with the divine then Donne asks this divine:
“Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free.”
Men are born Immortal, or according to the Vedanta Men (and also women) are born from the Amrit. And not only humans but every one in this Earth is born form that Immortal, so none of the creature neither have any beginning, nor any decay and nor any death. According to the Vedanta Man’s aim in life should be the manifestation of the divine in the self. Bhagvat Geeta on the other hand had said that, human body is like the old cloths, and it is not a human entity. Souls are the owner of this body and when the soul wants it can leave one body and be the owner of the other body. These basic thoughts get reflected in the works of Donne and Tagore. Both of them had believed in the union of the souls and not in the union of the bodies. And thus bodily beauty never attracts any of them.
“For he who colour loves and skinne
Loves but their oldest clothes”
These lines clearly ring in mind the words of Bhagvat Geeta where a body of a human being is being compared to old and torn cloths. And to Rabindranath eternal beauty is the beauty is the beauty that one should love and so we find his hero Aruneshwar saying:
“Aami rupe tomay bholab na
Aami haat diye dwar khulbo na
Gaan diye dwar kholab” [I won’t woo you with my beauty/I will woo you with my love/ I will not open these doors with my hands/ I will through music open these doors]
Interestingly, Aruneshwar (The Sun God) getting married to Komolika, in Shapmochan, [The Curse Redeemed] is symbolic of a marriage between two souls as because here Komolika first gets married with Aruneshwar Veena. This Veena is symbolic of the musical qualities that are being possessed by Aruneshwar. It is in a way the soul of Aruneshwar because Aruneshwar in his previous life was a musician. And in his after life he has just two things from his previous life; his efficiency in music and his unknown and uncanny feeling towards princess Komolika (who in the previous life was his wife). In this dance drama the Veena is responsible for the union of Aruneshwar and Komolika. Like the flea, in Donne’s poem Flea is responsible for the marriage of the two lovers and for that matter in their union. In both Tagore and Donne’s poetry we find a disregard for sexual and physical love. But at the same time it is also true that both did not denied the existence of the body and thus Tagore says in his poem, Deher Milan:
“Hriday lukono ache deher sayar a
Chirodin tire bosi kori go krondon” [The heart is hidden beneath this body/ I weep my all through my life sitting at the shore]
This poem actually speaks of that prize moment when the speaker did not understand that the body is actually preserving the heart or the souls, he like Donne is asking:
“Our bodies why doe wee forebear?”
And the answer that he is rceiving is also can be said through Donne’s these lines:
“They are ours, though they are not wee, Wee are
Th’intelligences, they the Spheares” [Extasie]
In Tagore there is an assimilation of the ‘Jiban’ (Visible real life) and the ‘Arup’ (the idealized unseen). To understand the idea of ‘Arup’, one has to understand the Is Upanishad. In Is Upanishad the character of divine is ‘Shunya’, it neither have any form, any shape or any quality. That is why it is called the ‘Nirgun’ (without any quality) and ‘Nirakar’ (without any shape). The essence of ‘Nirgun’ and ‘Nirakar’ is the very essence of the divine in Is Upanishad. This essence in Sufism is known as the Dhat (Zat) and this essence leads to Sankarcharya’s theory of Non-dualism, or “Adwatiyabad”. This means that there is no ‘you’ and no ‘me’; both ‘you’ and ‘me’ mingle in one self. From dualism raises a love that contains fear, but from non-dualism love devoid of fear is being raised. In Donne’s word:
“And dare love that, and say so too
And forget the Hee and Shee” [The Undertaking]
And according to the Vedanta it is reaching to an assertion through negation. This is vividly found in Tagore’s poem Premer Abhishek, where he describes the beauty of the dancer of the heaven, Urvasi, and says:
“Noh mata, noh kanya, noh bondhu, sundari rupasi” [Nor mother, nor daughter, nor betrothed, hey beautiful].
Thus by negating the qualities that a woman possesses, that of a mother, daughter and wife, Tagore is celebrating the womanhood. Thus through negation Tagore is trying to reach to an assertion.
We, the human beings comes from the infinite therefore finite goals cannot satiate the infinite human desire. Therefore Tagore, according to Promothonath Bishi, neither searched for the infinite nor for the finite. He remained in this finite world and tried to make a connection with the infinite. To Rabindranath ‘facts’ are decaying death and ‘truth’ is the everlasting life of the youth. This thought of Rabindranath gets reflected in his dance drama Falguni. Thus Donne says:
“All other things, to their destruction draw
Only our love hath no decay” [The Anniversary].
In the explanation of the Vedanta, made by Swami Vivekananda, we find a reference to ‘Rahasya’. ‘Rahasya’ is a portion of Vedanta and it says that religion has got rid of all external formalities. According to ‘Rahasya’, spiritual things are told in the language of spirits. ‘Rahasya’ is bold, brave and is definitely beyond the concept of the present age. In this respect if we observe Donne style of writing then we will find that his style of writing is bold, brave and is definitely from the conception that used to persist in his age. According to Helen Gardner he tried to establish a ‘relationship between the spirit and the senses.’ Rabindranath too is his relationship with God was different from the poet of his age and in his poetry we find a surrender of his self to the Almighty God.
Another important feature of Vedanta is ‘Maya’. According to Vivekananda ‘Maya’ makes millions of being distinguishable. Soul, which in the Vedanta has been called the ‘atman’, is caught up in this ‘Maya’. And this ‘Maya’ gives water the name of the “ocean” and the “waves”. But after the wave subside what is left is water. So if we let Maya alone, and let form and names go, then all these varieties vanish forever. And we find the true self in us; this whole concept in one word is called the ‘Maya.’ We find a reference to this ‘Maya’ in many Tagore’s dance drama, poems and also in many of his novels. For instance, in Sesher Kobita, we find Jogomaya saying:
“Se jeno bujlum tumi Amit er kache chirokal ei Maya rupe thakbe”
But Jogomaya was not really right in the sense that, not for a few moments, but Labnya remains as ‘Maya’ to Amit till the end of the novel. It is Labnya’s presence that makes Amit’s character distinguishable from that of Labnya. Amit’s soul was caught up in Labnya’s ‘Maya’. In Bhagvat Geeta, one found that Sri Krishna is telling Arjun that he should not lament about the fact that the war of Krukshetra is going to take the lives of his relatives. According to Sri Krishna the relations that a Man (or a woman) made in this Earth is nothing but ‘Maya.’ It just makes us different from the other person and does not allow us to have, the true knowledge of who we really are. Thus in George Herbert’s (another metaphysical poet), The Collar that a God gives a Man is the only true collar, and from this freedom is never gain. But the other collars, that one feel that one is wearing, is nothing but illusion. This ‘bani’ of Sri Krishna to Arjun8, about the ‘Maya’ allows Arjun to be strong and mature enough to experience the death of his very dear ones.
Death and its pain have also been experienced by Donne and Rabindranath. But their attitude towards death can be said in the words of Vedanta as
“Sad Chidananda Swaroop”
This means that this world is all about the flow of joy without any attachments. Thus we see that after the death of Mrinalini Devi, Tagore wrote”
“Hriday amar nache re aji k mayur rer moto nache” [Like a peacock feathers so the same way swings my heart]
And in another song he puts the rhythm of life and death and wrote:
“Nache janam, nache mrityu, pache pache” [Birth swings beneath and so does death].
If Rabindranath has related death eternal joy, then Donne has asked “Death” to not to be “proud”; and had said:
“One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die”
This ring back in minds the same old teachings of Vedanta that we are Infinite and at the same time born from the Immortal and is thus Immortal. Thus we have neither any beginning, nor decay, and neither an end. We have one life and in this one life we neither have the knowledge of the previous life and neither have we had, the knowledge of the after life. This whole complicated matter in Tagore is described in a very simple line by Tagore:
“Notun name dakbe more a, bandhbe notun bahu dore a, asbo jabo chirodin er sei ami” [I’ll be called by different names, bound by relation new, yet I’ll coming back to you]
Thus a life after death will wake up with a new name, and get him or her tied up in relations; but the life will be that same eternal life.
According to Tagore in the connection between the ‘incomplete’ Visible Real and the ‘fulfilled’ Idealized Unseen, lies the success of poetry. Both Donne and Tagore has idealized the Idealized Unseen because the Visible Real is prone to decay and destruction. So, love for them is ‘Platonic’, they can eliminate the self, the notion of You and me. And if the idealized Unseen is the divine, then both of them love that Idealized Unseen. And love it in such a way that one feels that the love is between the lover and the beloved. It is like the eternal life of Radha and Krishna. That is why in Tagore’s Sesher Kobita we find Donne’s dramatic line:
“For godsake hold your tongue and let me love”,
repeated again and again and again. After al Amit and Labnya’s love is indeed an example of Platonic love. Thus while or after reading Donne if we say:
“…………..;though I bid farewell,
Thine, in mine hearts, where my soul dwels, shall dwell”
And after reading Rabindranath if we say:
“Nayan er Sammukhe tumi nei
Nayan er maje tumi niyecho je thei”
Then we are actually referring to the same thought in a different language.
- Vedanta- A collection of Hindu texts that talks about the foundation of Hinduism. There are four texts; and among them AtharvVed was the last to be written down. This is the ‘Ant’ or the last among the four Vedas. Thus it is known as Vedanta.
- Sri Krishna- The seventh son of Devaki and Basudev, who was the King of Mathura, a place in India. He played a vital role in the battle of Krukshetra, reference found in the Indian epic Mahabharata, fought between the Kaurav and Pandav.
- Bhagvat Geeta- In the battle of Krukshetra Lord Krishna gives a speech to his friend Arjun, who was de-motivated by this knowledge that he is fighting against his own family, to motivate him to fight the battle. Not only that Arjun have can see the whole universe in his mouth; and thus gained knowledge about this universe and of his self.
- Sufism- An Islamic mysticism where a person tried gets connected with the God by going through the passage of elimination of the self.
- Is Upanishad- A text that gives us the structure of not only Hinduism, but at the same time it connects with Buddhism and Jainism
- Vaishnav Padavalli- An old Bengali literature that talks about the eternal love of Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha.
- Radha- The wife of Ayan Ghosh but is renowned as the true lover of the Lord Krishna. She was worshipped together, in India, with Lord Krishna. But interestingly, Sri Krishna and Radha never got married they are still referred as lovers and not as husband and wife.
- Arjun- The son of Pandu, once the King of Hastinapur, according to the epic Mahabharata. He is renowned in the world because of his efficiency in archery. He was third among the five sons of Pandu.
The Metaphysical Poets; Selected and edited by Helen Gardner
Upanyas Samagra by Sri Rabindranath Tagore; Ed: Kalyanbrata Dutta Geeta; Ed: Subodhchandra Majumdar, Pub: Dev Sahatiya Kutir
Rabindranath Tagore and European Romanticism, by Bikash Chakravarty; Pub: Punascha. Rabindra-Sarani, by Promothonath Bishi.