A collection of unpublished short poems written by Rabindranath Tagore while giving autographs is being published for the first time in form of a book. Compiled and edited by curator and poet Nilanjan Banerjee, the gems were so far lying hidden in the archives of Rabindra Bhavana in Tagore’s abode at Santiniketan.
The book ‘Knockings at my heart’ has around 81 such autograph-poems which will soon be released by Roli Books. “These are very short poems or couplets. He was influenced by the precision, depth, power and intensity of Japanese haiku style of poetry,” Banerjee said.
After getting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913 for his book of poems ‘Gitanjali’, ‘Gurudev’ had become a celebrity in Asia and Europe and was often requested by fans to compose short poems while signing autographs.
The book says Tagore soon perfected the craft and took it seriously which is evident in the painstaking modification of many of these poems years after they had been written.
The polymath had composed numerous such short poems during his visits to China and Japan between 1916 and 1929.
At Rabindra Bhavana, part of the Viswa Bharati university campus, multiple versions of Rabindranath’s autograph-poems can be found either in the poet’s own handwriting or in typed scripts or printed forms. The file ‘MSF Autograph Poems’ contains several sets of typed poems.
Another file ‘MS 460’ includes eight poems by the Nobel laureate in his own handwriting in an address book. The collection of autograph-poems vary in theme. Some speak of friendship, unity and togetherness, while others harp on God, eternity etc. “Children run out of the temple and play in the dust.God watches their games and forgets the priest,” reads one such poem. “They were written as and when whatever thoughts came to his mind on variety of subjects,” Banerjee, who studied at Reitaku University of Japan, said.
While many of these autograph-poems were written in Bengali with English translations, he wrote a few others directly in English without any Bengali translation.
These sporadic short verses that remain undated, were possibly written in response to specific public demands and not so much out of any urge to express himself in English, says the book.
During the lifetime of the poet, three books of his short poems were published - ‘Stray Birds’ (1916), ‘Lekhan’ (1926) and ‘Fireflies’ (1928). He used to modify his literary works at frequent intervals, producing several versions of the same creative piece in the process, says the book.
“Rabindranath was never ambitious to be known as an ‘English’ poet in any sense of the term.
Neither did he continue to translate his own works simultaneously and constantly with his original creations in Bengali,” it says.
Tagore’s writings in English were largely composed during his foreign travels or while corresponding with friends around the world. Very few of his poems were written originally in English like the well-known ‘The Child’ in 1931, which he translated into Bengali as ‘Sisu Tirtha’.