by Bob Schwartz
Take a break with Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).
He was a Bengali poet, essayist, dramatist, composer and philosopher, and is the most esteemed creative artist of modern India. He was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.
A brief introduction is Stray Birds (1916), which consists of 326 very short verses—each one usually one or two sentences. Below is a selection of them. Among the many online items by and about Tagore there is a 1961 documentary about Tagore by Satyajit Ray, India’s most celebrated film director. Here is a PDF of Stray Birds as originally published, with a translation from Bengali to English by Tagore himself.
These literary stray birds may seem at first glance to be mere poetic aphorisms. Taken together, though, this is a worldview of inspired simplicity.
From Stray Birds by Rabindranath Tagore
Stray birds of summer come to my window to sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh.
O troupe of little vagrants of the world, leave your footprints in my words.
If you shed tears when you miss the sun, you also miss the stars.
O Beauty, find thyself in love, not in the flattery of thy mirror.
The bird wishes it were a cloud. The cloud wishes it were a bird.
The waterfall sings, “I find my song, when I find my freedom.”
Do not blame your food because you have no appetite.
The fish in the water is silent, the animal on the earth is noisy, the bird in the air is singing,
But Man has in him the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth and the music of the air.
He has made his weapons his gods. When his weapons win he is defeated himself.
The stars are not afraid to appear like fireflies.
Man does not reveal himself in his history, he struggles up through it.
The sparrow is sorry for the peacock at the burden of its tail.
The Perfect decks itself in beauty for the love of the Imperfect.
We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.
He who wants to do good knocks at the gate; he who loves finds the gate open.
I carry in my world that flourishes the worlds that have failed.
The bird thinks it is an act of kindness to give the fish a lift in the air.
To be outspoken is easy when you do not wait to speak the complete truth.
If you shut your door to all errors truth will be shut out.
When I travelled to here and to there, I was tired of thee, O Road, but now when thou leadest me to everywhere I am wedded to thee in love.
I have my stars in the sky,
But oh for my little lamp unlit in my house.
The Great walks with the Small without fear.
The Middling keeps aloof.
Power takes as ingratitude the writhings of its victims.
The cobweb pretends to catch dew-drops and catches flies.
The canal loves to think that rivers exist solely to supply it with water.
Thought feeds itself with its own words and grows.
It is the little things that I leave behind for my loved ones, –great things are for everyone.
He who is too busy doing good finds no time to be good.
A mind all logic is like a knife all blade.
It makes the hand bleed that uses it.
Praise shames me, for I secretly beg for it.
Let my doing nothing when I have nothing to do become untroubled in its depth of peace like the evening in the seashore when the water is silent.
The best does not come alone. It comes with the company of the all.
Do not say, “It is morning,” and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a new-born child that has no name.
The stream of truth flows through its channels of mistakes.
Man is worse than an animal when he is an animal.
The false can never grow into truth by growing in power.
Let the dead have the immortality of fame, but the living the immortality of love.
Blessed is he whose fame does not outshine his truth.
Man’s history is waiting in patience for the triumph of the insulted man.
I long for the Island of Songs across this heaving Sea of Shouts.
I have suffered and despaired and known death and I am glad that I am in this great world.