Rabindranath Tagore (1860-1940) received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his collection of poems Gitanjali, Song Offerings (a compilation of different collections with only 53 of the original Bengali Gitanjali poems), was the first non-European Nobel Prize, representing India, and therefore the first Nobel prize from the Far East. Venerated as a poet and writer who excelled in various genres, he also was an educator who created a new highly qualified education system, a thinker, reformer, revolutionary, world traveler, painter, political activist, agricultural reformer, and messenger between East and West who met with the greatest of all continents and fueled the much needed dialogue between cultures and civilizations. His interest in science led him to meet Einstein; less is known of his encounter with Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics. Two of his poems have become anthems (India and Bangladesh), and the school and college he founded remain reputable institutions.
Shortly before his Gitanjali, Song Offerings, published in 1912 in London, Tagore published in 1910, Calcutta, his 157 poems in Bengali, Gitanjali, which were the basis of his text rewarded by the Nobel prize. Today, a hundred years later, The Original Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore is the first translation directly from Bengali to English of the entire 157 original poems, accomplished by a renowned Bengali linguist and Tagore specialist, poet, and writer.
Romain Rolland (Nobel 1915) commented: “Tagore is for us the symbol of the spirit, light and harmony, the song of eternity that rises from the sea of passions unleashed“.
The Nobel committee said: “…its rhythmic and balanced style … combines both feminine grace of poetry with manly strength of prose“.
Udaya Narayana Singh, a linguistics professor, renowned poet-essayist and former Vice President of the Visa-Bharati University (Wikipedia) founded by Tagore, has undertaken the challenge to highlight the beauty of rhythm and sound of the Bengali language, which is the base of the magic developed with mastery by Tagore, and thus offers us, as faithfully as possible, a milestone translation, the authentic song that Tagore gave the world. In the depth analysis preceding Tagore’s poems, Singh also discusses the translations of 1914 André Gide and Juan Ramón Jiménez. Here, for the first time, we get an insight into the roots of these poems and discover a Tagore “not Westernized” but more universal than ever.