The Tagorean Impulse

Amar Diwakar at The Baffler:

IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY Raga Mala, sitar-virtuoso Ravi Shankar declared that if Rabindranath Tagore “had been born in the West he would now be [as] revered as Shakespeare and Goethe.” Principally a poet, Tagore was also a novelist, a playwright, an essayist, a lyricist, a composer, an artist, and a social reformer. He sparred with Gandhi and meditated on metaphysics with Einstein. Like Goethe, his ideas reverberated beyond Weltliteratur, seeping into politics and social life.

For someone who dialogued with some of the most influential figures of the past century, Tagore curiously failed to generate a lasting impact beyond the Indian subcontinent. It is reasonable to believe that a linguistic parochialism shackled his reputation from being sustained beyond the Bengali-speaking realm. Much was lost in insipid English translations (particularly of his poetry and songs), a handicap Tagore’s promoters in the West, among them W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, could not overcome.

more here.