Frank McLynn

Eastern Sage

Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man

By

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Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) has been the subject of two different sets of misconceptions. After early literary success in the West his reputation dwindled almost to nothing. He had earlier won plaudits from poets as various as Eliot, Pound, Bridges, Owen and Yeats, but most of these quondam champions deserted him, until in the end only Yeats remained. The perception has remained that he was a mere spinner of beautiful trifles, a man who was awarded a Nobel prize purely on the Buggins’s-turn principle, or because the Nobel committee in 1912 could not bring itself to honour Thomas Hardy. Philip Larkin’s response is typical. In 1956 he wrote: ‘An Indian has written to ask what I think of Rabindrum [sic] Tagore: feel like sending him a telegram: FUCK ALL. LARKIN.’ As a thinker, Tagore bred little better under Western eyes. In 1913 Bertrand Russell wrote to Ottoline Morell: ‘Here I am back from Tagore’s lecture, after walking most of the way home. It was unmitigated rubbish – cut-and-dried conventional stuff about the river becoming one with the Ocean and man becoming one with Brahma.’

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