What Wants To Come Through Me Now – Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali (Song Offerings) – Coleman Barks
A New Interpretation/Version by COLEMAN BARKS
What drew Coleman Barks to bring his genius to the Gitangili of Rabindranath Tagore? Speaking of these “Song Offerings”, Barks, known and loved for his exquisite transmissions of Rumi, opens us up to the heart of the Indian mystic, Tagore.
W.B. Yeats wrote the introduction to the English translation of the Gitangili, which won the 1913 Nobel Prize. Tagore’s poems have been beloved in India by persons ranging from the famed film director Satyajit Ray to Gandhi, who- as he broke his courageous 1933 fast- asked that Tagore sing the Mahatma’s (Tagore had given him this title) favorite song from the Gitangili (#39).
Hailed by poets from Hart Crane to Robert Frost, Yeats’s personal response perhaps sums up the empathy the Western literary community felt when it first received Tagore’s work: “A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination, and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image…or heard, perhaps for the first time, in literature, our voice as in a dream” (Yeats, 11). Ezra Pound wrote similarly in the Fortnightly Review, “I find in these poems a sort of ultimate common sense, a reminder of one thing and of the forty things of which we are likely to lose sight of in the confusion of our Western life.”
In his introduction, “Constant Communion”, Coleman Barks explains what inspired him to recreate the 1913 English translation. “I am trying to rephrase his insights in language that does not cloud their brilliance. Tagore’s mysticism feels very simple and abundant (Yeat’s adjective for it), like Wordsworth’s, like Whitman’s … It is into that more current idiom that I am trying to place Tagore’s songs.”
“I love the sense coming through them of an honest mysticism. That, of course, is also true of Rumi. Surely that work prepared me for Tagore. Something of a full circle is going on here. I have come back
around to working on my mentor’s (Bly) mentor (Tagore’s Kabir). It is very probable, of course, that Kabir knew Rumi’s ecstatic poetry. Certainly Tagore did. The headbone connected to the neckbone… etc. These bones, these bones, gonna walk around. In a circle.
A note on Coleman Barks ‘translation’-interpretations: “Barks begins each project by working with a scholar who provides him with a literal translation. “From that, I try to make a valid-free verse poem in American English. Rumi wrote magnificent poetry in elaborately rhymed Persian. I try to bring some of that energy and delight over into our language.” Barks concedes that some scholars do object to what he does but adds that what is most often said of his work “is that what I get about Rumi is his playfulness. That rarely comes across in the scholarly work.” [ Article source: Baylor School website https://bit.ly/35IZ0t5 ]