Rabindranath Tagore, by Ezra Pound.

THE APPEARANCE OF “The Poems of Rabindranath Tagore”1 is, to my mind, very important. I am by no means sure that I can convince the reader of this importance. For proof I must refer him to the text. He must read it quietly. He would do well to read it aloud, for this apparently simple English translation has been made by a great musician, by a great artist who is familiar with a music much subtler than our own.

It is a little over a month since I went to Mr. Yeats’ rooms and found him much excited over the advent of a great poet, someone “greater than any of us.”

It is hard to tell where to begin.

BENGAL IS A nation of fifty million people. Superficially it would seem to be beset with phonographs and railways. Beneath this there would seem to subsist a culture not wholly unlike that of twelfth-century Provençe.

Mr. Tagore is their great poet and their great musician as well. He has made them their national song, their Marseillaise, if an Oriental nation can be said to have an equivalent to such an anthem. I have heard his “Golden Bengal,” with its music, and it is wholly Eastern, yet it has a curious power, a power to move the crowd. It is “minor” and subjective, yet it has all the properties of action.

I name this only in passing, to show that he has sung of all the three things which Dante thought “fitting to be sung of, in the noblest possible manner,” to wit, love, war and holiness.

The next resemblance to mediaeval conditions is that “Mr. Tagore” teaches his songs and music to his jongleurs, who sing them throughout Bengal. He can boast with the best of the troubadours, “I made it, the words and the notes.” Also, he sings them himself, I know, for I have heard him.

The “forms” of this poetry as they stand in the original Bengali are somewhere between the forms of Provençal canzoni and the roundels and “odes” of the Pleiade. The rhythm arrangements are different, and they have rhymes in four syllables, something, that is, beyond the “leonine.”

Their metres are more comparable to the latest development of vers libre than to anything else Western.

The language itself is a daughter of Sanscrit. It sounds like good Greek than any language I know of.

It is an inflected language, and therefore easy to rhyme in. You may couple words together as you do in Greek or German. Mr. Tagore tells me that there is scarcely a poem where you do not make some word combination.

I write this to show that it is an ideal language for poets; it is fluid, and the order is flexible, and all this makes for precision. Thus, you may invert in an inflected language, for this will not cause any confusion as to your meaning.

It makes for precision, since you can have a specific word for everything. For example, one of Mr. Tagore’s friends was singing to me and translating informally, and he came to a word which a careless lexicographer might have translated simply “scarf,” but no! It seems they wear a certain kind of scarf in a certain manner, and there is a special name for the little tip that hangs back over the shoulder and catches in the wind. This is the word that was used.

THE HUNDRED POEMS in the present volume are all songs to sing. The tunes and the words are knit together, are made together, and Oriental music would seem to fit this purpose better than our own.

Firstly, because it is unencumbered with a harmony.

Secondly, from the nature of ragini, which are something in the Greek modes.

And in these ragini there is a magic of association. For certain of these scales are used only for song in the evening, or for song in the rainy season, or at sunrise, so that a Bengali hearing any opening bar knows at once the place and the atmosphere of the poem.

For myself I should be apt to find a curious aptness in the correspondence of the raga with its own service. At least it lends a curious ritualistic strength to the art. And no separate poem or song can seem a scrap or a disconnected performance, but must seem a part of the whole order of the song and of life. It takes a man more quickly from the sense of himself, and brings him into the emotion of “the flowing,” of harmonic nature, of orderly calm and sequence.

“I do not know whether there is anything more in it. To us it means a great deal, perhaps it is only association.” I quote here the author himself. The evening before he had asked me: “What is it you find in these poems (translated)? I did not know that they would interest a European.”

And stripped of all the formal beauty of the original, of the tune, and of the rhythm, and of the subtle blendings of their rhyme, it is a small wonder that Mr. Tagore should be curious as to the effect of what remains in the prose of an alien speech.

I must, from his point of view, have wasted a certain amount of time in my answers, for I began to discuss his art and his manner of presentation, rather than his spirit and context.

The precision of his language remains.

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