While I do feel like I jumped ship on my last post, I’m trying to not get discouraged by it. So I decided to sanctify the situation by checking my ambition and by starting this post on a much shorter poem from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. I come to you live from the English Study Center (official name: The Writing Center) complete with a vintage pencil sharpener attached to the wall, a desk (yes with an apple on top), and a terribly empty and generally unorganized bookshelf. Oh and I can’t forget: two posters of the 151 most misspelled words. Not exactly home-y and generally unwelcoming. It’s a good thing I have some poetry to redirect my attention to.
When I was scrolling through the PDF of Gitanjali it seemed to contain about a thousand poems. While it doesn’t have a thousand–just 103 to be exact–I only scrolled through the first 20 or so before I decided that number 9 is my favorite. Like many of the things, I read it’s definitely love-related which to be completely honest is what drew me to it. Strangely, I was disheartened after completing it because I secretly wished for it to say the opposite of what it does because it stresses the importance of love. It reaffirms the fact that we have to relinquish some control to a higher power to be truly happy.
O FOOL, TO TRY to carry thyself upon thy own shoulders! O beggar, to come to beg at thy own door!
Leave all thy burdens on his hands who can bear all, and never look behind in regret.
Thy desire at once puts out the light from the lamp it touches with its breath. It is unholy–take not thy gifts through its unclean hands. Accept only what is offered by sacred love.
I think the first key to understanding this poem is decoding the speaker. When I read this poem. I think of the speaker as a sort of sage–maybe just a teacher–because of the way they’re commenting on the actions of the subject of the poem. The speaker categorizes the subject as a “fool” and a “beggar.” At the heart of these definitions of the subject is the lack of willingness the subject exhibits in relying on others. The subject rather “carry thyself upon thy own shoulders” or “beg at thy own door” than ask for help; for in doing so they would show that they aren’t perfect and they don’t have it all figured out. It takes a certain degree of vulnerability to ask for help. It’s hard to be vulnerable; that is one thing I know for sure.
The other key part of this poem is the idea of a higher power. The speaker suggests it would be easier for the subject to “leave all thy burdens on his hands,” his being God’s. What a revolutionary idea. It seems to be an easy proposal but in actuality, it’s incredibly difficult–and if you’re me, it’s nearly impossible. I mean it’s one thing to have trust in humanity, in the world, in God, but to relinquish all control and to “never look behind in regret?” I feel like that is an impossible feat no matter how ideal. Maybe I’m the fool.
The next line of the poem threw me through a little bit of a loop. Tagore writes, “Thy desire at once puts out the light from the lamp it touches with its breath.” First of all, I couldn’t determine what the “thy” desired. Then I realized that “desire” in this line is working as a noun and not a verb which helped me come to my conclusion about the sentence; it just goes to show that even when you think you know nothing, you still know something. My conjecture is that the desire that Tagore is referring to is the desire to do it all alone and “to carry thyself upon thy own shoulders.” He’s saying that self-reliance has the capacity to be destructive.
The last two lines of the poem fit together like puzzle pieces and in those lines are where the magic happens (at least I think so). The speaker of the poem suggests that the aforementioned desire is “unholy” and that the subject should “accept only what is offered by sacred love.” This line makes love out to be the end all be all. Perhaps it is. What’s particularly interesting is what happens when you put the whole poem together, when it’s not dissected into its parts like I have just done. I should also propose the idea that God is in every one of us because it makes the poem’s meaning more profound. After combining all of this, I believe this poem’s theme is something along the lines of there’s no winning in doing everything yourself; it’s only when you realize that you have to rely on God (and He is in all of us so therefore also in others) that you can obtain the gifts of love. Could I be wrong? Most definitely. Am I overly religious in my analysis? Maybe, but blame Tagore–it’s his poem.
So there it is, a fully complete poem analysis done by yours truly; I never thought I’d see the day. Tagore’s poetry has all the things that I thought I could never like (old language and a whole bunch of God references) but somehow I love it. I’m certain that I have a long way to go in my poetry analysis game, but I’ll probably get there. Probably. Right now, it’s an accomplishment to get any theme statement at all. While I really enjoy poetry, I just don’t think I’m as good at analyzing it as I am with novels–but that sure as hell won’t hold me back from reading it. In my opinion, the best poems don’t have to be analyzed, they just are.