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Tagore on Bengal

The following selection of quotes has been drawn from letters written by Tagore from 1885 to 1895, which were published in 1920 under the title Glimpses of Bengal: Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore 1885 to 1895, 1920. The letters recorded some of the observations he made during his travels in rural Bengal. Some of the selections describing actual places anticipate the paintings that Tagore would later create.

Not a village, not a human being, not a tree, not a blade of grass—the only breaks in the monotonous whiteness are gaping cracks which in places show the layer of moist, black clay underneath. Looking towards the East, there is endless blue above, endless white beneath. Sky empty, earth empty too—the emptiness below hard and barren, that overhead arched and ethereal—one could hardly find elsewhere such a picture of stark desolation. . . . But on turning to the West, there is water, the currentless bend of the river, fringed with its high bank, up to which spread the village groves with cottages peeping through—all like an enchanting dream in the evening light. I say “the evening light,” because in the evening we wander out, and so that aspect is impressed on my mind. Shelidah, 1888.

The days here drowse all their twelve hours in the sun, and silently sleep away the other twelve, wrapped in the mantle of darkness. The only thing you want to do in a place like this is to gaze and gaze on the landscape, swinging your fancies to and fro, alternately humming a tune and nodding dreamily, as the mother on a winter’s noonday, her back to the sun, rocks and croons her baby to sleep. Kaligram, 1891.

On the verge of the horizon, where the distant fringe of trees was blue, a thin line of dark blue cloud had risen over them and was looking particularly beautiful. I tried to be poetical and said it was like blue collyrium on the fringe of lashes enhancing a beautiful blue eye. Of my companions one did not hear the remark, another did not understand, while the third dismissed it with the reply: “Yes, very pretty.” I did not feel encouraged to attempt a second poetical flight. Bolpur, 12th Jaistha (May 1892.)

Goethe on his death-bed wanted “more light.” If I have any desire left at all at such a time, it will be for “more space” as well; for I dearly love both light and space. Many look down on Bengal as being only a flat country, but that is just what makes me revel in its scenery all the more. Its unobstructed sky is filled to the brim, like an amethyst cup, with the descending twilight and peace of the evening; and the golden skirt of the still, silent noonday spreads over the whole of it without let or hindrance.

Where is there another such country for the eye to look on, the mind to take in? On the way to Boalia, 22nd September 1894