) is a collection of 103 English poems, largely translations, of the Bengali poetRabindranath Tagore. This volume became very famous in the West, and was widely translated.
) is also the title of an earlier Bengali volume (1910) of 157 mostly devotional songs.The word
is composed from "git", song, and "anjoli", offering, and thus means - "An offering of songs"; butthe word for offering,
, has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as "prayeroffering of song".
The English collection is not a translation of poems from the Bengali volume of the same name. While half thepoems (52 out of 103) in the English text were selected from the Bengali volume, others were taken from theseworks (given with year and number of songs selected for the English text):
(1906,11) and a handful from other works. The translations were often radical, leaving out or altering largechunks of the poem and in one instance even fusing two separate poems (song 95, which unifies songs 89,90 of naivedya).The translations were undertaken prior to a visit to England in 1912, where the poems were extremely well received.A slender volume was published in 1913, with an exhilarating preface by W. B. Yeats. In the same year, based on acorpus of three thin translations, Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize, specifically theNobel Prize for Literature.
The poems of
express a largely metaphysical outlook, talking about a union with the "supreme"; but likemuch western poetry that explores similar themes, the language suggests the union of two earthly lovers. This typeof anthropomorphic depiction of celestial love is quite common in the Vaishnava literature of India since the 12thcentury (see Vidyapati or Jayadeva). Rabindranath Tagore encountered it also in his interactions with the Baulcommunity in rural Bengal. For example, poem 7 in the English volume renders poem 125 from the Bengali
Amar e gan chheŗechhe tar shôkol ôlongkar
and talks of heavenly love in terms of the lover taking off her jewelry, which is getting in the way of the union. See also the poem 18, at the bottom of this page.Some poems involve themes related to nature, but here, too, the spiritual is subtly present, as in this poem (no. 57),given here along with the Bangla text in Roman script:Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in profusion.Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, and gladness without measure. The heaven's river has drowned itsbanks and the flood of joy is abroad.