The scientific poet

tagore_einsPoetry and science have a common connection – philosophy. Some of the earliest philosophers, like Archimedes, Aristotle made way for great poetry and scientific theories. Newton spent the later half of his life in Biblical interpretations. It was after the advent of nuclear and quantum physics and the more complex string theory in the early 20th century, when the path of science and philosophy got separated. Well, one of the last men standing in this long legacy of thinkers who brought science and philosophy together was Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

Tagore was a quintessential poet-philosopher with a deeply rational and inquiring mind who strove for freedom from every possible limitation of the human mind. His lifelong and intimate friendship with Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose also helped him develop a reverence for science. Acharya had dedicated his life in search for reason in the workings of nature, for a unity in the diversity of nature, a synergism between spiritualism and reason. Not only did Tagore help his friend with money to carry on with his path-breaking experiments in England, he also wrote extensively about them. Tagore had numerous meaningful conversations with the leading scientists of his time. In 1928, Werner Heisenberg spent some time in India as Tagore’s guest. In 1930, when Tagore met Albert Einstein in Berlin, the scientist asked, “do you believe in the divine as isolated from the world?” The poet replied, “not isolated; the infinite personality of man comprehends the universe, and the truth of the universe is human truth.” The scientist smiled, “then I am more religious than you are.

Tagore, in the preface to his only book on science, ‘Visva Parichay’, dedicated to the scientist Satyendranath Bose, wrote about his fascination for science from his childhood. It was the miracles of science that made his mind wander. It was this broad scientific mind which drove his idea of universal brotherhood and spirituality – a reason why he opposed nationalism and emphasised on education. To Tagore, the scientific truths were not mere abstractions and formulas but concrete living truths that inspired his poems and songs. He assimilated and internalised the scientific spirit and weaved it into the very fabric of his philosophy and his artistic creations. In one of his last poems from Arogya, Tagore writes-

this gigantic creation
is a fireworks display of
suns and stars across the skies
on a cosmic time scale.
i too have come from the eternal
and the imperceptible
like a spark in a tiny remote corner
of space and time.
today as i enter the final act of
the flame weakens,
the shadows reveal the illusory
character of the play,
and the costumes of grief and hap
piness begin to slacken.
i see the colourful costumes
left over by hundreds of actors and
actresses across the ages
outside the arena of the theatre.
i look up only to find
beyond the backdrop of hundreds
of extinguished stars
nataraj, silent and lonely 

For too long have we seen this amazing man as a bard. Lest we forget – that he was a philosopher with a strong scientific mind in place. These days when science is seen separate from philosophy, and poets from a scientific background are more often than not, ridiculed, it is important we get deeper into the roots of one of the finest poets of the modern world.


6 responses to “The scientific poet

  1. Sourav … Thank you so much for writing something so wonderful on this wonderful topic … This is one of my most favourite topics since when I’ve already forgotten … But I liked and enjoyed thoroughly what you wrote and my special thanks to you for adding this poem to your piece of writing … I’ve read ‘Arogya’ in Bengali … Now I would like to search for the poem in Bengali … I read two conversations between Einstein and Tagore from the internet and I found one of them in Tagore’s book titled ‘The Religion of Man’ and I also read about Einstein’s Cosmic Religion and both these concepts have some connection with what you wrote and at last I must say that Tagore is my ‘bondhu’ n ‘praner thakur’

  2. yeah! I’ve got the poem in Bengali also in ‘Arogya’ … [ birat srishtir khetre … atosbajir khela akashe akashe … surjo tara loye … jugjuganter porimaape … onadi odrishyo hote amio eshechhi … khudro ognikona niye … ek prante khudro deshe kaale … prosthaner onke aaj eshechhi jemni … dipshikha mlan hoye elo … chhayate porilo dhora e khelar mayar sworup … sloth hoye elo dheere sukh du:kho natyosojjaguli … dekhilam, juge juge notonoti bohu shoto shoto … fele gechhe nanaronga besh tahader … rongoshala dwarer bahire … dekhilam chahi … shoto shoto nirbapito nokkhyotrer nepothyoprangone notoraj stobdho ekaki …] … It is the 9th poem of the ‘Arogya’.

  3. Nice blog 🙂 Loved reading it

    • I’ve got two more songs of Tagore and their translations which help us feel the scientific poet more deeply … I’m posting them here …

      1.( Mahabiswe mahakashe mahakal majhe
      Aami manabo ekakee bhrami biswaye, bhrami biswaye
      Tumi aachho, biswanath, aseem rahasyamaajhe
      Neerabe ekakee aapan mahimaniloye
      Ananta e deshkaler, aganyo e deepta loke,
      Tumi aachho more chahi aami chahi toma pane
      Stabdho sarbo kolahal, shantimagno charachar
      Ek tumi, toma majhe aami eka nirbhoye)

      [Amidst this vast cosmos
      Through deep space and time
      Alone I walk ever, in awe.
      Amidst infinite mystery
      Art Thou, Lord of All,
      Alone in Thy glory, ever silent.

      Across endless space,
      From the stars beyond count
      Thy gaze falls on me,
      I gaze back at Thee.
      Silence descends,
      The world rests in peace.
      Eternal One, amidst Thy Oneness
      Alone I dwell, ever fearless.]

      2.(Aakashbhora surjo tara, biswobhara pran,
      Tahari majhkhane aami paechi mor sthan,
      Bissae tai jage aamar gan.
      Aasim kaler je hillole joar bhatay bhuban dole
      Narite mor raktodharaya legeche tar tan,
      Bissoe tai jage aamar gan.
      Ghase ghase pa phelechi boner pathe jete,
      Phuler gandhe chamak lege utheche mon mete,
      Charie aache aananderi dan,
      Bissoe tai jage aamar gan.
      Kan petechi, chokh melechi, dharar buke pran dhelechi,
      Janar majhe aajanare korechi sandhan,
      Bissoe tai jage aamar gan.)

      [My heart sings at the wonder of my place
      In this world of light and life;
      At the feel in my pulse of the rhythm of creation
      Cadenced by the swing of the endless time.
      I feel the tenderness of the grass in my forest walk,
      The wayside flowers startle me:
      That the gifts of the infinite are strewn in the dust
      Wakens my song in wonder.
      I have seen, have heard, have lived;
      In the depth of the known have felt
      The truth that exceeds all knowledge
      Which fills my heart with wonder and I sing.
      – Rabindranath Tagore]

      Although Tagore himself has translated it, I’m not very satisfied with this translation and so I’m posting here another one that I’ve got from the internet.

      [English Translations:
      The sky, adorned with stars and sun
      The world, full of so many lives
      Within this glorious vast expanse
      Here I am, with a place to be, a role to play
      I am amazed and wondering,
      I see my song find itself here…

      Along with the eternal flow of the time
      The way the this world sways
      Through high and low tide…
      I feel the very same rhythm
      In the flow of blood in my veins…
      I am amazed and wondering,
      I see my song find itself here…

      I walk on this earth, barefoot on the grass
      Surprised and adored by the aroma of the flowers
      All I see seems made out of bliss…
      I am amazed and wondering,
      I see my song find itself here…

      My eyes are wide open, ears are eager
      My life is pouring out like a flowing river
      My heart seeks out for the unknown
      That lies within everything known…
      I am amazed and wondering,
      I see my song find itself here…]

      (Akash bhora shurjo tara
      Bishwa bhora pran
      Tahari majkhane ami peyechhi peyechhi mor sthan
      Bishowye tai jage, jage amar gaan
      Asim kaler je hillole
      Joar bhatae bhubon dole
      Narite mor raktadharae legechhe tar Tan
      Bishowye tai jage, jage amar gaan
      Ghase ghase pa phelechhi
      Boner pathe jete
      Phuler gandhe chamak lege uthechhe mon mete
      Chhariye achhe ananderi gan
      Kan petechhi chokh melechhi
      Dharar buke pran dhelechhi
      Janar majhe ajanare karechhi sandhan
      Bishowye tai jage, jage amar gaan)

  4. Pingback: When Art Meets Science: Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein. | Deo Volente

  5. Pingback: Artistic science scientific arts | Sourav Roy

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