Poetry 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 departure, 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.