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The Poet's Religion
By SIR RABINDRANATH TAGORE
IVILITY is beauty of behavior. It requires for its perfection patience, self-control, and an environment of leisure; for genuine courtesy is a creation, like pictures, like music. It is a harmonious blending of voice, gesture, and movement, words and action, in which generosity of conduct is expressed. It reveals the man himself and has no ulterior purpose.
Our needs are always in a hurry. They rush and hustle, they are rude and unceremonious, they have no surplus of leisure, no patience for anything else but fulfilment of purpose. At At the present day in our country we frequently see men utilizing empty kerosene-cans for carrying water. These cans are emblems of discourtesy, they are curt and abrupt, they have not the least shame for their unmannerliness, they do not care to be even slightly more than useful.
The instruments of our desire assert that we must have our food, shelter, clothes, comforts, and convenience; and yet men spend an immense deal of their time and resources to contradict these assertions, to prove that they are not a mere living catalogue of endless wants, that in them there is an ideal of perfection, a sense of unity which is in harmony with its parts and with its surroundings.
The quality of the infinite is not in the magnitude of extension; it is in the advaitam, the mystery of unity.
Facts occupy endless time and space, but truth, comprehending them all, has no dimension: it is one. Wherever our heart touches the one, in the small or the big, it finds the taste of the infinite. In beauty the harmony of the one is realized.
I was speaking to some one of the joy we have in our personality; it is because in it we are made aware of a unity within ourselves. I was answered by my companion that he had no such feeling of joy about himself. I was sure that he exaggerated. In all probability he had been suffering from some break of harmony between his surroundings and the spirit of unity in him, proving all the more strongly its truth. The meaning of health comes to us in a painful force when disease disturbs it-the health which is the unity of vital function in us and therefore joyful. Life's tragedies occur not to demonstrate their own reality, but the eternal principle of joy in life, which they shake up. It is the object of this oneness in us to realize its infinity by perfect union of love with others. All obstacles to this create misery, giving rise to our baser passions, which are expressions of finitude, of our separateness, which is negative and therefore māyā.
The joy of unity within ourselves seeking expression becomes creative, whereas our desire for fulfilment of needs is constructive. The watervessel as a vessel raises the question,
"Why is it at all?" Through its fitness of construction it offers apology for its existence; but where it is a work of beauty, it has no question to answer: it has nothing to do but to be. It reveals in its form a unity to which all that are various in it are so related that in a mysterious manner it strikes sympathetic chords to the music of unity in our own being.
What is the truth of this world? It is not in the masses of substances, not in the number of things, but in their relatedness, which neither can be counted nor measured nor abstracted. It is not in the materials, which are many, but in the expression, which is one. All our knowledge of things is knowing them in their relation to the universe the relation which is truth. A drop of water is not a particular assortment of elements; it is the miracle of their harmonious mutuality in which the two reveal the one. No amount of analysis can reveal to us this mystery of unity.
In fact, matter is an abstraction; we shall never be able to realize what it is, for our world of reality does not acknowledge it. Even the giant forces of the world, centripetal and centrifugal, are kept out of our recognition. They are the day laborers not admitted into the audience-hall of creation. But light and sound come to us in their gay dresses as troubadours singing serenades before the windows of the senses. What is constantly before us, claiming our attention, is not the kitchen, but the feast; not the anatomy of the world, but its countenance. There is the ring-dance of seasons; the elusive play of lights and shadows,
of wind and water; the many-colored wings of erratic life flitting between birth and death. The importance of these is not in their existence as mere facts, but in their language of harmony, which is the mother tongue of our own soul, through which they are communicated to us.
We grow out of touch with this great truth, we forget to accept its invitation and hospitality when in quest of external success, and our works become unspiritual and unexpressive. This is of what Wordsworth complained when he said:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours.
But it is not because the world has grown too familiar to us; on the contrary, it is because we do not see it in its aspect of unity, because we are driven to distraction by pursuits of the fragmentary. But when some great revelation of beauty or surge of overwhelming love suddenly lifts us on to a high peak of experience, the world appears before us with its communication of the one.
Materials as materials are savage, they are solitary, they are ready to hurt one another. They are, like our individual impulses, seeking unlimited freedom of wilfulness. Left to themselves, they are destructive. But directly an ideal of unity raises its banner in their center, it brings these rebellious forces under its sway, and creation is revealed-the creation which is peace, which is the unity of perfect relationship. Our greed for eating is in itself selfish and ugly, it has no sense of decorum; but when
brought under the ideal of social fellowship, it is regulated and made ornamental, is changed into a daily festivity of life. In human nature sexual passion is fiercely individual and destructive, but dominated by the ideal of love, it has been made to flower into a perfection of beauty, becoming in its best expression symbolical of the spiritual truth in man which is his kinship of love with the infinite. Thus we find it is the one which expresses itself in creation, and the many, by giving up opposition, make the revelation of unity perfect.
I remember, when I was a child, the row of cocoanut-trees by the side of our garden wall, with their branches beckoning the rising sun on the horizon, gave me companionship as living as I was myself. I know it was my imagination which transmuted the world around me into my own worldthe imagination which seeks unity, which deals with it. But we have to consider that it was true, that the universe in which I was born had in it the element which was profoundly akin to my own imaginative mind, that it wakens in all children's nature the creator whose pleasure is in interweaving the web of creation with his own patterns of many-colored strands. In fact, it is something similar, and therefore harmonious, to our imagination, which produces before us water out of two gases. This is māyā. Call it illusion or reality; it matters not. When we find some strings vibrating in unison with others, we know that this sympathy carries in it an eternal reality. The fact that this world stirs our imagination in sympathy tells us
that this creative imagination is a common truth both in us and in the heart of existence. Wordsworth says:
I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
In this the poet says we are less forlorn in a world which we meet with our imagination. That can be possible only if through this imagination is revealed, behind all appearances, the reality which gives touch of companionship; that is to say, something which has its affinity to us. An immense amount of our activity is engaged in making images not for serving any useful purpose or formulating rational propositions, but for giving varied responses to the varied touches of this reality. In this image-making the child creates his own world in answer to the world in which he finds himself. This child in us finds glimpses of its eternal playmate from behind the veil of things, as Proteus rising from the sea, or Triton blowing his wreathed horn. This playmate of his is the reality that makes it possible for him to find delight in activities which do not inform or bring assistance, but merely express.
The dream persists; it is more real than even bread, which has substance and use. The canvas is durable and substantial, it has for its production and circulation a whole array of machines and factories. But the picture which no factories can produce is a dream, a māyā, and yet it, and not
the canvas, has the meaning of ulti- gramophone make us aware of the mate reality.
A poet describes autumn:
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn Stand shadowless like Silence, listening To silence, for no lonely bird would sing Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn.
Of April another poet sings:
Laugh thy girlish laughter:
Laugh thy golden laughter, But the moment after
Weep thy golden tears!
laws of sound, but the music gives us personal companionship. The bare facts about April are alternate sunshine and shower; but the subtle blending of shadows and lights, of murmurs and movements, in April gives us not mere shocks of sensation, but unity of joy, as does music. Therefore when the poet sees the vision of a girl in April even a downright materialist is in sympathy with him. But we know that the same person would be angry if the law of heredity or a geometrical problem were described as a girl or a rose or even as a cat or a camel. For these intellectual abstractions have no magical touch for our lute-strings of imagination. They are no dreams, as are the harmony of bird-songs and rain-washed leaves glistening in the sun, pale
This Autumn, this April, are they clouds floating in the blue. The ultinothing but fantasy?
Let us suppose that the man from the moon comes to the earth and listens to music in a gramophone. He seeks for the origin of the delight produced in his mind. The facts before him are a cabinet made of wood and a revolving disk producing sounds; but the one thing which is neither seen nor can be explained is the truth of the music, which his personality immediately must acknowledge as a personal message. It is neither in the wood nor in the disk nor in the sound of the notes. If the man from the moon be a poet, as can reasonably be supposed, he will write about a fairy exiled in that box, who sits spinning fabrics of songs expressing her cry for a far-away magic casement opening on the foam of a perilous sea, in a forlorn faery-land. It will not be literally, but essentially, true. The facts of the
mate truth of our personality is that we are no mere biologists or geometricians, but "we are the dreamers of dreams, we are the music-makers." This dreaming or music-making is not the function of the lotus-eaters; it is the creative impulse which makes songs not only with words and tunes, but with stones and metals, with ideas and men.
I have been told by a scholar friend of mine that by constant practice in logic he has weakened his natural instinct of faith. The reason is that faith is the spectator in us which finds the meaning of the drama from the unity of the performance, but logic lures us into the greenroom, where there is stagecraft, but no drama at all, and then this logic nods its head, and wearily talks about disillusionment.
But the greenroom, dealing with fragments, when questioned, either looks foolish or wears the sneering smile of Mephistopheles; for it does not have the secret of the unity, which is somewhere else. It is for faith to answer, "Unity comes to us from the One, and the one in ourselves opens the door and receives it with joy." The function of poetry and arts is to remind us that the greenroom is the grayest of illusions, and the reality is the drama presented before us with all its paints and masks, pantomimes and pageantry. ropes and wheels perish, the stage is changed; but the dream which is drama remains true, for there remains the eternal dreamer.
Thus poetry and the arts cherish in them the profound faith of man in the unity of his being with all existence, the final truth of which is the truth of personality. It is a religion directly apprehended, and not a system of metaphysics to be analyzed and argued. We know in our personal experience what our creations are, and we instinctively know through it what creation around us means.
When Keats said in his "Ode to a Grecian Urn,"
A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.
In this there is a suggestion that truth reveals itself in beauty. For if it were mere accident, a rent in the eternal fabric of things, then it would hurt, would be defeated by the antagonism of facts. Beauty is no fantasy; it has the everlasting meaning of reality. The facts that cause despondence and gloom are mere mist, and when through it breaks out beauty in momentary gleams, we realize that peace is true and not conflict, love is true and not hatred, and true is the one, and not the disjointed multitude; we realize that creation is the perpetual process of harmony between the
Thou silent form, dost tease us out of infinite ideal of perfection and the