Because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well - Tagore

An excerpt from Tagore's Gitanjali: 

I was reading this poem from Tagore's Gitanjali today:

I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life.

What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight!

When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.

Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.

The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.

More on Tagore's Gitanjali

Gitanjali is a collection of poems written by Rabindranath Tagore, the celebrated Nobel prize winning Bengali poet. The book was first published in 1910 and includes 157 poems, written in Bengali and translated into English by Tagore himself.

The title Gitanjali means "Song Offerings" in Bengali, and the poems in the collection are a collection of devotional and philosophical reflections on spirituality, nature, love, and the human condition. The poems are written in a lyrical, free-verse style that emphasizes the beauty and simplicity of language.

The poems in Gitanjali are deeply spiritual and explore the relationship between God and the individual soul. Tagore presents God as a loving, compassionate presence who is present in all things, and he encourages readers to seek a deeper connection with the divine through contemplation and devotion.

The themes of nature and love also feature prominently in Gitanjali. Tagore sees nature as a source of spiritual inspiration and suggests that by contemplating the beauty of the natural world, we can connect with the divine. Love, too, is seen as a means of transcending the limitations of the human condition and achieving a deeper understanding of the world.

Gitanjali and the theme of Death

It is not just the poem that I happened to run across, but the topic of death is explored in many of the poems in Gitanjali.

In one of the poems, Tagore reflects on the inevitability of death, but also the possibility of transcendence. The poem suggests that death is a natural part of life, and that it can lead to a deeper understanding of the divine:

Death, thy servant, is at my door.
He has crossed the unknown sea and brought thy call.
The night is dark and my heart is fearful—
Yet I will take up the lamp, open my gates and bow to him my welcome.

It is thy messenger who stands at my door.
I will worship him with folded hands.

Here, Tagore seems to be suggesting that death is not something to be feared, but rather something to be accepted and even welcomed. He sees death as a messenger of the divine, bringing us closer to a deeper understanding of the world.

In another poem, Tagore reflects on the idea of immortality, suggesting that although our physical bodies may perish, our souls may live on:

Let me not grope in vain in the dark but keep my mind still in the faith
that the day will break and the truth will appear
in its simplicity.
Thy eternal dawn of resplendent colours,
dipped in the tears of the dew,
shall burst forth in the morning in songs of joy.

Here, Tagore seems to suggest that although our physical bodies may decay, the truth and beauty of the world will endure, and that we may be immortalized in some way through our connection to the divine. Overall, Tagore's approach to death in "Gitanjali" is one of acceptance and transcendence, suggesting that through contemplation and devotion, we can overcome our fear of death and connect with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world.

Poems Emphasizing Fearlessness Around Death

I have read several poems about the concept of fearlessness when it comes to death. Here are some of my favorite:

  • Bhagat Kabir's couplet "Jis Marne Te Jag Darai, Mere Man Aanand/Marne Hi Te Paaiyeh Pooran Parmaanand" roughly translates to "The death that scares the world, brings me joy. Because it is death that leads to gaining the highest consciousness."
  • Walt Whitman - In his poem "Song of Myself," Whitman writes, "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles."
  • Emily Dickinson - In her poem "Because I could not stop for Death," Dickinson portrays Death as a gentleman caller, and she seems unafraid of him, saying, "Since then 'tis centuries; but each / Feels shorter than the day / I first surmised the horses' heads / Were toward eternity."
  • John Keats - In his poem "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats writes about wanting to escape the pain of life and join the nightingale in its song, saying, "Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget / What thou among the leaves hast never known, / The weariness, the fever, and the fret / Here, where men sit and hear each other groan."
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley - In his poem "Adonais," Shelley writes about the death of fellow poet John Keats, saying, "He is made one with Nature: there is heard / His voice in all her music, from the moan / Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird."