Pablo Neruda and Rabindranath Tagore
-- Soumen Roy

    It was the second decade of the last century and Rabindranath Tagore was already beginning to be ubiquitous.The works of Tagore were translated to the French by Andre Gide,and to the Russian by Boris Pasternak and Aane Akhmatova.W.B. Yeats had written the preface to the first edition of Tagore's own translation of the Gitanjali in 1912 and Ezra Pound in a revised edition in 1913 compared him to Dante.Meanwhile twenty two of Tagore's titles had already been translated in 1917 to an immaculate Spanish, mainly through the pen of the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jiminez (who later won the Nobel Prize in 1956) and that of his would-be wife, Zenobia Camprubi who was an American.They seemed especially responsive to Tagore's idealism and his  sensitivity  to nature's subtleties.It is perhaps their legacy that in  Spain even today poets still compete for the Rabindranath Tagore prize for  poetry and his books sell more than those of many younger Spanish-language poets.In contrast, in the rest of the world, especially in other parts of Europe and America,the excitement that Tagore's writing had created in the early years of this century was ephemeral and has largely waned at present.

    Latin American literature was certainly influenced by these developments.A number of litterateurs including the nobel prize winners - Mexican poet Octavio  Pa'z (who was once
vehemently attacked later in his life by Neruda ) and Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (she had wrote on some of Tagore's work and had an indelible influence on Neruda who met her her at an early age) came under the spell of the Tagorean magic.Victoria Occampo, an Argentinean lady was so moved by Tagore that she even came down to stay at Shantiniketan.But few in this continent were as deeply moved by the great Indian as the Legeandary Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
    It was Neruda's "Twenty poems of love and a song of despair"  the book that catapulted him to glory.More poems followed and they ensured him immortality.The book had an unusual diffusion and went on to sell more than a million copies in a few years .All that success did not free it of the controversy: poem number 16 of the book and poem number 30 of Rabrindanath Tagore's "The Gardener" were almost identical.This was discovered by the young Chilean poet Volodia Teitelboim. His critics (particularly Pablo Rokha who was the most vociferous and venomous
among them all) kept on discovering "plagiarisms" of Neruda  to Tagore,Vincente  Huidobro, Diaz Casanueva etc .This controversy was to follow him  for life.

    "Twenty poems of love and a song of despair"
are full of a sensuality and an eroticism that was new to erstwhile Latin American poetry.The poet had said  in his memories that he had thought to himself to put in a note explanatory recognizing that it was a paraphrase of a text of Rabindranath Tagore, but his friend  Joaquin Cifuentes Sepveda advised to him that he should not do it: " are not idiot, Pablo.  They will accuse you of plagiarism... ".He was not mistaken. In the second  edition at Buenos Aires, the explanation was included.

"In My Sky at Twilight"
Pablo Neruda

(This poem is a paraphrase of the 30'th poem  [
"Tumi sandhar meghamala" ]
in Rabindranath Tagore's"
The Gardener")

In my sky at twilight you are like a cloud
and your form and color are the way I love them.
You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lips
and in your life my infinite dreams live.

The lamp of my soul dyes your feet,
My sour wine is sweeter on your lips,
oh reaper of my evening song,
how solitary dreams believe you to be mine!

You are mine, mine, I go shouting it to the afternoon's
wind, and the wind hauls on my widowed voice.
Huntress of the depths of my eyes, you plunder
stills your nocturnal regard as though it were water.

You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
and my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning.
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begins.

   The Tagorean influence on Neruda can also be seen in the following poem..Tagore has a song "Jodi tor daak shune' keu na aashe'...ekla cholo re" which loosely means " If no one answers your call...walk alone." Tagore writes on to say how this person whose call no one has heeded should even walk on the thorns for his  conviction, lighting his ribs (or renouncing everything) for illumination  on the way....and perhaps if the person was ever asked as to how it felt during the lonely journey the answer might just have been this poem of Neruda:

"Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew"
Pablo Neruda

Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.

I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!

That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine

The geysers flooding from deep in itsvault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.

[Translated by Stephen Tapscott ]

[Painting by Salvador Dali]