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Colonial poetics: Rabindranath Tagore in two worlds

Mahasweta Sengupta, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The Nobel Prizewinner Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) wrote in Bengali and translated his own poems into English. Rabindranath's work in Bengali revolutionized the indigenous literary tradition, but little or none of his Bengali style is visible in the translations he produced for an English audience. He addressed a different reader when writing for the English, and an audience that he understood in a specific way because of the Anglo-Indian colonial context and the image that it presented of English language and its culture. Rabindranath had two distinct aesthetic and cultural ideologies, and he was aware of the radical split in this understanding of the Other, or of the British colonial presence in India. The present study examines the way that this ambivalence in comprehending the motivations of the colonizers was created and manipulated by colonial policies. Like many others of his generation, Rabindranath Tagore believed in the "ideal" presence of the English as it was represented in English literature. This faith generated a perception of two distinct kinds of English: the "petty" and the "great." While translating, he had in mind the constituency of the "great" English who formed an ideal world of culture. Towards the end of his life, he became disillusioned with the deceptive cultural transactions implied in colonial poetics.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Asian literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Sengupta, Mahasweta, "Colonial poetics: Rabindranath Tagore in two worlds" (1990). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9110213.