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HISTORY AND LITERATURE

Tagore and China

 

TAGORE’S INSPIRATION IN

CHINESE NEW POETRY

Part 1

Tan Chung

34

The arrival of Tagore in international literary scene just preceded China’s New Cultural Movement in the wake of the student demonstrations on May Fourth, 1919. Which is thus known as the May Fourth Movement. An important thrust of this movement was to launch a new literature called “baihua wenxue” (colloquial literature). While it was relatively easy to develop a new colloquial prose literature because of the existence of famous classical novels the language of which was already colloquial enough to serve as a model, the task of building up a new poetry was hard as there had been no genre of colloquial poetry in Chinese literature to be emulated. Tagore was a godsend to the pioneers of China’s new poetry.

That Chinese poetic genii should focus their attention on Tagore is easy to explain. First, Tagore won the Nobel Prize by his masterpiece of poetry, and his Gitanjali and The Crescent Moon have won ovation in the poetic circles of the world even including Britain - the leader of modern poetry at that time. Second, Tagore was a fellow-Asian, hence his symbolism sounded more familiar and attractive to Chinese writers. Third, Tagore’s example of being a writer of a humble, defeated culture risen to the fore-front of world literature was all the more inspiring to those who were searching for a new form of Chinese poetry in order to create a new Chinese culture so that the nation could keep abreast with the modern world. Fourth, Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 and the “Tagore wave” created by this visit also contributed to the writers’enthusiasm in emulating Tagore.

Tagore’s influence on Chinese intellectual trend was highlighted by the rise of a new school within the New Cultural Movement – the “Crescent Moon School” (xinyuepal).That this Crescent Moon School had its own special distinction can be illustrated from the correspondence of two liberal intellectuals, Luo Longji and Hu Shi. Luo wrote to Hu on May 5, 1931 that he had read an article in a daily newspaper of Shanghai - Minbao (People’s newspaper) which was “supposed to be a leftist paper”- in which it said : “Today in China” three ideologies hold the triangular balances: (1) Communism, (2) the “Crescent Moon” school, and (3) the Three Principles which refers to the ideology of Kuomintang. “After reporting this Luo expressed his surprise that “I have never thought the ‘Crescent Moon’ could have such an importance.”[1] Of course, to depict The Crescent Moon School as a counter-weight between the two giant rivals of Kuomintang and the communists appears to be an exaggeration out of proportion. However, the newspaper article does reflect the importance of the Crescent Moon School in China’s intellectual life of that time. The Crescent Moon School was essentially a stream of literary trend. More precisely, it was a forum of a group of poets who had imbibed a measure of influence of Tagore, hence their not objecting to be branded by the title of aTagore anthology.This School, however, had the association of Hu Shi, who was also a leader of the May Fourth Movement and an outstanding liberal intellectual who appeared to have kept aloof of the political contention between Kuomintang and CPC at that time. This might be the source of the above-cited exaggerated account of the standing of The crescent moon school. Tagore’s admirers among Chinese intellectuals cannot be slighted.

The real force behind The Crescent Moon School, of course, was not Hu Shi, But Xu Zhimo (Elmhirsf’s “Shu Tsemou”) (1886. 1931) who acted as a host and interpreter toTagore during the latter’s China visit in 1924. Xu wore an Indian cap in the Tagore functions. He also converted a room in his Shanghai residence into Indian style where there were no tables nor chairs, but only carpets and cushions. His friends were quite shocked to see Xu Zhimo “rolling on the floor”.[2] Xu died young by a tragic accident which cut short a career of great poetic talent. If he had lived as long as many of his contemporaries had lived, his role in the history of modern Chinese literature would have been greater than what is known. So also: Tagore’s influence on China’s new poetry would have been more pronounced than what is known.

In Xu Zhimo, there was a mini-version of Tagore. Rich, talented, romantic, exposed to progressive ideas but not plunging into the political activities. Not unlike Tagore in his young days, Xu Zhimo had tender feelings for fellow-beings, was inclined towards the charm of Nature, but knew how to make the best in material life. He was a potential Chinese Tagore being wiped out in his formative stage by ill fortune.

Among all authors in China’s new poetry, Xu Zhimo and Xie Bingxin have held out as poets cast in the typical Tagorean mould. One of Xu’s last poems composed in the end of 1930 wes a poem dedicated to Hu Shi (his friend. philosopher and guide) entitled “Aide linggan”(Inspiration of love), which is at once a replica of Gitanjali. This is a long prose poem in communion with the invisible spirit, It ends with a typical Tagorean touch:

“Now I really, really can die. I want you

to embrace me this way until I go away, until

my eyes open no more, until I fly, fly, fly

to the outer space, scatter into sands, scatter

into light, scatter into wind. Oh, sorrow,

but sorrow be short, sorrow be transient;

happiness be long, love is immortal!”[3]

 

This flight of Xu Zhimo’s’inspiration of love” is going the same direction of Tagore’s Gitanjali. In the end of Gitanjai: Tagore takes

"Like a flock of homesick cranes flying

night and day back to their mountain

nests let all my life take its voyage to

its eternal home in one salutation to thee.”[4]

A search for idealism is an eternal theme in Tagore’s poems. “In desperate hope I go and search for her in all corners of my room: I find her not.” (Gitanjali, poem 87) Xu Zhimo’s poetry joins such a search:

“She isn’t here.

Where is she?

She stays in the shine bright

of clouds white.

Stays in the moon crescent,

distant and quiescent.

She stays in the lotus of the valley

ever open timidly.

Stays in the flower that reveals

from inside the lotus seed.

She stays in the adolescent heart

where prayers are sent forth.

Stays in its naive artlessness.

She isn’t here.

She is in the quintessence of Nature.”[5]

In this poem entitled Where is she? Xu Zhimo gives enough indications that his search for her is exactly Tagore’s search. There are the “crescent moon”, the “lotus”, the “adolescent heart”, the “naive artlessness”, and the “quintessence of Nature”- all Tagorean symbols of idealism.

Tagore was fond of roses. Whether Xu Zhimo had the same love for roses we do not know. But, in interliterariness there is the phenomenon which I call the “telepathic transference of imagery”. For instance, the use of the garland is a part of daily life in India, while the practice was totally absent in China. Yet, we notice that in modern Chinese poetry (as well as in prose) the symbolism of garland is not infrequently resorted to by writers. We have no doubt that this is an Indian import - an import of the imagery without its material entity. In poetic inspiration there is always the tendency of going for the unreal and abstract. The ancient Chinese poets had a favourable symbolism in the “celestial gate” although no one had ever been there. The “Cupid’s arrow” is another foreign import into Chinese literary vocabulary but very few Chinese writers who use this symbolism have ever seen any drawing of the winged angels as depicted in the Roman legends, let alone ever experiencing such a weapon. In this way, we find Xu Zhimo experiencing the Telepathic Transference of Imagery from Tagore by indulging in the symbolism of the roses in his poem “Qing si” (Death of love) which is another unmistaken echo of Tagore: 

“Oh, roses, red roses that conquer all

other beauties. The thunder storm of last night,

that is the signal of your birth.

The smile of your cheeks, that is

brought, from Heaven. Alas, the world

is too mundane to give them eternal residence.

Your beauty is your destiny!

You approach near me. Your enchanting

colour and fragrance have conquered another

soul - I am your captive!

You smile over there. I tremble over here.

I have caught you in my palm -I

love you, roses!

Colour, fragrance, flesh, soul, beauty, charm -all

grasped in my palm.

I tremble over here, you-smile.

Oh, roses! I can’t tolerate your destruction, I love you!

Petal, corolla, stamen, thorn, you, me, -

How delightful ! -all merge into one; a mess of

redness, both hands soiled in fresh blood,

Oh, roses, I love You!”[6]

Of course, Tagore would not have been so abrasive, blunt and outspoken. Tagore seldom talked about “bleed” in his poems, particularly associating blood with beauty and love. “I am your captive” is a Tagorean theme, but Tagore would say it differently: “Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands. Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.” (Gitanjali, verse 81) The flowers, the Creator, Nature, men, ‘You’. “me”, these are the eternal bonds between Tagore and Xu Zhimo.

Singing hymns was poet Tagore’s obsession. So did Xu Zhimo take it as a poets duty. But, we see sometimes the Chinese disciple’s sense of rebellion against this Tagorean sainthood in poetry. This comes out dearly in Xu’s piece “words of groan” (Shenyin vu):

“I would have wished

To sing hymns about

This marvellous cosmos.

I would have wished

To forget, the sorrow

Which in mankind grows.

Like a red sparrow

who no worries knows.

Singing in the morn,

Jumping at even twilight.

If SHE had been by my side,

Like wind gently flies,

I would have wished

To sing my poem,

Like the flowing stream,

Would have wished

To place my heart at ease,

Like the fish in the lake.

But, today, my heart boils

As if burning oil.

How can I have the leisure

To care for my muse?

Oh, God!

Won’t you return

HER life and freedom

For one day even?!”[7]

Xu Zhimo’s poetry, in a sense, provides a development of the Tagorean muse across the Himalayas, which is the phenomenon of horizontal continuity in interliterariness. Like the transplantation of vegetation which develops new features in a new habitat, the Tagorean elements were bound to transform when they grew in China’s new poetry. As the above poem of Xu Zhimo indicates, the young Chinese poet could not preserve the cool of his Indian mentor, even if he wished to emulate Tagore to perfection. But, Xu, never probably, had the pretension of doing so. For, his was a turbulent universe. His country was in turmoil where no Santiniketan could have existed. But, this could not spiritually separate Xu Zhimo from Tagore. Even in the boiling pot of his life, Xu had his longing for Tagore and his Santiniketan. This is what we can make out from his piece entitled “Tianguode xiaoxi” (News from the Celestial Kingdom), which reads :

“Lovely Autumn scene! Silent leaves fallen

gently, gently, dropping on this narrow path.

Within the fence, a whisper of tiny kids’ laughter.

Clear sizzling sound the quietude of huts surround,

as if birds in the valley receiving the morning happily,

driving away stale stagnation of the night,

beginning, the unbounded brightness.

A momental ecstasy surges like the epiphyllum,

My momental open, I forget my love for Spring.

The fear, doubt and anguish of life, melancholy and hurry –

I have the vision of the Celestial Kingdom amidst

the innocent kids’ laughter!”[8]

Xu Zhimo was in India, and did visit Santiniketan. In this poem we a visid depiction of Tagore’s “Abode o/Peace”. What had Xu in mind when he talked about the Celestial Kingdom” we do not know. In Chinese tradition the paradise often points to the direction of India - the Kingdom of the Buddha. In any way, Xu Zhimo’s depicting a quietude and a innocent kids’ laughter bear the closest resemblance of Tagore’s “Santiniketan”. The two poets are in communion with Nature and peace and ease of mind.

The Crescent Moon School had its own publishing house - The Crescent Moon Bookshop in Shanghai -which was run by Xu Zhimo and some relatives and friends. In 1931, the bwkshop published China’s own Crescent Moon anthology entitled Xinyue shixuan (Selected poems of The Crescent Moon) edited by Chen Mengjjia, who was himself a poet. The anthology formally launched the poets of The Crescent Moon School, and symbolized the sprouting of Tagore’s seed in China’s new poetry. As this was one of the earliest anthologies of modem Chinese poems, it had a pioneer role in the development of modern poetry in China. The anthology is a selection of eighty poems from eighteen authors. Apart from Xu Zhimo, a well-known poet, writer and scholar, Wen Yiduo (18991946) also contributed. In the initial stage, Wen Yiduo was one of the three pillars of The Crescent Moon Society, along with Xu Zhimo and Hu Shi. But, later Wen grew tired of Tagore and moved closer to the radical left. He was one of Tagore’s critics on the eve of Tagore’s visit to China. But, his Criticism of Tagore” penned in 1923 did not prevent him from contributing to the Chinese Crescent Moon anthology in 1931. Further more, among the six pieces contributed by WenYtduo, half are the Gifanjali type of prose poems. ‘vige guannian” (An idea) begins thus:

“Your profound mystery, your beautiful lie,

your stubborn interrogation, your golden ray,

a little endeared meaning, a flame,

a wisp of illusory call, who are you?”[9]

The poem also contains a few lines which look like Wen Yiduo’s conversation with Tagore. First, there was Tagore:

“When I sit on my throne and rule you with

my tyranny of love, when like a goddess

I grant you my favour, bear with my pride,

beloved, and forgive me my joy”

   (The Gardener, verse 33)

 

Then Wen Yiduo replied:

“Oh, tyrannical spirit, you have conquered me.

Have you conquered me? You magnificent rainbow

-the memory of five thousand odd years.You

move not. Now I want to try how to hug you tight.

-You are so tyrannical, so pretty!”[10]

The Chinese Crescent Moon anthology does not carry Wen Yiduo’s piece of “Mod” (The end) which is at once the echo of Tagore’s piece of the same title in The CrescentMoon. Here isWren’s voice:“1 set up a fire in my heart, waiting quietly for a distant guest”. “The guest is already before me, I close my eyelids and follow the guests steps.”[11] Again there is Sino-Indian communion between Wen Yiduo and Tagore with the former wishing to low” the latter like a disciple.

All poets deal with the theme of life’s voidness. There is the yawning gap between illusion and reality. All poets share the sense of regret of not having the right choice of the timing of their life and death. Thus they hang in the balance in men’s awkward existence. In this respect, Tagore’s mood is usually more gracious, while WenYiduo cannot bear the human dilemma without scorn. Here, there is scope to compare the two ways of life. Tagore, in his desperate moment cries out: “Oh, dip my emptied life into that ocean, plunge it into the deepest fullness. Let me for once feel that lost sweet touch in the allness of the universe.” (Gitanjali, verse 97) To this Wen Yiduo echoes:

“Let me be drowned in the waves of your eyes!

Let me be burnt dead in the furnace of your heart!

Let me drink to death in the wine of your music!

Let me be stifled to death in the fragrance of your breath!”[12]

Here Wen Yiduo approaches death with a Tagorean romanticism which even outshines that of the Indian master.

We can have another round of comparison. Like the above verse of Wen titled “si” (Death), the 86th verse of Gitanjati is exclusively devoted to the theme of “death”. In the verse, Tagore describes the call of the messenger of Death: “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”.“1 will worship him with folded hands, and with tears. I will worship him placing at his feet the treasure of my heart. He will go back with his errand done, leaving a dark shadow on my morning: and in my desolate home only my forlorn self will remain as my last offering to thee.” Forever at peace with life and death. Tagore conducts his feelings with controlled emotions. Wen Yiduo, on the other hand, feels annoyed at the idea of death in another poem (in contrast to the above romantic feelings enshrined in his poem “Death”). He cries:

“Death, if you want to come, come quickly,

come quickly to cut short the boundless pain!

Haha! death, there your cruelty lies,

when I want you you come rot,

like life, when I need him not, he exists!”[13]

However, like Tagore, Wen Yiduo is prepared to obey me dictates of destiny. He sings in his piece ‘Death”:

“If you award me with joy,

I shall die with joy.

If you award me with pain,

I shall die with pain,

Death is my only demand on you,

Death is my utmost offering to you.”[14]

In the same piece “Death”, Wen Yiduo has paraphrased Tagore : Oh, soul of my soul, life of my life”.[15] This reminds us Gitanjali, verse 4 : “Life of my life, I shall ever try to keep my body pure”. There are many other skilful adaptations of Tagore by Wen Yiduo. For instance, Tagore sings : “I know not how thou singest, my master! I ever listen in silent amazement.” (Gitanjali, verse 3)Then, Wen Yiduo emulates in his poem “Mei yu ai” (Beauty and love):

“Oh, that giant star, the companion of the moon!

You have tied my eye-sigh1 for no reason.

The bird in my heart slops its songs immediately,

because it, has heard your silent celestial music.”[16]

Tagore sings in Gitanjali (verse 68):‘The sunbeam comes upon this earth of mine with arms outstretched and stands at my door the live long day to carry back to thy feet clouds made of my tears and sighs and songs.” Wen Yiduo imitates in his piece ‘Shijiande Jiaoxun”(Lessons of time): “The sun comes upon my bed, frightens away the spirit of dream. My worries of yesterday vanish, those of today haven’t come yet.”[17] In the same poem Wen Yiduo resorts to the Telepathic Transference of Imagery by singing: “At the moment time is all smile to me. I pray to him with folded hands: ‘Grant me endless period!”[18] Here again is an echo of Tagore: “I will worship him with folded hands, and with tears,” (Gitanjali, verse 86). It remains doubtful whether Wen Yiduo had ever prayed with folded hands. There is another puzzle in Wen’s poems when at two places he mentions burning the sandal-wood in offering[19] which is a common Indian practice but, was hardly in vogue in Wen Yiduo’s time at least, if Chinese had ever indulged in such extravagant ritual even during the heyday of Buddhist conversion, simply because sandal-wood has always been a luxurious rarity in China. The truth is that Wen Yiduo has just acquired such Indian life details as poetic symbols. Why has he chosen to do it should be attributed to Indian cultural influence either through Tagore or through his profound knowledge of China’s Buddhist past.

To Tagore poetry is the very devotion to God/Truth. Offering songs to God is the essence ofTagore’s poetic life. “I am here to sing thee songs. In this hall of thine I have a corner seat.” ‘When the hour strikes for thy silent worship at the dark temple of midnight, command me, my master, to stand before thee to sing.” (Gitanjali, verse 15). In his master-piece, “Hongdou pian”(The red bean), Wen Yiduo is seized by this Tagorean passion:

“I have sung various songs,

Only forgetting to sing you.

But my songs should become newer, prettier.

These last sung prettiest ballads.

every word a bright pearl,

every word a warm tear.

Oh, my queen!

These are my humble presents to atone my sins,

These I kneel down and offer at your feet.”[20]

Tagore’s poetry is the reincarnation of happiness. When he wrote to Andrews in 1915, Tagore said: “I knew I am Eternal, that I am ananda-rupam, my true form is not of flesh or blood, but of joy,”[21] One of the highest embodiments of joy is Tagore’s verse 58 of Gitanjali:

“Let all the strains of jq mingle in my last song

- the joy that makes the earth flow over in

the riotous excess of the grass, the joy

that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and

waking all life with laughter, the joy that sits

still with its tears on the open red lotus of

pain, and the joy that throws everything it has upon the dust,

and knows not a word.”

Wen Yiduo in his piece “Lessons of time” conceives “happiness” as “the only truth of life”.[22]  He has another short poem exclusively on “Happiness” (Kuaile) which sings:

“Happiness kisses my soul,

My world suddenly turns into paradise,

fully occupied by soft and charming angels”.[23]

Rabindranath being named after the “sun” and the “thunder”, his poetry carries a strong impact of the brilliance of the celestial fire-ball. In Gitanjali alone the powerful symbolism of the sun shines upon all the lines. “O thou holy one, thou wakeful, come with thy light and thy thunder.” (verse 39) “O my sun ever-glorious!” (verse 80) “I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light”. (verse 12) Thy voice pour dawn in golden streams breaking through the sky”. (verse 19) “All the lights ablaze, golden pennons flying over thy car. (verse 41) “Under the golden canopy of thine evening sky”. (verse 87) Verse 57 is specially devoted to the sun:

“Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing

light, heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre

of my life; the light strikes, my darting, the chords

of my love, the sky opens,

the wind runs wild,

laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the seat,

of light lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of

the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every

cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darting, and

gladness without measure. The heaven’s river has

drowned its banks and the Mood of joy is abroad.”

Wen Yiduo was one the Chinese modern poets who had been infected by Tagore’s powerful sun imagery. Like Tagore, Wen conceived the sun as the symbol of treasure and brightness. In his poem “Chun’guang”(Spring/light) Wen sings:

“Suddenly a sheet of sun-light flashes before my eyes,

from my eyes fly out thousands of golden arrows,

my ears bear witness to the flapping sounds of wings,

as if a group of angels hovering in the sky...”[24]

Wen’s poetry further personifies the sun. In his poem “Qiuse”(Aufumn co/ours), Wen sings:

“Morning sun-light beams at the world.

its smile produces gold....”[25]

Wen Yiduo depicts: “the sun set in the evening with interesting scenarios. In his poem “Huanghun”(Dusk), Wen sings:

“The sun tries out for the day,

earning a safe and sound dusk.

its face reddens with joy,

running straight towards the valley like mad:”[26]

In another poem, Wen depicts: “The sun sets, responsibility closes its eyes.” In yet another poem, he complains, “The evening sun hands the poet over to the annoying night.”[27]

Wen Yiduo has two poems with the sun in their captions, One poem is “You swear by the sun” which is a mockery of the fidelity of love which is also one of The Crescent Moon poems. Another is “Tayang yin”(Song of the sun). This was composed when Wen was a student in the U.S.A. It is a Tagorean poem but quite different from the piece written by Tagore already quoted. There are twelve stanzas of the poem. The first stanza complains about the ruthless revolution of the sun which painfully pierces the heart of the poet. The second stanza depicts the sun’s scorching power. The third stanza wishes the sun running faster to free the poet from suffering the slow torture of life. The fourth stanza likens the sun to the golden bird, and wishes to tide on it so that the poet can see his home place once a day. The fifth stanza expresses the poet’s nostalgia as the sun comes to him from the East. The seventh stanza expresses the poet’s fellow-feeling that the sun is a vagabond like the poet himself. The eighth stanza describes the sun as a restless self-strengthening body. The tenth stanza defines the sun as the fire of life which gives the Eastern Hemisphere its enthusiasm and the Western Hemisphere its wisdom. In the twelfth and final stanza the poet wishes his home not situated on the earth, but stays in the heaven.”[28]

Another interesting poem of Wen Yiduo is entitled “Huangniao” (Yellow bird) which is also a depiction of the sun implicitly. The sun that is the yellow bird is seen by the poet as a brilliant fire bow shooting its arrows like mad. He also likens the sun to an ambitious bird. The poem ends with the hope that the sun builds up a palace of art to let the poet-a soul losing his bearings-to have an early chance to settle down.[29]

A similar poem included in the Chinese Crescent Moon is “Luori song(Hymn to the setting-sun) written by a lesser known poet, Zhu Da’nan. The poem depicts the sun as a golden bird which emits vicious flames, but is forced to retreat, behind the western mountains. The frogs are celebrating the victory in forcing the sun to exit.[30] If Wen Yiduo has already reduced Tagore’s powerful symbolism of the sun to a half pitiable figure, Zhu Da’nan has brought it further down to the symbol of defeat. It is not difficult to understand the Chinese poets’ resentment of the sun’s vicious heat, particularly its harm during drought. Paradoxically, in India and in Tagore’s Santiniketan as well, the sun is a much more vicious fire-arrow-shooting-monster than in any part of China. Yet, Tagore should have never complained against the sun besides eulogizing its light and life-giving power. This speaks out the contrast of Indian idealism with religious devotion against the Chinese pragmatism with down-to-earth lifestyle. This explains the impact of transposition of symbolism to a different cultural milieu.

Another Crescent Moon poet worth mentioning was Shao Xunmei who also cast his poetry in the Tagorean mould. His “Nuren” (Woman) in The Crescent Moon anthology is also a Gifanjali type:

"I adore you, woman, I adore you like

I adore a small poem of a Tang master

-you tie my words with your warm and smooth

even-tones and crispy uneven-tones.

I disbelieve you, woman, I disbelieve you like

I disbelieve a ring of magnificent rainbow

- I don’t know whether it’s for me that you

blush, or for another hot dream?”[31]

There is one little lovely poem of Shao Xunmei which is notjncluded in the Chinese Crescent Moon anthology. The poem begins, thus, with the first line repeating its title:

“I am a lamb.

You are a pasture.

I eat you, I sleep in you,

I eat you, I sleep in you.

I also offer myself to you.”[32]

The chemicals of this little poetic crystal must have come from the following lines of Tagore’s Stray Birds.  “The artist is the lover of Nature, therefore he is her slave and her master.‘(verse 86) “The great earth makes herself hospitable with the help of the grass.”

(verse 91) The woodcutters axe begged for its handle from the tree. The tree gave it.” (verse 71) Thus, the Tagore-Shao affinity is established.

All the above illustrations prove the strong input of Tagorean inspiration in the Chinese Crescent Moon School. In the first place, we cannot imagine the emergence of a school named after Tagore’s work without the poets’ having really inspired by The Crescent Moon and other works of Tagore. Secondly, Tagore’s popularity in China way back in the 1920s was testified to by Xu Zhimo and Wen Yiduo. Xu Zhimo wrote in i924 that out every ten new-wave poems in China eight or nine bear the imprint of Tagore’s influence, and that the teenage school pupils were fond of reading Tagore’s works in Chinese translations.[33] Wen Yiduo supplemented Xu Zhimo’s testimony by saying in 1923 that “almost every word of Tagore has been transported to Chinese language”. (Italic added)[34] Of course, what Wen Yiduo meant was that Tagore’s works available in English had a good many takers by Chinese translators because the language of Tagore was simple and his meaning deep. Even in his critical article of Tagore, Wen Yiduo respected Tagore as a great philosopher, but did not think much of Tagore’s artistic achievement. Here again, Wen Yiduo was not aware of and could not read Tagore’s works in Bengali. Even then, the Chinese new-wave poets had already found a lot of food for thought in the available English translations of Tagore. Hence, there is little surprise that the new Chinese poets in the 1920s and 1930s had echoed so much of Tagore’s ideas and imagery.

One revolutionary change which the avant garde poets of China have introduced in the new poetry (apart from the use of colloquial language) is the adoption of Tagore’s style of prose-poem which is the style of The Crescent Moon anthology. There is yet another significant revolution courtesy of Tagore’s influence. In early Chinese poetry the focal point is “l” and “me” which is supplemented by “she/he” and “her/him”, but seldom 7/ou’. In the few Tagore anthologies which had wide circulation in China, like Gitanjali, The Crescent Moon. Stray Birds, the poet has highlighted “you” which at once strengthens the purposiveness of the muse. The Chinese Crescent Moon poets were quick in adopting this Tagorean style. That is why many pieces written by them both inside The Crescent Moon anthology and outside it look like taking a leaf out of Tagore’s Gifanjaliand other works. We have already had examples of Wen Yiduo in this respect as an illustration of this point. We can have more examples of this kind. A typical Gitanjali type of poem in The Chinese Crescent Moon anthology is ‘Zou” (Go) composed by Rao Mengkan .The verse has four lines of prose form with the second and fourth lines rhymed, and same number of words both in the first and third lines, and in the second and fourth lines. This shows that the poet wished to give it a distinct verse form while adopting the technology of the prose-poem liberalization. The poem reads:

“I have spent efforts to make a boat for you,

I have been praying for wind day and night,

Only after you utter that soft word ‘go’,

You will find the boat in full sail alright.”[35]

Shao Xunmei’s piece “Jihou” (Seasons) in The Crescent Moon anthology provides another example of the Tagorean You-poem:

“When I first met you you gave me your heart

with a Spring morning in its inner part.

When I met you next you gave me your words,

words in which the fiery Summer do nurse.

We met again and you gave me your hand,

hand that has Autumn’s falling leaves inland.

Our last meeting takes place in my short dream,

there’s you and the Wintry wind to redeem”.[36]

Once again, the poem shows the authors care for rhyme and metric uniformity. But, it is the Tagorean framework with a little finishing. Yet, the top-most Tagorean poem in the anthology is the opening piece ‘Wo denghou ni” (I wait for you) composed by XU Zhimo. If translated with skill this poem can merge intoTagore’s works without any trace of its foreign origin. It is too long to quote in full. But, glimpses of it can be provided below:

“I gaze at the evening outside my window,

like a longing for my future.

The quake in my heart blinds my hearing.

…….

I wait for your steps, your smiling words,

your face, the soft silk of your hair, waiting for all what is you.

…….

I demand you so forceful that pains my heart.

I demand your flame-like smile, your pliant waist, the

flying stars in your hair and at the corners of your

eyes. I fall into the air of intoxication.

Like an island, floating helplessly among the green

pythons of sea waves...

…….

No frozen expectancy and prayer can shorten

a tiny inch the distance which

separates you and me! The yellow dusk outside

my window has stiffened into nights blackness.

Icicles hang on the boughs. Birds pawns away

their chirping. Silence is this cosmos

in uniform mourning atire.”[37]

Can these lines not comparable to those penned by Rabindranath?

Affinity with Tagore could not be surpassed by the poetry of Xie Bingxin. a poetess of modem China, who was as famous as other leading writers. Xie Bingxin, or Bingxin, was particularly impressed by the StrayBirds, which made her compose Fanxing (Crowded stars) in 1921 and Chunshui (Spring water) in 1922 -Win Chinese replicas of Stray Birds. Let us see some specimens of the poetess’ masterpieces:

“Crowded stars twinkling -The

deep blue outer space,

can you hear their conversations?

In silent tranquillity,

in dim glimmer,

they sink deep into singing eulogies to each other.”

(fanxing, verse 1.)

“Out of my window the strings of the harp are struck,

Oh, my heart!

How is it so deeply entangled in the echoes!

There is the limitless sound of the trees,

there is the limitless brightness of the moon.”

(ibid., verse 21.)

“Flowers and stones lying beside the rails!

Only in the flicker of this second,

I and you

a chance meeting in the limitless life,

and also an eternal parting in the limitless life.

When I come again,

among the millions in our species,

where to find you?

(ibid., verse 52.)

“Oh, father!

Please come out and sit under the bright moon,

I want to listen to your talk about your sea.”

(ibid., verse 75)

“Oh, sea,

Which star has no light?

Which flower has no fragrance?

Which tide in my mind

has no clear sound of your waves?”

(ibid., verse 131.)

“The flower at the corner of the wail!

When you are proud of yourself,

heaven and earth will shrink.”

(Chunshui, verse 33.)

“Little pine tree,

let me keep you company,

the white clouds above the mountains have thickened!

(ibid., verse 41.)

“Infant,

in the trembling of his cries

there is infinite mystic language,

brought from the earliest soul

wish to the world tell.”

(ibid., verse 64.)

  “Spring arrives with hesitation

on this solemn altar -amidst

the unbounded indifference,

I can only hand a silk of Spring mood

to the insignificant weed

hidden in the cleft of the stairs.

(ibid., verse 88.)

“Creator -if

in the eternal life

there is only one promise of extreme happiness,

I will demand this with utmost sincerity:

‘I lie in the bosom of mother,

mother lies in the boat,

boat lies in the ocean of lunar brightness.”

(ibid., verse 105.)

“Under the green bower

I sit in deep thinking –

Oh, poetic mood like floating silks!

Just as faint Spring light

draws you out,

The sound of the gardeners scissors

cuts you asunder.”

(ibid., verse 147.)

“Farewell, Spring water!

Thanks for your gentle Spring flow

carrying away lots of my thoughts.”

(ibid., verse 182.)[38]

There is, indeed, the Tagorean touch in these lines, soft-spoken, tender feelings, the poetess’ finding complete harmony with Nature, trying to keep away the discordant notes of life from the symphony, In this sense, Xie Bingxin’s inheritance from Tagore was

greater than all The Crescent Moon poets putting together. While The Crescent Moon poets have learnt from Tagore’s technique, Xie Bingxin alone imbibed Tagore’s poetic soul. In Xie Bingxin’s poems, Tagore’s voice is transformed into Chinese language and female softness, Her anthologies of Crowded Stars and Spring Water were exceedingly popular in the 1930s and 1940s particularly among younger readers. This indirectly spread the Tagorean message of harmony and peace among Chinese intellectuals.

Yet, we have not introduced the Chinese writer who had received the maximum influence from Tagore. His name was Guo Memo (1692-1976) whose stature in the cultural scene of modern China can match with that of Tagore in modem India. Guo Moruo had a fruitful career of creative writing. He was almost as versatile as Tagore, was a poet, play wright, historian, archaeologist, educationist, and political activist. His position in the early decades of the People’s Republic of China was like that of Gorky in the Soviet Union. He held the Presidency of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for life, a rare distinction to match with the eminence of Zhou Enlai who was the first Premier of the People’s Republic till his death. During the Cultural Revolution, Guo Moruo, again like Zhou Enlai, was almost the lone eminent intellectual who could save his skin. The reason was that Chairman Mao Zedong had a binding love and respect for him. The two often composed classical poems together which figured as great cultural events in Communist China. No one could imagine that such an eminent career would not have been there at all if Tagore had not written The Crescent Moon.

It was more than a coincidence that when Guo Moruo arrived in the modern world in search of a career, Tagore had just arrived as a Nobel laureate. Japan played an important role in connecting these two. How Tagore’s writings had entered the life of Guo Moruo

has already been illustrated in the preceding essay by Sisir Das. Guo Moruo and Tan Yun-shan (founder-director of Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana), were the two unique Chinese intellectuals who had Tagore entering into their life at a crucial juncture. Tan Yun-shan would have followed his radical Hunan school-mates to France (and, then, to Marxism most likely) had he not met Tagore in Singapore in 1927,That eventful meeting with the Indian poet transformed his life and career into that of a “modern Xuanzang”. Guo Moruo never met Tagore. And unlike Tan Yun-shan, Guo was destined to embrace Marxism in any way - Tagore or no Tagore. Yet, if there had not been Tagore we might not have heard of Guo Moruo at all, thus, I think the Tagore-Guo affinity is an equally historic example as the Tagore-Tan affinity both of which deserve to be highlighted in any discourse of Sine-Indian cultural relationship.

As has already been pointed out, Tagore entered Guo Moruo’s heart when Guo stood at the cross-road of life. Between 1916 17, Guo was alternately seized by the desire of committing suicide or becoming a monk. The wreckage of his mind is described by a poem of classical style composed by him in 1916 entitled “Ye ku”(Weeping at night). The poem also outlines the reasons which drove him to the brink of suicide. We can take a look of them:

“My soul has left my empty body to remain.

I suffer the torment of not reaching my end.

I have a country which exists only in name,

devastated by increasing wars in vain.

I have a home to which I cannot return.

Old and decaying health are my people’s condition.

I have my love which is as good as broken.

A bird without a nest is what now I am.”[39]

An interesting episode was Guo Moruo’s composing two poems on the theme of suicide at about the same time.  One poem written in the classical style, entitled “Xunsi”(Seekiing death) was definitely composed in Okayama in 1916.The other poem written in new style entitled “Side youhuo” (Enticement of death). Guo gave the years of 1916 and 1916 as the possible lime of the latter’s composition.[40] A comparison of the two poems can help us reconstruct the turning point in Guo Moruo’s life, as well as the moral influence exercised by Tagore on Guo Moruo. First, the poem of the classical style which surely was an earlier composition than the other, is a narrative of his going out of the house to end his life. But, he won’t know where he should go, and he sighed repeatedly as he proceeded. As life was hard to live, death became relatively easy for him, he thought. He had ambitions to become a tiger, but ended in surviving like a dog, However, he still had his country and family in mind, and decided to endure longer in mankind. When he returned to the house, he saw his Japanese wife all in tears.[41]

The other poem on suicide written in the modern style is a product of entirely different  psyche. The poem reads:

“I have a small knife

standing by the window beaming at me.

She says to me with a smile:

Moruo, don’t burn your heart!

Come quickly and kiss my lips,

I can get rid of your worries.

Blue, blue sea waves outside my window

yelling at me with unceasing roar.

She calls me and says:

Moruo, don’t burn your heart!

Throw yourself quickly into my bosom,

I can get rid of your worries.”[42]

While in the first poem Guo Moruo was still under the impact of the threat of suicide, in the second poem the situation changed. The threat of death remained, but the poets mentality had undergone a transformation. He had become a Tagorean poet, a poet-philosopher. In the poem he looked at the threat of death in a romantic spirit. His understanding of the meaning of living was tinged with a philosophical attitude. Yes, there is the enticement of death, but a philosopher who sees clearly the empty promise in that will not fail into the trap. The composition of this poem “Side youhua” thus became the turning point of Guo’s life. He had acquired strength to endure the torture of life, for he realized now that death was no solution to the problems which he had, been facing. After composing the poem, both the knife and the sea became harmless to his life as he had decided not to be enticed, hence they would not pose as threats to him any more.

Guo Moruo himself wrote in his 1923 reminiscence that in the darkest years of his life, he had tried solutions by reading the writings of Chinese philosophers like Zhuangzi and Wang Yangming, by daily chanting the Old and New Testaments, by practising meditation with every little effect. It was only after reading Tagore’s Gitanjali, The Gardener, Raja (The king of the Dark Chamber), and the Hundred Poems of Tagore from the Ukayama Library in 1916 that he had suddenly discovered “the life of life”, and the fountain of life”. When he was reading Tagore, a “tranquil sadness” emerged within and outside his body. “I was enjoying the joy of nirvana”, said Guo.[43] So, it was Tagore who had removed the threat to Guo Moruo’s life and enabled such a great career to blossom to its natural end.

Interestingly, Guo Moruo himself put a foot-note to the poem ‘Side youhuo” in these words: ‘This was my earliest poem, probably written in the Summer of 1916,”[44] I have mentioned a little while ago that Guo had in another place noted that he had written this poem in 1916 along with some other poems. We know that Guo had started composing poems in the classical style many years earlier than his sojourn in Japan (his earliest poems published dated 1913 written in his home province).There is a mistaken statement about this poem of the Enticement of Death. But. if we try to understand Guo’s psychology, we can take him as saying that this was the first (or one of the first) new poem he had composed. The mistaken note also helps us to see that considerable importance had Guo Moruo attached to this piece. In an autobiographical work entitled Geming chunqiu (Revolutionary annals), Guo Moruo divided his creative literary career into three phases. The first phase was conceived by him as the period of the influence of Tagore up till 1919, followed by two later phases when he was influenced by Whitman and Goethe respectively.[45]


[1] Luo Longji to Hu Shi, in Hu Shi micang shuxin xue (Sections of Hu Shi’s correspondence from his private collections) by Liang Xihua (ed), Hong Kong, 1982, I, p, 368.

[2] Liang Shiqiu. “Guanyu, Xu Zhimo” (About Xu Zhimo), in Liang Shiqi xuanji (Selected works of Liang Shiqiu), Hong Kong, p. 128

[3] Xu Zbimo quanji (Collected works of Xu Zhimo), Hong Kong, 1983, Shiji (poetry), Vol. 1, p. 435.

[4] . Gitanjali Macmillan, 1953, p. 94.

[5] Xu Zhimo quanji, Poetry, Vol. I, pp. 137-88

[6] Ibid, pp. 121.22.

[7] Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi (Grand collection of China’s new literature), shiji (poetry), Shanghai. 1935, p. 330.

[8] Xu Zhimo quanji, Vol. I, pp. 47-46.

[9] Chen Megjia (ad), Xinyue shixuan (Selected poems of The Crescent Moon), Shanghai, 1931, p. 50.

[10] Ibid, pp. 50.51.

[11] Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi, op. cif, p. 256.

[12] Wen fiduo quanji(Collecteo works of Wen Yiduo), Beijing, 1982, Vol. Ill, p. 241.

[13] Ibid, p. 240.

[14] Ibid, p. 241.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, p. 232.

[17] Ibid, p. 230.

[18] Ibid.

[19] In his poem “Fengbo” (Trouble) and another poem Wouxi zhi hue” (Disaster of games), in ibid. p. 234-38.

[20] Ibid, p. 292.

[21] Sisirkumar Ghose (ed). Tagore for You,Visva-Bharati, Calcutta, 1964, p. 109.

[22] Wen yiduo quanji, Vol. III, p. 239.

[23] Ibid, p. 232.

[24] Ibid, p. 163.

[25] Ibid, p. 274.

[26] Ibid, p. 229.

[27] Ibid, p. 235, 253.

[28] Ibid, pp. 266.70.

[29] Ibid, p. 251.

[30] Xinyue shixuan, pp. 242-43.

[31] Ibid, pp. 103.4.

[32] Zhongguo Xinwenxue daxi, Poetry, p, 373.

[33] Xu Zhimo quanji, Vol. IV, Pt. II, p. 164.

[34] Wen yiduo quanji, Vol. III, p. 369.

[35] Xinyue shixuan, pp. 242-43

[36] Ibid, pp. 105-6.

[37] Ibid, pp. 3.10.

[38] Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi, Poetry, pp. 136.36.

[39] Guo Moruo quanji (Collected works of Guo MONO), Beijing, 1982. Wenxue bran (Literature), Vol. II, p. 429.

[40] See footnotes of ibid, Vol. I, p. 130, 136.

[41] Ibid, Vol. II, p. 430.

[42] 42. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 137

[43] Zhang Guangling, Lun faige’er, (On tagore), Beijing 1983, p. 63.

[44] Guo Moruo quanji, Lifemfwe, Vol. I, p. 138.

Contd...Part 2

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© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

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Published in 1998 by 

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