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Tagore and China




Part 2

Tan Chung


Guo Moruo’s spiritual tryst with Tagore is one of the finest stories in interliterariness, But, the story has never been fully discovered, let alone being properly told. The scholarly distortions which have been discussed in Prof. Das’ preceding essay have made it more imperative to restore the true historical perspective. In the first place, let us acknowledge Guo Moruo’s abundant gratitude for Tagore. In a poem of Guo which has already been noticed widely, there was Guo’s implicit acknowledgment about his mentor. The poem was composed in 1920, entitled “Anshang” (On the shore) which takes a leaf out of Tagore’s “On the seashore” from The Crescent Moon. In the third verse of the poem, Guo directly used the Chinese translation of the Tagore poem of the following lines:

“On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.

The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the

restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of

endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.”

Incidentally, these lines which were originally written in Bengali were used twice by Tagore as a part of both Gitanjali (verse 60) and The Crescent Moon.[46] Their featuring in the poetry of Guo Moruo[47] as an integral part of an original poem in Chinese language has thus created a record of the same lines living in the original poems of three languages - Bengali, English and Chinese. Only Tagore, who is the only author of two national anthems of the world (that of India and Bangla Desh). can create such a record. But, Guo Moruo’s being instrumental to such an interliterary miracle also deserves recognition.This was Guo Moruo’s special style of thanking the one who had meant so much to his life.

Guo Moruo openly acknowledged his indebtedness to Tagore in two other poems. In “Chen’an”(Good morning), he affectionately calls :


Good Morning! My young Motherland!

Good Morning! The Great wail!

Ah, Ah! Russian, how I admire you in awe!

Good Morning! Poineer, how I admire you in awe!

Good Morning! The Snowy Pamir!

Good Morning! The snowy Himalaya!

Good Morning! Rabirdranath of Bengal!

Good Morning! Academic friends of Santiniketan!

Good Morning! Ganga!

The sacred light flowing in Ganga!

Good Morning! Indian Ocean! Red Sea! Suez Canal!


(In the next half of the poem, he saluted the “Pyramid on the Nile”, “Leonardo da Vinci”, “Poets of Ireland”, “Washington”, “Lincoln”, Whitman” - after repeating the last name three times, then, “Whitman so expansive like the Pacific.”)

Here, we can see that the foreign country enjoying the top place of honour was India, while the person enjoying maximum mention was Whitman - the American poet. But Tagore was far from eclipsed because of the graphic and vivid descriptions of Santiniketan (as “Ziran Xueyuan”, i.e., “the Ashram of Nature”). Himalaya, Bengal, Indian Ocean, particularly, the Holy Ganga.

We note that “good morning” was not a traditional Chinese greeting, and what Guo Moruo had adopted in translating it, i.e. “Chen’an”, is no longer in currency in Chinese language. I doubt whether it was ever a popular usage at all. So, the caption of the poem does reflect Guo Moruo’s daring progressive mentality, not hesitant in embracing new ideas, new symbols and new lifestyles. It is, thus, important that he included Tagore and Tagore’s India in the newness of his intellectual being.

There was another poem which Guo composed in 1922 entitled “Xianshi” (Offering of poetry) which was clearly Guo’s expression of his gratitude for Tagore. The poem ends thus:

‘Thou are my invisible teacher!

I emulate thee with vigour.

I weave my heart, my tears

into a chain of transient pearls.

I deck thy feet with it, my devotion to offer.”[48]

Not only has the title of the poem taken a leaf out of Gitanjali, but the quoted lines are an obvious adaptation of verse 83 of Gitanjali which reads:

“Mother, I shall weave a chain of pearls

for thy neck with my tears and sorrow.

The stars have wrought their anklets

of light to deck thy feet, but mine will

hang upon thy breast”

It is, thus, not without foundation that we speculate the motivation of Guo’s little Gitanjali being the offering of his affections for Tagore - the ‘invisible teacher” of his-in the same poetic manner as Tagore had offered for his invisible God. Guo was giving Tagore a Tagorean salute.

Ge Baoquan, a famous Chinese expert in translations and one who knew Guo Moruo well, wrote an article on “Tagore and China” (raige’er he Zhongguo) in 1983 in which he also noticed the profound influence of Tagore on Guo Moruo. He wrote: “The first phase of his [Guo Moruo’s] poetic creation belonged to Tagore’s style.“- a conclusion based on Guo’s own admission as we have seen earlier.  Ge Bacquan also quoted Guo Moruo to say that “After being addicted to Tagore, it is unavoidable to be under his impact.”[49] Our task should be to find out the ramifications of Tagore’s impact on Guo Moruo’s early poetry.

I have a moment ago quoted Guo Moruo’s little Gitanjaliwhich was the poets tribute to Tagore in 1922. In 1925. Guo Moruo composed his full Gitanjali, a collection of 42 verses with the same title “Xianshi (Offering of poetry). In the introducing poem there are lines which at once convey a Tagorean touch:

“I have plucked you, this branch of plum blossom.

I keep you in the vase and worship you with devotion.

I have been a bee on pilgrimage,

inhaling your pure fragrance.

Oh, if anyone thinks I am bewitched,

I can also show my sting.

Tell me, who doesn’t love flowers,

even when he emulates their silence.”[50]

We can quote a few lines more like we have done earlier to Xie Bingxin’s Fanxing and Chunshui to illustrate the Sino-Indian poetic communion between Guo Moruo’s Xianshi series and Tagore’s Gitanjaji:

“You sit by my side wordless.

I feel shy to gaze because of them.

You bury your head, not turning your eyes.

Might be there’s inhibition in your feeling.

Although my hands are hidden in my sleeves,

my soul has already embraced you.

There’s no crime in doing so. I am sure.

When white clouds hug it, there’s no damage to the moon’s beauty”

(Xianshi, verse 8.)

“My flower must always Blossom for you sake.

My constant youth has now come back.

I treasure not the grace of saintly poets,

nor do I lament living in the sea of sorrow.

(ibid., verse 18.)

“Oh, girl, since you are the angel of Spring,

why so miserly with your gentle breeze,

and make me constantly hugged by freezing ice,

unable to blossom exuberant flowers.”

(ibid., verse 29.)

The youth that will not come again, oh,

you are blown to the desolate country.

The mirror who knows no mercy, oh,

Why must you cast cold sarcasm on me!”

(ibid., verse 39.)

“I dig for myself a deep ditch.

I come into it and lie on its bottom.

I bury myself with some sands and stones.

How do I know that people will come and trample on

the head of my dead body?

(ibid., verse 40.)

“Only a branch of withered flowers remain -the

flowers which you have offered to me in vain.

The branch that covers my heart

is now dry and lifeless.

I now realize why you had given me the flowers -that

being the ceremony of your presentation to me.”

(ibid., verse 41

“Oh, it’s a pity I read not the end of your letter.

An unexpected joy shocks open my dreaming eyes.

I wake up to look around the four sides.

A broken vase falls before my grave.”

(ibid., verse 42.)[51]

We see in these extracted lines the familiar Tagorean dedication, purity of love, quiet submission and profound melancholy. Guo Moruo’s theme of the poem is the paradise lost of his love for a woman who, for some mystic reasons beyond the poet’s grasp, has failed to respond to his love. In the end, the poet has the consolation that she remains alone and not to be possessed by anyone else. The poem, in a way, reflects Guo Moruo’s bitter experiences in love-seeking in early life. Yet, he was in the state of mind of a Tagorean idealist, unable to come to grip with the ruthless reality of life. What Guo Moruo attempted to create in his imitation Gitanjali was a kingdom of idealism for which he did not mind dying as a martyr. Love should remain pure, while dedication should have its deserved awards, It was the idealism of Tagore being reflected in Guo Moruo’s mind.

There is another poem of Guo Moruo entitled “Shide xuanyan” (Manifesto of poetry) which also belongs to the Gitanjali realm, but with a mood drastically different from the one quoted above. Let the poem be cited in full:

“You see, I am so honest and candid.

I haven’t an iota of artful quality.

I love those workers and peasants.

They bare their feet, their bodies.

I also bare my feet, my body .

I hate the class of the affluent.

They are beautiful. They love beauty.

Silks, scent, jewels on their entire bodies.

I am poetry. This is my manifesto of poetry.

My class is the proletariat.

Yet I am still a little too shaky

have to be tempered to be steady.

Have just recovered,


My spirit still not like steel.

That day will come, I believe

You see me roar like a tempest.”[52]

Here is an interesting poem. The poem was composed in 1929, only three years after Guo Moruo had composed his imitation Gitanjali, “Xianshi”.Yu Dafu, a friend and fellow traveller like Guo Moruo, wrote an editorial note while publishing the latter poem in 1926. The note says that it was he (Vu Dafu) who published the poem against the willingness of Guo Moruo.Whydid he do so? Said Yu: “I think it unimportant about the socialization of a poet. It is not necessary that vocables such as pistol, bomb, or hundred times of reiteration of “revolution” should occur in a poem to qualify it as a really revolutionary piece. When you artlessly reveal your real emotions, when you emit your volcanic warmth to make the readers of your poem share your sorrowful weep and joyful laughter you have fulfilled the sacred duty of a poet.”[53] To Yu Dafu, both the poems of Guo Moruo, i.e., the lamentation of his lost love in “XianshP and the candid admission of his affinity with the protetanat in “Shide xuanyan”, qualify as revolutionary poems, and perform the duty of awakening the fine sentiments of humanity all the same. That makes it easy to explain why a weeping Romeo in “Xianshi in 1925 could become a roaring proletariat in “Shide xuanyan” in 1928. Is there any relevance of Tagore in this transformation? Yu Dafu, it seems, had already anticipated this transformation when he praised the noble sentiments of the weeping Romeo. We have earlier tried to establish the affinity between Guo Moruo’s “Xianshi” and Tagore’s Gitanjali, Yu Dafu has helped us to identify this affinity as the quality which can spread sympathy and empathy among men. Guo Moruo’s manifesto of poetry instantly calls to mind Tagore’s words in Giranjali (verse 10):

“Pride can never approach to where

thou walkest in the clothes of the

humble among the poorest, and lowliest,

and lost.

My heart can never find its way to

where thou keepest company with the

companionless among the poorest, the

lowliest, and the lost.”

What Tagore expressed above and what Guo Moruo expressed in his Manifesto of poetry are identical in nature: it represents the desire of an intellectual to integrate himself into the world of the downtrodden. This was, perhaps, why Guo Moruo captioned his piece in such a way as if to link Gitanjali with the famous Manifesto of the Communists, a link between the influence of Tagore in him with that of Karl Marx who was Guo Moruo’s later love. The linkage seems to suggest beyond doubt that Guo Moruo’s falling in love with Marxism did not result in his negating his tryst with Tagore’s spiritualism.This serves to contradict a feeling among Guo’s contemporaries that any influence from Tagore was bound to neutralize the revolutionary potential of a Chinese youth. Guo Moruo’s own growth process has proved that a Tagorean poet could become a communist writer.

Marian Galik (a famous Hungarian China expert) has pointed out the identity in Guo Moruo’s poem “Bieli” (Parting) with Tagore’s“The Astronomer, one of the pieces in The Crescent Moon, with both the poets longing to catch the moon.[54] Indeed, as The Crescent Moon had formed such an important part of Guo’s life it was but natural that the moon, particularly The Crescent Moon, figured frequently in Guo’s poetic creations. He had a poem entitled “Xinyue” (Crescent moon) composed in 1921, another entitled “Xinyue yu baiyun” (Crescent moon and white clouds) composed in 1919, another entitled “Yuexiade sifenkesi” (Sphinx under the moon light composed probably in 1921 but published in 1922, yet another entitled “DuiYue”(Facing the moon) composed in 1928. The moon also figures in many other poems which do not bear its name in their titles. Of interest is Prof. Galik’s observation that in Guo’s poem Parting, he also expressed his desire to get hold of the sun which, according to Prof. Galik. “does not figure in Tagore’s poem”, i.e., The Astronomer.[55] Galik, then discusses Guo’s being attracted by the symbolism of the sun by suggesting that Guo’s eulogizing the solar universe was an expression of his under the impact of Omar Khayyam, Whitman, Rodin and Millet.[56] I don’t wish to contradict Galik’s observation, but want to return to my earlier premise that one of the impact of Tagore on China’s avant garde poets was the focus on the sun imagery. If my earlier premise can stand, then we can also count Tagore’s influence on Guo Moruo’s sensitivity to the soar glory in his poetry. Indeed, this sensitivity of Guo Moruo even surpasses that of Wen Yiduo, which we have illustrated earlier. To Guo Moruo the sun not only involved the solar universe, but was a hallowed symbdism like whatTagore had conceived. In an emotional poem entitled “Taiyang mole(The sun has set), Guo describes the light-waves of the sun as a force wanting to sweep clean the devils from the Heaven The poem ends with the following lines

“There is angry roar like tranquil thunder

which lumbers suddenly in my ears:

‘We are all suns, you and I

away the darkness we drive,

and the devils we cleanse.

We hold our own torches,

march forward, march forward!”[57]

There is lndianness in the metaphors of the above cited lines. Good overcoming evil is a permanent theme of the Indian ethos which the Indians annually commemorate in the Victory Festival (Diwali) every Autumn. The Chinese word “mo” which was the ancients’ transliteration of the Sanskrit word mara (devil). Guo Moruo’s likening the sun to the force of dharma (truth) which overcomes mara resurrects the ancient Chinese, particularly the Tang poetic symbolism transposing the image of the Buddha to that of the golden sun. The Tang poetic jinlun (golden wheel) was synonymous to “Buddhism”, “sun”, and “Tang imperial role”. What made Guo Moruo revive this ancient theme must be due to his special feeling for Sino-Indian cultural affinity out of his admiration and affection for Tagore.

There is another element in Guo Moruo’s metaphors for the sun which highlights Tagore’s influence, i.e., Guo’s emphasis on “light”- a favorite Tagorean theme. We meet amidst the red light.”[58] “The unbounded Nature has formed a sea of light.”[59] The sun in the sky, the light in my heart.”[60] In his poem “Taiyangde lizan” (Saluting the sun), Guo Moruo rhymed:

“Oh, sun! please light up my whole life

into a red current of blood!

Oh, sun! Please light up my entire poetry

Into the golden foams in Right!”[61]

These lines also highlight another aspect of Guo Moruo’s solar metaphor, i.e., the internalization of the solar symbol into the poet’s own being, which is more likely an Indian influence than Western. Similar sentiments were expressed by Guo Muruo in his poem Haizhouzhong Wang ri chu (A view of sunrise from the Ocean liner):

“Oh, sun!

Please do sing me the triumphal song!

Today, my battle with the sea gains victory![62]

In another poem Yu hai (Bathing in the sea), Guo expressed his sentiments thus:

“My blood shares the movements with the sea waves.

My head burns together with the fire of the sun.”[63]

In another poem Guo even exclaimed: “Oh, sun, our teacher.”[64] All this does have a Tagorean touch as they are certainly the echoes of verse 57 of Gitanjali which sings these words:

“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 is shattered into gold on every cloud...”

Even the last line of Tagore found an echo in Guo Moruo’s The clouds are dyed in golden colour”.[65] and “Innumerable golden rays are racing from my eyes towards the sun.”[66] After hearing Tagore singing: “O my sun ever-glorious!” (Gitanjali, verse 80), Guo Moruo replied: “Oh, sun! If you don’t shine upon me into thoroughly bright, I shall return not!”[67] These are sufficient illustrations of the spiritual communion between Tagore and Guo Moruo.

The Communion between Tagore and Guo Moruo also indicates the influence of pantheism in the two poets. While India is the native land of pantheism and Tagore imbibed it as a natural inheritance, Guo Moruo imbibed pantheism only through Tagore. The typical work of Guo Moruo which reflects his pantheist mood is the long poem Fenghuang niepan (The nirvana of the phoenix) in which Guo sang:

“One of all, harmony.

All of one, harmony,

Harmony be you, harmony be me.

Harmony be him, harmony be fire.

Fire be you.

Fire be me.

Fire be him.

Fire be Fire."[68]

In Guo Moruo’s own reckoning as stated in his poem “Sange fanshenlunzhe”(Three pantheism), the source of his pantheism came from three persons: (1) ancient Chinese philosopher, Zhuangzi, (2) Dutch philosopher, Spinoza, and (3) Indian philosopher, Kabir.[69] There is no mention of Tagore. Yet, Guo Moruo did digest Tagore’s pantheist nourishment which can be demonstrated by comparing his poem “Diqiu, wode muqin!” (Earth, my mother!) with Tagore’s Gitanjali. First, Let us listen to Tagore:

“Thy sunbeam comes upon this earth of mine

with arms outstretched and stands at my door

the livelong day to carry back to thy feet

clouds made of my tears and sighs and songs.”

(Gitanjali, verse 68.)

“It is the same life that shoots in joy through the

dust of the earth in numberless blades

of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves

of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is reckoned in the

ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow:

(Ibid., verse 69.)

Now, listen to Guo Moruo:

“Earth, my mother!

I think everything in the universe is your incarnation.

Thunder is the deterrent sound of your breath,

Snow and rain mark the flying of your blood.

I drink a glass of water that is the sweet dew from Heaven.

I know it’s your milk, the livelong juice of mine.


My soul is your soul”.[70]

Both Tagore and Guo Moruo had a tryst with pantheism in these lines, Being an emulating force of Tagore, Guo certainly imbibed the Tagorean pantheism in conceiving the earth as his mother with all her mortal incarnations.

We have sufficiently spelt out Tagore’s influence on the early poems of Guo Moruo, a writer of considerable importance and influence in shaping the new Chinese literature. Of course, Guo’s poetry grew in its growing departure from the pantheist mood and the

Tagorean style, committing deeper and deeper in the contemporary political struggle which Tagore had kept aloof from. However, as we have already alluded to earlier, a conclusion cannot be drawn that Guo had to necessarily discard Tagore’s influence to throw himself whole-heartedly in the “revolutionary literature” movement which Guo himself was a driving force behind. While many of his contemporary radical friends viewed Tagore as a negative spiritual force, Guo Moruo never joined others in criticizing The Crescent Moon or Gitanjali. In fact, no patriotic spirit in any poem could surpass what was expressed in verse 35 in Gitanjali which reads

"Where the mind is without fear and the

head is held high:

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been

broken up into frangments

by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from

the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear Stream of reason

has not lost its way into

the dreary desert sand of dead habit:

Where the mind is led forward by

thee into ever-widening thought and action -Into

that heaven of freedom, my Father,

let my country awake.”

(Gitanjali, verse 35.)

When Guo Moruo read these lines, he would not have been led away from loving Tagore and loving his own country. Incidentally, when Guo Moruo sailed back from Japan, and when his boat was touching the shore of Shanghai in 1921, he rhymed:

“Oh, the abode of peace,

the country of my parents!”[71]

Just when he was physically on the soil of his motherland, his mind and heart flow to Santiniketan (the abode of peace), Patriotism and Tagorean idealism were frozen in Guo Morun -the young Chinese poet who was destined to write, along with many others, the new poetry, new literature, new partiotic epic of a modern China, Nothing more vividly symbolic than this freeze to connect Tagore to the new chapter of China’s spiritual and  literary awakening!

[45] Marian Galik, The Genesis of Modem Chinese Literary Criticism (Bratislava, 1980). pp. 40.41.

[46] Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore (MacMilans, 1936), p. 51.

[47] For Guds poem “Anshang”, sea Guo Moruo quanji, Literature, Vol. I, p. 152

[48] Ibid, p. 173.

[49] In Nanya Vanjiu (South Asian Studies), published by the Institute of South Asian Studies of the Chinese and Peking University, No. 3,1983, p. 59.

[50] Guo moruo quanji, Literature, Vol. I, p. 259.

[51] Ibid. pp. 267.68,279,290-291,31X-302.

[52] Ibid, pp. 374-75.

[53] Ibid, p. 304.

[54] Marian Galik. Milesfones in Sino-Western literary confrontation (1898-1979 Wiesbaden, 1996, p, 51.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid, pp. 52-53.

[57] Guo moruo Ouanji, Literature, Vol. I, p.332.

[58] Ibid, pp. 329.30.

[59] Ibid, p. 91.

[60] Ibid. p. 56.

[61] Ibid, p. 100.

[62] Ibid, p. 160.

[63] Ibid, p. 70.

[64] Ibid, p. 329.

[65] Ibid, p. 159.

[66] . Ibid, p. 100.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid, pp. 44-45.

[69] Ibid, p. 73.

[70] Ibid, pp. 81.63.

[71] Ibid, p. 161,  


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

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