Much Ado About Tagore

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Last week I had the chance to spend some time with Shahidul Mamun from Bangladesh.  As well as teaching A-Level English Literature, Shahidul also finds time to translate literary works into Bengali.  He has worked for a number of years as a drama consultant for the Dhaka-based theatre company Prachyanat (http://prachyanat.wordpress.com/contents/) and this year the company will perform his translation of Much Ado About Nothing.  It has taken Shahidul over two years to translate Shakespeare’s comedy, and he is now eager to see how it plays in front of an audience.

It won’t be just Shakespeare’s words that audiences will hear when the play opens – they will also recognize extracts from the writings of Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941).  Both writers have served as a great source of inspiration for Shahidul throughout his life, and it seems fitting that their words will  now stand together in his new translation.  Shahidul was deeply moved when he came across the bronze bust of Tagore among the flower beds of the Birthplace gardens (pictured above). The plinth bears the inscription “Rabindranath Tagore – Poet, Painter, Playwright, Thinker, Teacher – The Voice of India”, and it was given as a gift to SBT in 1995 by the Indian High Commissioner. The podium is engraved with the Bengali script (and Tagore’s own translation) of his poem in honour of Shakespeare, which reads:

“When by the far-away sea your fiery disk appeared from behind the unseen, O Poet, O Sun.

England’s horizon felt you near her breast, and took you to be her own.

She kissed your forehead, caught you in the arms of her forest branches.

Hid you behind her mist mantle and watched you in the green sward where fairies love to play among the meadow flowers.

A few early birds sang your hymn of praise, while the rest of the woodland choir were asleep.

Then at the silent beckoning of the Eternal you rose higher and higher till you reached the mid sky, making all quarters of heaven your own.

Therefore, at this moment, after the end of centuries, the palm groves by the Indian sea raise their tremulous branches to the sky murmuring your praise.”

Tagore has been described as a “spiritual and creative beacon to his countrymen, and indeed, the whole world.”  The poet W. B. Yeats wrote that his writings display “an innocence, a simplicity that one does not find elsewhere in literature – he makes the birds and the leaves seem as near to him as they are near to children, and the changes of the seasons great events as before our thoughts had arisen between them and us.”  It is clear that Tagore and Shakespeare share a common sensitivity and emotional sympathy.  The next decade will bring the two men yet closer with the celebration of two important anniversaries – the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth, and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Before that time Shahidul’s translation will give fresh breath to both men’s words. Here he is talking about his translation, and about his use of Tagore’s writings.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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