I knew nothing of Tagore before I started to travel to Calcutta on business way back at the start of this century. I’d like to blame the ethnocentricity of my English education for this gap in my knowledge but it could just be that I hadn’t been paying enough attention to poetry.
Working with my Bengali colleagues, I would hear Tagore quoted from time to time, in the familiar way that an Englishman might quote Shakespeare, except with more passion in the delivery.
When I asked who he was (yes, I should have asked Google first if I’d wanted to look like I had half a brain) they smiled, delighted at the opportunity to share with me one of the great Bengali poets and thinkers and announced proudly that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. My generous hosts sent me back to Europe with a collection of Tagore’s poems.
Today I read one of his most famous poems, “Paper Boats”, the first line of which is often quoted: “Day by day, I float my paper boats one by one,/Down the running stream,”
It’s a gentle, simply stated poem that seems to be about childhood experiences but which I have found gains more weight each time I read it.
Today, “Paper Boats” spoke to me about writing and identity. I thought about why I push out my blog posts and short stories into the running stream of the Internet. Is it so that strangers “will find them and know who I am”? Perhaps, but I want more than to write my name and address like a little boy. I want… well to be part of the bigger dream. It may be a stretch but I’d like to think that at least some of these “boats” find their way to people’s imaginations and that they sail them, like “the fairies of sleep” and load them up with “their baskets full of dreams”.
Paper Boats by Rabindranath Tagore
Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the
In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of
the village where I live.
I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and
know who I am.
I load my little boats with shiuli flower from our garden, and
hope that these blooms of the dawn will be carried safely to
land in the night.
I launch my paper boats and look up into the sky and see the little
clouds setting their white bulging sails.
I know not what playmate of mine in the sky sends them down
the air to race with my boats!
When night comes I bury my face in my arms and dream that
my paper boats float on and on under the midnight stars
The fairies of sleep are sailing in them, and the lading is their
baskets full of dreams.