Editor's Pick

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31 October, 2022

ON 13 NOVEMBER 1913, the Swedish Academy informed Rabindranath Tagore, through his publisher, that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.” Tagore, who was 52 years old at the time, was the first non-European to win the award and the second laureate to be born in British India, after Rudyard Kipling.

Three years earlier, Tagore had published Gitanjali, a collection of over a hundred and fifty Bengali poems. In November 1912, the London-based India Society published an English version, with the subtitle “Song Offerings.” It contained prose translations of 53 poems from the original collection, as well as 50 poems that had been published elsewhere. Tagore had translated all the poems himself, while the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who had met Tagore for the first time in June that year, wrote the introduction. While the India Society edition was limited to 750 copies, the Macmillan Company republished the work in March 1913 to great success, with 20 reprints over the next two years.

Tagore was nominated for the Nobel by the British poet Thomas Sturge Moore, who, along with Yeats, arranged for two more volumes of Tagore’s translated poetry—The Gardener and The Crescent Moon—to be published in 1913. Other nominees included Thomas Hardy, Anatole France and Benito Pérez Galdós. At the ceremony, on 10 December, the British charge d’affaires in Stockholm, Robert Henry Clive, accepted the award and read out a telegram sent by Tagore, expressing his “grateful appreciation of the breadth of understanding which has brought the distant near, and has made a stranger a brother.” In May 1921, Tagore visited Sweden and delivered his acceptance speech.