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Where the Mind is Without Fear – Rabindranath Tagore

Summary

The poet, Rabindranath Tagore, is praying to God to give a new outlook to every Indian. Let’s see his prayer in details.

The poet’s prayers

  • Fearlessness
  • Pride
  • Free knowledge
  • Unity
  • Broad-mindedness
  • Truthfulness
  • Craving for perfection
  • Hard work
  • Reasoning power

Stanza 1

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 fragments
By narrow domestic walls:

Meaning

  • Where – a world where the following conditions are possible.
  • Fear – Indians were afraid of the British power during this time.
  • Knowledge is free – A world where anyone can gain knowledge.
  • Fragments – broken pieces
  • Narrow – Narrow mindedness
  • Domestic – Internal
  • Domestic walls – During this time, India was not a federal nation. It was ruled by princely states who were fighting with each other.

Questions

  1. What kind of fear grips one’s mind?
    The fear that Tagore refers to here is the fear for one’s oppressors. It is a reference to the fear that Indians had in their heart during the British rule.
  2. Why is one not able to keep his head high?
    One is not able to keep his head high because he is feeling inferior. Written under the British rule in India, the poem refers to the slavery and helplessness that held the head of every Indian down.
  3. What do you understand about the Indian social set up that restricted free knowledge?
    In India, knowledge had been the privilege of the Brahmins and certain other high classes. The low classes were restricted from acquiring knowledge by reading scriptures or attending to a school or teacher.
  4. Who/what break(s) the world into fragments?
    Narrow-minded people break the world up into pieces. They divide the perfectly shaped world into continents, countries, states, my place, your place, etc.
  5. What do you mean by narrow domestic walls?
    Narrow domestic walls are human-made barriers that prevent people from moving out. They include religious, political and linguistic differences.

Stanza 2

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:

Meaning

  • Depth of truth – sincerity
  • Tireless – Without being tired
  • Striving – Hard work; attempts; endeavour
  • Perfection – A state of completeness
  • Stream – A little river
  • Reason – The ability to decide what is right, what is wrong, what is needed, what is not needed, what is to do, what not to do and why you do something.
  • Dreary – Dull; Sad
  • Dead habits – Actions that have no relevance or meaning; superstitions

Questions

  1. How does the poet wish words come out of people?
    The poet wishes people speak words that they mean. Many people tend to speak what they do not honestly mean.
  2. Where do tireless striving stretch their arms to?
    Tireless striving stretches its arms towards more and more perfection.
  3. Why is perfection not possible in the nation where the poet sings?
    Perfection is not possible in the nation where the poet sings because the countrymen are not hardworking. They seldom/hardly worry about perfection because of two reasons – firstly, the circumstances under which they live doesn’t allow them to do things perfectly and secondly, perfection is not part of their culture.
  4. What does the poet mean by the ‘clear stream of reason?’
    By ‘clear stream of reason,’ the poet means that reason is like a clear river that keeps on flowing to reach the ocean. Like the stream that flows down the hill and finally reach the ocean for its fulfillment, reasonable people also have aims in life. They flow down the terrain of life, face all obstacles, cross all the hurdles and finally reach the ocean of ultimate truth.
  5. How does reason lose its way?
    The stream of reason lose its way just like a river loses its way in a desert. A superstitious, imperfect society is like a desert. When reasonable people think and act rationally/reasonably, the society rises against them and stop them or silence them or sometimes, kill them.
  6. How does the poet compare the society with a desert?
    The society that the poet prays for is superstitious. It is guided by people who engage in dead habits. People do so many things but they do not know what they are doing or why they are doing. In Tagore’s time and even today, Indian society is afflicted with its cancerous traditions.

Stanza 3

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.

Meaning

  • Where the mind is led forward by thee – Where people’s thoughts are guided by reason, not superstition.
  • Ever-widening thought – Thought should evolve from its infancy to maturity.
  • Ever-widening action – Thought should lead to action. After thinking reasonably, we need to act accordingly.
  • Into that heaven of freedom –
  • My Father – Probably the poet is seeking the help of a Father against India’s traditional concept of Mother. We can’t say why the poet is evoking a Father-figure here. Does he mean a Western Father concept? Does he project the Mother-figure inadequate? Do not make a hasty judgement.
  • Let my country awake – The poet wants his country wake up from its deathly sleep.

Questions

  1. Whom does poet address in the first line?
  2. What is ‘ever widening thought and action?’
  3. What kind of a freedom does the poet want his countrymen awake to? (2 marks)

What do you think?

Letter of Complaint & Reply

West Wind – John Masefield