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“Light, oh where is the light?” Written by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, it appears in verse 27 of his book “Gitanjali”, exploring themes of devotion, love, and the divine. His poetry seeks spiritual enlightenment and guidance in one’s life, reflects on the human condition, and seeks meaning and desire for a deeper connection with higher power. With experiential, spiritual, and cultural contexts of India, his works including “Gitanjali” captivate readers worldwide for their universal themes and lyrical beauty.
About the poet
Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian poet, essayist, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer, and painter who transformed Bengali literature, music, and Indian art in the late 19th century and early 20th century with a contextually modern perspective. In 1913 he became the first non-European and the first lyricist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Tagore’s elegant prose and mystical poetry were much admired, and his melodies seemed mercurial and spiritual. Born in Calcutta, Tagore was an internationalist, universalist, and anti-nationalist. Gitanjali, Gora, and Ghare-Baire are a few of his works that have been appreciated for their poetic, colloquial, realistic, and unique imagination.
Light, oh where is the light? Kindle it with the burning fire of desire! There is the lamp but never a flicker of a flame,—is such thy fate, my heart! Ah, death were better by far for thee! Misery knocks at thy door, and her message is that thy lord is wakeful, and he calls thee to the love-tryst through the darkness of night
In these lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Light, oh where is the light?” the speaker passionately implores for spiritual illumination. He metaphorically describes the heart’s longing as a burning fire of desire, seeking the light of spiritual awakening. However, the speaker laments that despite the presence of a lamp, there is no flicker of a flame within their heart, suggesting a lack of spiritual awakening or enlightenment. The speaker contemplates the idea that the absence of this inner light is so miserable that death would be a preferable fate. He acknowledges that misery is at their doorstep, and its message is that their beloved (referred to as “thy lord”) is awake and calls them to a secret meeting of love in the darkness of the night.
The poem uses a metaphor of desire and light to express the speaker’s longing for spiritual awakening and connection with the divine. The absence of inner light, despite the presence of a lamp, symbolizes a lack of spiritual enlightenment. The speaker’s despair and frustration at the absence of spiritual light are reflected in their contemplation of death. The poem also references misery and a love tryst, suggesting a spiritual rendezvous or union with the divine. These lines convey a passionate plea for spiritual enlightenment and a deep longing for a meaningful connection with the divine.
The sky is overcast with clouds and the rain is ceaseless. I know not what this is that stirs in me,—I know not its meaning. A moment's flash of lightning drags down a deeper gloom on my sight, and my heart gropes for the path to where the music of the night calls me. Light, oh where is the light! Kindle it with the burning fire of desire! It thunders and the wind rushes screaming through the void. The night is black as a black stone. Let not the hours pass by in the dark. Kindle the lamp of love with thy life.
In these lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, the speaker describes a scene where the sky is covered in thick clouds, and relentless rain falls. The speaker expresses a sense of inner turmoil and longing but admits to not understanding the source or meaning of these feelings. He describes a moment when a flash of lightning briefly illuminates the darkness, intensifying their search for a path toward the captivating music of the night. The speaker then passionately implores for light and desires it to be ignited through the burning fire of their longing. The poem takes on a more dramatic tone as thunder and wind add to the sense of chaos and obscurity. The speaker emphasizes the urgency of not allowing time to pass in darkness and urges the kindling of the lamp of love with one’s life.
The poem by Tagore explores themes of darkness and light, desire, and the transformative power of love and connection. The overcast sky, ceaseless rain, and flashes of lightning reflect the speaker’s internal turmoil and yearning. The speaker’s plea for spiritual illumination, understanding, and enlightenment is reflected in the burning fire of desire. The dramatic imagery of thunder and rushing wind heightens the sense of urgency and the speaker’s desire to overcome the darkness. The closing lines emphasize the urgency of not letting time pass in darkness, suggesting that love and connection can provide inner light and guidance.