As is common within Tagore’s verse, the language is quite easy to read, filled with beautiful metaphors and similes, and hard to forget. While it seems likely that this poem was directed to, and written about, the country of India, it’s also likely that readers from different countries can relate to Tagore’s words and consider them in different contexts.
Freedom Rabindranath TagoreFreedom from fear is the freedomI claim for you my motherland!Freedom from the burden of the ages, bending your head,breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoningcall of the future;Freedom from the shackles of slumber wherewithyou fasten yourself in night's stillness,mistrusting the star that speaks of truth's adventurous paths;freedom from the anarchy of destinywhole sails are weakly yielded to the blind uncertain winds,and the helm to a hand ever rigid and cold as death.Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet's world,where movements are started through brainless wires,repeated through mindless habits,where figures wait with patience and obedience for themaster of show,to be stirred into a mimicry of life.
‘Freedom’ by Rabindranath Tagore is a beautiful poem directed to the people of the poet’s home country – India.
This powerful poem begins with the speaker telling his listener, the people of India, and the country as a whole, that he is going to claim freedom for them. It is the freedom that’s going to allow them to escape from the oppression they suffered under, in various forms, for centuries. The freedom of the future is calling to them, with a bright light and a beckoning sound.
He goes on to say that fate, as determined by others, is no longer going to play a part in their lives. They are going to be free from “dwelling in a puppet’s world.” They are no longer going to have to live a “mimicry of life.”
Structure and Form
‘Freedom’ by Rabindranath Tagore is a seventeen-line poem that is written in free verse. This means the lines do not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are also contained within one stanza. Upon a cursory glance, readers will immediately notice that the lines vary greatly in length. Some are as short as four words, while others are closer to ten.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines four and five.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. This can be accomplished through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in a line. For example: “breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “whole sails are weakly yielded to the blind uncertain winds.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “breaking,” “back,” “blinding,” and “beckoning” in line four and “helm” and “hand” in line eleven.
Freedom from fear is the freedom
I claim for you my motherland!
Freedom from the burden of the ages, bending your head,
breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning
call of the future;
Freedom from the shackles of slumber wherewith
you fasten yourself in night’s stillness,
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker addresses his words to India. This is implicit through the poet’s country of birth. But, since India is not mentioned by name in this poem, it’s possible to also interpret these words as a reflection on another country. The poet uses an apostrophe, or an address to someone or something that cannot hear or respond to their words, in these lines. They tell India that they “claim freedom from fear” for the country.
It is a special freedom, one that is separate from “the burden of the ages.” The history of the country, and the various kinds of subjugation that the country’s people have suffered under, will be relieved with this new freedom. No longer shall the people of India bend their heads in submission or break their backs with hard work.
Instead, the Indian people will be blinded with the “beckoning call of the future.”The poet continues to repeat the word “freedom.” This occurs in several lines of this poem. It is a literary device known as anaphora. There are also numerous examples of alliteration in these lines, for example, “shackles” and “slumber” in line six.
mistrusting the star that speaks of truth’s adventurous paths;
freedom from the anarchy of destiny
whole sails are weakly yielded to the blind uncertain winds,
and the helm to a hand ever rigid and cold as death.
Freedom from the insult of dwelling in a puppet’s world,
where movements are started through brainless wires,
repeated through mindless habits,
where figures wait with patience and obedience for the
master of show,
to be stirred into a mimicry of life.
The speaker tells their intended listener, the country of India, and the people of India, that from now on, they will no longer be guided by the “anarchy of destiny.” This suggests that the speaker sees his people as, for a long time, being controlled by someone else’s determination of what their fate should be. The poet uses a wonderful example of imagery in these lines, in addition to personification, as he describes the shape of destiny and how the people of India had to “yield[…] to the blind uncertain winds.”
While this could be interpreted as a beautiful image, the following line describes a “hand ever rigid and cold as death” ensures that readers see it as a negative. This is also a good example of juxtaposition. Readers can compare this line, which is emblematic of the past, with the blinding, beckoning light of the future from the previous lines.
The final few lines of the poem compare the life that the speaker’s people had been living to a puppet show. They were puppets on a wire, waiting with “patience and obedience for the / master of show.” No longer, the speaker implies. They will no longer repeat their “mindless habits” or have to play a “mimicry of life.”
The purpose of this poem is to declare a new future for the country of India and the Indian people. The speaker, likely Tagore himself, sees a future in which the Indian people are not subjugated to the word of others and no longer play the role of puppets.
The speaker is someone who has a great deal of affection for their country and their people. Commonly, this speaker is considered to be the poet himself. But, their identity is not important to understand the broader implications of the poem. Readers can explore this piece without explicitly understanding the speaker as a single person.
Freedom, Tagore says, is the ability to choose one’s own destiny. Freedom is only possible when his people no longer have to bend their heads or their backs to oppression or labor. It’s freedom when the people he’s speaking to in this poem are able to act on their own desires and wills.
This poem was written sometime in the late 19-century, likely when the poet was in his 20s. But, there is no specific date on record for its composition.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Rabindranath Tagore poems. For example:
- ‘Let Me Not Forget’ – speaks on one man’s personal loss and determination to never again be fully happy, no matter what his life brings.
- ‘The Gardener XLI: Peace, My Heart’ – features a depiction of death that is peaceful and completely natural.
- ‘Unending Love’ – a beautiful love poem. It taps on the themes of spiritual love and immortality.