Where the Mind is Without Fear is one of the most powerful works by Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore. This simplified English language translation is 11 lines, without a rhyme scheme. The original Bengali version of the poem is called, Chitto jetha bhoyshunyo, and was published in 1910 before India gained its independence from Great Britain and was in the midst of protests and demonstrations against British rule.
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This poem is a contemplation of a state of being, a place in time, and a way of living into which the author, Tagore, wishes his country, India, would awaken. The first nine lines of the poem present a number of statements in which begin with the word, “Where…” These statements are each positive attributes that Tagore is hoping India will achieve. The poem resolves by finishing all of these sentences, and Tagore making a plea to his Father, for his country to wake up into “that heaven of freedom.”
In this poem, Tagore lays out the tenants of what could be called a utopian society.
Analysis of Where the Mind is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
The poem begins with these two short lines which are the basis of the hopes that Tagore has for his country. These partial sentences, along with the following six are finished by the last line of the poem in which Tagore explains, these are places into which he wishes India would wake up. That a change will come over the country and it will be able to move to a more culturally and politically free period. Specifically in which, “the mind is without fear.” This being the title line of the poem, its importance cannot be ignored. It is one of the most important tenants of Tagore’s dream India. One must be able to live without fear of the repercussions of their thoughts, as well as living without fear of physical harm coming to them as they live their lives. The second half of this first line adds on to the importance of the first half, not only must one be able to live without fear of physical repercussions of what they believe, they must also be able to be proud of their beliefs, be able to express them freely in open society.
The second line of the poem turns to knowledge, in this perfect India, all knowledge must be free. There cannot be barriers, keeping the middle and lower classes from seeking out new information and bettering their lives.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
The third statement describing this ideal world refers to home and societal life and the way in which women and men are separated, and how narrow their differences are. This idea of walls can also be expanded to once again include different classes of people, a problem faced by the Indian people for decades. Because of the way in which one class is separated from another in all the facts of life, from where and how they live, to where they work and who they work for, the world has become fragmented into small groups that do not interact or touch in any way.
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfectio
The next line of the poem references a more philosophical factor in Tagore’s utopian India. The words that were spoken, no matter who by, must come from the very depth of truth. This is a way of living that is very controversial, and of which many might say would have an adverse effect.
But in Tagore’s world, absolute truth is a necessity. The sixth line of the poem presents an idea that many would agree with without much criticism, that if one works hard, or strives tirelessly, one will eventually reach perfection. Perfection, or whatever goal one has in mind. Hard work would always pay off, another addition to Tagore’s goal for India.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
The next two lines are more complex. In this scenario that Tagore has set up in these lines he is referring to the trouble that one will run into when they start on a path reasonably and with a goal in mind, but then fall into a habit and are unable to reach what they were striving for. Tagore uses a “clear stream” as a metaphor for reason, it flows easily and cleanly. It is good for everyone. This stream of reason has “not” in Tagore’s world, “lost its way,” by venturing into habit. To balance this metaphor, he compares a dreary desert to “dead habit.” One must be willing to change, to try new things in his utopian India.
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.
The last three lines of the poem make clear reference to Tagore’s desire to blend Western and Indian poetry together. He states one final element of his society, one which can be interpreted in multiple ways. The mind of the people must be led forward by “thee.” In this line he could be referring to God, as he does in the next line, or perhaps he references his previous statements as a whole. He is, in a way, adding on to the previous lines, stating that this stream of reason must be “led forward…” The last two lines conclude all of the partial sentences that make up the bulk of the poem. The mind must be led forward into “ever-widening thought and action.” The mind must not be culled in any sense of the word, it must be allowed to expand without limits, and act on the notions it believes to be best. This world that he has crafted he now refers to as “that heaven of freedom.” He asks “my Father” presumably God, to let his country wake into this heaven.
About Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian poet, born in 1861 in what was then Calcutta, India. He was and is the foremost poet in the Bengali language, and was also versed in a short story, play, and essay writer, as well as painting and composing music. He started writing poetry early and throughout his life he would publish several books as well as a complete collection of his work.
In 1913 he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. His goal was to blend the best of Indian and Western poetry, an element of his writing clearly present in his poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear. During the time in which this poem was written India was still under the control of the British Empire. In 1915, only 5 years after this poem was written, Tagore was awarded a knighthood but gave it up in protest only four years later when British troops killed 400 Indian demonstrators. He died in 1941 in Calcutta.