Poem 'When I go from hence'



'Jabar dine' ['When I go from hence'] is poem number 96 in the Indian poet and intellectual Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel Prize winning collection of poems titled the Gitanjali. The British war poet Wilfred Owen read the poem in the trenches of the Western Front and quoted the first line of the poem to his mother Susan while home for leave for the last time. Tagore's mystical poem with its romantic imagery and sensuous language would have deeply appealed to Owen.


Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in 1913 for the English translation of his collection of lyric poems, Gitanjali (Song Offerings). During and immediately after the First World War, he became one of the most celebrated intellectuals on the world stage, acquiring an almost prophetic role with his flowing beard, loose-fitting robes, and message of peace. In 1916, he made a high tour, first in Japan and then in the United States, where he delivered his famous series of lectures on 'Nationalism'. He was conferred a knighthood in 1915, which he would return in 1919 in protest against the Amritsar massacre in the Punjab. He was at once anti-imperial and anti-nationalist: the combination is powerfully expressed in his novel Ghare Baire [The Home and the World], written in 1916. An inveterate traveller, Tagore would embark again, in May 1920, on a fifteen month tour of Europe and the United States. In the course of this tour, he visited the battlefields in France and met some of the leading European intellectuals, including Henri Bergson in France, Romain Rolland in Switzerland, Thomas Mann in Germany, and his old friends the Irish poet W.B. Yeats (who had helped with the translation of Gitanjali) and the English theologian William Rothenstein in England. In 1920, a bereaved mother from Shrewsbury wrote to him: The letter may never reach you, for I do not know how to address it, though I feel your name upon the envelope will be sufficient. It is nearly two years ago, that my dear eldest son went out to the War for the last time and the day he said Goodbye to me – we were looking together across the sun-glorified sea – looking towards France with breaking hearts – when he, my poet son, said these wonderful words of yours – ‘jabar diney ei kathati boley jeno jeo – ja dekhechi, ja peyechi tulona tar nei’ – 'when I leave, let these be my parting word, what my life received, are unsurpassable’ And when his pocket book came back to me – I found these words written in his dear writing – with your name beneath. The 'poet son' was Wilfred Owen and the poem referred to is the one quoted above. It is not known whether Tagore received the letter; it has not yet been located in Tagore's voluminous correspondence archived at Shantiniketan. Owen's mother Susan never received any reply.