Read this poem by a Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941). It comes from a collection of poems entitled Gitanjali or 'Song Offerings'. The translation from the original Bengali is by the author himself . Click onto the image above to access an on-line version of the full text of the book, which has an interesting Introduction by the famous Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, who writes about the poems as follows: "A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had ... heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream."
'Mind Without Fear'
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;
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;
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.
What does the poem tell us about our day to day lives?
We use the metaphor 'the grass is greener on the other side' when we are dissatisfied with ourselves and our situations. On the surface, this poem seems to be reinforcing this idea - we should aim ourselves to a 'country' or place away from the 'narrow domestic walls' and 'dreary desert sand of habit' to a place 'Where the mind is led forward...Into that heaven of freedom.'
Read more closely and you will see, however, that you don't have to go far to reach the 'other side' - the poet is not advocating a mass exodus to a more exotic land of instant sunshine and happiness!
Rather, the poet is suggesting that we cultivate a particular attitude to life. This attitude is marked by a sense of fearlessness and dignified ease in which you can hold your head 'high'; it is signalled by an integrity in our language whereby we say what we mean with words rooted in 'truth'; it is underlined by mental discipline, that 'clear stream of reason' and a refinement of that self-awareness through which we 'awake' to ourselves and what we are worth.
The poem neatly encapsulates what our TOK studies are aiming for: to instil in ourselves a desire to think and speak for ourselves; to stand firm in what we believe; above all, to respect ourselves and to see what we are capable of.
Do you recognise the TOK vocabulary?
Which knowledge issues emerge from the poem?