November 21

How A Poem By Rabindranath Tagore Inspired South Koreans

Written by
Annyeong India

“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.” Whereas there were some poetries that ignited the transformation in history. South Korea- a leading nation today, drives back to its core being watered by the words of Rabindranath Tagore, a famous Indian poet and Nobel Laureate (1913)

He composed an enchanting poetry titled as ‘Lamp of the East’ (1929) which appeared in the Korean daily ‘Dong-A Ilbo’. He weaved it with hope to kindle the drive in the citizens for believing in the origins and to fight when Japan had a hold over South Korea.


“ In the Golden Age of Asia

Korea was one of the lamb-bearers

That lamp waits to be lighted once again

For the illumination of the East.”

These lines made Koreans reminisce about the culturally rich past as an inspiration and at the same time tuning before the eyes a great potential future that lies ahead. It is hard to find a South Korean who is not familiar with Tagore’s poem ‘Lamp of the East’ as it was believed to be a prophecy for the glorious country it is today.

Tagore was against the British colonial rule, and played an important role in the Indian freedom movement. His works were sensed to be blooming with the smell of classical domain of ideas which at the same time were capable of reflecting the present prevailing attributes. The renaissance of Indian literature was a witness to his multitude of novels, poems,songs, essays, and dance dramas. Gitanjali ( Song Offerings ), Gora (Fair-Faced) and Ghare- Baire ( The Home and the World ) are some of his best-known works.

As he was critical of this colonial regime, he felt favourably towards other Asian countries which emerged as influential international forces. Due to his five visits to Japan and being impressed by Japanese culture involving tea ceremony, haiku and flower arrangements, he stated that Japan served as a hope to Asia while inspiring his poetic spirit and wrote ” On the shores. Reddening clouds herald. The end of dark night. The Bird of the East. Sings the praise. Of the great East. ” To appreciate Japan’s victory in Russo- Japanese war. There are softer and counting Japanese policies of cultural annihilation he tried to preach Japan in many of his speeches to renounce the path of imperialism; for which he was accused to be representative of a defeated nation which in turn inspired him to compose “ The Song of the Defeated”.

” She is silent with eyes downcast; she has left home behind her. 

From her home has come wailing in the wind.

But the stars are singing the love-song of the eternal to a face sweet with shame and suffering. “

He gave it to a Korean student, pooch range his belief of subjugation by sword being of a much more shame than defeat or humility.

His words has a stillness in contrast to the turmoil, that brought people spirit up with a care of calmness that appealed to several writers including Han Yong-un (1879-1944), a Buddhist monk and author of “Nam ui Ch’immuk” ( The silence of love) which is universally acknowledged as a breakthrough in modern Korean poetry. Han also tried to convey the longing of meditating eternal bliss retrieved through human nature, and wrote a poem called “ After reading Tagore’s poem ‘Gardiner’. ”, presenting his own interpretation of Tagore’s thoughts.

Padma Shri awardee Kim Yang- Shik, a Korean poetess and essayist, keeps the breath of Tagore’s ideas alive in Seoul. She founded the Tagore society of Korea in 1981 and has been steadily translating Tagore’s political works into Korean and is also the serving Director of the Indian Art Museum in Seoul. 

As he desired “Let my thoughts come to you, when I am gone, like the afterglow of sunset at the margin of starry silence.”

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Author: Ananya Moti


Hallyu Wave, indian culture, korea, Rabindranath-Tagore

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