by Rabindranath Tagore
Listen, my heart,
in his flute is the music of the smell of wild flowers,
of the glistening leaves and gleaming water,
of shadows resonant with bee’s wings.
The flute steals his smile from my friend’s lips
and spreads it over my life.
Tagore, a Bengali author, Nobel Prize winner and friend of Yeats, is due for a revival of interest. Sometimes pigeonholed as a somewhat dated spiritual literary voice, his career was productive (not just poems, but plays, novels, stories, and non-fiction) and inspired works in many forms. To keep just to lieder, here’s a long list of composers who have set his texts (Karol Szymanowski, the cosmic Polish Romantic composer among them. He is near contemporary of Tagore, and is now undergoing something of a revival as well. They are perhaps kin aesthetically, and a century on we have a better sense of what to make of artists who worked in the afterglow of romanticism rather than high modernism.)
The flute Tagore refers to here might well be the Bansuri, a bamboo flute, used in Indian folk and classical music (like Orpheus’ lyre, myths relate its ability to enchant all who heard it). A modern enchanter is Hariprasad Chaurasia, with a tip of the hat to AA for introducing me to both the flute and this artist.