Set against a richly pictorial background , Tagore’s ‘The Golden Boat‘ ( Sonar Tori ) , the very opening poem of the poetic volume of the same name is indeed an allegoric poem with a deeply philosophical meaning. Infact, Tagore’s two most famous poems of the Shelidah period, ‘The Golden Boat’ and ‘I will not let you go’ published in Sonar Tori in 1894 , reflect his strong realisation about the ultimate meaning of human life and deeds : the world accepts all the fruits of our labour but we cannot secure our place there forever. The ever urge of human heart to stamp his impresses on his production, artistic or material,is infact futile. The harvest of our lives stays on in some form or other but we ourselves are not to be accommodated within the world – scheme.
Amidst the gathering clouds and teeming rains , the poet sits alone in his small field on the river – bank with his sheaves lying beside him . He is visibly concerned as he is threatened by the flood – waters twisting and swirling all around . He sees trees and the villages far on the opposite banks , but here he sits all alone. And now he sees a boat coming close by and makes a call to the lady who is steering the boat:
” Oh to what foreign land do you sail ?
Come to the bank and moor your boat a while.
……. …… …….
Take away my golden paddy when you sail ”
Responding to his call , the steerswoman comes and takes all the golden paddy in her boat . But his request to accommodate him also in the boat is rejected “ No room , no room , the boat is too small“. The boat leaves him behind alone on that river – bank with the clouds moving to and fro . And having given everything he had to the golden boat , the poet suffers utter loneliness :
” On the bare river – bank , I remain alone – – What I had has gone:the golden boat took all “
The allegorical meanings of the poem are many . According to the poet’s own interpretation,the golden paddy is the symbol of man’s lifelong toil. Time receives all his works and preserves them. But when man asks from Time such a care for himself , he is blunty refused with the words “no room , no room , the boat is too small”. In the poets words “Time carries the deeds and preserves it; but it does not want to save the doer“. Therefore the poet’s desire to embark the golden boat and be immortal falls miserably.
From spiritual point of view,the steerswoman of the boat stands for God . He receives all the deeds of man but denies him salvation . From aesthetic point of view the golden boat can be seen as a symbol of the eternal, unbroken , ideal beauty of the universe with the boatman its soul . The partial experience of this beauty and the failure to achieve it completely fill the onlooker with despair and pain. The golden boat has also been seen as the boat of fame that conquers time. The golden paddy may be seen as the poetic creation of the poet and the flood water is the adverse criticism .
In one of his letters ,Tagore , however , refused to accept all such explanations and asked his readers to take the poem merely as a mood piece with the rains , the riverbanks , and a cloudy day, or as an exquisite picture or a piece of music . Indeed , the poem may be valued for its pictorial quality only. An ancient event beside the river Padma has been attributed pictorial quality by the use of hitherto unseen harmony of sound and glory of rhythm.
Kshudiram Das , a distinguished Tagore Scholar states that Tagore’s literary genius consists , fundamentally, in his assimilation of visible real life (‘Jeevan ‘ ) with the idealized or imagined unseen (‘Arup’) . This synthesis is a reflection of the poet’s successful amalgam of the sensuous Western literary tradition and the introspective meditative tradition of his native culture. While Das perhaps comes closer to truth , yet he tends to overlook the human experiences that inspired such an outstanding creation like ‘The Golden Boat’. The poem is essentially a deeply humanitarian one , the pathos of which touches our mind .
Tagore’s The Golden Boat – Critical appreciation