A mixture of admiration and zeal plays on the face of Kim Donghyun, a Korean University student, when he talks about the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Like many other Koreans, Kim at his high school [HSC level] studied Korean translation of Tagore’s poem on Korean resurrection titled ‘The Lamp of the East’ and was inspired by the poem that galvanised Korean nationalism during the time when the country was a colony of Japan.
Tagore wrote just four lines in English under the title while visiting Japan in 1929 expressing his hope for the resurrection of Korea as an independent country from the Japanese occupation and its emergence as the ‘Lamp of the East’ when he learnt about the history of Korea from Korean journalist Yi T’aero and poet Chu Yohan who at that time were in Japan with their secret mission of liberating their motherland from the occupation.
Several references say that the Koreans were highly inspired by Tagore’s lines when Korean translation of the quatrain by Chu Yohan was published in the Dong-A Ilbo in 1929.
Though Tagore never visited Korea in his lifetime and there is no reference whether he had further contacts with Yi or Chu after returning to India, Koreans still remember Tagore as a great poet, noble soul and a visionary, who through his quatrain inspired them to work harder with the dedication of building a prosperous country as Korea is today.
After the country was liberated from the Japanese occupation in 1945, the government of the Republic of Korea took an initiative to include Tagore’s quatrain under the title ‘Dongbang-eui-deungbul’ in the national curriculum.
With the four lines of the quatrain — In the golden age of Asia/ Korea was one of its lamp-bearers/ And that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again/ For the illumination in the East —eight lines from the 35th song of Tagore’s Nobel wining collection Gitanjali were added to make a longer poem and it was translated into Korean for boosting the high school pupils with the spirit of nationalism.
The song no 35 of the Gitanjali starts with the line ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’ and the eight lines of the song expects the ‘awakening of his country’ only after its citizen have had several noble qualities.
Korean translation of Tagore’s poem Dongbang-eui-deungbul is often quoted by politicians and newspaper columnists in Korea. And many Koreans have the Korean translation of Gitanjali, translated by Kim Yang-Shik.
A Tagore Society of Korea was founded in 1981 and his bust was installed in Seoul’s cultural heart Daehangro in 2011 marking 150th anniversary of the Nobel Laureate, who also wrote and composed the national anthem of Bangladesh.
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