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Rabindranath Tagore's 1886 collection of verse কড়ি ও কোমল / ka.Di o komal, "Sharps and Flats", includes a set of 15 or so poems under the general heading বিদেশী ফূলের গুচ্ছ / videshii phuuler guchchha, "A Bouquet of Foreign Flowers". The poems lack titles. Instead, each is preceded by the name of a poet from whom Tagore is translating: "Shelley", "Mrs Browning", "Ernest Myers", etc.

Some of the poems are well-known enough that the translation rings a bell. For example, the first poem, marked "Shelley", begins:

মধুর সূর্জ্যর আলো, আকাশ বিমল,
সঘনে উঠিছে নাচি তরঙ্গ উজ্জ্বল।
     মধ্যান্হের স্বচ্ছ করে
     সাজিয়াছে থরে থরে
ক্ষুদ্র নীল দ্বীপগুলী, শুভ্র-শৈল-শির

madhur suurjyer aalo, aakaash vimal
saghane uThichhe naachi tara~Nga ujjwal.
     madhyaanher svachchha kare
     saajiyaachhe thare thare
kShudra niil dviipagulii, shubhra-shail-shira

Soft sunlight, a clear sky
Dancing, bright waves have oft risen.
     In midday's clean hands
     have been arranged, layer by layer
tiny blue islands, and white, rocky summits

This is recognizably Shelley's "Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples":

The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
          The waves are dancing fast and bright,
     Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
     The purple noon's transparent might

Likewise, the poem headed "Mrs Browning" that begins "ওই আদরের নামে ডেকো সখা মোরে / oi aadarer naame Deko sakhaa more", "Call me by that pet name, my love" is obviously Sonnet 33 from Sonnets from the Portuguese: "Yes, call me by my pet name!"

However, throughout the series, the lack of titles and the absence of any information about which specific poem is being translated makes it difficult to identify the originals from which Tagore is translating. Some of the poets, too, have faded into (relative) obscurity. It is unlikely that a mention of "Moore" or "Hood" or "Augusta Webster" will bring any of their poems immediately to mind, even to an English major.

Further, some of the poems Tagore translates were themselves not originally in English. For example, Tagore includes a translation from Victor Hugo, presumably working from an English translation of Hugo's French original. And the last poem, or subset of poems, is headed "কোন জাপানী কবিতার ইংগ্রাজী অনুবাদ হইতে / kon jaapaanii kavitaar i.ngraajii anuvaad haite", "From the English translation of some Japanese poems". No information is given about which poets or translations Tagore is referencing.

The poems in বিদেশী ফূলের গুচ্ছ / videshii phuuler guchchha read well enough in Bengali, but the absence of specific information about the originals is frustrating. Is there any source that provides comprehensive information about which English poems Tagore was translating? For the poems that themselves had been translated into English from another language, is there any information about what the originals were, and which English translations Tagore was using?

Notes:

  1. The usual disclaimer applies: All translations from the Bengali are my own, and my Bengali is pitiful, so rely on them AYOR
  2. Transliterations from Bengali follow the iTrans schema.
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  • 1
    I found one of them, using Google translate. The original of the Swinburne is A Ballad of Dreamland.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 23, 2020 at 23:09
  • That's great! How did you copy-paste the Bengali text into Google Translate? I found that I couldn't copy from the source texts and had to type out all the Bengali. (Not necessarily for Google Translate, just to cite the source in this answer, for example)
    – verbose
    Nov 23, 2020 at 23:16
  • 1
    The Wikisource for Tagore's poem has the Bengali in copy-and-paste form on the left page (and a replica of the original publication on the right page). The hard part was choosing the words from Google's translation of Tagore's translation to search for in the original poem.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 23, 2020 at 23:37
  • 1
    And the Moore turned out to be easy, once I identified the poet. One of Thomas Moore's most famous poems/songs is The Last Rose of Summer, and this is the one Tagore translated.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 30, 2020 at 23:50
  • 1
    And the other Christina Rossetti poem is May. I found it after I realized that I should search Christina Rossetti's poems for "April" and "May" (I had been searching for "spring").
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 19, 2021 at 12:35

1 Answer 1

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I was able to identify many of the poems, using Google and Bing translate and searching for keywords these gave me. Using Google books, I further identified two anthologies which contain several of these poems. By looking in these anthologies, I was fairly easily able to identify some of the poems by lesser-known poets.

The first anthology is: Latter-Day Lyrics (1878), edited by W. Davenport Adams.

This book contains the poems:

The other anthology is The Poets and Poetry of England in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Rufus W. Griswold (1875).

This book contains the poems:

The other poems are:

There is more on the last two poems below:

@verbose identified the poem Épitaphe. There are two 19th-century English translations of this poem, by Henry Carrington and by Nelson Rich Tyreman, but it appears that Tagore translated it directly from the French. This blog post confirms that Tagore knew French, and that he translated at least four other poems by Victor Hugo.

You can also see that Tagore translated the poem directly from the French by looking at the translations themselves. Tagore translates some aspects of the poem more faithfully than either of the two other translators. For the Tyreman translation, in the first two lines, both Tagore and Hugo use words for laughing and Nature, while Tyreman replaces these by smiling and Earth. And for the Carrington translation, Hugo writes "birds painted a thousand colors" and Tagore writes "hundred-colored birds," while Carrington just says "myriad birds" without mentioning their colors.

Tagore's title for the last poem is translated by Google as (From an English translation of a Japanese poem). However, despite Tagore's title, this is not an actual translation of a Japanese poem into English, but an Japanese-inspired English poem, although if Tagore saw it in its first appearance in Scribners Monthly in 1876 (linked above), it is entirely understandable that he thought it was a translation from the Japanese. In Scribner, the poem is titled

THE FLOWN BIRD
  ᴀ ᴊᴀᴘᴀɴᴇsᴇ sᴏɴɢ

and has no author information indicated on the page that contains it (the author is indeed credited in the table of contents).

However, as Scribner's Monthly explains in 1877:

The article in “Leisure Hours” closes with the poem published by Mr. Stoddard in Scribner for October, 1876, and entitled “The Flown Bird”. This is called by Mr. Mossman a “translation." The beautiful refrain “I have forgotten to forget" is Japanese, and so is most of the imagery, but the story is the poet's own.

This poem was republished in The Poems of Richard Henry Stoddard in 1880 with no associated mention of Japan, confirming that it is an original poem.

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  • A footnote to this answer: Thomas Hardy remarks on the Ernest Myer poem in his literary notebooks. He says he liked it when it first was published in 1877, that "Love" was replaced by "Ease" in a revised version (which he seems to have liked less), and that this seems characteristic of the "middle-aged Muse".
    – Peter Shor
    Jun 27, 2021 at 12:05
  • The Victor Hugo poem is Épitaphe. Tagore probably translated this 1843 poem from the English version by Henry Carrington, published in 1885. Care to edit your answer to include this?
    – verbose
    May 1, 2023 at 7:14
  • "Too Soon Fair Lilies" is correct; Tagore has dropped about half the poem, but the remaining lines are exact matches.
    – verbose
    May 1, 2023 at 7:26
  • @verbose: great find for the Victor Hugo poem! There actually seem to be two 19th century translations of Épitaphe in English, one by Henry Carrington and the other by Nelson Rich Tyreman. The interesting thing is that for each of these poems, Tagore's translation is closer to Hugo in at least one respect, which makes me suspect that Tagore translated directly from the French. I'll add to my answer when I have the time.
    – Peter Shor
    May 1, 2023 at 19:23
  • @verbose: And Googling, I find this webpage which confirms that Tagore knew French, and which seems to indicate that Tagore may have translated at least three of Hugo's poems (although I might be misinterpreting it; it would help to know Bengali — are those three Bengali phrases the names of translated poems?)
    – Peter Shor
    May 1, 2023 at 19:36

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