Prose from Poetry Magazine

December 1912

by Paul Durica

December 1912 issue

Readers of the third issue of Poetry received an unexpected Christmas present in the form of the first English-language publication of 
poems by the Bengali writer, musician, and artist Rabindranath Tagore (translated by himself), who would, in the following year, become the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore’s appearance in the magazine marked an “event in the history of English poetry and of world poetry” according to Ezra Pound in an introduction that accompanied the poems. In private letters to Harriet Monroe, Pound as the magazine’s “foreign correspondent” used the language of a big city journalist, proclaiming Tagore’s work “The Scoop    ...    the event of the winter    ...    the only real fever of excitement among the inner circle of literature that I’ve ever seen here.” While Pound came across as giddy in his awareness that Poetry had acquired “six poems at least” while “nobody else will have any,” Tagore seemed “only vaguely aware of the seething literary wire-pulling that swishes beneath his Olympus.” Tagore would receive a copy of the December 1912 issue from his son, who was then a student at the University of Illinois. A visit to Urbana in January 1913 led to a trip north to Chicago where Tagore became one of the first visitors to Poetry’s office at 543 Cass Street. The awarding of the Nobel Prize later that year was followed by Tagore receiving a knighthood from the British Empire in 1915, solidifying his position in English as well as Bengali literature. The December 1912 issue also contained poems by William Butler Yeats, who would write the introduction to Tagore’s Gintanjali: Song Offerings (1912), and John Reed, who would die in Soviet Russia in 1920, a year after Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

Originally Published: December 4, 2012

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Biography

Paul Durica is a graduate student at the University of Chicago and the founder of Pocket Guide to Hell Tours and Reenactments.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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