Rabindranāth Thākur (Tagore) practised nearly every literary form, but his primary mode is lyric poetry. He defines his artistic persona in its terms: all his other work takes its bearings from it. He wrote no epics, virtually no long poems of any kind. Of some 4,500 poetical items, nearly 2,200 are songs, and many more song-like though not set to music.
The poems cover an extraordinary formal range. Traditional Bengali verse-forms like the payār couplet appear along with blank verse and the sonnet, derived from the West though assimilated in Bengali by Rabindranath's day. There is a huge range of lyric stanza-forms. His later poetry employs a distinctive type of irregular couplets as well as vers libre. This variety contrasts markedly with the uniform style and structure of Rabindranath's own English versions, couched in a formalized, somewhat archaic poetic prose. They hold no clue to the formal energy and versatility of the originals.
The English selection also creates the misleading image of a largely religious or spiritual poet. Undoubtedly, a sustained vein of philosophic spirituality runs through his poetry. He wrote many hymns for the Brahmo Samaj, the reformed Hindu community to which his family belonged. His poetry shows profound assimilation of the Vedas and Upanishads. But it mostly upholds no doctrinal religion and is often incompatible with any. He consistently finds a spirit immanent in nature and human life. The interaction of the natural with the supra-natural is presented in many veins, from the theistic to a kind of refined animism.
A great many poems address human matters pure and simple, human love above all. His own art is a regular theme. There is some political poetry, from local satire to fierce attacks on the global order. Many poems concern the inner life and external situation of women, complementing his fiction and essays on the subject. There is an unsuspected amount of humour, whimsy, and nonsense.
Rabindranath's poetry comprises a whole universe of themes and concerns. This chapter is a very brief overview of a vast, hugely varied, mostly untranslated, and intellectually complex body of poetry. That poetry does not evolve in a straight graph.