Where the Mind is Without Fear: Summary

Where the Mind is Without Fear: About the poem

“Where the mind is Without Fear” by Rabindranath Tagore is one of his vastly read and discussed poems.  It was originally composed in Bengali possibly in 1900 under the title “Prarthana”, meaning prayer. It appeared in the volume called ‘Naibedya’ in 1901. Later in 1911 Tagore himself translated the Bengali poem into English and that translation appeared as poem 35 in his Nobel winning anthology “Gitanjali” (Song Offerings) published by the Indian Society, London in 1912.

So when the poem was written, India was under the British Rule and people were eagerly waiting to get their freedom from the British Rule. The poem is written in the form of a prayer to the God, the Almighty for a true freedom for his country. And thus Tagore reveals his own concept of freedom throughout the poem, Where the Mind is Without Fear.

Where the Mind is Without Fear: Line by line Explanation

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

In the very first line, the poet prays to the Almighty that his countrymen should be free from any fear of oppression or forced compulsion. He wishes that everyone in his country has his head held high in dignity. In other words, according to him, in a truly free country every person should be fearless and should have a sense of self dignity.

Where knowledge is free;

In the second line of Where the Mind is Without Fear the poet dreams of a nation where knowledge would be free. Education should not be restricted to the upper class only but everybody should be allowed to acquire knowledge. Not only that, the children should learn freely from the nature and the world around them. They should not be forced memorize some predetermined lessons. And this is Tagore’s typical concept of education.

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;

In the next two lines, the poet emphasizes the unity of not only of his countrymen but also of the entire world. He thinks there should be no division among people based on their caste, creed, color, religion or other baseless superstitions. In other words, prejudices and superstitions should not divide the people in groups and break their unity.

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

In line 5 of Where the Mind is Without Fear, Tagore wants a nation where people are truthful. They should not be superficial and words should come out from the depth of their hearts.

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

In the sixth line of the poem, the poet wants everyone to work hard to reach their goal, and in the long run to reach perfection. . He thinks they should not be tired by working. People should not be lazy and ignoring their work.

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habits;

In line 7, the poet compares ‘reason’ or logical thinking to a “clear stream’ and in the next line compares ‘dead habits’ or superstitious beliefs to a ‘dreary desert’. He wants the stream of reason not to lose its way into the desert of prejudices. In short, people’s thought should be monitored by rational thinking, not by superstition; logic should rule over old baseless beliefs.

Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action;

In line 9 and 10 the poet wishes his countrymen to be progressive and broad-minded. He wants that their minds are “led forward” to “ever-widening thought and action” by the Almighty. In short, we should be open-minded and do something unusual or extraordinary, overcoming the narrowness of mind.

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

In the final line of the poem, the poet addresses the God as ‘Father’. He asks him to awaken his country into such a ‘heaven of freedom’ where the above conditions meet.

To make it clear, the poet prays to the Almighty (my Father) to raise or lift (awake) his country to such heights where freedom would be realised at its best (a heaven of freedom). In turn, he is actually praying that God awakens his countrymen so that they come out from the darkness of ignorance, prejudices, disunity and all other evils.

Here, a great addition from our reader Ravi Murti suggests that Rabindranath wants to awaken the God within us to free our mind from shackles and bondage. It is not invoking God but using it as metaphor for the higher self within us. This interpretation is beautiful and I can’t resist the urge to add it here.

Finally, In the poem the poet’s message is very clear. If all the people of a nation are not wise enough to lead a happy and peaceful life free from all evils, they cannot enjoy their freedom well. So to the poet, only political freedom is not so important unless you are fearless, self dignified, knowledgeable, truthful, hard-working and broad-minded enough to enjoy it fully.