Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali author, poet, essayist, playwright, novelist, composer, and painter. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, the first non-European to do so.
He recounted the following experience that he had while in Calcutta, India:
Where the Sadar Street ends, trees in the garden of Free School Street are visible. One morning I was standing in the veranda, looking at them. The sun was slowly rising above the screen of their leaves; and as I was watching it, suddenly, in a moment, a veil seemed to be lifted from my eyes. I found the world wrapt in an inexpressible glory with its waves of joy and beauty bursting and breaking on all sides. The thick shroud of sorrow that lay on my heart in many folds was pierced through and through by the light of the world, which was everywhere radiant.
That very day the poem known as The Fountain Awakened from its Dream flowed on like a fountain itself. When it was finished, still the curtain did not fall on that strange vision of beauty and joy. There was nothing and no one whom I did not love at that moment…
I thought I might have a fuller vision of what I had witnessed… if once I reached the heights of the Himalayas.
But when I reached the Himalayas the vision all departed. That was my mistake. I thought I could get at truth from the outside. But however lofty and imposing the Himalayas might be, they could not put anything real into my hands. But God, the Great Giver, Himself can open the whole Universe to our gaze in the narrow space of a single lane.
(Source: Rabindranath Tagore, Letters to a Friend, ed. C.F. Andrews (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 25-26.)
Tagore’s poem The Fountain Awakened from its Dream was written during this mystical experience:
How is it that this morning the sun’s rays enter my very heart!
How comes it that early bird-song pierces today the cavern’s gloom!
I do not know why, but after so very long my soul is awake.
My whole being surges and the waters break their bonds.—
The heart’s pain, and its passion, I can no longer hold in leash!
The mountain shivers in every pore and rock on rock rolls down.
The water foams and fumes and in pent-up anger roars.
Like mad, it moves in boisterous endless rings, rushes blindly at the dungeon-door it cannot see but wants to break!
Why is God so stony?
Why these barriers all around?
Awake today, my heart, and win fulfilment.
Break, break into bits the boulders in the way!
Let blow rain on blow as wave rumbles after wave!
When the soul is aglow, who cares for this rampart of gloom or the hurdle of stone?
What in the world is there to fear when the waters of desire overflow its shores?
I’ll break this prison-house of stone and flood the world with the waters of compassion!
I’ll pour myself out in mad fervid songs, flashing the bounty of my hair and weaving bouquets of bloom.
I’ll float in the air my rainbow wings and drain my heart to print a smile on the fleeting sunbeam.
I’ll rush from peak to peak, and sweep from hill to hill, and laugh and chant and clap to my own measure.
I have so much to say and to sing,—my heart so crowded with desire and bliss.
I know not what happened today, but my heart is awake and from afar I hear the ocean’s roll.
Why around me this dark prison cell?
I’ll rain blow on blow and break, break, break its walls: for the bird-song is in my ears and the sunshine in my eyes!
(Source: The original is ‘Nirjharer Swapna-bhanga’ from Prabhat Sangeet. ‘The Fountain Awakes’, translated by Hiren Mukherji, in One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore (London: Asia Publishing House, 1966), pp. 2-3. Found here.)
Tagore’s poem has some elements that seem to recall the “Psalm of Nephi” in 2 Nephi 4:17-35, such as verse 28: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”
Some similarities in this experience to Joseph Smith’s First Vision seem to include:
- It was a morning
- Being in solitude, on one’s own
- Being in a dark and gloomy place psychologically, a “shroud of sorrow,” a “cavern’s gloom,” all around a “dark prison cell”
- Having a vexed heart and state of mind, even being in fear
- Suddenly, a veil is lifted
- Being in the presence of a light, sunshine, sun’s rays, sunbeam, which breaks and chases away the darkness
- This light was surrounding, enveloping, enwrapping, “everywhere radiant”
- Perceiving a tremendous glory
- It was inexpressible, ineffable, indescribable. Far too much to ever express, say or write (even through ecstatic verse).
- Being filled with great joy and love, bliss
- Being awakened or enlightened to a new glorious understanding about the world, and one’s place in it
- Perceiving that “God” was the source and giver of the vision
- Knowing this was in a different psycho-spiritual space, outside natural surroundings and normal considerations of environment