I do not know how I can possibly be worthy of this blessingful honour. I am known as a truth-seeker and a God-lover. But today I have become a poet as well.
May I read out to you the very first poem that I wrote in English?
The Golden Flute
A sea of Peace and Joy and Light
I cry aloud, but all in vain;
A raft am I on the sea of Time,
But hark! I hear Thy golden Flute,
So that was my very first attempt-over forty years ago. And this particular poem that I am going to read out is only three hours old. You will see the difference. You can call it either my most deplorable degradation and say that I have gone “downhill,” or you can say that I have made progress in a different way.
There was a time
The poet in me now sleeplessly cries
And before long, the poet in me
I have been living in America for the last twenty-nine years, so I am enjoying American freedom in my poetry. When I embarked on my poetic career many, many years ago, I was compelled from within and without to learn English metre well. I had to learn iambic, dactylic, trochee, anapaest-endless English metre-as well as rhyme. But now I enjoy full freedom: I do not need metre; I do not need rhyme-nothing, nothing! It is a flow. When I was writing poems in those days, I felt that I was playing on the flute. Now when I write poems, perhaps I am striking gongs or playing on the synthesizer. But I feel that light and power are inseparable. They are the obverse and reverse of the same universal reality.
In my family, almost everybody has written poems. My father wrote about thirty poems; my two older brothers, one to a hundred; and my eldest brother, two or three thousand. I am the youngest and also, it seems, the most greedy. Over 50,000 poems go to my credit. My critics justifiably criticise me for having written so many poems. They say that I believe only in quantity and not in quality. They are perfectly right in their own way or according to their own judgement. But I feel that quantity is necessary as well as quality. I visit the supermarket quite often. The supermarket has many varieties of food, and I am able to choose what I need or want. If the supermarket had only one thing, I would be disappointed along with hundreds of other customers. So quality and quantity must go together.
It is very difficult to be a real judge of quality. I am an artist. Over 140,000 paintings I have completed. Some of my paintings I sincerely feel are not good at all. But to my utter astonishment, some people immensely appreciate those particular paintings, and I feel they are sincere in their appreciation and judgement.
A tree produces beautiful flowers as well as countless leaves. If we only care for the beauty and fragrance of the flowers and pay no attention to the leaves, then we are making a deplorable mistake, an Himalayan blunder, for the leaves also have beauty in their own way. A tree is beautiful and fruitful only when we look at it right from the ground to the highest branch. Only when we look at the tree as a whole and try to appreciate what it has and what it is can we do proper justice to its beauty, its compassion and its perfection.
I am extremely grateful to this distinguished Writers Society for bestowing upon me this signal honour at a time in my life when I am not as well known in the world of poetry as in the world of truth-seekers and peace-servers. People know me as a student of peace, as a truth-seeker, a God-lover and a world-server. But here my friends and colleagues have found an entire sun inside some of the climbing, aspiring poetic flames I have created. And for that I am extremely, extremely grateful to them.
It has happened in many cases that the world is apt to appreciate someone only when he is already known in a particular field. The world waits and waits until he is famous before appreciating him. I wish to tell you a most deplorable incident in the life of India’s greatest poet, Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Laureate. Only two weeks before he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the editor of a significant and popular magazine in Bengal printed one of Tagore’s poems and mercilessly criticised it from the first line to the last line. The Bengali editor found nothing beautiful, nothing soulful, nothing fruitful in the poem. Then, after Tagore got the Nobel Prize, the same poem was printed in the same magazine. But this time the editor extolled that particular poem to the skies. Not only each line but each word came down directly from Heaven-that was his proud comment! So we see what the Nobel Prize can do. Because Tagore had been accepted by great literary authorities, immediately the editor changed his mind.
This year is the centenary of the World’s Parliament of Religions. Swami Vivekananda was a great friend of Tagore. As you know, Swami Vivekananda’s most significant utterances were made in Chicago when he addressed the world conference. Before he spoke at the world parliament, he was nobody, absolutely nobody, in India. But after he became famous overnight in America, immediately Bengal and the entire India accepted him.
Unfortunately, only when the outer world or some well-established authority praises someone or justifiably acknowledges his merit is everybody else apt to appreciate that person. Although I am not known as a poet, still you are recognising the poet in me. For that I am deeply grateful to you. Who knows, in the future, with a stroke of good luck, I may be known as a poet. At that time I will feel that you saw something in me long before others were able to see it.
I have already spoken to you about quality and quantity. This particular book happens to be my 900th book-Love, Compassion, Forgiveness. I have dedicated this book to my beloved President Gorbachev. About two weeks ago I received a letter from him appreciating me for dedicating this book to him. Also, he said he wants to congratulate me personally in the near future.
Reading the dedication of the book: “Lovingly, affectionately and gratefully I am dedicating this book to the President Gorbachev, the Himalayan Peace-Dreamer on earth.”
I wish to say a few words about President Gorbachev. To me, he is a universal figure. To me, he is the highest embodiment of world peace. He is the greatest world peace-dreamer and world peace-distributor. If the present-day world has made considerable progress, or any progress, then he deserves the utmost gratitude from the heart of the present-day world. He is the champion of champions to unmistakably improve the world situation.
In India it is said that a real Brahmin does not have to show his sacred thread to the public in order to prove that he is a real Brahmin. Similarly, I feel that President Gorbachev does not have to show the world his credentials to prove who he really is. He is loved and adored by the aspiration of the length and breadth of the world. He does not need a particular crown or a particular throne in order to prove to the world at large that he is, indeed, a king. President Gorbachev lives in the aspiring heart of mankind. I feel that Gorbachev is a universal king who lives inside the gratitude-heart of the peace-dreaming world. He definitely does not need an outer crown, an outer throne, to lovingly and compassionately guide the evolution of humanity. His inner achievements are so enormous that they can perfectly lead and guide us to our supreme destination, the Golden Shore. For him, peace is not a mere dictionary word. In him, peace is a living reality, a sleepless and all-illumining reality that lovingly and self-givingly inspires the mind and feeds the heart of humanity.
March 30th, 1993
Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium
United Nations Headquarters