Some thoughts on “Paper Boats” by Rabindranath Tagore

paper boats.001

I knew nothing of Tagore before I started to travel to Calcutta on business way back at the start of this century. I’d like to blame the ethnocentricity of my English education for this gap in my knowledge but it could just be that I hadn’t been paying enough attention to poetry.

Working with my Bengali colleagues, I would hear Tagore quoted from time to time, in the familiar way that an Englishman might quote Shakespeare, except with more passion in the delivery.

When I asked who he was (yes, I should have asked Google first if I’d wanted to look like I had half a brain) they smiled, delighted at the opportunity to share with me one of the great Bengali poets and thinkers and announced proudly that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. My generous hosts sent me back to Europe with a collection of Tagore’s poems.

Today I read one of his most famous poems, “Paper Boats”, the first line of which is often quoted: “Day by day, I float my paper boats one by one,/Down the running stream,”

It’s a gentle, simply stated poem that seems to be about childhood experiences but which I have found gains more weight each time I read it.

Today, “Paper Boats” spoke to me about writing and identity. I thought about why I push out my blog posts and short stories into the running stream of the Internet. Is it so that strangers “will find them and know who I am”? Perhaps, but I want more than to write my name and address like a little boy. I want… well to be part of the bigger dream. It may be a stretch but I’d like to think that at least some of these “boats” find their way to people’s imaginations and that they sail them, like “the fairies of sleep” and load them up with “their baskets full of dreams”.


Paper Boats by Rabindranath Tagore

Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the
running stream.
In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of
the village where I live.
I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and
know who I am.
I load my little boats with shiuli flower from our garden, and
hope that these blooms of the dawn will be carried safely to
land in the night.
I launch my paper boats and look up into the sky and see the little 
clouds setting their white bulging sails.
I know not what playmate of mine in the sky sends them down
the air to race with my boats!
When night comes I bury my face in my arms and dream that 
my paper boats float on and on under the midnight stars
The fairies of sleep are sailing in them, and the lading is their 
baskets full of dreams.

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on “Paper Boats” by Rabindranath Tagore

  1. Hello, Mike.

    Your paper boats do land on other shores. I read much of what you write, but often when I’m taking a break from doing other things and I think, “I should respond to that,” followed by the ubiquitous phrase, “I’ll do it later.” Of course, I’m sure we both know what that means with people like me. (My late great husband bought me a T-shirt two or three years before he died in 2015. It reads “I have not yet begun to procrastinate.” He knew me so well. I still wear it and it always makes people smile.)

    At the very least I glance at your reviews and your thoughts and writings, but more often than not, I read them from beginning to end. (And, yes, I loved “Joyland” when I read it earlier this year. I’ve been a King fan since 1974, and Joyland does deserve mention in the same breath with “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.”

    I enjoy what you write. I always have.

    This poem you posted today is perfectly lovely and conveys a sense of joy and serenity. It speaks both to the child in us and to the adult we are, who dreams and hopes that somehow what we do and say makes a difference, that what we put out there touches someone.

    Thanks for all your paper boats, Mike.



  2. Hello, Mike,
    Glad to receive your paper boat, I was searching for a short write up for my kids on the subject, your writing is lovely. Kids are busy these days sending their paper boats or helping younger ones to send them down the running stream. It is monsoon again and kids continue to enjoy the fun of launching their boats for those unknown friend in the strange land.

    Liked by 1 person

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