Sir Rabindranath Tagore
Famous Poet and Nobel Prize Winner
Starr’s first visitor of international prominence to the infant Commonwealth was the Indian poet, Sir Rabindranath Tagore. Actually, Tagore came to the Commonwealth more as a benefactor than poet.
Although he had been awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1913, his deepest interest was the schoolfor boys in Balpur, Bengal, which his father had founded. From a chance conversation with a fellow traveler in China in 1916, he discovered that near Albion, Michigan was another boys’ school much like his beloved Santiniketan, the “Abode of Peace.” Since he planned to visit the United States that November, he decided to include a visit to the StarrCommonwealth on his tour.
With Tagore on the trip was William Pearson, a young British philanthropist who was much concerned about “the boy problem” in his native England. By the time the two men arrived in Detroit, however, Tagore had mislaid both the name and location of the Commonwealth, and no one they encountered had heard of Floyd Starr or his newborn institution. Then fortune smiled upon them. In the Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press, Mr.Pearson came across a full-page illustrated account of the school by Mark Fall, and Albion College alumnus and editor of the Albion Evening Recorder. Armed with name and location, Mr. Pearson made immediate arrangements with Starr for them to spend two days on the Commonwealth campus.
As Starr later said, “At first I was over-awed. Then I replied that I should be glad to have them visit, but that I wanted Sir Rabindranath to come, not as a great poet nor a winner of the Nobel prize, but as a lover of boys.” It was precisely the right thing to say. Starr added, “My statement made both Tagore and Pearson all the more eager to visit the Starr Commonwealth.”
According to Starr, “The boys greeted Tagore cheerfully upon his arrival, and not one of them stood in any awe of this great poet.” The reaction of his three-year-old daughter Margaret was markedly different. As she recalled years later, “He came in his long, flowing robes with the sad eyes of the mystic flowing in his wonderful, dark, bearded face. A serene presence emanated from him, a spirituality that was almost tangible. I had seen pictures representing Jesus Christ in Sunday School booklets. It made no difference how many times my mother denied it, I was sure thatJesus had come to visit us and that no one recognized Him but me.”
Even Margaret may have lost faith in her “Savior” before the two days had passed. As she explained, “Tagore was very exacting in his diet requirements, which differed greatly from ours, and he demanded that he be left alone in silence for long periods during the day while he meditated.”Somehow Harriet did manage to win his admiration, for “he thanked her withcourtly dignity when he left.”
Both Tagore and his companion surrendered to the guileless charm of the boys without a struggle. After dinner the first evening, Pearson showed slides of Antiniketan and described student life at the Indian school. Tagore then read several selections from The Crescent Moon and sangseveral Indian songs. When bedtime came, he insisted that he help tuck in the boys. “To his immense delight,” Starr reported later, “every boy put his arms around Tagore’s neck and kissed him good night.” After the last youngster was in bed, Tagore turned to Uncle Floyd and said, “I have been starved for a little bit of love ever since I left my boys is Balpur, and this is the first taste I have had.”
In his later reminiscences, Starr made no mention of conversations with his new friends about either the articles of his Creed or his methods of conducting the Commonwealth. Apparently, in their deeds as well as their words, he let the boys speak for him. Not long after the two visitors left for a lecture appearance in Toledo, Starr received a letter from Tagore which read in part,”Amidst a desert of unprofitable days my visit to the Starr Commonwealth was like an oasis with its well of living water. While things of greater dimension will be forgotten, my visit to your school will go with me to the end of my days, for there I found Truth.”
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.