Tagore in The Netherlands

Liesbeth Meyer

In my search for Dutch translations of Rabindranath Tagore's work in the Netherlands, I discovered some facts that may interest Tagorephiles the world over. This article describes these findings, and also includes the transcripts and scans of some letters exchanged between Tagore and Frederik van Eeden who had introduced Tagore to the Netherlands.

Frederik van Eeden
Tagore's work was translated by Dutch authors as well as by some Belgian writers. The Dutch language is also spoken in the northern part of Belgium, which is situated south of the Netherlands. The person who introduced Tagore to the Netherlands was Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932). He was a young physician practising medicine and psychiatry, and had already written several poems and plays of high quality during the 1880s and 1890s. His work was spiritually and deeply connected with Nature. No wonder Frederik van Eeden was a great admirer of Rabindranath Tagore. He even met him while Tagore visited the Netherlands in 1920. Van Eeden then wrote the following words in his diary:

"Sunday, September 19th. I met Tagore, I awaited him at the railway station. The first thing I saw was his shining grey hair in the compartment. He noticed me and it seemed as if he recognized me. He is a fine honourable figure. He was dressed in grey, wearing a blue robe and a high black cap on his head. He wore eye-glasses. His voice is soft and pleasant to listen to. It sounds somewhat high of tone and a bit breathless. He has his hair and beard long. He spreads a strong influence of purity and serenity. It is as though he is surrounded by a fresh, clean and healthy atmosphere. And his appearance is in a stately way and very much in harmony. He is a little bit taller than I am, and one year younger. But in the presence of his honour I felt like a street-boy, with my cap, my plain trousers and my red shoes. The ticketman from the railway station, who knows me well, asked: "This must be a very highly placed person, doctor Van Eeden?" "Yes" I said, "very highly placed indeed". I have never known any person with such a "presence" which everyone should feel such respect for. Tagore enjoyed himself in the bright cloudy sky and the low landscape just as flat as Bengal."

It is known that Frederik van Eeden felt somewhat disappointed with his meeting with Tagore. Van Eeden also felt a little inferior compared to Tagore, as we can see in the writings in his diary mentioned above. But after Tagore's visit, which lasted for about a week, Van Eeden wrote a positive article in a well known Dutch newspaper on Tagore's visit to the Netherlands.

In 1913 the first translation Frederik van Eeden did was of the Gitanjali from Song-Offerings. This version of Gitanjali was called Wij-Zangen in Dutch and it was reprinted many times. New editions were published in: 1914, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1933, 1950, 1957, 1973, and 1976.

As Gitanjali is considered the most famous work of Tagore, because of the Nobel Prize, it is no surprise that other authors have translated this into Dutch as in several other languages around the world. In 1984 a Belgian writer named Wilfred Gepts published his version called Een fluitje in het riet. A version of Gitali was made directly from Bengali into Dutch in 1996 by Victor A. van Bijlert, called Toen jij de snaren spande.

Yet another direct translation from Bengali to Dutch was the one by Belgian writer Jan Gysen in the year 2000 that was titled Gitanjali, naar een nieuwe dageraad.

The first translation of Gitanjali done by Frederik van Eeden was written in an old-fashioned way and is a bit difficult to understand or appreciate today. That is why in recent years some others have translated the Gitanjali in their own style. It is very interesting to compare these different translations with one another and see how they match Tagore's original versions, both in English and Bengali. But that actually requires a thorough study and knowledge about the matter. And one should always remember that everything Tagore himself translated from Bengali into English, could not always cope totally with the original poems.

In 1963, however, a book was published by Dr. H.W. van Tricht, accusing that translations published under Frederik Van Eeden's name were not all his own. It so happened that Van Eeden had a few assistants at his office who helped him with his work. Dr. Van Tricht had done some serious research and the conclusion in the end was that Gitanjali (1913), The Crescent Moon (1917), The Gardener (1919) and Kabir (1916) were the only translations made by Van Eeden himself. The translations of Chitra (1918), Home and the World (1921), Sadhana (1918) and The Fugitive (1923) were done with assistance of his clerks. All these works were republished several times over the years.

As for Frederik van Eeden, in later life he was quite disappointed and felt not really understood and appreciated by his readers. However, in spite of the passage of time he is still considered one of the most important authors of his generation in the Netherlands.

Over the years a few more men and women have translated some of Tagore's work. During the 1920's Dr. A. Klaver published two books on Tagore. One of these was a short book about Tagore and his fellow companions, describing their vision and ideas about oriental religion, and the other revealed some facts about Tagore's upbringing and religious background. These two books are very outdated, written in old-style Dutch and stiff and difficult to read today.

Noto Soeroto wrote Rabindranath Tagore - A Biographical Study in 1916 and a little book in 1922 about the philosophy of Tagore's educational ideas. In 1922 he also published De Leerschool van den papagaai and some lectures once given by Tagore in Shantiniketan.

In 1923 a book appeared titled: From the Land of Tagore: A collection of letters, 1885 - 1895 published by W. Versluys.

These books are not available in bookshops anymore; they are too old fashioned and are perhaps only available through the internet or in antique bookshops. If today someone wants to know more about Rabindranath Tagore in the Netherlands, one may read The Myriad-minded Man written by Dutta & Robinson or the biography by Krishna Kripalani, though these books have never been translated into Dutch. Moreover, both books can only be obtained through internet or the National Library!

A Belgian writer named Johan de Molenaar published the following works:

Stray birds - 1941, reprinted in: 1954 - 1977 - 1979 - 1997
The Four Chapters - 1950, reprinted in: 1966 - 1974 - 1977
De Riviertrap - 1961 (in memory of Tagore's 100th birthday); reprinted in: 1974 - 1976
Fireflies - 1963, reprinted in: 1974 - 1976 - 1978 - 1980 - 1997

Henry Borel (1869 - 1933) published the Dutch translation of The Post Office in 1916 with beautiful illustrations by Rie Cramer, a very famous Dutch writer and illustrator of children's books. The book was republished in 1919 and later in 1972. The Post Office was also translated by R. van Brakell Buys (year of publication is unknown) and Chitra Gajadin made a Dutch version of it in 1992. Henry Borel published The King of the Dark Chamber in 1919, and R. van Brakell Buys translated this version in later years.

Another translator in the Netherlands was B. Dhawale: He translated The Guest and Other Stories directly from Bengali into Dutch. This book was first published in 1936; several years later, in 1949 the 2nd edition was printed, and was subsequently reprinted in 1971, 1975 and 1976.

Uit de praktijk der geweldloosheid are some extracts from speeches Tagore gave on the subject of non-violence, translated by a very famous Dutch author Mrs. Henriette Roland Holst and another writer named Titia Jelgersma, in 1931.

The Dutchman A.A. Bake (1899-1961) met Tagore in Leiden (Dutch University City) during Tagore's visit to the Netherlands in 1920. Mr. Bake studied Indology and Indian music. When Tagore paid a visit to Java and Bali in 1927, which in those days was a Dutch colony, Bake and his wife accompanied him on the tour. Bake then started to translate several poems of Tagore from English into Dutch because Dutch was also spoken there.

Bake also met Tagore while studying Indian music at Visvabharati University in 1930. In Shantiniketan Bake began to transform Tagore's music into western keynotes. He started by taking all the songs Tagore composed while on tour in Europe. This finally resulted in an exhibition in The Musee Guimet in Paris.

R. van Brakell Buys, Cornelia Bake-Timmers and Tarapada Mukherji published a collection of Tagore's work in 1958. One story was directly translated from Bengali into Dutch by C. Bake-Timmers with assistance of Tarapada Mukherji. The book contains the following works:

- Master Mahashaya - from Bengali into Dutch by C. Bake-Timmers in cooperation with Dr. Tarpada Mukherji
- Hungry Stones - from English into Dutch by R. van Brakell Buys
- The Victory - from English into Dutch by R. van Brakell Buys
- The Devotee - translated from Bengali into English by Mr. C.F. Andrews with help of Tagore and from English into Dutch by Van Brakell Buys
- Vision - first translated from Bengali into English by C.F. Andrews with help of Tagore. Then translated into Dutch by R. van Brakell Buys
- Living or Dead? - from Bengali into English by Rev. E.J. Thompson with help of Tagore and later on translated into Dutch by R. van Brakell Buys
- Poems from The Crescent Moon, all translated by Van Brakell Buys
- Poems from The Gardener, also all translated by Van Brakell Buys
- Chitra, by Van Brakell Buys
- The King of the Dark Chamber, by Van Brakell Buys
- The Post Office - from Bengali into English by Devabrata Mukerjea and translated into Dutch by Van Brakell Buys

In 1961 a special edition titled Tagore 1861 - 1961 was published by the Embassy of India in the Netherlands in remembrance of Tagore. Authors were: J. van Engelberta and Lohuizen-de Leeuw.


More recent books on Tagore are:

- Tagore, een testament - a collection of autobiographical poems, essays, letters and articles by Tagore, 1st print in 1989 by Indu Dutt translated into English from Bengali and translated by Aleid Swiergenga and Mark de Sorgher into Dutch in the year 1993

- De religie van de mens (The religion of Man) translated by a famous Dutch philosopher and poet named Simon Vinkenoog, first published in 1977 and the 2nd print in 1989

Op de stralen van het licht - translated from German into Dutch by Aleid C. Swieringa in the year 1991 and reprinted in 1998 - a collection of hundreds of aphorisms, some of them from Kanika (1899), Lekhan (1927), Sphulinga, etc.

De wassende maan (The Crescent Moon) translated into Dutch in 1993 by a Belgian author named John Defour.

De mooiste van Rabindranath Tagore - published in 1997. In this nice little book the two authors Koen Stassijns and Ivo van Strijten have collected the following works: some poems from the translation done by William Radice called Selected Poems (1985) and some works from Ketaki Kushari Dyson's translation I won't let you go, selected poems (1991). K. Stassijns and I. van Strijten have both translated these two works into Dutch. They have also added several poems from Gitalitranslated by Victor A. van Bijlert, Jan Gysen and Wilfred Gepts and also some extracts from the translation of Fireflies by J. de Molenaar and some extracts from R. van Brakel Buys and naturally some extracts from Frederik van Eeden.

Mijn ziel antwoordt in muziek by Mieke Peeters in 2000; these are all translations from Frederik van Eeden, Johan de Molenaar en Dhawale, only recently thoroughly reshaped by Mrs. M. Peeters.

It is difficult for me to estimate the current popularity of Tagore in the Netherlands. I suppose he is known mostly to people who are literary minded or interested in the religion of the East. However, in our country a large Indian community is settled (160,000 total) and probably within this community Tagore is more familiar. I may however, take this opportunity to reveal my own discovery of Tagore.

One day about a year ago I bought a little book on Mahatma Gandhi and his friends. As I was looking in the book I was drawn to a particular figure in two pictures who undoubtedly drew my attention. I did not know who this lonely figure was, but I kept looking and wondered who this might be. I referred to the index of the book and the name Rabindranath Tagore was mentioned. Even then I did not know who was behind that name, but because of the slight feelings of recognition of something I could not quite explain to myself, I went searching for him on the internet. Then he started to unfold before my eyes. I began to read some of the poems and my interest in this remarkable figure grew rapidly. While reading some wonderful Dutch translations, I felt as if I was coming home inside my inner emotional world. There are, as I have mentioned, so many beautiful Dutch translations done by several Dutch authors. Thus I became a real admirer of Tagore. And so I also came to know a little more about Frederik van Eeden, and I discovered three copies of letters written by him to Tagore. These copies are archived at the University of Amsterdam and just recently I have paid a visit to that Library and copied all of them. My visit became even more interesting because in that same library I found out there were several letters Tagore had written to Frederik van Eeden as well! So I copied them too. It felt good to have discovered these long lost letters by Tagore. The following are the transcripts and scans of some of them, and the text of the three letters of Frederik van Eeden. I hope you enjoy reading these.

Letter#1: Rabindranath to Van Eeden, August 2, 1913.

Letter#2: Rabindranath to Van Eeden, August 9, 1913. ( scan of letter )

16 More's Garden
Cheyne Walk
London S. W.

9 August 1913

Dear friend,

I have not yet got my release from my doctor's hands and also I am engaged in making arrangements to publish my next book of poems, and my lectures in book form. This detains me in England, I have a great desire to travel through the Continent and visit countries of which I have read in books. But I am not quite sure whether I shall ever be able to accomplish it as I have my son and daughter-in-law with me, and travelling in your countries is too expensive for my resources.

Believe me, my friend, my heart goes out to you but I am inarticulate. I have to speak to you in a language not my own. The best that I have in me I give out in songs - no, I can not even say that I give it out - it comes out of itself. The superconscious self of mine which has its expression in beauty is beyond my control - and my ordinary self is stupid and awkward before men. Very often I think and feel that I am like a flute - the flute that cannot talk but when the breath is upon it, can sing. I am sure you have seen me in my book and I shall never be able to make myself seen to you when we meet; for the body of the lamp is dark, it has no expression, only its flame has the language.

I find I have made many friends whom I am not likely to meet - but I meet them and receive them in my God - I offer to them my gratitude and love through my daily worships.

Very sincerely yours

Rabindranath Tagore

3) Letter#3: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; August 28, 1913. ( scan of letter )

16 More's Garden
Cheyne Walk
London S. W.

28 Aug 1913

Dear friend,

I have been looking forward to meeting you in Bussum but I find that I cannot arrange it for I have to start for India on the 3rd of September, sailing direct from England. I feel sure that this will not be my last visit to Europe and I shall meet you some day. With my love and gratitude to you for your kind feelings towards me.

                          I am
                                                   Most sincerely yours

                                                      Rabindranath Tagore

Many thanks for your book which I shall have time to read on board the steamer.

Letter#4: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; December 12, 1913.

Shanti Niketan

12 December 1913

Dear Brother,

I must make time to send you my thanks and my love though I am worn out with the consequences of the sudden honour that has fallen on me. I am going through a trial and not for a moment have I any peace. I am vainly longing to get back to my former quiet.

My seclusion is invalid by the curious crowds and my leisure is frittered away in useless visits and corresponding. Still I cannot deny that this award of the Nobel Prize has been a great thing. It is the handshake of sympathy of the East and West across the water - it has proclaimed the oneness of humanity.

I am eagerly waiting for your translation of Gitanjali though I have not had time to read your text.

With love

Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#5: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; February 9, 1914.

Shanti Niketan

February 9, 1914

My dear Friend,

I have read your article in the Frankfürter Zeitung and was touched by the deep friendship it showed. I have received your translation. The get-up is attractive and I am sure your rendering of my poems are no less so knowing that it was done with love.

I am still pursued by my notoriety, hunted out of my quiet seclusion, showered upon by missiles of letters from all quarters of the globe. I do not know how to protect myself from this and am waiting for the time to bring its abatement. I have not yet been able to read your books - for my mind is oppressed.

I hope to come to Europe again though I do not know when exactly that will be and I shall look forward to meeting you.


Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#6: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; July 13, 1914. ( scan of letter )

Shanti Niketan

My Dear Friend,

I am afraid I shall not be able to join you in September. It would have given me great joy and real rest if I could go and meet you, know you and live with you without being involved in fruitless efforts to better mankind by pursuing scheme after scheme which is merely jumping but not walking towards a goal. I have a boarding school here in a quiet locality where I can have my work, as well as, leisure undisturbed. I feel reluctant to leave it unless I have a very strong call, which I had when I left for Europe two years ago. I daresay the call will be repeated. But I must wait.


Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#7: rabindranath to Van Eeden; November 19, 1919. ( scan of letter )

Shanti Niketan

November 19, 1919

My Dear Friend,

It is of great joy to me to hear from you after such a long interval. I have often thought of you and cherished the desire to meet you when I next visit Europe. But I do not know when that is going to happen, for I cannot leave India now when she is having her own share of suffering which has spread over all the continents of the earth.

Our personal experience of the present day profile of Europe, limited as it must be, reminds us of a boy who never forgets for a moment his newly acquired scientific whistle producing an outrageous screech. His own cousins have the power to keep it decently suppressed, but there are others who can only suffer, but not retaliate. The machine guns and airships showering wholesale deaths are grimly serious in a battlefield, but outside it they have the vicious fascination of a clever and ugly toy. The dumb wonder of dismay which these can produce upon men innocent of science has an element of humour for those who are vigorously immune from and ashamed of all sentiments. Making every excuse for the interference of superfluous energy suddenly released from an anxious task, we could not believe our eyes when we found men, enormously proud of their newly acquired scientific resources, suddenly setting to work their latest engines of terror against a disarmed crowd of men, women and children. It was extravagant disproportionate to the necessity of the case, but only suitable for the megalomaniac pride of frightfulness.

It can not be true that the chivalry of Europe has all along been a myth, but there must be a cause for such steadily growing impairment of her humanity. My heart is drawn to you, my friend, because I know that you are one of those in Europe whose noble mission it is to remove this cause at the root.


Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#8: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; February 1, 1920.

February 1st 1920

Dear Friend,

You are welcome to translate and publish any part of my letter you like. I am sending you by this mail some pamphlets, one of which I wrote when my mind was distracted with what was happening all about me in India. We have realised with a cruel sense of despair as to what a great calamity Europe has brought upon the rest of the world. She is using all resources of science to make permanent the insult to humanity outside her own boundaries. And because her wisdom is the wisdom of science and not of soul, she overlooks that supreme truth that humanity is one, and all deeds of outrage offered to it and habit of insolence cultivated against it are sure to come back upon herself. Lately a gift has come to us from England in the shape of Reform Bill carrying the promise of Self Government to a certain extent. But a bill is no gift unless a heart is there - and so long as our psychology remains unchanged all boons will turn into curses, giving rise to hypocrisy and encouraging the left hand to steal from what the right hand has given.


Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#9: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; July 12, 1920.

Letter#10: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; July 20, 1920.( scan of letter )

Flat 60
Kensington Palace Mansions

July the 20th. 1920

Dear Friend,

Thank you so much for your letter and for your kind invitation to be your guest when I come to Holland. I do not yet know when I shall be in your country but it will probably be about the middle of September, and I hope to get into touch with you as soon as I arrive in Holland. I shall go there from Denmark which I intend to visit after I have been to Sweden and Norway.

I am interested in any educational experiments which are being carried on in Holland, and also in any attempts which are being made to introduce the co-operative movement amongst the peasants. I also hope to hear some account of Java and Bali which islands I am intending to visit on my way back to India.

With kind regard and many thanks

I remain

Yours very truly

Rabindranath Tagore

Letter#11: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; March 9, 1924.

Letter#12: Rabindranath to Van Eeden; December 22, 1929.

These are three letters Frederik van Eeden wrote to Tagore:

Letter#1: Van Eeden to Rabindranath; December 16, 1926.

Dr. Frederik van Eeden
Bussum (N.-Holland)

Bussum, 16 December 1926

Dear Friend,

I saw your picture and the article in the Dearborn Independent, on you. And it made me think of bygone days, when we used the holy word "Friendship" between us, and we met at the house of Mrs. Van Eeghen. It was a beautiful recollection and it made me wonder how this friendship came to a stop. Was it the distance? Was it my conversation? Did I hurt you in some way? Were you overcrowded with correspondence? Was it a little of everything? How it may be, however - I want you to know, that I have not changed my fondness for you.

It seems to me, as if evil influences have been busy to keep us apart. At your visit in my house, I had the bad luck to receive you in an empty home, my wife and other family being away. This was a great disappointment to me. Something like a year had passed, since I found out your poems and I had translated about every single one of them, and through me, your name was known through the whole of Holland. And then miss you at our first meeting and not having the occasion for a quiet walk, to talk a little about India and about poetry - that was all equally sad.

I have not many friends, no one to spare and I am very fond of the few, that I have. This summer I was invited in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt. I was invited on you. The idea was, that you and I should meet - and change the world and solve the social question, if you please. I took the chance, but the wife of our host fell ill and has not yet recovered. Did you see Mrs. De Backer after all? And what are your next plans?

The picture in the Dearborn Independent made me suppose, that you are still in Europe. They were most probably made in Sweden, on the fourth of December. And I suppose, you will cross by America.

I went to Homburg, near Wiesbaden, last month and corresponded with Mr. De Backer. But I did not see him and his wife has not yet recovered.

You made a long trip this time. Will you extend it to Holland? I will take good care not to disappoint you this time.

It was a good plan to go to Scandinavia. You made a great success there - to read and hear about it gave me joy and a feeling of homesickness towards India. When I read the description of your house at Bolpur, I suffer pain, because I shall die without having seen your beautiful home. My dreams go to it - and seeing it in dream-substance, I say: now I am really there. But then I wake up again, without having been there.

I am of the same age as you - and I had great ambitions. They have not come true and my life, in comparison with yours, has more of a failure than anything. I have done my best, however, and people say, that I may be satisfied. But I am not satisfied. I wanted to cooperate with you, and to live like Ghandi [sic] and speak to people like Tagore. I feel at least like a brother to them and I want to help them in a humble way. Do you remember, that I took you to my home in an auto, and your daughter in law, who was opposite to me, got from me a red rose, and the kindly way she took it, made me quite happy. That is the way, I wanted "to give and take".

Forgive me, dear friend, for troubling you. I have believed, that united forces would be of greater use to mankind, than our separate efforts alone. I tried to get foothold in America, three times, but my power failed. Now I suppose, my strength is passed its zenith and I can not do much more except dreaming and writing little poems. When you come and pass Holland then it would be cruel not to see me.

Why was the Home of Mankind not placed in India? Why must we live in such dull and melancholy places? Do you know Romain Rolland? He wrote a fine article on Ghandi, [sic] and is one of the few true friends, whom God placed on my way.

I tried to speak also to Henry Ford. I could not reach him. I believe, he is really the man of genius, that is wanted by this world. He wants a tiny spark of poetry, to make him explode and do spiritual miracles.

Will you send me a short answer?

Yours with love

Frederik van Eeden

Letter#2: Van Eeden to Rabindranath; (No date), 1927.

Dear friend,

I was very glad to receive a letter from you. I was afraid you would forget me altogether.

It is so important and so delightful to remain in touch with the best people in the world. And we have the means to keep up friendship all over the world. I suppose we will soon be able to speak with each other at any distance. What is achieved in the matter of communication, is miraculous. This will surely lead to psychical unity, and to a more noble conception of human intercourse.

What is going on just now is ridiculous and disgusting, but it is clearly all aiming to a great and lofty world. We may be glad to have lived in these most interesting times. My place now is the catholic church, and when sufficient health is given to me by our heavenly Father I will be able to do some good work, notwithstanding my 67 years.

At this time I have a play on the stage - where from the first night was successful. It is a religious play - as all good theatre pieces ought to become - and now I have another work wherefrom Rembrandt is the principal figure. He was a very remarkable genius and a deep mind. I hope some day we will see it.

I am not astounded that you became weary, after the tremendous work you did. How I deplore never to have been in India. I am often home-sick from it. Write me from time to time a little word, it always does me good.

Yours in full earnest !

Letter#3: Van Eeden to Rabindranath; February 5, 1928.

F. van Eeden
Walden, Bussem,
5 February 1928

My dearly beloved Friend!

It is a long time since we met. I believe it was in Spring and your letter came from Italy. A faint glimmer of hope - that you would stop at Bussum - lasted not long. But I could follow your way on the map. I congratulate with your splendid tour. How many hearts have you brought to rest! How many convictions pacified.

I have still a good deal to say. And I am only afraid that force will fail, before my energy will be exhausted.

Seeing India was for long time my dear illusion. Now that light failed. At least I do not trust myself - and I have no money. I must be satisfied, I can go on with my literary production. My drama is called Rembrandt and plays with the great painter in the principal role.

I wonder when I remember, that we have had long thoughts on first subjects in Bussum. How I wish to have such edifying conversations. But now you are too far away alas!

However, I want to put a question before you. I hope to get it in return. I will ask you straight and simple. I have a mystical sentiment, that can only be expressed by an Indian mystic. It says that there is no here, nor there. How can that idea be better expressed?

It is not spoken by the Christian mystics. They say: there is a super-natural dimension or there is no dimension. But what I mean is the divinity of the I (Ego) which makes us one with the Universe.

I hope you will receive this letter in good health and will have a few words to answer me. Forgive bad handwriting. I am still ashamed to have received you in Bussum so poorly. Will you give me a better occasion?

God spare you long,

Frederik van Eeden

Published in Parabaas July 15, 2004.

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