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- The Gardener - 1/12 -


THE GARDENER

[Frontispiece: Rabindranath Tagore. Age 16--see tagore.jpg]

THE GARDENER

By

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by the author from the original Bengali

1915

To

W. B. Yeats

Thanks are due to the editor of _Poetry, a Magazine of Verse_, for permission to reprint eight poems in this volume.

Preface

Most of the lyrics of love and life, the translations of which from Bengali are published in this book, were written much earlier than the series of religious poems contained in the book named _Gitanjali_. The translations are not always literal-- the originals being sometimes abridged and sometimes paraphrased.

Rabindranath Tagore.

1

SERVANT. Have mercy upon your servant, my queen!

QUEEN. The assembly is over and my servants are all gone. Why do you come at this late hour?

SERVANT. When you have finished with others, that is my time. I come to ask what remains for your last servant to do.

QUEEN. What can you expect when it is too late?

SERVANT. Make me the gardener of your flower garden.

QUEEN. What folly is this?

SERVANT. I will give up my other work. I will throw my swords and lances down in the dust. Do not send me to distant courts; do not bid me undertake new conquests. But make me the gardener of your flower garden.

QUEEN. What will your duties be?

SERVANT. The service of your idle days. I will keep fresh the grassy path where you walk in the morning, where your feet will be greeted with praise at every step by the flowers eager for death. I will swing you in a swing among the branches of the _saptaparna_, where the early evening moon will struggle to kiss your skirt through the leaves. I will replenish with scented oil the lamp that burns by your bedside, and decorate your footstool with sandal and saffron paste in wondrous designs.

QUEEN. What will you have for your reward?

SERVANT. To be allowed to hold your little fists like tender lotus-buds and slip flower chains over your wrists; to tinge the soles of your feet with the red juice of _ashoka_ petals and kiss away the speck of dust that may chance to linger there.

QUEEN. Your prayers are granted, my servant, you will be the gardener of my flower garden.

2

"Ah, poet, the evening draws near; your hair is turning grey. "Do you in your lonely musing hear the message of the hereafter?"

"It is evening," the poet said, "and I am listening because some one may call from the village, late though it be. "I watch if young straying hearts meet together, and two pairs of eager eyes beg for music to break their silence and speak for them. "Who is there to weave their passionate songs, if I sit on the shore of life and contemplate death and the beyond?

"The early evening star disappears. "The glow of a funeral pyre slowly dies by the silent river. "Jackals cry in chorus from the courtyard of the deserted house in the light of the worn-out moon. "If some wanderer, leaving home, come here to watch the night and with bowed head listen to the murmur of the darkness, who is there to whisper the secrets of life into his ears if I, shutting my doors, should try to free myself from mortal bonds?

"It is a trifle that my hair is turning grey. "I am ever as young or as old as the youngest and the oldest of this village. "Some have smiles, sweet and simple, and some a sly twinkle in their eyes. "Some have tears that well up in the daylight, and others tears that are hidden in the gloom. They all have need for me, and I have no time to brood over the afterlife. "I am of an age with each, what matter if my hair turns grey?"

3

In the morning I cast my net into the sea. I dragged up from the dark abyss things of strange aspect and strange beauty--some shone like a smile, some glistened like tears, and some were flushed like the cheeks of a bride. When with the day's burden I went home, my love was sitting in the garden idly tearing the leaves of a flower. I hesitated for a moment, and then placed at her feet all that I had dragged up, and stood silent. She glanced at them and said, "What strange things are these? I know not of what use they are!" I bowed my head in shame and thought, "I have not fought for these, I did not buy them in the market; they are not fit gifts for her." Then the whole night through I flung them one by one into the street. In the morning travellers came; they picked them up and carried them into far countries.

4

Ah me, why did they build my house by the road to the market town? They moor their laden boats near my trees. They come and go and wander at their will. I sit and watch them; my time wears on. Turn them away I cannot. And thus my days pass by.

Night and day their steps sound by my door. Vainly I cry, "I do not know you." Some of them are known to my fingers, some to my nostrils, the blood in my veins seems to know them, and some are known to my dreams. Turn them away I cannot. I call them and say, "Come to my house whoever chooses. Yes, come."

In the morning the bell rings in the temple. They come with their baskets in their hands. Their feet are rosy red. The early light of dawn is on their faces. Turn them away I cannot. I call them and I say, "Come to my garden to gather flowers. Come hither."

In the mid-day the gong sounds at the palace gate. I know not why they leave their work and linger near my hedge. The flowers in their hair are pale and faded; the notes are languid in their flutes. Turn them away I cannot. I call them and say, "The shade is cool under my trees. Come, friends."

At night the crickets chirp in the woods. Who is it that comes slowly to my door and gently knocks? I vaguely see the face, not a word is spoken, the stillness of the sky is all around. Turn away my silent guest I cannot. I look at the face through the dark, and hours of dreams pass by.


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