The Gardener
1:30 h Verse Lvl 8.67
Tagore was a great Bengali writer, philosopher, and composer who even won a Nobel Prize for his work. He had a massive impact on Indian culture through his literature and art. The Gardener is a collection of Tagore's that he translated himself. In the poems, the author seems transfixed by love, and he uses his passion to focus on the subject of love and finding deeper meaning in it. In The Gardner, Tagore praises life, earth, and various types of relationships.

The Gardener

by
Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by the Author from the Original Bengali

1915


The Gardener

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.


5

I am restless. I am athirst for far-away things.
My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim
distance.
O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that I have no wings to fly, that I am
bound in this spot evermore.

I am eager and wakeful, I am a stranger in a strange land.
Thy breath comes to me whispering an impossible hope.
Thy tongue is known to my heart as its very own.
O Far-to-seek, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that I know not the way, that I have not
the winged horse.

I am listless, I am a wanderer in my heart.
In the sunny haze of the languid hours, what vast vision of thine
takes shape in the blue of the sky!
O Farthest end, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that the gates are shut everywhere in
the house where I dwell alone!


6

The tame bird was in a cage, the free bird was in the forest.
They met when the time came, it was a decree of fate.
The free bird cries, “O my love, let us fly to wood.”
The cage bird whispers, “Come hither, let us both live in the
cage.”
Says the free bird, “Among bars, where is there room to spread
one’s wings?”
“Alas,” cries the cage bird, “I should not know where to sit
perched in the sky.”

The free bird cries, “My darling, sing the songs of the
woodlands.”
The cage bird says, “Sit by my side, I’ll teach you the speech of
the learned.”
The forest bird cries, “No, ah no! songs can never be taught.”
The cage bird says, “Alas for me, I know not the songs of the
woodlands.”

Their love is intense with longing, but they never can fly wing
to wing.
Through the bars of the cage they look, and vain is their wish to
know each other.
They flutter their wings in yearning, and sing, “Come closer, my
love!”
The free bird cries, “It cannot be, I fear the closed doors of
the cage.”
The cage bird whispers, “Alas, my wings are powerless and dead.”


7

O mother, the young Prince is to pass by our door, — how can I
attend to my work this morning?
Show me how to braid up my hair; tell me what garment to put on.
Why do you look at me amazed, mother?
I know well he will not glance up once at my window; I know he
will pass out of my sight in the twinkling of an eye; only the
vanishing strain of the flute will come sobbing to me from
afar.
But the young Prince will pass by our door, and I will put on my
best for the moment.

O mother, the young Prince did pass by our door, and the morning
sun flashed from his chariot.
I swept aside the veil from my face, I tore the ruby chain from
my neck and flung it in his path.
Why do you look at me amazed, mother?
I know well he did not pick up my chain; I know it was crushed
under his wheels leaving a red stain upon the dust, and no one
knows what my gift was nor to whom.
But the young Prince did pass by our door, and I flung the jewel
from my breast before his path.


8

When the lamp went out by my bed I woke up with the early birds.
I sat at my open window with a fresh wreath on my loose hair.
The young traveller came along the road in the rosy mist of the
morning.
A pearl chain was on his neck, and the sun’s rays fell on his
crown. He stopped before my door and asked me with an eager
cry, “Where is she?”
For very shame I could not say, “She is I, young traveller, she
is I.”

It was dusk and the lamp was not lit.
I was listlessly braiding my hair.
The young traveller came on his chariot in the glow of the
setting sun.
His horses were foaming at the mouth, and there was dust on his
garment.
He alighted at my door and asked in a tired voice, “Where is
she?”
For very shame I could not say, “She is I, weary traveller, she
is I.”

It is an April night. The lamp is burning in my room.
The breeze of the south comes gently.  The noisy parrot sleeps in
its cage.
My bodice is of the colour of the peacock’s throat, and my mantle
is green as young grass.
I sit upon the floor at the window watching the deserted street.
Through the dark night I keep humming, “She is I, despairing
traveller, she is I.”

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