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The Gardener - Rabindranath Tagore

19 July 2012

I have recently started reading "The Gardener" (Rabindranath Tagore) and in this blog post, I collect some of my favourite lines from this book.

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. (1)
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." (6)
My heart, the bird of the wilderness, has
found its sky in your eyes. They are the
cradle of the morning, they are the
kingdom of the stars. My songs are lost in
their depths. Let me but soar in that sky, in
its lonely immensity. Let me but cleave its
clouds and spread wings in its sunshine. (31)
An unbelieving smile flits on your eyes
when I come to you to take my leave. I
have done it so often that you think I will
soon return. To tell you the truth I have the
same doubt in my mind. For the spring
days come again time after time; the full
moon takes leave and comes on another
visit, the flowers come again and blush
upon their branches year after year, and it
is likely that I take my leave only to come
to you again. But keep the illusion awhile;
do not send it away with ungentle haste.
When I say I leave you for all time, accept
it as true, and let a mist of tears for one
moment deepen the dark rim of your eyes.
Then smile as archly as you like when I
come again. (40)
I long to speak the deepest words I have to
say to you; but I dare not, for fear you
should laugh. That is why I laugh at myself
and shatter my secret in jest. I make light
of my pain, afraid you should do so.
I long to tell you the truest words I have to
say to you; but I dare not, being afraid
that you would not believe them. That is
why I disguise them in untruth, saying the
contrary of what I mean. I make my pain
appear absurd, afraid that you should do
I long to use the most precious words I
have for you; but I dare not, fearing I
should not be paid with like value. That is
why I gave you hard names and boast of
my callous strength. I hurt you, for fear
you should never know any pain.
I long to sit silent by you; but I dare not lest
my heart come out at my lips. That is why
I prattle and chatter lightly and hide my
heart behind words. I rudely handle my
pain, for fear you should do so.
I long to go away from your side; but I dare
not, for fear my cowardice should
become known to you. That is why I hold
my head high and carelessly come into
your presence. Constant thrusts from
your eyes keep my pain fresh for ever. (41)
You left me and went on your way. I
thought I should mourn for you and set
your solitary image in my heart wrought
in a golden song. But ah, my evil fortune,
time is short.
Youth wanes year after year; the spring
days are fugitive; the frail flowers die for
nothing, and the wise man warns me that
life is but a dew-drop on the lotus leaf.
Should I neglect all this to gaze after one
who has turned her back on me? That
would be rude and foolish, for time is
Then, come, my rainy nights with pattering
feet; smile, my golden autumn; come,
careless April, scattering your kisses
abroad. You come, and you, and you also!
My loves, you know we are mortals. Is it
wise to break one's heart for the one who
takes her heart away? For time is short.
It is sweet to sit in a corner to muse and
write in rhymes that you are all my world.
It is heroic to hug one's sorrow and
determine not to be consoled. But a fresh
face peeps across my door and raises its
eyes to my eyes. I cannot but wipe away
my tears and change the tune of my song.
For time is short. (46)
Why did the lamp go out? I shaded it with
my cloak to save it from the wind, that is
why the lamp went out.
Why did the flower fade? I pressed it to my
heart with anxious love, that is why the
flower faded.
Why did the stream dry up? I put a dam
across it to have it for my use, that is why
the stream dried up.
Why did the harp-string break? I tried to
force a note that was beyond its power,
that is why the harp-string is broken. (52)
One morning in the flower garden a blind
girl came to offer me a flower chain in the
cover of a lotus leaf. I put it round my neck,
and tears came to my eyes. I kissed her
and said, "You are blind even as the
flowers are. "You yourself know not how
beautiful is your gift." (58)
A wandering madman was seeking the
touchstone, with matted locks tawny and
dust-laden, and body worn to a shadow,
his lips tight-pressed, like the shut-up
doors of his heart, his burning eyes like
the lamp of a glow-worm seeking its mate.
Before him the endless ocean roared. The
garrulous waves ceaselessly talked of
hidden treasures, mocking the ignorance
that knew not their meaning. Maybe he
now had no hope remaining, yet he would
not rest, for the search had become his
life,-- Just as the ocean for ever lifts its
arms to the sky for the unattainable-- Just
as the stars go in circles, yet seeking a
goal that can never be reached-- Even so
on the lonely shore the madman with dusty
tawny locks still roamed in search of the touchstone.

One day a village boy came up and asked,
"Tell me, where did you come at this
golden chain about your waist?" The
madman started--the chain that once was
iron was verily gold; it was not a dream,
but he did not know when it had changed.
He struck his forehead wildly--where, O
where had he without knowing it
achieved success?It had grown into a
habit, to pick up pebbles and touch the
chain, and to throw them away without
looking to see if a change had come; thus
the madman found and lost the touchstone.
The sun was sinking low in the west, the
sky was of gold. The madman returned on
his footsteps to seek anew the lost
treasure, with his strength gone, his body
bent, and his heart in the dust, like a tree
uprooted. (66)
None lives for ever, brother, and nothing
lasts for long. Keep that in mind and
rejoice. Our life is not the one old burden,
our path is not the one long journey. One
sole poet has not to sing one aged song.
The flower fades and dies; but he who
wears the flower has not to mourn for it
for ever. Brother, keep that in mind and
There must come a full pause to weave
perfection into music. Life droops toward
its sunset to be drowned in the golden
shadows. Love must be called from its play
to drink sorrow and be borne to
the heaven of tears. Brother, keep that in mind
and rejoice.
We hasten to gather our flowers lest they
are plundered by the passing winds. It
quickens our blood and brightens our
eyes to snatch kisses that would vanish if
we delayed. Our life is eager, our desires
are keen, for time tolls the bell of parting.
Brother, keep that in mind and rejoice.
There is not time for us to clasp a thing and
crush it and fling it away to the dust. The
hours trip rapidly away, hiding their
dreams in their skirts. Our life is short; it
yields but a few days for love. Were it for
work and drudgery it would be endlessly
long. Brother, keep that in mind and
Beauty is sweet to us, because she dances
to the same fleeting tune with our lives.
Knowledge is precious to us, because we
shall never have time to complete it. All is
done and finished in the eternal Heaven.
But earth's flowers of illusion are kept
eternally fresh by death. Brother, keep
that in mind and rejoice. (68)
I hunt for the golden stag. You may smile,
my friends, but I pursue the vision that
eludes me. I run across hills and dales, I
wander through nameless lands, because
I am hunting for the golden stag. You come
and buy in the market and go back to your
homes laden with goods, but the spell of
the homeless winds has touched me
I know not when and where. I have no care
in my heart; all my belongings I have left
far behind me. I run across hills and
dales, I wander through nameless lands--
because I am hunting for the golden stag.