This week for the spotlight I’m proud to bring you one of India’s favorite poetic sons: the writer Rabindranath Tagore. An exponent of the Bengal Renaissance – a period of great artistic and social reform in 19th and early 20th century India – Tagore was Asia’s first Nobel Laureate. He was also, perhaps, most famous for composing the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh.
Today, however, I offer you a look at his poem, “At the Last Watch”:
At The Last Watch
Pity, in place of love,
That pettiest of gifts,
Is but a sugar-coating over neglect.
Any passerby can make a gift of it
To a street beggar,
Only to forget the moment the first corner is turned.
I had not hoped for anything more that day.
You left during the last watch of night.
I had hoped you would say goodbye,
Just say ‘Adieu’ before going away,
What you had said another day,
What I shall never hear again.
In their place, just that one word,
Bound by the thin fabric of a little compassion
Would even that have been too much for you to bear?
When I first awoke from sleep
My heart fluttered with fear
Lest the time had been over.
I rushed out of bed.
The distant church clock chimed half past twelve
I sat waiting near the door of my room
Resting my head against it,
Facing the porch through which you would come out.
Even that tiniest of chances
Was snatched away by fate from hapless me;
I fell asleep
Shortly before you left.
Perhaps you cast a sidelong glance
At my reclining body
Like a broken boat left high and dry.
Perhaps you walked away with care
Lest you wake me up.
Awaking with a start I knew at once
That my vigil had been wasted
I realised, what was to go went away in a moment,
What was to stay behind stayed on
For all time.
Like that of a birds’ nest bereft of birds
On the bough of a songless tree.
With the lifeless light of the waning moon was now blended
The pallor of dawn
Spreading itself over the greyness of my empty life.
I walked towards your bedroom
For no reason.
Outside the door
Burnt a smoky lantern covered with soot,
The porch smelt of the smouldering wick.
Over the abandoned bed the flaps of the rolled-up mosquito-net
Fluttered a little in the breeze.
Seen in the sky outside through the window
Was the morning star,
Witness of all sleepless people
Bereft of hope.
Suddenly I found you had left behind by mistake
Your gold-mounted ivory walking stick.
If there were time, I thought,
You might come back from the station to look for it,
But not because
You had not seen me before going away.