The Gardener

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The Gardener  (1913) 
by Rabindranath Tagore

1[edit]

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 the 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 throw my swords and lances down in the dust.
Do no 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 will be granted, my servant, you will be the gardener of my flower garden.

2[edit]

'Ah, Poet, the evening draws near; your hair is turning gray.
'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 the 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 trifle that my hair is turning gray.
'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 have 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 gray?'

3[edit]

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, and 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 travelers came; they picked them up and carried them into far countries.

4[edit]

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 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 cricket chirps 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[edit]

I am restless. I am athirst for faraway 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[edit]

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 the 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 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[edit]

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 o 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 for whom.
But the young Prince did pass by our door, and I flung the jewel from my breast before his path.

8[edit]

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 traveler 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 traveler, she is I.'

It was dusk and the lamp was not lit.
I was listlessly braiding my hair.
The young traveler 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 traveler, 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 color 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 traveler, she is I.'

9[edit]

When I go alone at night to my love-tryst, birds do not sing, the wind does not stir, the houses on both sides of the street stand silent.
It is my own anklets that grow loud at every step and I am ashamed.

When I sit on my balcony and listen for his footsteps, leaves do not rustle on the trees, and water is still in the river like the sword on the knees of a sentry fallen asleep.
It is my own heart that beats wildly-I do not know how to quiet it.

When my love comes and sits by my side, when my body trembles and my eyelids droop, the night darkens, the wind blows out the lamp, and the clouds draw veils over the stars.
It is the jewel at my own breast that shines and gives light. I do not know how to hide it.

10[edit]

Let your work be, bride. Listen, the guest has come.
Do you hear, he is gently shaking the chain which fastens the door?
See that your anklets make no loud noise, and that your step is not over-hurried at meeting him.
Let your work be, bride, the guest has come in the evening.
No, it is not the ghostly wind, bride, do not be frightened.
It is the full moon on a night of April; shadows are pale in the courtyard; the sky overhead is bright.
Draw your veil over your face if you must, carry the lamp to the door if you fear.
No, it is not the ghostly wind, bride, do not be frightened.

Have no word with him if you are shy; stand aside by the door when you meet him.
If he asks questions, and if you wish to, you can lower your eyes in silence.
Do not let your bracelets jingle when, lamp in hand, you lead him in.
Have no word with him if you are shy.

Have you not finished your work yet, bride? Listen, the guest has come.
Have you not lit the lamp in the cowshed?
Have you not got ready the offering basket for the evening service?
Have you not put the red lucky mark at the parting of your hair, and done your toilet for the night?
O bride, do you hear, the guest has come?
Let your work be!

11[edit]

Come as you are, do not loiter over your toilet.
If your braided hair has loosened, if the parting of your hair be not straight, if the ribbons of your bodice be not fastened, do not mind.
Come as you are; do not loiter over your toilet.

Come with quick steps over the grass.
If the raddle come from your feet because of the dew, if the rings of bells upon your feet slacken, if pearls drop out from your chain, do not mind.
Come, with quick steps over the grass.

Do you see the clouds wrapping the sky?
Flocks of cranes fly up from the further river-bank and fistful gusts of wind rush over the heath.
The anxious cattle run to their stalls in the village.
Do you see the clouds wrapping the sky?

In vain you light your toilet lamp-it flickers and goes out in the wind.
Who can know that your eyelids have not been touched with lamp black? For your eyes are darker than rain clouds.
In vain you light your toilet lamp-it goes out.

Come as you are; do not loiter over your toilet.
If wreath is not woven, who cares; if the wrist chain has not been linked, let it be.
The sky is overcast with clouds-it is late.
Come as you are; do not loiter over your toilet.

12[edit]

If you would be busy and fill your pitcher, come, O come to my lake.
The water will cling round your feet and babble its secret.
The shadow of the coming rain is on the sands, and the clouds hand low upon the blue lines of the trees like the heavy hair above your eyebrows.
I know well the rhythm of your steps, they are beating in my heart.
Come, O come to my lake, if you must fill your pitcher.

If you would be idle and sit listless and let your pitcher float on the water, come, O come to my lake.
The grassy slope is green, and the wild flowers beyond number.
Your thoughts will stray out of your dark eyes like birds from their nests.
Your veil will drop to your feet.
Come, O, Come to my lake if you must sit idle.

If you would leave off your play and dive in the water, come, O come to my lake,
Let your blue mantle lie on the shore; the blue water will cover you and hide you.

The waves will stand a-tiptoe to kiss your neck and whisper in your ears.
Come, O come to my lake, if you would dive in the water.

If you must be mad and leap to your death, come, O come to my lake.
It is cool and fathomlessly deep.
It is dark like a sleep that is dreamless.
There in its depths nights and days are one, and songs are silence.
Come, O come to my lake, if you would plunge to your death.

13[edit]

I asked nothing, only stood at the edge of the wood behind the tree.
Languor was still upon the eyes of the dawn, and the dew in the air.
The lazy smell of the damp grass hung in the thin mist above the earth.
Under the banyan tree you were milking the cow with your hands, tender and fresh as butter.
And I was standing still.

I did not say a word. It was the bird that sung unseen from the thicket.
The mango tree was shedding its flowers upon the village road, and the bees came humming one by one.
On the side of the pond the gate of Shiva's temple was opened and the worshiper had begun his chants.
With the vessel in your lap you were milking the cow.
I stood with my empty can.

I did not come near you.
The sky woke with the sound of the gong at the temple.
The dust was raised in the road from the hoofs of the driven cattle.
With the gurgling pitchers at their hips, women came from the river.
Your bracelets were jingling, and from brimming over the jar.
The morning wore on and I did not come near you.

14[edit]

I was walking by the road, I do not know why, when the noonday was past and bamboo branches rustled in the wind.
The prone shadows with their outstretched arms clung to the feet of the hurrying light.
The koels were weary of their songs.
I was walking by the road, I do not know why.
The hut by the side of the water is shaded by an overhanging tree.
Someone was busy with her work, and her bangles made music in the corner.
I stood before this hut, I do not know why.
The narrow winding road crosses many a mustard field, and many a mango forest.
It passes by the temple of the village and the market at the river landing-place.
I stopped by this hut, I do not know why.

Years ago it was a day of breezy March when the murmur of the spring was languorous, and the mango blossoms were dropping on the dust.
The rippling water leapt and licked the brass vessel that stood on the landing-step.
I think of that day of breezy March, I do not know why.

Shadows are deepening and cattle returning to their folds.
The light is gray upon the lonely meadows, and the villagers are waiting for the ferry at the bank.

I slowly return upon my steps, I do not know why.

15[edit]

I run as a musk-deer runs in the shadow of the forest, mad with his own perfume.
The night is the night of mid-May, the breeze is the breeze of the south.
I lose my way and I wander, I seek what I cannot get, I get what I do not seek.

From my heart comes out and dances the image of my own desire.
The gleaming vision flits on.
I try to clasp it firmly, it eludes me and leads me astray.
I seek what I cannot get, I get what I do not seek.

16[edit]

Hands cling to hands and eyes linger on eyes: thus begins the record of our hearts.
It is the moonlight night of March; the sweet smell of henna is in the air; my flute lies on the earth neglected and your garland of flowers is unfinished.
This love between you and me is simple as a song.
Your veil of saffron color makes my eyes drunk.
The jasmine wreath that you wove thrills to my heart like praise.
It is a game of giving and with-holding, revealing and screening again; some smiles and some little shyness, and some sweet useless struggles.
This love between you and me is simple as a song.
No mystery beyond the present; no striving for the impossible; no shadow behind the charm; no groping in the depth of the dark.
This love between you and me is simple as a song

We do not stray out of all words into the ever silent; we do not raise our hands to the void for things beyond hope.
It is enough what we give and we get.
We have not crushed the joy to the utmost to wring from it the wine of pain.
This love between you and me is simple as a song

17[edit]

The yellow bird sings in its tree and makes my heart dance with gladness.
We both live in the same village, and that is our one piece of joy.
Her pair of pet lambs come to graze in the shade of our garden trees.
If they stray into our barley field, I take them up in my arms.
The name of our village is Khanjana, and Anjana they call our river.
My name is known to all the village, and her name is Ranjana.

Only one field lies between us.
Bees that have hived in our grove go to seek honey in theirs.
Flowers launched from their landing stairs come floating by the stream where we bathe.
Baskets of dried kusum flowers come from their fields into our market.
The name of our village is Khanjana, and Anjana they call our river.
My name is known to all the village, and her name is Ranjana.

The lane that winds to their house is fragrant in the spring with mango flowers.
When their linseed is ripe for harvest the hemp is in bloom in our field.
The stars that smile on their cottage send us the same twinkling look.
The rain that floods their tank makes glad our kadam forest.
The name of our village is Khanjana, and Anjana they call our river.
My name is known to all the village, and her name is Ranjana.

18[edit]

When the two sisters go to fetch water, they come to this spot and they smile.
They must be aware of somebody who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.
The two sisters whisper to each other when they pass this spot.
They must have guessed the secret of that somebody who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.
Their pitchers lurch suddenly, and water spills when they reach this spot.
They must have found out that somebody's heart is beating who stands behind the tree whenever they go to fetch water.

The two sisters glance at each other when they come to this spot, and they smile.
There is a laughter in their swift-stepping feet, which makes confusion in somebody's mind who stands behind the trees whenever they go to fetch water.

19[edit]

You walked by the riverside path with the full pitcher upon your hip.
Why did you swiftly turn your face and peep at me through your fluttering veil?
The gleaming look from the dark came upon me like a breeze that sends a shiver through the rippling water and sweeps away to the shadowy shore.
It came to me like the bird of the evening that hurriedly flies across the lampless room from one open window to the other, and disappears in the night.
You are hidden as a star behind the hills, and I am a passer-by upon the road. But why did you stop for a moment and glance at me face through your veil while you walked by the riverside path with the full pitcher upon your hip?

20[edit]

Day after day he comes and goes away.
Go, and give him a flower from my hair, my friend.
If he asks who was it that sent it, I entreat you do not tell him my name-for he only comes and goes away.

He sits on the dust under the tree.
Spread there a seat with flowers and leaves, my friend.
His eyes are sad, and they bring sadness to my heart.
He does not speak what he has in mind; he only comes and goes away.

21[edit]

Why did he choose to come to my door, the wandering youth, when the day dawned?
As I come in and out I pass by him everytime, and my eyes are caught by his face.
I know not if I should speak to him or keep silent.
Why did he choose to come to my door?

The cloudy night in July are dark; the sky is soft blue in autumn; the spring days are restless with the south wind.
He weaves his songs with fresh tunes every time.
I turn from my work and my eyes fill with the mist.
Why did he choose to come to my door?

22[edit]

When she passed by me with quick steps, the end of her skirt touched me.
From the unknown island of a heart came a sudden warm breath of spring.
A flutter of a flitting touch brushed me and vanished in a moment, like a torn flower petal blown in the breeze.
It fell upon my heart like a sigh of her body and whisper of her heart.

23[edit]

Why do you sit there and jingle your bracelets in mere idle sport?
Fill your pitcher. It is time for you to come home.
Why do you stir the water with your hands and fitfully glance at the road for some one in mere idle sport?
Fill your pitcher and come home.

The morning hours pass by-the dark water flows on.
The waves are laughing and whispering to each other in mere idle sport.

The wandering clouds have gathered at the edge of the sky on yonder rise of the land.
They linger and look at your face and smile in mere idle sport.
Fill your pitcher and come home.

24[edit]

Do not keep to yourself the secret of your heart, my friend!
Say it to me, only to me, in secret.
You who smile so gently, sofly whisper, my heart will hear it, not my ears.
The night is deep, the house is silent, the birds' nests are shrouded with sleep.
Speak to me through hesitating tears, through faltering smiles, through sweet shame and pain, the secret of your heart!


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).
This work is now in the public domain because it originates from India and its term of copyright has expired. According to The Indian Copyright Act, 1957, all documents enter the public domain after sixty years counted from the beginning of the following calendar year (ie. as of 2014, prior to 1 January 1954) after the death of the author.