Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Two Birds

~Rabindranath Tagore

The caged bird was in his golden cage
The wild bird was in the woods.
Once somehow they managed to meet,
Maybe God thought they should.
The wild bird says, “Brother caged bird,
Let’s go the jungle way.”
The caged bird says, “O wild one, come
In this quiet little cage we’ll stay.”
The wild bird says, “No,
I won’t let the chains arrest.”
The caged bird says, “Alas,
I can’t go to the forest.”


The wild bird sings sitting outside
All his jungle songs,
The caged bird speaks lines he was taught –
No match between their tongues.
The wild bird says, “Brother caged bird,
Sing some jungle songs please!”
The caged bird says, “Brother wild bird,
Let’s see you learn up these.”
The wild bird says, “No,
I don’t want songs that are taught.”
The caged bird says, “Alas,
Jungle songs I know not.”


The wild bird says, “The sky is so blue,
And it has no bounds.”
The caged bird says, “This cage is cozy
And covered all around.”
The wild bird says, “Let go yourself,
Into the clouds’ midst.”
The caged bird says, “In this happy nook
Keep yourself fixed.”
The wild bird says, “No,
Where do I get to fly!”
The caged bird says, “Alas,
There’s no perch in the sky!”


Thus the two birds love each other,
But closer they cannot get.
Between the bars they touch their beaks
In silence their eyes met.
Neither can understand the other one,
Nor make himself clear.
Both flutter their wings alone,
And painfully say, “Come near.”
The wild bird says, “No,
They’ll close the cage door.”
The caged bird says, “Alas,
I have no strength to soar.”

(I was thinking of translating a Tagore poem for a few days, but was unable to decide on the poem. This was chosen by my sister today, and it was fun to translate. There's obviously scope for improvement, and this post may be updated if I decide to change some lines.)


  1. Hey that was a very good translation....could we have some more please.

  2. Thank u for reminding me of the true saga of life’s sacred most feelings through Rabindranath which talks about the failure of understanding of how a soul wants to love and be loved back. This is the mother of all irony – that there is love between two souls but each one’s love cant touch and stroke the other’s perception of love through understanding only because they are enmeshed in rigidities of all kinds.

  3. @bishu: Thanks. I will translate more surely. You can check out the older ones in the meantime.

    @anonforever: Thanks. Yes, it is true that lovers can't always understand each other although they try their best. The bars of the 'cage' prevents them from doing so.

  4. Its lovely, I havent read it in Bangla,but I am glad you translated it.

  5. Hey this is great, not for a single moment I realized that it is a translation. That's the success of translation I feel. A very nice poem indeed. You can help us by translating some more Tagore's poems.


  6. i havnt seen d original,
    but this was lovely.
    i luvd the "near..yet so far"-irony in the lines.

  7. @shreemoyee: Thanks a lot. I sent you the Bangla one, I'm sure you'll love it too.

    @abhijit: Thanks a lot. I try to remain true to the original while maintaining the rhyme and structure. More are definitely on their way.

    @aurindam: Thanks. I would have sent you the original if you could read Bangla. I also love this poem very much.

  8. Many thanks for sharing this translation.

    I would like to invite you to take a look at my translated short stories of Subimal Misra, at:



  9. I have sent ur poem to one of my friends and this is what he wrote to me. I thought i share it with you.

    "The translation that you sent seemed rather good. There is a translation of this poem by William Radice, an Englishman who has taken the trouble to learn Bengali. I have read it but don't remember. He has a done a book of poems and a book of short stories as translations from Tagore."

    I found out the Englishman's email id

    If u want u may send him ur translation.

  10. Bah!
    its wonderful...
    darun... doznt seem like a translation... i agree with what mr. abhijit has commented.
    pls send me the bangla one also.

  11. Khub bhalo hoyeche. Keep it up.

  12. Hey!!
    Whoever told u that i can't read bangla is wrong.
    I can read bangla since my school days ... and read it well enough to understand even complicated poems.
    But of course, no messy handwritten stuff plzz.

  13. @rama: Thanks for visiting and sharing. Your translations are really nice. Keep up the good work.

    @anonforever: Thanks for sharing my translation with others. I have read some of William Radice's translations. they are rather good. Thanks a lot for providing his mail ID. I'm a bit busy at the moment, but I may contact him later.

    @let's get losssst!!!: Thanks! Sent you the Bangla one. Can you read Bengali?

    @baba: Thank you.

    @aurindam: Sorry. I sent you the Bengali poem. Do tell me how you find it.

  14. Outstanding!!!What a choice of poetry, what a meticulous use of words....!!!Unfortunately I am not confident to read complicated poetry in Bengali so would definitely want such posts from you ..i mean rich bengali literature obscure to me by the "cage" of language...

  15. I always thought Tagore was overrated. This surely confirms that (no fault of your translation). Indeed as Graham Greene stated in 1937, "As for Rabindranath Tagore, I cannot believe that anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously." Somehow, in english his works seem even more stilted, lacking the minimal lyricism present in bengali.

  16. Well... what can I say! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But surely the person who wrote over 2000 songs, apart from poems, and who is the only person whose work has been adopted as the national anthems of two countries, had a little more than "minimal" lyricism?

  17. well since when is volume of output a good indicator of poetry. Frankly, I think fact is that most Bongs like his work out of pure sentimentality. In the absence of any other even mediocre writers, the only litteratur that dominates the bengali literary scene (being charitable here) is Tagore. Frankly, I think our national anthem is a shame, sung in a dead language and written to celebrate an imperial ruler (incidentally, the stirring tune was composed by a Nepali army drummer from Darjeeling). As for Bangladesh, like I said if you need a Bengali national anthem, what else is there apart from Tagore. Even Amartya Sen writes about his image in the West as a repetitive and remote spiritualist. Sadly enough, when mediocrity is praised to the heavens and held up as the crowning achievement of a culture, that culture can no longer progress, as is quite obviously clear with Bengali literature.

  18. Gautam Banerji2:09 AM, May 04, 2007

    Once a teacher gave a big piece of diamond to his student and asked him to take it to the market and try to negotiate price for it. The student went to a vegetable seller who deals in eggplants. This man said, “The piece of glass looks nice; I can take it for my daughter to play with. I offer you 12 kg eggplant in lieu of this.”
    Next the student took it to a cloth merchant who agreed to give 12 metres of white cloth, but no more because he felt that was also too much.
    Now the teacher told the student to take it to a gem merchant. The gem merchant on seeing the diamond said, “It is a very perfect diamond and should fetch at least one million rupees. I would advise you to take it to our capital and sell it there because that is where you will get proper value. This place being a small town, you won’t get the real price.”
    So the teacher now told the student that a person is capable of rating something only up to his /her standard. The vegetable seller values it at 12 kg vegetable only. The cloth merchant goes slightly higher but feels it has been over-rated. The gem merchant only could judge the real value.
    It is only natural for many to judge Tagore as over-rated. It is a reflection of the standard of the judge, nothing more.
    - Story narrated by SriRamakrishna

  19. @rila: About rating Tagore, or about the quality of his work, I couldn't have written anything better than what my father wrote. Just read the comment previous to this.

    However, I find that what you don't know about our National Anthem and Bengali would fill an encyclopedia. Some points for your benefit:

    -Jana Gana Mana is written in Bangla or Bengali, which is not a dead language. With 230 million native speakers, it is the fourth most widely spoken language in the world. (See this)

    -It was written in praise of God, and not for a British Monarch. (See this)

    -If you think that there was nobody except Tagore in the Bengali literary scene and Bangladesh had no choice, then I really don't know what to say. I only suggest that you see this and this and also this for general information.

    -It is news to me that Bengali literature is currently in a sorry state of affairs. How much Bengali literature do you read? More importantly, how much literature do you read? Do you really think other Indian languages are doing much better than Bengali? I would like to see your sources.

    @baba: thanks for explaining the point so beautifully.

  20. and so who is this rabindranath of yours? Is he a holy cow or a sacred deity perhaps, blasphemous to criticize. Or is he above all literary theory, the heaven born reincarnation of the almighty gods. And then what punishment should we hand out for those that speak out against him? I recommend imprisonment for 5 years at least (rigorous of course), or alternatively having to sit through a gandhi vs bose debate between two bongs. Don't know which would be worse

  21. The rocket says, "See I'm so brave,
    I smear ash on the stars above."
    The poet says, "You try in vain,
    That ash returns trailing you again."
    ~Rabindranath Tagore (translated by me)

  22. I wrote a poem also, not a translation: the real thing

    There was a pathetic Bong
    who wrote a stupid song
    His name was Tagore
    oh what an incredible bore

  23. Thank you for your translation.


    Ignore the modern English Lit. morons who are word-drunk on their critical theories which are mostly meaningless twaddle!


    To your dad - kudos for a brilliant rebuttal!