Friday, May 08, 2009

The Poet's Age

A few months ago, my friend Abhijit sent me the following lines by Rabindrananth Tagore:
Sabaar aami samaanboyeshi je
Chule aamaar jatoi dhoruk paak.
He wanted me to find out the whole poem and send it to him if possible. With my very limited knowledge of Tagore's poetry, the first thing that I did (after Googling for the lines, of course) was to search the first-line-index at the end of Tagore's Sanchayita, with the assumption that these lines were the first two lines of the poem. I failed to find it. Then I mailed the lines to my father one night, casually mentioning that my friend was in no hurry and he could take his time finding it out.

And the next morning, I woke up to find a mail from my father, saying that the poem is called "Kobir Boyes" (The Poet's Age) and it was part of the book called Kshanika. The given lines are actually the last lines of the poem, and the first lines of the poem are

Orey kobi sandhya hoye elo,
Keshe tomar dhorechhe je pak.
Bosey bosey urdhopaney cheye
Shuntechho ki parokaler dak?
Now I was so impressed by my father's random-access memory of Tagore's poems that I felt interested to read the poem myself. This time, since I knew the first lines, I was able to find it in Sanchayita. I liked it immensely, and instantly decided to translate it, not only because I had to give it to my friend, but also to publish here. It was easier said than done, though, and after several months of racking my brains over rhyming synonyms of certain words, I present the final version below, on the occasion of the poet's 148th birth anniversary today. I do not like certain lines myself, and I'll be changing the translation if I think of something better.

The Poet's Age

By Rabindranath Tagore

O poet, the day’s end is near,

                White hairs adorn your brow---

Looking heavenwards do you hear

                The next world call you now?

The poet says, the day is near its end,

                But my tired body continues to hear,

For a voice that may still call my name

                From the little village over there.

If under the bakul trees here

                Young lovers happen to meet,

Two pairs of eyes wish to join

                With music appropriate---

Who will give words to their thoughts

                And play them on the veena’s strings,

If sitting on the shores of this world

                I count just the next world’s things?


The Evening Star rose and went down,

                Pyres went out on the river bed,

The yellow coloured waning crescent moon

                Peeks out at the forest’s edge,

In the empty yard of the ruined house

                Now howls the gathered fox-pack---

If at such a time one who left home

                Comes here to spend the night awake,

If he raises his head with folded arms

      Looks at the stars beyond the clouds,

Wants to knock softly at life

      With a sleepy song devoid of sound ---

With the secrets of this universe

      Who will put in words in his mind

If I sit in my home by myself

      And think of being free from mankind?


It is true that my hair is turning white,

      You are bothered by its colour? But why?

I’m of the same age as the young

      And the old men who live nearby.

Someone’s lips hold a simple smile

      Someone has a smile in each eye.

Someone’s tears of grief spill over

      Someone’s tears in their mind dry,

Some live in their homes quietly

      In the world some drive out loud,

Some are sad for their lonely homes

      Some lose their way in the crowd---

All those people keep calling me still,

        Where’s time for the next world’s call?

My hair may have turned grey to white

But I’m of the same age as all.

(Translated by Sugata Banerji)


  1. Thanks for all you sincere efforts. Also convey my thankful regards to you Dad:-)

  2. @Abhijit Dharmadhikari: Thanks Abhijit, both for your visit and for introducing me to such a nice poem!

  3. Thanks for the translation, I stumbled across your blog looking for English translations of Tagore-I've been somewhat curious about his poetry ever since reading a few articles about Indian history. An Indian colleague of mine had described him as more of a "greeting card" poet than a substantive figure, that characterization does seem fairly accurate. Is this poetry considered dated in India or do people still appreciate sentimentalist verse?

  4. @Andrew: He is not taken seriously outside his home state of Bengal where he remains somewhat of a cherished, venerated, and somewhat asphyxiating figure. Outside of Bengal, he is mostly considered to be a "remote and repetitive spiritualist" (Mellon), "puzzlingly pedestrian and cliched" (Singh), and "obtuse and unremarkable" poet. His most popular work is apparently heavily borrowed (without attribution) from Bengali and early Sufi folk music

    -Vijayvardhana Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University

  5. @Andrew Riley: I am really curious to look at that colleague of yours! Seems to be a queer specimen all right. People here definitely still appreciate Tagore's poetry very much, and considering the variety of his work, I do not think labeling his work as "sentimentalist verse" is accurate.

    @Anonymous: You are absolutely right! That is why Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature by the people of his home state of Bengal. Anyway, many anonymouses like you have written such comments here before, and on other forums before that, for the last 100 years or so, quoting their share of melons and sings. No point in refuting your point, sir. You can be happy knowing what you do. If you really insist in knowing what I think of Tagore, read the comments section of this post. I don't have time to type it out again for you.

  6. "queer specimen" that cracks me up, umm perhaps you may want to look up what queer means in the country you live in, maybe then you'll understand why Tagore and Bongs really are "queer"

  7. Anonymous: It is better to keep one's mouth shut so that people may doubt about one's ignorance rather than opening one's mouth and removing all doubt.

  8. TO MR. Anonymus:
    That bearded oldie is dead for about 70 odd years. Still fools like you are debating over him. is it not a proof in itself that the guy has a profound impact on us?

    MEllons and Singhs, the guys which you wear upon, still comment on him to get into limelight. Is it not a proof in itself?

    all over the world people quote the lines of this poet, only you are ignorant enough to know about them. Is it not a proof as well?

    to you, I have two lines to say:

    Ore gobet, ore aamar kNaacha
    Mukhta buje aaponaare tui bNaacha

  9. Vijayawardhana Singh10:37 PM, May 17, 2009

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. @Vijayawardhana Singh: So that was the extent of your ability to converse in a civilized manner, wasn't it? Well, you may be used to that kind of language, but I am not going to allow it on my blog. So go and post your filthy little poems (that too copied!) somewhere else... I wonder if even the people from your home state will appreciate it. :)

  11. here is hoping that you pick up some respect for freedom of speech in the Land of the Free-try looking up the first amendment, you may find it edifying

  12. @Lallan Singh: If you think freedom of speech allows one to enter my house and hurl obsceneties at people I love and respect, I think you are the one in need of looking up the first amendment. My blog is like my house and I get to decide what to allow here. First get a blog of your own, then try excercising freedom of speech over there.