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Rabindranath Tagore's "The Journey"
Rabindranath Tagore (circa 1909)
"The Journey" by Rabindranath Tagore
The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of bird songs;
and the flowers were all merry by the roadside;
and the wealth of gold was scattered through the rift of the clouds
while we busily went on our way and paid no heed.
We sang no glad songs nor played;
we went not to the village for barter;
we spoke not a word nor smiled;
we lingered not on the way.
We quickened our pace more and more as the time sped by.
The sun rose to the mid sky and doves cooed in the shade.
Withered leaves danced and whirled in the hot air of noon.
The shepherd boy drowsed and dreamed in the shadow of the banyan tree,
and I laid myself down by the water
and stretched my tired limbs on the grass.
My companions laughed at me in scorn;
they held their heads high and hurried on;
they never looked back nor rested;
they vanished in the distant blue haze.
They crossed many meadows and hills,
and passed through strange, far-away countries.
All honor to you, heroic host of the interminable path!
Mockery and reproach pricked me to rise,
but found no response in me.
I gave myself up for lost
in the depth of a glad humiliation
---in the shadow of a dim delight.
The repose of the sun-embroidered green gloom
slowly spread over my heart.
I forgot for what I had traveled,
and I surrendered my mind without struggle
to the maze of shadows and songs.
At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes,
I saw thee standing by me, flooding my sleep with thy smile.
How I had feared that the path was long and wearisome,
and the struggle to reach thee was hard!
Reading of "The Journey"
Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was born 7 May 1861 in Kolkata, translated his collection of poems, Gitaljali, into English. He numbered each poem and rendered them into prose. However, they remain poetry of the highest order.
Gitaljali's number 48 focuses on the spiritual "journey" of the speaker, even as at the outset, the fellows involved seem to be merely taking an ordinary hike. What happens to the speaker is truly astounding, as he realizes the true nature of the idea of a "journey."
First Movement: "The morning sea of silence broke into ripples of bird songs"
In the first movement, the speaker describes the beautiful morning landscape that surrounds him and his fellow travelers as they set out on their trek. The first line features an exquisite metaphor; the early "silence" is compared to a sea that breaks into "ripples of bird songs."
As the birds are singing, the flowers by the pathway appear to be "all merry." The sky spreads out a golden glow that is "scattered through the rift of the clouds."
The speaker then asserts that he and his fellow travelers are in a hurry to begin their hike, and they therefore do not notice nor appreciate the beauty that has already welcomed them.
Second Movement: "We sang no glad songs nor played"
The speaker then declares that he and his companions are quite serious in their travel experience; thus, "[w]e sang no glad songs nor played." They did not even bother to visit anymore, nor did they go, "to the village for barter." They were so deadly somber that they did not even bother to speak or smile.
They did not dawdle anywhere. They were in such a great hurry that they "quickened [their] pace more and more as the time sped by."
Third Movement: "The sun rose to the mid sky and doves cooed in the shade"
By noon, the speaker is paying attention to the position of the sun, and he notes that doves are "coo[ing] in the shade." He notices that a shepherd boy is reclining in the shade of a tree.
With the sun so hot and the doves and shepherd boy partaking of a relief from action, the speaker decides to stop his own trek; thus, he "laid [him]self down by the water / and stretched [his] tired limbs on the grass."
Fourth Movement: "My companions laughed at me in scorn"
The speaker's travelmates taunt him for desiring to rest, and they continue on with their journey: "they held their heads high and hurried on; / they never looked back nor rested; / they vanished in the distant blue haze."
The speaker, nevertheless, keeps his position with the intention of enjoying his rest as the others continue with their rushed pace.
Fifth Movement: "They crossed many meadows and hills"
The speaker observes that his fellows are continuing to march over "meadows and hills,"—not being lazy as he was.
The speaker's fellow travelers continue to move "through strange, far-away countries." He gives them kudos for their venturesome nature, and he admits that he had experienced some guilt for remaining in leisure and not accompanying them, but he just could not spur himself on to continue on that particular journey.
Sixth Movement: "I gave myself up for lost"
The speaker then testifies that he has ambiguous feelings: on the one hand, he feels "lost" because he is not with the crowd; but on the other hand, his possesses a "glad humiliation," and he feels that he must be standing "in the shadow of a dim delight."
Seventh Movement: "The repose of the sun-embroidered green gloom"
As the speaker continues to lounge about, he notices that sunset is "spread[ing] over his heart," unveiling for a second time his feelings of ambiguity: the gloom is "sun-embroidered," similar to the expression, "every cloud has a silver lining."
The loafing speaker then confesses that he can no longer even recall why he set out on this trek in the first place, so he just lets himself go, no longer combating his true leanings any longer. He permits his mind and heart to go musing through, "the maze of shadows and songs."
Eighth Movement: "At last, when I woke from my slumber and opened my eyes"
At last, the speaker is awakened from his ambiguous stupor, and he realizes that he has found what he was looking for. He had feared that "the path was long and wearisome / and the struggle to reach [the Divine Beloved] was hard."
But in the end, he has finally discovered that all he had to do was allow his inner self to approach the door of the Divine Beloved. All extraneous journeys become unnecessary in that exalted environment.
Gitanjali - Song Offerings
This collection includes "The Journey" marked as #48 of Tagore's song offerings.
© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes