Passing the Springtime: Tagore
Here is a famous essay of Rabindranath Tagore in my translation which shows how great was his love for nature.
by Rabindranath Tagore
At the end of the meadow among the newly sprouted leaves of this sal grove the breeze of spring is blowing.
During its evolution the human species was once a part of the vegetable world. That we were apes (shakhamriga) at some stage is sufficiently evident from our nature. But have we been able to forget that still earlier definitely we were trees and plants (shakhi)? Did we write articles and essays or busied ourselves in public affairs in those primeval times when without any prior notice to anybody during the lonely noon the breeze of spring suddenly used to blow through our branches and leaves? Shivering in the wind as if bewildered we stood mute, rustling in joy our whole body wildly sang and inwardly we became restless feeling our sap coursing through our veins from our roots to our highest young twigs. In those primitive days of spring our time passed in sweet indolence uttering meaningless sounds. For all these nobody called us to account.
I agree if you say that the days of repentance used to follow soon when in summer without any protest we had to silently suffer the heat of the scorching sun. But then one has to accept whatever one is offered by the seasons. After enjoying the fruits of the fertile spring if we can bear with the hot summer months with patience we are better able to take in in full measure the heavy cool showers of the rains right to the marrow of our bones.
But all these things I didn’t want to say. People may suspect that in the guise of rhetoric my motive is to moralize. This allegation cannot entirely be denied. Bad habits die hard!
What I was saying is that after reaching the last stage of evolution the human species has divided itself into many groups. Some are inert as dead matter, some are like vegetables and still there are those who resemble beasts, barbarians, civilized gentlemen or divines. Each of them has a date of birth in a particular season. Which group is related to which season this I will not attempt to analyse. For I will have to tell a lot of lies if I try to match with subsequent arguments what has been already presumed. I can do that but I won’t, because today I am in a languid mood.
Today lying idle and gazing lazily I shall write whatever comes easily to my mind.
After a long winter when the fresh spring has begun to breathe in this meadow at noon I have a feeling in my mind that there is an incongruity in the life of man. It seems to be at variance with the vast. During winter this world had certain demands on me. It is demanding the same things though the winter is gone. Seasons are various but my work remains the same without any variation. As if it is an act of great bravery to make your mind insensible and immune to the changes of the seasons and claim a victory over their powers! Your mind has great powers and capable of many things. Completely ignoring the southern breeze it may hurry to the business district of the town. We admit that it can do that, but is there any compulsion to do so? This will not induce the south wind to go back home and commit suicide. But who stands to lose?
Only a few days ago the amlaki, the moul and the sal trees were shedding their leaves; but from a far away land as soon as the month of falgoon arrived and heaving a sigh of relief it just took its seat at the door our woodlands stopped shedding their leaves and started to grow new ones.
We are homo sapiens; we can do no such thing. In the outside world when a lot of changes are taking place – changes of wind, of leaves, of colours – like a trundling bullock cart we continue to carry on our heavy load of the past raising a lot of dust on our way. All the time with the same stick the driver has been poking at our ribs.
I have no calendar at hand – I guess it is the 15th or 16th of the month of falgoon, that is to say, now the spring is in full bloom like a sweet maid of sixteen. Yet every week newspapers are being published where we read that as usual the authorities are anxious to enact laws for our wellbeing and their critics are busy examining those proposed enactments. And we have no time to consider that these are not the ultimate things; ignoring the Lt. Governor, the Governor-General, the busybodies like the newspaper editors and sub- editors a wind is blowing from the southern seas; bringing the happy tidings of a new life it is out to prove anew the continuity of endless life on this earth.
There was a time when we were granted a vacation with the coming of the rains; during the rainy season those who were away in alien lands would come back home. We cannot say for sure that during the rains it is not possible for one to study or to work in a far away place. Men are free and independent; they are not slaves of nature. But who said that as you have powers you should always go on defying the vast nature? Man will not produce a discordant note if he admits his relation with the world and postpones his studies and work as a mark of respect to the rains or stop his legal disputations for the sake of the southern wind. According to the calendar on certain days eating of certain vegetables are prohibited; more such prohibitions should have been there – like in what season newspapers should not be read or when going to office is a great sin – and these should not be left to the discretion of men without any aesthetic taste but to be fixed by the wise men who make the almanac.
That a lady languishes when her lover is away we have read in our ancient literature; but we don’t want to repeat it here lest people laugh at us. This is how we have cut off our relationship with nature. Spring is the time for the woodlands to flower; it is the time for life to overflow and a time for festal blooming. The trees and plants become mad to give themselves away; they become prodigal. Where they will bear only two fruits they will blossom in twenty-five flowers. Is it only men who will be reluctant to give and keep themselves busy in scrubbing floors, washing dishes and those who don’t have to do these will knit woolen scarves all day long? Are we so selfishly absorbed in ourselves? Are we in no way related to those plants and trees which are in flowers invigorated by the secret elixir of spring? They are covering our courtyard under their shades; filling it with fragrance they are surrounding us in an embrace. Are they strangers to us so that when they will be in flowers we will go to our office in our formal dress without feeling in our heart some unknown pain like the swaying trees and plants?
Today I must admit my long kinship with the world of nature. Today I won’t agree with the view that the summum bonum of life is to remain always busy in some work. Today I have an invitation from the goddess of the woodlands – for ages she has been my elder sister; wishing me a long life in a ceremony she will put a blob of chandan paste on my forehead. Today I will have to mix with the trees and plants as if they are my nearest and dearest relations. Lying under their shades I will have to hold the forest floor in a fast embrace with both my hands outspread and when the wind of spring will blow I will have to let it pass through my ribs. My heart will utter no words whose meanings the woodland doesn’t understand. Thus till the end of chaitra refreshing and greening my being I will remain immersed among the earth, the air and the sky. I will lie still in the light and shade of this spring.
But alas, none of my works has stopped; before my eyes the ledger lies open! Trapped among my works I am tied to the wheel of a routine – does it matter if the springtime arrives or leaves?
I have one fervent appeal to make to my fellow beings – it is not good, it needs to be changed. That he is separate from the world cannot be the cause of man’s pride. He is great because all the varieties of creation inhere in him. He is inert with the inert matter, he is one with the world of trees and plants, the beasts and animals are his kins. All the doors of all the wings of the royal mansion of this physical world are accessible to him. But it will be of no avail if he ignores the invitations that are sent to him on festive occasions by various seasons from those different wings. Why did he get such a precious right if he keeps sitting tight instead in his warehouse? To be a full man he will have to be everything in one. Without admitting this why has he kept his rebellious flag of narrowness flying that merely as a member of the human kind he is completely separate from the rest of the world? Why is he always boastfully announcing, ‘I am neither matter nor beasts or plants, I am man – I only work and criticize, I only rule and rebel’? Why doesn’t he tell, ‘I am in everything, with everything I am perpetually bound – this flag of separateness is not mine?’
But man, you are a bird tied to the bar in a cage which your world is! Today the blue of the sky is misty like the eyes of a lovelorn lady; the greenery of the leaves is fresh like the cheeks of a teenaged maid, the breeze of spring is restless like the tremulous heart of a lover, yet you cannot spread your wings, the chain of works is clanging on your feet – but is such a human life worth having?
[Falgoon and chaitra are the names of the months of spring.
Amlaki, moul or mohua and sal are trees of the comparatively arid part of Bengal where Santiniketan is located; generally they do not grow in alluvial lower Bengal.
Today I shall admit my long kinship with the world of nature etc. – The reference is here to a very sweet folk festival called ‘bhai-phonta’ or ‘bhratri-dwitiya’ prevalent specially among the Bengali Hindus when sisters treat brothers with sumptuous feasts and putting a dot of sandal-wood (chandan) paste on their forehead they wish them a long life saying, ‘Bhaiyer kapale dilam phonta/Yamer duare porlo kanta’ literally meaning ‘I put this dot on my brother’s forehead to put a thorn on the way of the god of death’. The message of this essay is clear. Man is a part and parcel of nature. Full realization of his self is possible only through his relationship with the world of nature.]
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