I paced alone on the road across the field while the sunset was hiding its last gold like a miser.
The daylight sank deeper and deeper into the darkness, and the widowed land, whose harvest had been reaped, lay silent.
Suddenly a boy’s shrill voice rose into the sky. He traversed the dark unseen, leaving the track of his song across the hush of the evening.
His village home lay there at the end of the waste land, beyond the sugar-cane field, hidden among the shadows of the banana and the slender areca palm, the cocoa-nut and the dark green jack-fruit trees.
I stopped for a moment in my lonely way under the starlight, and saw spread before me the darkened earth surrounding with her arms countless homes furnished with cradles and beds, mothers’ hearts and evening lamps, and young lives glad with a gladness that knows nothing of its value for the world.
On the Seashore
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
The sleep that flits on baby’s eyes—does anybody know from where it comes? Yes, there is a rumour that it has its dwelling where, in the fairy village among shadows of the forest dimly lit with glow-worms, there hang two shy buds of enchantment. From there it comes to kiss baby’s eyes.
The smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he sleeps—does anybody know where it was born? Yes, there is a rumour that a young pale beam of a crescent moon touched the edge of a vanishing autumn cloud, and there the smile was first born in the dream of a dew-washed morning—the smile that flickers on baby’s lips when he sleeps.
The sweet, soft freshness that blooms on baby’s limbs—does anybody know where it was hidden so long? Yes, when the mother was a young girl it lay pervading her heart in tender and slient mystery of love—the sweet, soft freshness that has bloomed on baby’s limbs.
If baby only wanted to, he could fly up to heaven this moment.
It is not for nothing that he does not leave us.
He loves to rest his head on mother’s bosom, and cannot ever bear to lose sight of her.
Baby knows all manner of wise words, though few on earth can understand their meaning.
It is not for nothing that he never wants to speak.
The one thing he wants is to learn mother’s words from mother’s lips. That is why he looks so innocent.
Baby had a heap of gold and pearls, yet he came like a beggar on to this earth.
It is not for nothing he came in such a disguise.
This dear little naked mendicant pretends to be utterly helpless, so that he may beg for mother’s wealth of love.
Baby was so free from every tie in the land of the tiny crescent moon.
It was not for nothing he gave up his freedom.
He knows that there is room for endless joy in mother’s little corner of a heart, and it is sweeter far than liberty to be caught and pressed in her dear arms.
Baby never knew how to cry. He dwelt in the land of perfect bliss.
It is not for nothing he has chosen to shed tears.
Though with the smile of his dear face he draws mother’s yearning heart to him, yet his little cries over tiny troubles weave the double bond of pity and love.
The Unheeded Pageant
Ah, who was it coloured that little frock, my child, and covered your sweet limbs with that little red tunic?
You have come out in the morning to play in the courtyard, tottering and tumbling as you run.
But who was it coloured that little frock, my child?
What is it makes you laugh, my little life-bud?
Mother smiles at you standing on the threshold.
She claps her hands and her bracelets jingle, and you dance with your bamboo stick in your hand like a tiny little shepherd.
But what is it makes you laugh, my little life-bud?
O beggar, what do you beg for, clinging to your mother’s neck with both your hands?
O greedy heart, shall I pluck the world like a fruit from the sky to place it on your little rosy palm?
O beggar, what are you begging for?
The wind carries away in glee the tinkling of your anklet bells.
The sun smiles and watches your toilet.
The sky watches over you when you sleep in your mother’s arms, and the morning comes tiptoe to your bed and kisses your eyes.
The wind carries away in glee the tinkling of your anklet bells.
The fairy mistress of dreams is coming towards you, flying through the twilight sky.
The world-mother keeps her seat by you in your mother’s heart.
He who plays his music to the stars is standing at your window with his flute.
And the fairy mistress of dreams is coming towards you, flying through the twilight sky.
Who stole sleep from baby’s eyes? I must know.
Clasping her pitcher to her waist, mother went to fetch water from the village near by.
It was noon. The children’s playtime was over; the ducks in the pond were silent.
The shepherd boy lay asleep under the shadow of the banyan tree.
The crane stood grave and still in the swamp near the mango grove.
In the meanwhile the Sleep-stealer came and, snatching sleep from baby’s eyes, flew away.
When mother came back she found baby travelling the room over on all fours.
Who stole sleep from our baby’s eyes? I must know. I must find her and chain her up.
I must look into that dark cave, where, through boulders and scowling stones, trickles a tiny stream.
I must search in the drowsy shade of the bakula grove, where pigeons coo in their corner, and fairies’ anklets tinkle in the stillness of starry nights.
In the evening I will peep into the whispering silence of the bamboo forest, where fireflies squander their light, and will ask every creature I meet, “Can anybody tell me where the Sleep-stealer lives?”
Who stole sleep from baby’s eyes? I must know.
Shouldn’t I give her a good lesson if I could only catch her!
I would raid her nest and see where she hoards all her stolen sleep.
I would plunder it all, and carry it home.
I would bind her two wings securely, set her on the bank of the river, and then let her play at fishing with a reed among the rushes and water-lilies.
When the marketing is over in the evening, and the village children sit in their mothers’ laps, then the night birds will mockingly din her ears with:
“Whose sleep will you steal now?”
“Where have I come from, where did you pick me up?” the baby asked its mother.
She answered half crying, half laughing, and clasping the baby to her breast—
“You were hidden in my heart as its desire, my darling.
You were in the dolls of my childhood’s games; and when with clay I made the image of my god every morning, I made and unmade you then.
You were enshrined with our household deity, in his worship I worshipped you.
In all my hopes and my loves, in my life, in the life of my mother you have lived.
In the lap of the deathless spirit who rules our home you have been nursed for ages.
When in girlhood my heart was opening its petals, you hovered as a fragrance about it.
Your tender softness bloomed in my youthful limbs, like a glow in the sky before the sunrise.
Heaven’s first darling, twin-born with the morning light, you have floated down the stream of the world’s life, and at last you have stranded on my heart.
As I gaze on your face, mystery overwhelms me; you who belong to all have become mine.
For fear of losing you I hold you tight to my breast. What magic has snared the world’s treasure in these slender arms of mine?”
I wish I could take a quiet corner in the heart of my baby’s very own world.
I know it has stars that talk to him, and a sky that stoops down to his face to amuse him with its silly clouds and rainbows.
Those who make believe to be dumb, and look as if they never could move, come creeping to his window with their stories and with trays crowded with bright toys.
I wish I could travel by the road that crosses baby’s mind, and out beyond all bounds;
Where messengers run errands for no cause between the kingdoms of kings of no history;
Where reason makes kites of her laws and flies them, and truth sets fact free from its fetters.
When and Why
When I bring you coloured toys, my child, I understand why there is such a play of colours on clouds, on water, and why flowers are painted in tints—When I give coloured toys to you, my child.
When I sing to make you dance, I truly know why there is music in leaves, and why waves send their chorus of voices to the heart of the listening earth—when I sing to make you dance.
When I bring sweet things to your greedy hands, I know why there is honey in the cup of the flower, and why fruits are secretly filled with sweet juice—when I bring sweet things to your greedy hands.
When I kiss your face to make you smile, my darling, I surely understand what pleasure streams from the sky in morning light, and what delight the summer breeze brings to my body—when I kiss you to make you smile.
Why are those tears in your eyes, my child?
How horrid of them to be always scolding you for nothing!
You have stained your fingers and face with ink while writing—is that why they call you dirty?
O fie! Would they dare to call the full moon dirty because it has smudged its face with ink?
For every little trifle they blame you, my child. They are ready to find fault for nothing.
You tore your clothes while playing—is that why they call you untidy?
O fie! What would they call an autumn morning that smiles through its ragged clouds?
Take no heed of what they say to you, my child.
They make a long list of your misdeeds.
Everybody knows how you love sweet things—is that why they call you greedy?
O fie! What then would they call us who love you?
Say of him what you please, but I know my child’s failings.
I do not love him because he is good, but because he is my little child.
How should you know how dear he can be when you try to weigh his merits against his faults?
When I must punish him he becomes all the more a part of my being.
When I cause his tears to come my heart weeps with him.
I alone have a right to blame and punish, for he only may chastise who loves.
Child, how happy you are sitting in the dust, playing with a broken twig all the morning.
I smile at your play with that little bit of a broken twig.
I am busy with my accounts, adding up figures by the hour.
Perhaps you glance at me and think, “What a stupid game to spoil your morning with!”
Child, I have forgotten the art of being absorbed in sticks and mud-pies.
I seek out costly playthings, and gather lumps of gold and silver.
With whatever you find you create your glad games, I spent both my time and my strength over things I never can obtain.
In my frail canoe I struggle to cross the sea of desire, and forget that I too am playing a game.
I only said, “When in the evening the round full moon gets entangled among the branches of that Kadam tree, couldn’t somebody catch it?”
But dādā [elder brother] laughed at me and said, “Baby, you are the silliest child I have ever known. The moon is ever so far from us, how could anybody catch it?”
I said, “Dādā how foolish you are! When mother looks out of her window and smiles down at us playing, would you call her far-away?”
Still dādā said, “You are a stupid child! But, baby, where could you find a net big enough to catch the moon with?”
I said, “Surely you could catch it with your hands.”
But dādā laughed and said, “You are the silliest child I have known. If it came nearer, you would see how big the moon is.”
I said, “Dādā, what nonsense they teach at your school! When mother bends her face down to kiss us does her face look very big?”
But still dādā says, “You are a stupid child.”
Clouds and Waves
Mother, the folk who live up in the clouds call out to me—
“We play from the time we wake till the day ends.
“We play with the golden dawn, we play with the silver moon.”
I ask, “But, how am I to get up to you?”
They answer, “Come to the edge of the earth, lift up your hands to the sky, and you will be taken up into the clouds.”
“My mother is waiting for me at home,” I say, “How can I leave her and come?”
Then they smile and float away.
But I know a nicer game than that, mother.
I shall be the cloud and you the moon.
I shall cover you with both my hands, and our house-top will be the blue sky.
The folk who live in the waves call out to me—
“We sing from morning till night; on and on we travel and know not where we pass.”
I ask, “But, how am I to join you?”
They tell me, “Come to the edge of the shore and stand with your eyes tight shut, and you will be carried out upon the waves.”
I say, “My mother always wants me at home in the evening—how can I leave her and go?”
Then they smile, dance and pass by.
But I know a better game than that.
I will be the waves and you will be a strange shore.
I shall roll on and on and on, and break upon your lap with laughter.
And no one in the world will know where we both are.