Glimpses of Bengal
Sir Rabindranath Tagore
Part 2 out of 2
those distant villages used to appear, like dark green clouds. To-day the
whole of the wood is visible.
Land and water are gradually approaching each other like two bashful
lovers. The limit of their shyness has nearly been reached--their arms
will soon be round each other's necks. I shall enjoy my trip along this
brimful river at the height of the rains. I am fidgeting to give the order
to cast off.
_4th July_ 1893.
A little gleam of sunlight shows this morning. There was a break in the
rains yesterday, but the clouds are banked up so heavily along the skirts
of the sky that there is not much hope of the break lasting. It looks as
if a heavy carpet of cloud had been rolled up to one side, and at any
moment a fussy breeze may come along and spread it over the whole place
again, covering every trace of blue sky and golden sunshine.
What a store of water must have been laid up in the sky this year. The
river has already risen over the low _chur_-lands, threatening to
overwhelm all the standing crops. The wretched ryots, in despair, are
cutting and bringing away in boats sheaves of half-ripe rice. As they pass
my boat I hear them bewailing their fate. It is easy to understand how
heart-rending it must be for cultivators to have to cut down their rice on
the very eve of its ripening, the only hope left them being that some of
the ears may possibly have hardened into grain.
[Footnote 1: Old sand-banks consolidated by the deposit of a layer of
There must be some element of pity in the dispensations of Providence,
else how did we get our share of it? But it is so difficult to see where
it comes in. The lamentations of these hundreds of thousands of
unoffending creatures do not seem to get anywhere. The rain pours on as it
lists, the river still rises, and no amount of petitioning seems to have
the effect of bringing relief from any quarter. One has to seek
consolation by saying that all this is beyond the understanding of man.
And yet, it is so vitally necessary for man to understand that there are
such things as pity and justice in the world.
However, this is only sulking. Reason tells us that creation never can be
perfectly happy. So long as it is incomplete it must put up with
imperfection and sorrow. It can only be perfect when it ceases to be
creation, and is God. Do our prayers dare go so far?
The more we think over it, the oftener we come hack to the
starting-point--Why this creation at all? If we cannot make up our minds
to object to the thing itself, it is futile complaining about its
_7th July_ 1893.
The flow of village life is not too rapid, neither is it stagnant. Work
and rest go together, hand in hand. The ferry crosses to and fro, the
passers-by with umbrellas up wend their way along the tow-path, women are
washing rice on the split-bamboo trays which they dip in the water, the
ryots are coming to the market with bundles of jute on their heads. Two
men are chopping away at a log of wood with regular, ringing blows. The
village carpenter is repairing an upturned dinghy under a big
_aswatha_ tree. A mongrel dog is prowling aimlessly along the canal
bank. Some cows are lying there chewing the cud, after a huge meal off the
luxuriant grass, lazily moving their ears backwards and forwards, flicking
off flies with their tails, and occasionally giving an impatient toss of
their heads when the crows perched on their backs take too much of a
The monotonous blows of woodcutter's axe or carpenter's mallet, the
splashing of oars, the merry voices of the naked little children at play,
the plaintive tune of the ryot's song, the more dominant creaking of the
turning oil-mill, all these sounds of activity do not seem out of harmony
with murmuring leaves and singing birds, and all combine like moving
strains of some grand dream-orchestra, rendering a composition of immense
though restrained pathos.
_10th July 1893._
All I have to say about the discussion that is going on over "silent
poets" is that, though the strength of feeling may be the same in those
who are silent as in those who are vocal, that has nothing to do with
poetry. Poetry is not a matter of feeling, it is the creation of form.
Ideas take shape by some hidden, subtle skill at work within the poet.
This creative power is the origin of poetry. Perceptions, feelings, or
language, are only raw material. One may be gifted with feeling, a second
with language, a third with both; but he who has as well a creative
genius, alone is a poet.
_13th August 1893._
Coming through these _beels_ to Kaligram, an idea took shape in my
mind. Not that the thought was new, but sometimes old ideas strike one
with new force.
[Footnote 1: _Translator's Note_.--Sometimes a stream passing through the
flat Bengal country encounters a stretch of low land and spreads out into
a sheet of water, called a _beel_, of indefinite extent, ranging from a
large pool in the dry season to a shoreless expanse during the rains.
Villages consisting of a cluster of huts, built on mounds, stand out here
and there like islands, and boats or round, earthen vessels are the only
means of getting about from village to village.
Where the waters cover cultivated tracts the rice grows through, often
from considerable depths, giving to the boats sailing over them the
curious appearance of gliding over a cornfield, so clear is the water.
Elsewhere these _beels_ have a peculiar flora and fauna of water-lilies
and irises and various water-fowl. As a result, they resemble neither a
marsh nor a lake, but have a distinct character of their own.]
The water loses its beauty when it ceases to be defined by banks and
spreads out into a monotonous vagueness. In the case of language, metre
serves for banks and gives form and beauty and character. Just as the
banks give each river a distinct personality, so does rhythm make each
poem an individual creation; prose is like the featureless, impersonal
_beel_. Again, the waters of the river have movement and progress; those
of the _beel_ engulf the country by expanse alone. So, in order to give
language power, the narrow bondage of metre becomes necessary; otherwise
it spreads and spreads, but cannot advance.
The country people call these _beels_ "dumb waters"--they have no
language, no self-expression. The river ceaselessly babbles; so the words
of the poem sing, they are not "dumb words." Thus bondage creates beauty
of form, motion, and music; bounds make not only for beauty but power.
Poetry gives itself up to the control of metre, not led by blind habit,
but because it thus finds the joy of motion. There are foolish persons who
think that metre is a species of verbal gymnastics, or legerdemain, of
which the object is to win the admiration of the crowd. That is not so.
Metre is born as all beauty is born the universe through. The current set
up within well-defined bounds gives metrical verse power to move the minds
of men as vague and indefinite prose cannot.
This idea became clear to me as I glided on from river to _beel_ and
_beel_ to river.
_26th (Straven) August 1893._
For some time it has struck me that man is a rough-hewn and woman a
There is an unbroken consistency in the manners, customs, speech, and
adornment of woman. And the reason is, that for ages Nature has assigned
to her the same definite role and has been adapting her to it. No
cataclysm, no political revolution, no alteration of social ideal, has yet
diverted woman from her particular functions, nor destroyed their
inter-relations. She has loved, tended, and caressed, and done nothing
else; and the exquisite skill which she has acquired in these, permeates
all her being and doing. Her disposition and action have become
inseparably one, like the flower and its scent. She has, therefore, no
doubts or hesitations.
But the character of man has still many hollows and protuberances; each of
the varied circumstances and forces which have contributed to his making
has left its mark upon him. That is why the features of one will display
an indefinite spread of forehead, of another an irresponsible prominence
of nose, of a third an unaccountable hardness about the jaws. Had man but
the benefit of continuity and uniformity of purpose, Nature must have
succeeded in elaborating a definite mould for him, enabling him to
function simply and naturally, without such strenuous effort. He would not
have so complicated a code of behaviour; and he would be less liable to
deviate from the normal when disturbed by outside influences.
Woman was cast in the mould of mother. Man has no such primal design to go
by, and that is why he has been unable to rise to an equal perfection of
_19th February 1894._
We have two elephants which come to graze on this bank of the river. They
greatly interest me. They give the ground a few taps with one foot, and
then taking hold of the grass with the end of their trunks wrench off an
enormous piece of turf, roots, soil, and all. This they go on swinging
till all the earth leaves the roots; they then put it into their mouths
and eat it up.
Sometimes the whim takes them to draw up the dust into their trunks, and
then with a snort they squirt it all over their bodies; this is their
I love to look on these overgrown beasts, with their vast bodies, their
immense strength, their ungainly proportions, their docile harmlessness.
Their very size and clumsiness make me feel a kind of tenderness for
them--their unwieldy bulk has something infantile about it. Moreover, they
have large hearts. When they get wild they are furious, but when they calm
down they are peace itself.
The uncouthness which goes with bigness does not repel, it rather
_27th February 1894._
The sky is every now and then overcast and again clears up. Sudden little
puffs of wind make the boat lazily creak and groan in all its seams. Thus
the day wears on.
It is now past one o'clock. Steeped in this countryside noonday, with its
different sounds--the quacking of ducks, the swirl of passing boats,
bathers splashing the clothes they wash, the distant shouts from drovers
taking cattle across the ford,--it is difficult even to imagine the
chair-and-table, monotonously dismal routine-life of Calcutta.
Calcutta is as ponderously proper as a Government office. Each of its days
comes forth, like coin from a mint, clear-cut and glittering. Ah! those
dreary, deadly days, so precisely equal in weight, so decently
Here I am quit of the demands of my circle, and do not feel like a wound
up machine. Each day is my own. And with leisure and my thoughts I walk
the fields, unfettered by bounds of space or time. The evening gradually
deepens over earth and sky and water, as with bowed head I stroll along.
_22nd March 1894._
As I was sitting at the window of the boat, looking out on the river, I
saw, all of a sudden, an odd-looking bird making its way through the water
to the opposite bank, followed by a great commotion. I found it was a
domestic fowl which had managed to escape impending doom in the galley by
jumping overboard and was now trying frantically to win across. It had
almost gained the bank when the clutches of its relentless pursuers closed
on it, and it was brought back in triumph, gripped by the neck. I told the
cook I would not have any meat for dinner.
I really must give up animal food. We manage to swallow flesh only because
we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing we do. There are many crimes
which are the creation of man himself, the wrongfulness of which is put
down to their divergence from habit, custom, or tradition. But cruelty is
not of these. It is a fundamental sin, and admits of no argument or nice
distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, its
protest against cruelty is always clearly heard; and yet we go on
perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us--in fact, any one who
does not join in is dubbed a crank.
How artificial is our apprehension of sin! I feel that the highest
commandment is that of sympathy for all sentient beings. Love is the
foundation of all religion. The other day I read in one of the English
papers that 50,000 pounds of animal carcasses had been sent to some army
station in Africa, but the meat being found to have gone bad on arrival,
the consignment was returned and was eventually auctioned off for a few
pounds at Portsmouth. What a shocking waste of life! What callousness to
its true worth! How many living creatures are sacrificed only to grace the
dishes at a dinner-party, a large proportion of which will leave the table
So long as we are unconscious of our cruelty we may not be to blame. But
if, after our pity is aroused, we persist in throttling our feelings
simply in order to join others in their preying upon life, we insult all
that is good in us. I have decided to try a vegetarian diet.
_28th March 1894._
It is getting rather warm here, but I do not mind the heat of the sun
much. The heated wind whistles on its way, now and then pauses in a whirl,
then dances away twirling its skirt of dust and sand and dry leaves and
This morning, however, it was quite cold--almost like a cold-weather
morning; in fact, I did not feel over-enthusiastic for my bath. It is so
difficult to account for what veritably happens in this big thing called
Nature. Some obscure cause turns up in some unknown corner, and all of a
sudden things look completely different.
The mind of man works in just the same mysterious fashion as outside
Nature--so it struck me yesterday. A wondrous alchemy is being wrought in
artery, vein, and nerve, in brain and marrow. The blood-stream rushes on,
the nerve--strings vibrate, the heart-muscle rises and falls, and the
seasons in man's being change from one to another. What kind of breezes
will blow next, when and from what quarter--of that we know nothing.
One day I am sure I shall get along splendidly; I feel strong enough to
leap over all the obstructing sorrows and trials of the world; and, as if
I had a printed programme for the rest of my life tucked safely away in my
pocket, I am at ease. The next day there is a nasty wind, sprung up from
some unknown _inferno_, the aspect of the sky is threatening, and I
begin to doubt whether I shall ever weather the storm. Merely because
something has gone wrong in some blood-vessel or nerve-fibre, all my
strength and intelligence seem to fail me.
This mystery within frightens me. It makes me diffident about talking of
what I shall or shall not do. Why was this tacked on to me--this immense
mystery which I can neither understand nor control? I know not where it
may lead me or I lead it. I cannot see what is happening, nor am I
consulted about what is going to happen, and yet I have to keep up an
appearance of mastery and pretend to be the doer....
I feel like a living pianoforte with a vast complication of machinery and
wires inside, but with no means of telling who the player is, and with
only a guess as to why the player plays at all. I can only know what is
being played, whether the mode is merry or mournful, when the notes are
sharp or flat, the tune in or out of time, the key high-pitched or low.
But do I really know even that?
_30th March 1894._
Sometimes when I realise that Life's journey is long, and that the sorrows
to be encountered are many and inevitable, a supreme effort is required to
keep up my strength of mind. Some evenings, as I sit alone staring at the
flame of the lamp on the table, I vow I will live as a brave man
should--unmoved, silent, uncomplaining. The resolve puffs me up, and for
the moment I mistake myself for a very, very brave person indeed. But as
soon as the thorns on the road worry my feet, I writhe and begin to feel
serious misgivings as to the future. The path of life again seems long,
and my strength inadequate.
But this last conclusion cannot be the true one, for it is these petty
thorns which are the most difficult to bear. The household of the mind is
a thrifty one, and only so much is spent as is necessary. There is no
squandering on trifles, and its wealth of strength is saved up with
miserly strictness to meet the really big calamities. So any amount of
weeping and wailing over the lesser griefs fails to evoke a charitable
response. But when sorrow is deepest there is no stint of effort. Then the
surface crust is pierced, and consolation wells up, and all the forces of
patience and courage are banded together to do their duty. Thus great
suffering brings with it the power of great endurance.
One side of man's nature has the desire for pleasure--there is another
side which desires self-sacrifice. When the former meets with
disappointment, the latter gains strength, and on its thus finding fuller
scope a grand enthusiasm fills the soul. So while we are cowards before
petty troubles, great sorrows make us brave by rousing our truer manhood.
And in these, therefore, there is a joy.
It is not an empty paradox to say that there is joy in sorrow, just as, on
the other hand, it is true that there is a dissatisfaction in pleasure. It
is not difficult to understand why this should be so.
_24th June 1894_.
I have been only four days here, but, having lost count of the hours, it
seems such a long while, I feel that if I were to return to Calcutta
to-day I should find much of it changed--as if I alone had been standing
still outside the current of time, unconscious of the gradually changing
position of the rest of the world.
The fact is that here, away from Calcutta, I live in my own inner world,
where the clocks do not keep ordinary time; where duration is measured
only by the intensity of the feelings; where, as the outside world does
not count the minutes, moments change into hours and hours into moments.
So it seems to me that the subdivisions of time and space are only mental
illusions. Every atom is immeasurable and every moment infinite.
There is a Persian story which I was greatly taken with when I read it as
a boy--I think I understood, even then, something of the underlying idea,
though I was a mere child. To show the illusory character of time, a
_faquir_ put some magic water into a tub and asked the King to take a
dip. The King no sooner dipped his head in than he found himself in a
strange country by the sea, where he spent a good long time going through
a variety of happenings and doings. He married, had children, his wife and
children died, he lost all his wealth, and as he writhed under his
sufferings he suddenly found himself back in the room, surrounded by his
courtiers. On his proceeding to revile the _faquir_ for his
misfortunes, they said: "But, Sire, you have only just dipped your head
in, and raised it out of the water!"
The whole of our life with its pleasures and pains is in the same way
enclosed in one moment of time. However long or intense we may feel it to
be while it lasts, as soon as we have finished our dip in the tub of the
world, we shall find how like a slight, momentary dream the whole thing
_9th August 1894._
I saw a dead bird floating down the current to-day. The history of its
death may easily be divined. It had a nest in some mango tree at the edge
of a village. It returned home in the evening, nestling there against
soft-feathered companions, and resting a wearied little body in sleep. All
of a sudden, in the night, the mighty Padma tossed slightly in her bed,
and the earth was swept away from the roots of the mango tree. The little
creature bereft of its nest awoke just for a moment before it went to
sleep again for ever.
When I am in the presence of the awful mystery of all-destructive Nature,
the difference between myself and the other living things seems trivial.
In town, human society is to the fore and looms large; it is cruelly
callous to the happiness and misery of other creatures as compared with
In Europe, also, man is so complex and so dominant, that the animal is too
merely an animal to him. To Indians the idea of the transmigration of the
soul from animal to man, and man to animal, does not seem strange, and so
from our scriptures pity for all sentient creatures has not been banished
as a sentimental exaggeration.
When I am in close touch with Nature in the country, the Indian in me
asserts itself and I cannot remain coldly indifferent to the abounding joy
of life throbbing within the soft down-covered breast of a single tiny
_10th August 1894._
Last night a rushing sound in the water awoke me--a sudden boisterous
disturbance of the river current--probably the onslaught of a freshet: a
thing that often happens at this season. One's feet on the planking of the
boat become aware of a variety of forces at work beneath it. Slight
tremors, little rockings, gentle heaves, and sudden jerks, all keep me in
touch with the pulse of the flowing stream.
There must have been some sudden excitement in the night, which sent the
current racing away. I rose and sat by the window. A hazy kind of light
made the turbulent river look madder than ever. The sky was spotted with
clouds. The reflection of a great big star quivered on the waters in a
long streak, like a burning gash of pain. Both banks were vague with the
dimness of slumber, and between them was this wild, sleepless unrest,
running and running regardless of consequences.
To watch a scene like this in the middle of the night makes one feel
altogether a different person, and the daylight life an illusion. Then
again, this morning, that midnight world faded away into some dreamland,
and vanished into thin air. The two are so different, yet both are true
The day-world seems to me like European Music--its concords and discords
resolving into each other in a great progression of harmony; the
night-world like Indian Music--pure, unfettered melody, grave and
poignant. What if their contrast be so striking--both move us. This
principle of opposites is at the very root of creation, which is divided
between the rule of the King and the Queen; Night and Day; the One and the
Varied; the Eternal and the Evolving.
We Indians are under the rule of Night. We are immersed in the Eternal,
the One. Our melodies are to be sung alone, to oneself; they take us out
of the everyday world into a solitude aloof. European Music is for the
multitude and takes them along, dancing, through the ups and downs of the
joys and sorrows of men.
_13th August 1894._
Whatever I truly think, truly feel, truly realise,--its natural destiny is
to find true expression. There is some force in me which continually works
towards that end, but is not mine alone,--it permeates the universe. When
this universal force is manifested within an individual, it is beyond his
control and acts according to its own nature; and in surrendering our
lives to its power is our greatest joy. It not only gives us expression,
but also sensitiveness and love; this makes our feelings so fresh to us
every time, so full of wonder.
When my little daughter delights me, she merges into the original mystery
of joy which is the Universe; and my loving caresses are called forth like
worship. I am sure that all our love is but worship of the Great Mystery,
only we perform it unconsciously. Otherwise it is meaningless.
Like universal gravitation, which governs large and small alike in the
world of matter, this universal joy exerts its attraction throughout our
inner world, and baffles our understanding when we see it in a partial
view. The only rational explanation of why we find joy in man and nature
is given in the Upanishad:
For of joy are born all created things.
_19th August 1894._
The Vedanta seems to help many to free their minds from all doubt as to
the Universe and its First Cause, but my doubts remain undispelled. It is
true that the Vedanta is simpler than most other theories. The problem of
Creation and its Creator is more complex than appears at first sight; but
the Vedanta has certainly simplified it half way, by cutting the Gordian
knot and leaving out Creation altogether.
There is only Brahma, and the rest of us merely imagine that we are,--it
is wonderful how the human mind should have found room for such a thought.
It is still more wonderful to think that the idea is not so inconsistent
as it sounds, and the real difficulty is, rather, to prove that anything
Anyhow, when as now the moon is up, and with half-closed eyes I am
stretched beneath it on the upper deck, the soft breeze cooling my
problem-vexed head, then the earth, waters, and sky around, the gentle
rippling of the river, the casual wayfarer passing along the tow-path, the
occasional dinghy gliding by, the trees across the fields, vague in the
moonlight, the sleepy village beyond, bounded by the dark shadows of its
groves,--verily seem an illusion of _Maya_; and yet they cling to and
draw the mind and heart more truly than truth itself, which is
abstraction, and it becomes impossible to realise what kind of salvation
there can be in freeing oneself from them.
_5th September 1894._
I realise how hungry for space I have become, and take my fill of it in
these rooms where I hold my state as sole monarch, with all doors and
windows thrown open. Here the desire and power to write are mine as they
are nowhere else. The stir of outside life comes into me in waves of
verdure, and with its light and scent and sound stimulated my fancy into
The afternoons have a special enchantment of their own. The glare of the
sun, the silence, the solitude, the bird cries, especially the cawings of
crows, and the delightful, restful leisure--these conspire to carry me
Just such noondays seem to have gone to the making of the Arabian
Nights,--in Damascus, Bokhara, or Samarkhand, with their desert roadways,
files of camels, wandering horsemen, crystal springs, welling up under the
shade of feathery date groves; their wilderness of roses, songs of
nightingales, wines of Shiraz; their narrow bazaar paths with bright
overhanging canopies, the men, in loose robes and multi-coloured turbans,
selling dates and nuts and melons; their palaces, fragrant with incense,
luxurious with kincob-covered divans and bolsters by the window-side;
their Zobedia or Amina or Sufia with gaily decorated jacket, wide
trousers, and gold-embroidered slippers, a long narghilah pipe curled up
at her feet, with gorgeously liveried eunuchs on guard,--and all the
possible and impossible tales of human deeds and desires, and the laughter
and wailing, of that distant mysterious region.
ON THE WAY TO DIGHAPATIAYA,
_20th September 1894._
Big trees are standing in the flood water, their trunks wholly submerged,
their branches and foliage bending over the waters. Boats are tied up
under shady groves of mango and bo tree, and people bathe screened behind
them. Here and there cottages stand out in the current, their inner
quadrangles under water.
As my boat rustles its way through standing crops it now and then comes
across what was a pool and is still to be distinguished by its clusters of
water-lilies, and diver-birds pursuing fish.
The water has penetrated every possible place. I have never before seen
such a complete defeat of the land. A little more and the water will be
right inside the cottages, and their occupants will have to put up
_machans_ to live on. The cows will die if they have to remain
standing like this in water up to their knees. All the snakes have been
flooded out of their holes, and they, with sundry other homeless reptiles
and insects, will have to chum with man and take refuge on the thatch of
The vegetation rotting in the water, refuse of all kinds floating about,
naked children with shrivelled limbs and enlarged spleens splashing
everywhere, the long-suffering patient housewives exposed in their wet
clothes to wind and rain, wading through their daily tasks with tucked-up
skirts, and over all a thick pall of mosquitoes hovering in the noxious
atmosphere--the sight is hardly pleasing!
Colds and fevers and rheumatism in every home, the malaria-stricken
infants constantly crying,--nothing can save them. How is it possible for
men to live in such unlovely, unhealthy, squalid, neglected surroundings?
The fact is we are so used to bear everything, hands down,--the ravages of
Nature, the oppression of rulers, the pressure of our _shastras_ to
which we have not a word to say, while they keep eternally grinding us
ON THE WAY TO BOALIA,
_22nd September 1894._
It feels strange to be reminded that only thirty-two Autumns have come and
gone in my life; for my memory seems to have receded back into the dimness
of time immemorial; and when my inner world is flooded with a light, as of
an unclouded autumn morning, I feel I am sitting at the window of some
magic palace, gazing entranced on a scene of distant reminiscence, soothed
with soft breezes laden with the faint perfume of all the Past.
Goethe on his death-bed wanted "more light." If I have any desire left at
all at such a time, it will be for "more space" as well; for I dearly love
both light and space. Many look down on Bengal as being only a flat
country, but that is just what makes me revel in its scenery all the more.
Its unobstructed sky is filled to the brim, like an amethyst cup, with the
descending twilight and peace of the evening; and the golden skirt of the
still, silent noonday spreads over the whole of it without let or
Where is there another such country for the eye to look on, the mind to
_5th October 1894._
To-morrow is the Durga Festival. As I was going to S----'s yesterday, I
noticed images being made in almost every big house on the way. It struck
me that during these few days of the Poojahs, old and young alike had
When we come to think of it, all preparation for enjoyment is really a
playing with toys which are of no consequence in themselves. From outside
it may appear wasteful, but can that be called futile which raises such a
wave of feeling through and through the country? Even the driest of
worldly-wise people are moved out of their self-centred interests by the
rush of the pervading emotion.
Thus, once every year there comes a period when all minds are in a melting
mood, fit for the springing of love and affection and sympathy. The songs
of welcome and farewell to the goddess, the meeting of loved ones, the
strains of the festive pipes, the limpid sky and molten gold of autumn,
are all parts of one great paean of joy.
Pure joy is the children's joy. They have the power of using any and every
trivial thing to create their world of interest, and the ugliest doll is
made beautiful with their imagination and lives with their life. He who
can retain this faculty of enjoyment after he has grown up, is indeed the
true Idealist. For him things are not merely visible to the eye or audible
to the ear, but they are also sensible to the heart, and their narrowness
and imperfections are lost in the glad music which he himself supplies.
Every one cannot hope to be an Idealist, but a whole people approaches
nearest to this blissful state at such seasons of festivity. And then what
may ordinarily appear to be a mere toy loses its limitations and becomes
glorified with an ideal radiance.
_19th October 1894._
We know people only in dotted outline, that is to say, with gaps in our
knowledge which we have to fill in ourselves, as best we can. Thus, even
those we know well are largely made up of our imagination. Sometimes the
lines are so broken, with even the guiding dots missing, that a portion of
the picture remains darkly confused and uncertain. If, then, our best
friends are only pieces of broken outline strung on a thread of
imagination, do we really know anybody at all, or does anybody know us
except in the same disjointed fashion? But perhaps it is these very
loopholes, allowing entrance to each other's imagination, which make for
intimacy; otherwise each one, secure in his inviolate individuality, would
have been unapproachable to all but the Dweller within.
Our own self, too, we know only in bits, and with these scraps of material
we have to shape the hero of our life-story,--likewise with the help of
our imagination. Providence has, doubtless, deliberately omitted portions
so that we may assist in our own creation.
_31st October 1894._
The first of the north winds has begun to blow to-day, shiveringly. It
looks as if there had been a visitation of the tax-gatherer in the
_Amlaki_ groves,--everything beside itself, sighing, trembling,
withering. The tired impassiveness of the noonday sunshine, with its
monotonous cooing of doves in the dense shade of the mango-tops, seems to
overcast the drowsy watches of the day with a pang, as of some impending
The ticking of the clock on my table, and the pattering of the squirrels
which scamper in and out of my room, are in harmony with all other midday
It amuses me to watch these soft, grey and black striped, furry squirrels,
with their bushy tails, their twinkling bead-like eyes, their gentle yet
busily practical demeanour. Everything eatable has to be put away in the
wire-gauze cupboard in the corner, safe from these greedy creatures. So,
sniffing with an irrepressible eagerness, they come nosing round and round
the cupboard, trying to find some hole for entrance. If any grain or crumb
has been dropped outside they are sure to find it, and, taking it between
their forepaws, nibble away with great industry, turning it over and over
to adjust it to their mouths. At the least movement of mine up go their
tails over their backs and off they run, only to stop short half-way, sit
up on their tails on the door-mat, scratching their ears with their
hind-paws, and then come back.
Thus little sounds continue all day long--gnawing teeth, scampering feet,
and the tinkling of the china on the shelves.
_7th December 1894._
As I walk on the moonlit sands, S---- usually comes up for a business
He came last evening; and when silence fell upon me after the talk was
over, I became aware of the eternal universe standing before me in the
evening light. The trivial chatter of one person had been enough to
obscure the presence of its all-pervading manifestation.
As soon as the patter of words came to an end, the peace of the stars
descended, and filled my heart to overflowing. I found my seat in one
corner, with these assembled millions of shining orbs, in the great
mysterious conclave of Being.
I have to start out early in the evening so as to let my mind absorb the
tranquillity outside, before S---- comes along with his jarring inquiries
as to whether the milk has agreed with me, and if I have finished going
through the Annual Statement.
How curiously placed are we between the Eternal and the Ephemeral! Any
allusion to the affairs of the stomach sounds so hopelessly discordant
when the mind is dwelling on the things of the spirit,--and yet the soul
and the stomach have been living together so long. The very spot on which
the moonlight falls is my landed property, but the moonlight tells me that
my _zamindari_ is an illusion, and my _zamindari_ tells me that
this moonlight is all emptiness. And as for poor me, I remain distracted
between the two.
_23rd February_ 1895.
I grow quite absent-minded when I try to write for the _Sadhana_
I raise my eyes to every passing boat and keep staring at the ferry going
to and fro. And then on the bank, close to my boat, there are a herd of
buffaloes thrusting their massive snouts into the herbage, wrapping their
tongues round it to get it into their mouths, and then munching away,
blowing hard with great big gasps of contentment, and flicking the flies
off their backs with their tails.
All of a sudden a naked weakling of a human cub appears on the scene,
makes sundry noises, and pokes one of the patient beasts with a cudgel,
whereupon, throwing occasional glances at the human sprig out of a corner
of its eye, and snatching at tufts of leaves or grass here and there on
the way, the unruffled beast leisurely moves on a few paces, and that imp
of a boy seems to feel that his duty as herdsman has been done.
I fail to penetrate this mystery of the boy-cowherd's mind. Whenever a cow
or a buffalo has selected a spot to its liking and is comfortably grazing
there, I cannot divine what purpose is served by worrying it, as he
insists on doing, till it shifts somewhere else. I suppose it is man's
masterfulness glorying in triumph over the powerful creature it has tamed.
Anyhow, I love to see these buffaloes amongst the lush grass.
But this is not what I started to say. I wanted to tell you how the least
thing distracts me nowadays from my duty to the _Sadhana_. In my last
letter I told you of the bumble-bees which hover round me in some
fruitless quest, to the tune of a meaningless humming, with tireless
[Footnote 1: Not included in this selection.]
They come every day at about nine or ten in the morning, dart up to my
table, shoot down under the desk, go bang on to the coloured glass
window-pane, and then with a circuit or two round my head are off again
with a whizz.
I could easily have thought them to be departed spirits who had left this
world unsatisfied, and so keep coming back to it again and again in the
guise of bees, paying me an inquiring visit in passing. But I think
nothing of the kind. I am sure they are real bees, otherwise known, in
Sanskrit, as honey-suckers, or on still rarer occasions as
_16th (Phalgun) February_ 1895.
We have to tread every single moment of the way as we go on living our
life, but when taken as a whole it is such a very small thing, two hours
uninterrupted thought can hold all of it.
After thirty years of strenuous living Shelley could only supply material
for two volumes of biography, of which, moreover, a considerable space is
taken up by Dowden's chatter. The thirty years of my life would not fill
even one volume.
What a to-do there is over this tiny bit of life! To think of the quantity
of land and trade and commerce which go to furnish its commissariat alone,
the amount of space occupied by each individual throughout the world,
though one little chair is large enough to hold the whole of him! Yet,
after all is over and done, there remains only material for two hours'
thought, some pages of writing!
What a negligible fraction of my few pages would this one lazy day of mine
occupy! But then, will not this peaceful day, on the desolate sands by the
placid river, leave nevertheless a distinct little gold mark even upon the
scroll of my eternal past and eternal future?
_28th February_ 1895.
I have got an anonymous letter to-day which begins:
To give up one's self at the feet of another,
is the truest of all gifts.
The writer has never seen me, but knows me from my writings, and goes on
However petty or distant, the Sun-worshipper gets a share of the
Sun's rays. You are the world's poet, yet to me it seems you are my own
[Footnote 1: Rabi, the author's name, means the Sun.]
and more in the same strain.
Man is so anxious to bestow his love on some object, that he ends by
falling in love with his own Ideal. But why should we suppose the idea to
be less true than the reality? We can never know for certain the truth of
the substance underlying what we get through the senses. Why should the
doubt be greater in the case of the entity behind the ideas which are the
creation of mind?
The mother realises in her child the great Idea, which is in every child,
the ineffableness of which, however, is not revealed to any one else. Are
we to say that what draws forth the mother's very life and soul is
illusory, but what fails to draw the rest of us to the same extent is the
Every person is worthy of an infinite wealth of love--the beauty of his
soul knows no limit.... But I am departing into generalities. What I
wanted to express is, that in one sense I have no right to accept this
offering of my admirer's heart; that is to say, for me, seen within my
everyday covering, such a person could not possibly have had these
feelings. But there is another sense in which I am worthy of all this, or
of even greater adoration.
ON THE WAY TO PABNA,
_9th July_ 1895.
I am gliding through this winding little Ichamati, this streamlet of the
rainy season. With rows of villages along its banks, its fields of jute
and sugar-cane, its reed patches, its green bathing slopes, it is like a
few lines of a poem, often repeated and as often enjoyed. One cannot
commit to memory a big river like the Padma, but this meandering little
Ichamati, the flow of whose syllables is regulated by the rhythm of the
rains, I am gradually making my very own....
It is dusk, the sky getting dark with clouds. The thunder rumbles
fitfully, and the wild casuarina clumps bend in waves to the stormy gusts
which pass through them. The depths of bamboo thickets look black as ink.
The pallid twilight glimmers over the water like the herald of some weird
I am bending over my desk in the dimness, writing this letter. I want to
whisper low-toned, intimate talk, in keeping with this penumbra of the
dusk. But it is just wishes like these which baffle all effort. They
either get fulfilled of themselves, or not at all. That is why it is a
simple matter to warm up to a grim battle, but not to an easy,
_14th August_ 1895.
One great point about work is that for its sake the individual has to make
light of his personal joys and sorrows; indeed, so far as may be, to
ignore them. I am reminded of an incident at Shazadpur. My servant was
late one morning, and I was greatly annoyed at his delay. He came up and
stood before me with his usual _salaam_, and with a slight catch in
his voice explained that his eight-year-old daughter had died last night.
Then, with his duster, he set to tidying up my room.
When we look at the field of work, we see some at their trades, some
tilling the soil, some carrying burdens, and yet underneath, death,
sorrow, and loss are flowing, in an unseen undercurrent, every day,--their
privacy not intruded upon. If ever these should break forth beyond control
and come to the surface, then all this work would at once come to a stop.
Over the individual sorrows, flowing beneath, is a hard stone track,
across which the trains of duty, with their human load, thunder their way,
stopping for none save at appointed stations. This very cruelty of work
proves, perhaps, man's sternest consolation.
_5th October 1895_.
The religion that only comes to us from external scriptures never becomes
our own; our only tie with it is that of habit. To gain religion within is
man's great lifelong adventure. In the extremity of suffering must it be
born; on his life-blood it must live; and then, whether or not it brings
him happiness, the man's journey shall end in the joy of fulfilment.
We rarely realise how false for us is that which we hear from other lips,
or keep repeating with our own, while all the time the temple of our Truth
is building within us, brick by brick, day after day. We fail to
understand the mystery of this eternal building when we view our joys and
sorrows apart by themselves, in the midst of fleeting time; just as a
sentence becomes unintelligible if one has to spell through every word of
When once we perceive the unity of the scheme of that creation which is
going on in us, we realise our relation to the ever-unfolding universe. We
realise that we are in the process of being created in the same way as are
the glowing heavenly orbs which revolve in their courses,--our desires,
our sufferings, all finding their proper place within the whole.
We may not know exactly what is happening: we do not know exactly even
about a speck of dust. But when we feel the flow of life in us to be one
with the universal life outside, then all our pleasures and pains are seen
strung upon one long thread of joy. The facts: _I am, I move, I
grow_, are seen in all their immensity in connection with the fact that
everything else is there along with me, and not the tiniest atom can do
The relation of my soul to this beautiful autumn morning, this vast
radiance, is one of intimate kinship; and all this colour, scent, and
music is but the outward expression of our secret communion. This constant
communion, whether realised or unrealised, keeps my mind in movement; out
of this intercourse between my inner and outer worlds I gain such
religion, be it much or little, as my capacity allows: and in its light I
have to test scriptures before I can make them really my own.
_12th December 1895._
The other evening I was reading an English book of criticisms, full of all
manner of disputations about Poetry, Art, Beauty, and so forth and so on.
As I plodded through these artificial discussions, my tired faculties
seemed to have wandered into a region of empty mirage, filled with the
presence of a mocking demon.
The night was far advanced. I closed the book with a bang and flung it on
the table. Then I blew out the lamp with the idea of turning into bed. No
sooner had I done so than, through the open windows, the moonlight burst
into the room, with a shock of surprise.
That little bit of a lamp had been sneering drily at me, like some
Mephistopheles: and that tiniest sneer had screened off this infinite
light of joy issuing forth from the deep love which is in all the world.
What, forsooth, had I been looking for in the empty wordiness of the book?
There was the very thing itself, filling the skies, silently waiting for
me outside, all these hours!
If I had gone off to bed leaving the shutters closed, and thus missed this
vision, it would have stayed there all the same without any protest
against the mocking lamp inside. Even if I had remained blind to it all my
life,--letting the lamp triumph to the end,--till for the last time I went
darkling to bed,--even then the moon would have still been there, sweetly
smiling, unperturbed and unobtrusive, waiting for me as she has throughout
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