from Recovery – poem no.10 from arogya by Rabindranath Tagore (1941)
Lazily afloat on time’s stream,
My mind turns to the sky.
As I cross its empty expanses
Shadowy pictures form in my eyes
Of the many ages of the long past
And the many peoples
That have hurtled forward,
Confident of victory.
But the earth when I look at it
Makes me aware
Of the hubbub of a huge concourse
Of ordinary people
Led along many paths and in various groups
By man’s common urges,
From age to age, through life and death.
They work –
In cities and in fields.
Imperial canopies collapse,
Victory-pillars, like idiots, forget what their own words mean;
Battle-crazed eyes and blood-smeared weapons
Live on only in children’s stories,
Their menace veiled.
But people work –
Here and in other regions,
Filling the passage of their lives with a rumbling and thundering
Woven by day and by night –
The sonorous rhythm
Of Life’s liturgy in all its pain and elation,
Gloom and light.
Over the ruins of hundreds of empires,
The people work.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Translated from the Bengali by William Radice (b. 1951)
The full poem and others available in Rabindranath Tagore Selected Poems, Penguin Classics (1985)