THE FOOTPATH

By

Rabindranath Tagore

 

I

Ah, here is the footpath.

Through the woods, it has come to meadow, through the meadow near by the river, under the banyan tree beside the ferry-ghat, on it meanders from the broken bathing ghat on the other bank, zigzagging into the village; then, by the Tulsi-tala, through the shady mango garden, by the bank of the lotus pool, by the Rathtala, it has reached some village I donít know where.

Along this path countless travelers have passed. Some have left me behind, some have kept pace with me, while others I have seen only from a distance; some have veiled their faces, and others have not; some are going to fill their empty pitchers and others stagger homewards with their brimming water-pots.

 

II

Now the day is over, darkness deepens.

Once I took this path to be mine and mine alone; now I see that I have the permission to walk along this path but once, no more.

Going up the lemon grove and passing by the village pond, the ghat by The Twelve Temples, the islet of the river, the farmhouse and the barn, I can greet no more the old familiar faces withó"Hullo! here I am again!" No, this is the path along which one only goes never to come back.

In the grey dusk today, I turned back once and found that the path was a ballad of long-forgotten footfalls, set to the saddest music.

In this one line of dust there has been painted in brief the whole story of all the travelers who have gone along in all the ages; and it stretches from the east of the sunrise to the west of the sunset, from one golden gate to another.

 

III

 

"Oh, footpath, donít heap into your silent folds the many stories of the many ages. I strain my ear to your dust, whisper to me."

The path points its finger at the black curtain of the dead night, and remains silent.

"Oh, footpath, where are those many thoughts and desires of those many travelers?"

The mute path does not answer. It only stretches onward from the east of the sunrise to the west of the sunset.

"Oh, footpath, are those steps that once sped on your bossom like a shower of flowers, nowhere today?"

Does the path know its end, where withered flowers and hushed songs meet, and where, in the light of stars, unmitigated affliction holds its Festival of Lamps?

 

---Translated by Nihar Ranjan Chakraborty

 

 

N.B. The Footpath is probably the first prose poem by Tagore and also the first one in his book, Lipika. This exquisite literary piece is a challenge even for a skilled translator. Dad translated this when he was only thirteen living in a village far away from Calcutta where he had no contact with English except through his textbooks. A poor Brahmin, grandfather could not afford to pay for his tuition, let alone by him English books and magazines. Through scholarships, Dad not only paid for his own tuition but his siblingsí as well. See geocities.com/nrchakra for more on his life. His obituaries appeared in The Daily Bulletin, March 4 and 11 and the Claremont Courier, March 3 in California, USA and the Statesman, Calcutta, India, March 4, 2001.