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The passage of Time

  • Published at 01:18 pm May 11th, 2019
The passage of Time
A portrait by Rabindranath Tagore


Translated by Sonia Nishat Amin

Can you hear the sound of the passage of Time?

Its ever-receding chariot

Awakens the pulse of life

The stars cry out from the bosom of darkness

Crushed underneath its wheels.

 Ah friend,

Speeding Time

Has cast its net and drawn me in

For a bold and unknown journey

Far from you.

Many deaths have I traversed to reach the pinnacle

Of this new dawn.

The rushing wheels scatter my old form in the wind.

 There is no turning back,

If you gaze from afar

You would not know me.

Farewell, my friend.

On a spring evening—

In the hour of leisure when all of one’s work is done,

When sighs from the shore of the past

Float down on the breeze,

And the air is tender with the weeping of softly falling bakul

Look deep inside that moment—

You will see a part of me remains behind

At the edge of your heart;

On a languorous evening

Perhaps it will glow;

Perhaps it will assume the form of an unnamed dream.

Yet, it is not unreal—

But my deepest truth, a part of my deathless self—

My love.

That I have left behind, changeless offering

At your altar

While I am swept by the tide of change

In the passage of Time.

Farewell, my friend. 

 You have not been diminished in any measure.

From this earthen clay, if you choose to mould

A form divine

Let your evenings be haloed by its worship.

The tired, clumsy touch of my mundane existence

Will not impede the sacred ritual;

The fervor of my wants and passions

Will not spoil the blossoms on the plate of offerings.

I will not add the dust of my life, its ashes and tears

To the pitcher of nectar you gathered

For the festival within.

Perhaps, even now, with memories of me

You create verses dreamlike and sublime.

Let these be ethereal then,

Devoid of burden and care.

Farewell, my friend.

Do not grieve for me.

For me, the wide world awaits outside

For me, are the tasks yet not done.

My cup has not run dry—

To fill emptiness evermore

Is my lasting vow.

If someone bides his time anxiously for me

 I shall be gratified.

He who gathers tuberoses on the night of the full moon 

To deck the chamber on a moonless one,

Who with compassion in his eyes

Can see me in my entirety – failings and radiance combined-

To him do I turn now 

And offer myself in a ritual of sacrifice.

You have endless right over what I gave;

Here now, is the gift  

Of my sad, lovely moments—

Painfully wrung from my heart

Drunk with cupped hands, drop by drop.

Oh friend beyond comparison, rich beyond measure

What I gave was but your own gift to me.

The more you received the more indebted I became.

Farewell, my friend.


From Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem), published in 1929. It has assumed almost a cult status as a narrative on love, romance and denial across several generations. The novel is set in early 20th century Kolkata and the hill station—Shillong. Kolkata was the epicenter of the bhadralok (Bengali middle class, English educated gentlemen) class and Shillong was one of their favorite places.

The story is about Amit, a renowned poet, and Labonya, the quintessence of Tagore’s notion of modern Bengali womanhood. They meet in the picturesque surroundings of a hill resort and fall in love. After journeying through the intense phases of an idealized, romantic love, and reaching an exalted height, they decide to part. Amit tells Labonya that marriage is antithetical to romantic love; marriage with its everyday demands, cannot sustain the sublimity that feeds romantic love. Labonya, says Amit, is like a flowing stream that does not stagnate, whereas Ketaki, the woman Amit decides to marry, is like the pitcher from which one drinks every day to sustain mundane existence. Labonya in her turn decides to marry Shobhonlal, her steadfast admirer.

The poem above occurs at the end of the book and is Labonya’s farewell message to Amit.

Sonia Nishat Amin is a researcher, essayist and professor at the Department of History, University of Dhaka. She has published extensive works on women’s history in Bengal and contributed to various anthologies on women, including “From the Seams of History (1995)” and “Mind, Body and Society in Colonial Bengal” (1996). She is the recipient of the Ananya Literary Award 2015.