Guest poem sent in by Monica Bathija
(Poem #1417) At the last watch
Pity, in place of love, That pettiest of gifts, Is but a sugar-coating over neglect. Any passerby can make a gift of it To a street beggar, Only to forget the moment the first corner is turned. I had not hoped for anything more that day. You left during the last watch of night. I had hoped you would say goodbye, Just say 'Adieu' before going away, What you had said another day, What I shall never hear again. In their place, just that one word, Bound by the thin fabric of a little compassion Would even that have been too much for you to bear? When I first awoke from sleep My heart fluttered with fear Lest the time had been over. I rushed out of bed. The distant church clock chimed half past twelve I sat waiting near the door of my room Resting my head against it, Facing the porch through which you would come out. Even that tiniest of chances Was snatched away by fate from hapless me; I fell asleep Shortly before you left. Perhaps you cast a sidelong glance At my reclining body Like a broken boat left high and dry. Perhaps you walked away with care Lest you wake me up. Awaking with a start I knew at once That my vigil had been wasted I realised, what was to go went away in a moment, What was to stay behind stayed on For all time. Silence everywhere Like that of a birds' nest bereft of birds On the bough of a songless tree. With the lifeless light of the waning moon was now blended The pallor of dawn Spreading itself over the greyness of my empty life. I walked towards your bedroom For no reason. Outside the door Burnt a smoky lantern covered with soot, The porch smelt of the smouldering wick. Over the abandoned bed the flaps of the rolled-up mosquito-net Fluttered a little in the breeze. Seen in the sky outside through the window Was the morning star, Witness of all sleepless people Bereft of hope. Suddenly I found you had left behind by mistake Your gold-mounted ivory walking stick. If there were time, I thought, You might come back from the station to look for it, But not because You had not seen me before going away.
23 May 1936 I recently went to Calcutta and Santiniketan, one of the reasons for the visit being Tagore. I found this poem in a volume called Syamali, which is also the name of one of the houses in which the poet lived in Santiniketan. Through and through Tagore. Simple and beautiful, I love the way it effortlessly evokes imagery. And of course, on an evening in a tourist lodge, it touched just the right chord. But that's what poetry is for, isn't it? Monica