They Work

Lazily, floating on time’s stream my mind gazes into infinity. And traversing through space I see myriad pictures drawn in light and shade.
Aeon on aeon, in the lengthening past have marched masses of men proudly, with victory’s arrogant speed.
Here came Pathans, empire-hungry, and then the Mughals, waving storms of dust and flags of triumph.
I look, today, into the alleys of space. They have vanished without a trace, but from age to age sunrise and sunset have reddened the speckless blue.
Again, under that sky, have come marching columns of the mighty British, along iron-bound roads and in chariots spouting fire, scattering the flames of their force.
I know that the flow of time will sweep away their empire’s enveloping nets, and the armies, bearers of its burden, will leave not a trace in the path of the stars.

I turn my eyes on this earth, and see multitudes moving with vibrant voices along many roads and in many groups, from age to age, working to meet daily needs of men who live and die.
Through eternity they pull the oars, hold the helm. In field after field, they sow and cut the corn. They work in town and country.

Royal sceptres break, War-drums cease, Victory towers gape, stupidly, self-forgetful. Bloodstained arms and blood-shot eyes are lost in children’s tales.

The people work. In every country, go where you will. In Anga, in Banga, in Kalinga’s seas and river-ghats, in Punjab, Bombay, and Gujrat.
The hum and the roar of their toil link nights and days, made vibrant by work. Sorrows and joys, from day to day, orchestrate life’s great music.
Empires by the hundred collapse and on their ruins the people work.

13 February, 1941[1]

[1] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘They Work’, 13 February 1941 trans. by Hiren Mukherji, in One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 176-7.