The eve of India’s 66th Independence Day is a time as good as any to read this poem by RABINDRANATH TAGORE, even as India gets ready to sing to martial tune another Tagore poem, Jana Gana Mana. This English translation was published at the end of Tagore’s 1918 book, Nationalism.
THE SUNSET OF THE CENTURY
(Written in the Bengali on the last day of last century)
The last sun of the century sets amidst the blood-red clouds of the West and the whirlwind of hatred.
The naked passion of self-love of Nations, in its drunken delirium of greed, is dancing to the clash of steel and the howling verses of vengeance.
The hungry self of the Nation shall burst in a violence of fury from its own shameless feeding.
For it has made the world its food,
And licking it, crunching it and swallowing it in big morsels,
It swells and swells
Till in the midst of its unholy feast descends the sudden shaft of heaven piercing its heart of grossness.
The crimson glow of light on the horizon is not the light of thy dawn of peace, my Motherland.
It is the glimmer of the funeral pyre burning to ashes the vast flesh,—the self-love of the Nation—dead under its own excess.
Thy morning waits behind the patient dark of the East,
Meek and silent.
Keep watch, India.
Bring your offerings of worship for that sacred sunrise.
Let the first hymn of its welcome sound in your voice and sing
“Come, Peace, thou daughter of God’s own great suffering.
Come with thy treasure of contentment, the sword of fortitude,
And meekness crowning thy forehead.”
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful
With your white robe of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul.
Build God’s throne daily upon the ample bareness of your poverty
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting.