Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet and Nobel Laureate, implores us to hear Mother's Earth's cries

It is not news to most of us that our beloved Mother Earth - this beautiful blue-green globe shrouded in mist - has become increasingly imperiled by our greed. We see environmental devastation wherever we turn. It is currently being brought into focus by the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The concerns have now skyrocketed, as a result of our current political situation. As I have been sitting with the aftermath of our Presidential elections, and how it might impact the environment in the coming months and years, my mind was drawn to a poem written almost a century ago by the Bengali Nobel Laureate poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Back in 1935, Tagore wrote this piece as a protest to Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. This is the beauty of good poetry. It has a timeless quality. To me, this poem feels as applicable today, in our current predicament, as it did in 1935.

Here I offer you this poem, both in its original Bangla (Bengali) form, and my English translation of it. This is my offering to the world culture from the culture of my birth. May we learn from the poet the humility of standing with our heads bowed at the door of all that is devalued and desecrated. May we have the courage to say, with deep integrity, "forgive me," as rampant violence and abuse of the gentler, softer, more feminine forms of being swirl around us.


Africa, by Rabindranath Tagore, translation by Sushmita Mukherjee

In that confused time in prehistory,
When the Creator, dissatisfied with himself,
Was repeatedly demolishing his nascent creation…
During that time of his repeated impatient head-shakes,
The arms of the violent ocean
Snatched you away from the bosom of the Eastern lands
Dear Africa.
And imprisoned you within the inner sanctum
of her massive trees, in the realm of the miserly light.
There, in your secluded leisure, you
were collecting the mysteries of the unfathomable.
Deciphering the oblique messages from the water, earth and sky;
The unseen magic of Nature
Was birthing new songs within your deep unconscious.
You were mocking the Terrible
In the guise of disregard,
You were trying to defeat Fear,
By giving yourself a despicable and frightening appearance,
Dancing to the beat of the drum of chaos.

Alas, O Lady clad in shadows!
Your human form remained inaccessible
To the confined vision of Ignorance.
They came, with their iron manacles,
Those whose nails were sharper than those of your wolves.
They came, the catchers of humans,
Whose pride made them blinder than your sun-forsaken forests.
The barbaric greed of the Civilized
Laid naked its own shameless inhumanity.
The forest paths, permeated with the steam from your wordless tears,
Were turned into a swamp – mingling the earth with your blood and your tears.
Under the spiked boots of those monster feet
That abhorrent clump of muddy earth
Left an immutable stamp on your history of disgrace.

Across the ocean, at that very moment,
In all their neighborhoods, their temple bells were tolling,
Morning and evening, proclaiming the glory of the God of Mercy.
Children were playing in their mothers’ laps;
The music of the Poet was rising up to the heavens,
In adoration of The Beautiful.

Today, at this impeding dusk on the Western sky,
When the air is stagnant in anticipation of a thunderstorm,
When the animals have come out from their hidden caves,
And are announcing the end of days with their inauspicious howls,
Come, O Poet of the End of Time,
In this fading light of dusk,
Stand at the door of this Shamed One,
And say, “Forgive me” –
Among all this raving violent speech,
Let this be the last sacred words of your great civilization.

Tagore's poem  Africa  in Bengali

Tagore's poem Africa in Bengali


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