Storm of Stars

for Rabindranath Tagore

1  /  2  /  3


Storm of stars.
Slewed waterfall of chance-bits, down and down.
Radio-waves pronouncing an unimaginable thunder
in a screamwhisper of light
and everywhere the one fixed vivid point of Now.
And a fluke procession:
the gnat comes, and the flying-beak-cohorts,
the bigbellied landhog, and clambering at last from the well
the small and scampering human.

And a horror holds the world.
The original storm seizing all pathways
shakes shakes the atomic structure behind the scenes.
Life is hanging on
loose-hitched in the hot sunlight of change
the relentless movement of bones,
an oblivion of twitching wires.
Nothing is touched: nothing is felt: flesh is numb: inside a jelly
we chatter in a delirium
of flash-by shapes and sounds.
Food we take, sex we take; and love, the deepest knowing
that is scarcely below the surface in an infinite crash of ocean
we feature in and are lost.

Storm of stars.
In a myriad glass houses that shot up
to still the shuddering
how much will we let ourselves know? how much will we let ourselves learn?
From behind bland glass
scientists gaily aim telescopes down atoms
and from a stock-still flooring
the nearer the waterfall the further away
From behind bland glass
god-knowers achingly fit into a picture
that will not move from outside to in
From behind bland glass
poets shout and play, pick up the reflections
But the houses are houses only of the mind.
At an unearthly level
where a tremor, deeper than life, suspends us in space
through a bruised, bewildered core, an ocean passes.

Who has there been
whose eyes have seen the horror and surfaced to tell?
Who has sat in the painted garden and scented growth?
Who has left the house and countered the shrieking winds
with love? Who in lightning’s self-charge
has burnt by another light? Who has sewn the cloth
to no false shelter? Who has capsized
the ground-rules of chaos? Who outside mumbo-jumbo
has de-existed – laid bare a non-human nerve –
to find a word of warmth? Who has there been?

None, none, none.
Not poets with their tremulous leaf-play
their light orchestras of sound-change
grass-flutter, bloom-dazzle, tree-crash
their special gardens and their copycat storms
Not holy joes in their halls of mirrors
filled with the self, glass-balloons, shrunk with the self
that peered-at self that will not disappear
Not scientists deep in dictionaries
trapeze-artists of a never-ending alphabet
up a step, down a step, swinging inside a crossword puzzle
not to be solved
Not even the simple recipients of Time
that people the Earth, who know what it is
to operate all within a boundary-fact,
to breathe in a box – can strip its casing bare.
Numbness is all.

Storm of stars.
A constellation appeared: it was a person,
head in hands in the sky: then it was not there.
I saw five billion fragments of it burning.
The dead-same picture: each scintilla renewed
to more – to fewer – still fewer – and gone.
Before that eternal blackness, for no good reason
I’ll tell of one.


In a forest in a nest on the ground
a baby lay.
Day spoke to him as he looked round
at forest-colour, shape and sound:
“This is the way
of light and time: now you have found
a place to stay,
sleep, wake, with night’s gift, light’s gift crowned
on your birthday.”

Into a maze of elder brothers,
large rooms, he ran.
A fond and sensible, harassed mother,
a distant mountain-peak of a father,
and elder sisters as stand-in mothers,
and servants, and singing guests, and others,
all these began
to speak to him, the forest’s weather.
The family fort held all together.
And stories of a wild and marvellous grandfather
lit up the clan.

“Brothers of mine, the forest birds
are in your dazzling showers of words,
and on a magic carpet soar
your plays and paintings, speeches, more –
they all return me to a forest floor.
But school’s a crush of stone
that bears down on my bone.
It insists it knows what is known.
But nothing stands on its own.
I think I’ll leave it alone.”

“Sister-in-law, may I come in
and show you my last five poems?
I’ll help you cut betel-nuts, or I’ll begin
to read the new Bankim – I thought that might win
your heart, to hear more of his heroine!
You’re all the same, you madams!”

And close to the forest-rhythms
a river stole
from the teasing love of a boy and a girl-woman.
It took a way least common.
It carried the man clear-whole
to his last breath.
So Earth lets love unroll
in word and deed.
And we may trace a scroll
of the pure water of the human.

What is this hot spring of words? Macbeth into Bengali at 12, at 14 a huge poem – and heaven help us, he’s looking at the usurping force of convention, he’s thinking – at 16 his brother’s literary journal is bursting with his essays, on Anglo-Saxon literature, Anglo-Norman, Dante, Goethe – in no time flat he’s peeling the tinsel off Britain’s China opium bazaar – Rabindranath, thank God you were born in the East! You’d have been a dead ringer for the West’s cleverness, the H.G.Wells hollow-globe twiddle, the Aldous Huxley wearying thrill-machine. The compulsive juggling-act in the drawing-rooms of the intelligentsia. One of the parched-skin jabberers. But you were guest and friend of the outside. The spring led back to the forest. Every day you allowed the sun to meet you, your origin to choose you if it will. This bubbling word-crucible is no flashpan of the mind; past imitations of being it leads down, leads back, drawn from a still-young heart. And still mighty clever!

And your songs started.
The land’s breath was your breath.
Field-tenderness; the river-hearted
night-land of death;
and love, and love’s longing;
and rain’s jewels torn
from the sky; and beauty’s thronging . . .
a soft-shining is worn.
Songs are the quick garments
of thought. A land’s tongue
at each song’s performance
is rich-robed and young.
See, from notes the heart knows
the heart and mind both
weaving, weaving till light goes
the finest of cloth.
See, till heart’s hearing
dies, till world’s light goes –
all Bengal’s land wearing
the loveliest of clothes.

Turning a bend of the river Padma I see
caught in the water, reflected clear as day,
tall and straight and fine and strong, a tree.
Its branches part the sky. I look away
and it has gone, and the river has gone. I stay
perched above books. If ever one sought a way,
this was a way, to be.

So many leaves of poems; every large branch a play,
the wood lit up with his acting and stage-direction;
his authorship of all a singing array;
a children’s own Book Fair; and the cross-section
of village times and customs in the short stories;
the larger-themed novels; the constant song-glories;
the musical dramas; the many far-seeing
practical essays; the whole tree a poem, its being
the heart in its time.

Not only in rhyme
this momentary sight; not only in sparkling word.
Here was a man of thirty, angrily stirred
at superstitions that dragged society backward;
at “patriots” to their posturising anchored:
the tree quivered; he lectured and wrote; the tree was still.
He knew his work: to manage with power and skill
the forest’s will.

On the river Padma I saw him, the family man,
who ran the family estates, did what a man can.
Who lived near God, in his father’s belief;
who loved people, and travel, and open space –
the far quest of all – the quirk of the human face –
and who knew grief.

“Who will make me mad again?
Who will enter with her eyes
a statue’s eyes? If I perform
an instruction of the brain,
virtuous, cold, the proper act,
is this myself? My blood in fact
runs from the heart correctly warm.
It is not I. I am alone
and sightless and unmeaning stand.
Come near: and if you touch my hand
it is a thousand-year-cold stone.

“Who will make me mad again?
Who will cancel with her eyes
this rock? And my eyes, pierced by light,
will weep with wonder at their sight,
because they can see you again.
My hand will lift to yours, and all
will be a burning festival
of what is pure and truthful-sane –
who will make me mad again?

“You are not here. It cannot be.
Oh you whose eyes once kissed my eyes
and taught a blind heart how to see –
think not bitterly of me!”

Wider a river flows.
Its leaping source long hidden
in death, the poet knows
it finds a way unbidden
broadening through the land.
And back and always back
a steady current is flowing
underground to its end.
Imagine a poet’s first breaths
where some trees are growing,
a muddy forest-track
leading off, and at last
a river driving on.
Oh and such other deaths
it met, it knew, it passed.
Wider a river flows.
Deeper the poet’s light shone.

And the practical man gave wealth on wealth to his lands. Estate management ran into self-development: who has been so ahead of his time, as aristocracy is drawn to the rapids of democracy? Who but Tolstoy? The two mother-lands of the Earth, like far and lost twins of time, ploughing their finally-distant channels – yet still singing to the same mother-song. What nation in time will not know its birth from the land, in the broken family of the Earth? Now Rabindranath coaxed self-knowledge of his tenants, as they set up their own banks, built hospitals and water-tanks and schools, arbitrated disputes and settled their own future. The poet of words is now the poet of men. And words still fly like birds, and the river tumbles, and darkness tumbles through the river. And again and again the core of man, bruised, torn, lies in a nest in the forest. Again it meets the light, love of song, trust in being, a fresh forwardness in a child’s face. And in this re-birth, where is not Bengal? And when is not the time’s turn, eddy and lift, dates’ drift, for 1901 and 1308 are matchstick numbers, but the river is always and real. Still fortunes of words surging from the table. Rocks tear, the dearest die, money-lack spins about. Now constructive work in fields at the side does not stop. Always the sun meets the man at morning. Each day is the first day, day of forest-light, day of birth. Deeper it shone.

What is learning? If you will take a train
out of Calcutta, and doze for a couple of hours,
and wake at Bolpur, and stretch your legs in the sun –
you will be near a wide-awake legacy
of the man who left the most to his land.
A seed
he planted, fought to save, and as it grew
called people to its shade for forty years.
It was a tree of knowledge, first a school
at which he taught with love, to which was joined
a university that was worth the name.
And children learnt of fact in its true freshness –
and Nature, growing in that open shade.
(And still they do, in yellow uniforms
a hundred years on.) Who has worked harder
for funds, for his ideal of higher learning?
So in his seventies he would tour the country
and put on plays for Visva Bharati,
and speak in lands across the world.
That tree
offers a link, from learning to the person,
from person to the state, and outward on
and forward to the planets, and far back
into a forest clearing, where first man
awoke – that holds us to our better being,
remembering where the sun of consciousness shone.
Now take the train back, sleepwalk through Calcutta,
down a long labyrinth of school and college
where fact on fact is piled, pressed down, repeated,
until the trunk of learning grows harsh, withers.
What is learning? Go to Santiniketan.
Accept a leaf at graduation there.

The deepest light
is not the sun’s.
The sun was born
and it shall end.
But all through Time
a blind force runs.
If I have eyes
it is my friend.

The deepest light
is not the stars’.
Many they are
and still shall be.
But yet there shines
a further cause,
and nearer too
that honours me.

The deepest light
is seeing what is,
and that one’s poor self
too belongs.
Some bow, chant, cry,
say “All is His”;
remove; or rage
at others’ wrongs;

and some write songs.
If words bring peace
has that repose,
the heart’s clear prayer . . .
which you re-wrote:
a masterpiece
in English prose.

Suddenly a wave of the river is thrown up to the sky. The Nobel colour catches it: how many anxious hands reach to the spectrum as opposite the sun it sails on Earth! You had to know the world: the traveller of your time, as the boats you took swung the compass your reason lay due north. In the increasing earth-tremor of the twentieth century your voice withstood crescendos of nationalism . . . as the ground broke about you you pointed a way. Patriot of the forest heart of man you took a line against evil, whether Japanese power-sophistry or the plausible Italy of Mussolini, whether the British massacre at Amritsar or the earth-fault danger of your country’s own impatience. If only your vision had had political force! In the world-encircling river your bearing was still. Yet once the wavelet of your ego caught a true friend a blinding slap in the face.

“Never think that I am angry”
was your first reply, but when
your young friend and English critic
over-criticised again
you savaged him. With what you said
you might as well have wished him dead.

True, he made too much of failings –
but his book has purest praise
(finely-worded and deep-thoughtful)
for your poetry and your plays.
For thirteen years he worked to bring
your genius to the West. The sting

of your response – so bitter-sharp –
was not yourself. He took it well
though hurt. You were propelled, perhaps,
by acolytes – and that self-swell
that you, of all men, knew to tame.
Its lash came down. On you it came.

“Never think that I am angry” –
but all lose the self.
All lands
abandon origin. Mother-world –
what heart is it that understands
its rush of blood?
Meanwhile, scholars,
pardon Thompson for being zealous –
and re-read. (You may be jealous!)

The discoloured leaf of a misunderstanding.

But to one
closer than half the trunk of a tree.
These two
hold all India’s greatness in their branches.
They share a sun
of thousands of years of self-truth.
The meaning of Love, of Doing, of Being
India’s meaning
remains, bequeathed to a land that was always free.

there is a stone to be moved
I know you must fast
I have entered the fiery gate
your blessing waters this poor patch of India
I have come to be with you
sing to me

Love, Doing and Being: this is India’s tree.

And suddenly you were a poet with the words of light! In your mid-sixties yet another marriage to the Muse. You painted with anything, on anything, of anything: you painted the free consciousness. On the torrent of your art the child in the boat took the brush; the child in the man sang his songs of colour. And all continued for fifteen years: sixty more books of poetry and prose and twenty-five hundred light-poems! But what are numbers: Rabindranath, child of the sun, to all your creations your mind gave a shaping control. Your song of language had the pure structural touch, known only to the greatest of poets. And each note to your song of colour stood free, carried in its own life and tension. The seed of life is with us. Breaking, breaking in flower, in stream, in change, in curiosity, in awareness, in love. Its more powerful celebration has not been seen.

On your death-bed in the forest
still the great stream of the sun
touched you surely. And dictating –
on the very verge of ocean –
poems of a complete seriousness,
you left all singly and became
a speck of God.


Innumerable rounds scoring the tarmac,
bus taxi rickshaw straining heaving
in a cacophonous mass above which
leaves hang helpless.
Calcutta’s trees criss-cross the air with poetry . . .
but what’s the space below? Shut in
until the wall and street touch, or until
you spend all day on the train-thundering rails,
to sleep a few feet off the line. Shut out
from birth’s horizons. Once a thrilling machine
made fit to soar and roam the sky . . . shut down.
Wheels snarl and curse: in today’s town
too many: in today’s town
a scream of wheels jammed onto wheels: a slither
to the day’s end. Each body grabs a shelf
above some other. But you, my train-track friend
are over none.

Is there more
in the wheel-maze of the planets? In a space-littleness
cold and afraid, we clutch our icons:
a microscope, a sacred text, a rhyme.
Is there more
the fiddling mind may stumble on
in its brain-craze circuits? Outside
a tremor, fixed-in-time, skewers existence . . .
within, swept on
we try to hold on to the escaping sunlight . . .
what more?

There is more.
In the snagged outlook of the human eye
a choice of focus offers. And that I feel
for the man on the rail-track, is my clue.
I see
the river of my life move simply on,
past modern art’s bewilderment, to where
an ocean carries what is good.
That sea
itself can seem a giant tortuous highway –
its wheel-maze pedalling uselessly – or one
can take heart from the dead, who gave their life
for love.

Share away: