The end of the year is my favorite season. Whether you are Christian or not, the story of the birth of the Christ child is also the birth of hope, the birth of joy, and the birth of innocence. We need all those things in our world. I have come to love this season more now than I did when I was a child.
Add a sense of the world’s renewal at the turning of the year that comes to us from the pagan roots of our Christmas festivals, and it all becomes pretty magical.
I have already spent time celebrating the year’s end as we Westerners see it. Now, on the last day of the year, I would like to turn toward the East, to a land beyond the land of the Magi.
Rabindranath Tagore is a Bengali writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. He is largely unknown in America, and for good reason. His work is hard going – not because of difficuty of language (there are plenty of translations), but because it is the product of a spiritualism that is beyond the American norm. America loves it’s gurus; we all know that. But the ones who make it here tend to have a gift for sound bites, an easy pop-psych message, and a face the camera loves.
Tagore was glitz free.
When I was studying Anthropology, my subject area was South Asia. I ran across Tagore’s poem Sunset of the Century in a textbook, and was so taken by it that I quoted part of it when I wrote A Fond Farewell to Dying, and quoted it again as the sub-title of this website.
At sunset, December 31, 1899, Tagore looked at his land, crushed under a hundred and fifty years of British domination, and looked forward to the new century which he hoped would bring India its freedom.
Here is the excerpt I quoted in Fond Farewell:
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful.
With your white robes of simpleness.
Let your crown be of humility, your freedom the freedom of the soul.
Build God’s throne daily on the ample bareness of your poverty.
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting.
That last line is probably my favorite quotation of all time. The complete poem is in today’s Serial post.