I HAD GONE A BEGGING

I Had Gone a Begging

About the poet

Rabindranath Tagore (7 May 1861 – 7 August 1941) was a Bengali poet of India born in the city of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). His name is written as Rabindranath Thakur in Indian languages. Tagore had early success as a writer in his native Bengal. With his translations of some of his poems, he became rapidly known in the West. In fact, his fame attained a luminous height, taking him across continents on lecture tours and tours of friendship. For the world he became the voice of India’s spiritual heritage; and for India, especially for Bengal, he became a great living institution. A native of Calcutta, India, who wrote in Bengali and often translated his own work into English, Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 — the first Asian to receive the honor. He wrote poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and songs; promoted reforms in education, aesthetics, and religion; and in his late sixties, he even turned to the visual arts, producing 2,500 paintings and drawings before his death. Although Tagore wrote successfully in all literary genres, he was, first of all, a poet. Tagore’s major works included Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World); and many other literary and artworks.

About the poem:

The 50th poem from his Nobel Prize-winning collection, Gitanjali, I Had Gone a-begging is a poem that imparts a moral value through the narration of an incident. Written in the first person, this poem is directly addressed to the second character in the poem, that is, the man on the chariot. The poem is in the form of Beggar’s monologue as he narrates how due to his own miserly nature he suffered the greatest loss of his life and couldn’t recognize God even as he was standing right in front of him.

Mood, Setting of the poem:

The poem is set in the pathways of a village, which we can gather from the phrase, “I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path”. Since the poem is actually the narration of an incident, and that it has been narrated on a first-person account, the mood of the poem varies. When he discovers the golden chariot riding towards him, he is excited and ecstatic. The king of king’s asking for alms surprises him so that he calls it a “kingly jest”. Finally, when his day is concluding and he checks his bag, the realization hits him and he is filled with remorse for his selfishness and miserly nature.

Stanza wise Annotations:

Stanza 1

I had gone a-begging – I had gone to beg, I was begging

Thy- your

King of all kings- somebody greater even than all the kings, since he traveled in the gorgeous golden chariot

Stanza 2

Methought- I thought

Evil days- days of despondence and poverty

Alms to be given unasked- the need to ask for charity won’t arise

Wealth scattered on all sides in the dust- there will be so much money, that it will be scattered all over the ground

Stanza 3

Thou camest- You came

Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand – All of a sudden, you held out your right hand

What hast thou to give to me?- What do you have to give to me?

Stanza 4

Kingly jest- great joke

Thy- your

Least little grain- smallest little grain

Thee- you

Stanza 5

Wept- cried

Give thee my all- give you my everything

Stanza wise explanation:

I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path,

when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance

like a gorgeous dream and I wondered

who was this King of all kings!

The poet begins with a continuation from the title of the poem. We gather from the first line itself that the poet is a beggar. He was on his rounds, collecting alms, going from door to door in the village path. That is when he first sighted the golden chariot in the distance. The splendor of the chariot was such that the poet couldn’t help but wonder that to whom such a grand chariot could belong. He must be a man of immense wealth and power, a man who is above all kings. He refers to him as the king of kings because of these above-mentioned reasons and the usage of this phrase shows how affluent the man looked, at first sight, itself.

My hopes rose high and methought

my evil days were at an end,

and I stood to wait for alms to be given unasked

and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.

The incoming man’s wealth overwhelmed the poet and his hopes rose that a man with such riches would surely aid him and give him enough money in charity to end his poverty. The beggar stood to wait for the man to get down from his chariot and shower him with riches. Because the man was so powerful, he assumed that he would not even have to beg to him, but would be generously rewarded without even having to ask for it. He imagined a scenario with wealth overflowing such, that it would be scattered all over the ground.

The chariot stopped where I stood.

Thy glance fell on me

and thou camest down with a smile.

I felt that the luck of my life had come at last.

Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand

and say `What hast thou to give to me?’

The poet’s wishes came true when the man’s gorgeous chariot halted right next to him. The king of king’s glance fell on the beggar and he acknowledged him by descending down from his chariot and bestowing upon him a smile. The poet refers to that moment as the luck of his life because he felt that with such wealth, the man was bound to be generous and do enough charity to him to end his pitiable condition forever. But, to the poet’s surprise, the man held out his right hand to the poet and asked him what he had to give to him. This came as a shock to the beggar as the situation that he had imagined, got completely reversed. He had envisaged a scenario where the man would shower him with wealth, but instead, the tables completely turned and the man ended up asking the beggar what he could give him.

Ah, what a kingly jest was it

to open thy palm to a beggar to beg!

I was confused and stood undecided,

and then from my wallet, I slowly took out

the least little grain of corn

and gave it to thee.

The beggar calls the whole scene a ‘kingly jest’. This brings out the irony of the situation as the man who was of the stature of a king, actually asked a beggar for alms. A wealthy man has actually opened up his palm to a beggar to beg! This baffles the beggar and stands dumbly without any definite idea as to what course of action he should resort to. Then, he reluctantly retrieved a little grain of corn from his wallet and gave it to the wealthy man from the chariot. The use of the word “slowly”, is indicative of the fact that the beggar was miserly and it was with great hesitance that he parted with that small grain of corn. It might also be that he could not gauge as to why a man this rich would ask a poor beggar for aid.

But how great my surprise when at the day’s end

I emptied my bag on the floor to find

a least little gram of gold among the poor heap.

I bitterly wept and wished

that I had had the heart to give thee my all.

The concluding stanza captures the poet’s initial surprise and then regret when he finds while emptying his sack that a little gram of gold amongst the heap of his day’s collection. And then he realizes that it was no wealthy man, but God himself who had approached him and he was so selfish and miserly that his concern lay only with his own needs. He was reluctant to part with his grain of corn, but still in return of that God repaid him with gold. The beggar wishes that he too had a heart as big as the God’s and he could have gotten himself to part with all of his belongings and completely surrender to God. He achieves a spiritual awakening and realizes the importance of the act of giving unconditionally.

Critical Analysis

I Had Gone a Begging by Rabindranath Tagore is the fiftieth poem from his Nobel Prize-winning collection, Gitanjali. Written in blank verse, this poem is the story of a beggar, who is the poet himself. Narrated in a first-person account, the poet has directly addressed the poem to the King of King’s. He begins by giving voice to his initial selfish and greedy thoughts on seeing the arrival of the golden chariot and then moves on to describing his utter shock when the man alights from the chariot and spreads his hand in front of the beggar, asking him for alms. The irony of the situation both amuses and confuses the beggar, but gathering his wits, he gives one little grain of corn to the man. When he goes back and sees that the little grain of corn has been replaced by an equivalent amount of gold, he is filled with remorse. He laments that had he had a heart as big as the man’s, he would have given away all his belongings to him. This is also when he realizes that the man in the chariot was no commoner, but God himself. This incident incites a spiritual awakening within the poet as he realizes that materialistic things lose all their value when compared to the real riches, which are kindness, generosity, and empathy. Through this poem, Tagore has brought into focus the increase in the importance that is endowed upon materialistic goods and how man is driven, not by love and compassion, but by miserly approach, greed, and never-ending demands. The beggar wished for all his problems to be solved by the charity of the man in the chariot, but without any consideration for the man in the chariot. He is willing to accept the man’s riches, but when it comes to giving him something, he is reluctant and miserly. Man has become such that he puts himself above everything else.

Conclusion

A work of the master, Rabindranath Tagore, I Had Gone a Begging is a poem that imparts a moral lesson through the narration of a poem. A beggar asking for alms from door to door chances upon a wealthy man in a golden chariot and imagines that his charity will change his life. But it so happens that the man reverses the situation by spreading his palms in front of the beggar. The beggar reluctantly parts with his little grain of corn and that night, when he goes home and empties his bag, he realizes that his life has indeed changed forever. He finds a grain of gold, equivalent to the size of the grain of corn that he had given to the King of all kings. That is when he realizes that the man was no commoner but was god himself. It taught him the impermanence of materialistic commodities and the importance of the act of giving and kindness. This poem is an exemplar of how God gives back in the same amount what we give him, but with a much larger heart. It is a tale of the spiritual awakening of a man.