Friday, June 09, 2006

"Sleep-stealer"

Who stole sleep from baby's eyes? I must know.
Clasping her pitcher to her waist mother went to fetch
water from the village near by.

It was noon. The children's playtime was over;
the ducks in the pond were silent.
The shepherd boy lay asleep under the shadow of the
banyan tree.
The crane stood grave and still in the swamp near the
mango grove.
In the meanwhile the sleep-stealer came and, snatching
sleep from the baby's eyes, flew away.
When mother came back she found baby travelling the
room over on all fours.

Who stole sleep from our baby's eyes? I must know.
I must find her and chain her up.
I must look into the dark cave, where , through
boulders and scowling stones, trickles in a tiny stream.

I must search in the drowsy shade of the bakula grove,
where pigeons coo in their corner, and fairies'
anklets tinkle in the stillness of starry nights.

In the evening I will peep into the whispering silence
of the bamboo forest, where fireflies squander their
light, and will ask every creature I meet, "Can
anybody tell me where the Sleep-stealer lives?"

Who stole the sleep from baby's eyes? I must know.
Shouldn't I give her a good lesson if I could only
catch her!

I would raid her nest and see where she hoards
all her stolen sleep.
I would plunder it all, and carry it home.
I would bind her two wings securely, set her on the
bank of the river, and then let her play at
fishing with a reed among the rushes and water lillies.

When the marketing is over in the evening, and the village
children sit in their mothers' laps, then the
night birds will mockingly din her ears with:
"Whose sleep will you steal now?"

— Rabindranath Tagore

I think as Tagore's poems go , this one has a certain robustness in it's form and rhythm and I do think it reflects the unending quests in life.
The line that really stood out to me: "where fireflies squander their light"
To me this was very painful somehow - how meaningless some of our actions can be....
The poem as a whole - loved the descriptiveness - the beauty of the countryside - the detailing - I can visualise the pictures in my head.
What the whole poem itself means - I think I will wait for comments for others and round it up later!

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13 Comments:

Blogger madcap machinist said...

This is an enchanting poem, for its story and musicality. I think that it makes for fantastic bedtime reading.

I wonder where you picked your version of this poem from, Sham. I have a version The Crescent Moon (an ebook) and it is a little different than this one.

Firstly, the line breaks are in different places ... I don't know if anybody else would give much thought into it, but I felt that something wasn't quite right with Sham's version so I went digging for the one I had.

e.g.: ("/" for line breaks)

It was noon. The children's playtime was over; the ducks in the
/ pond were silent.

The shepherd boy lay asleep under the shadow of the
banyan / tree.

The crane stood grave and still in the swamp near the mango
/ grove.

Secondly, and more importantly, the last stanza (the last two stanzas in my version) reads as:

When the marketing is over in the evening, and the village
/ children sit in their mothers' laps, then the night birds will / mockingly din her ears with:

"Whose sleep will you steal now?"


(I'm using the slashes for line breaks to be sure line-wraps won't get in the way.)

11:21 AM, June 09, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

If anyone's interested, the ebook can be downloaded here at Project Gutenberg. I'm afraid I can't testify to its accuracy.

11:26 AM, June 09, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

such a delightful, magical poem ... i like it best of all the Tagore I've read ... how nice to read this to a child too

machinist - maybe its a different translation??

6:02 PM, June 09, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Yeah, I agree with Machinist, the differencse in the line breaks will bring about a different rhythm and meaning of the poem. Should one follow the line breaks of the original? or should one go by its import? A tough question, translation, especially as the original sounds (words) and rhythm of the original lnaguage would be lost.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the narrative voice of the poem, particularly the mother's drive to seek out the culprit who has woken the beauty sleep of her baby. This is really tender...and I'm sure mothers would love this poem.

(ok, gotta run, catching a bus tonight, have fun, guys)

7:20 PM, June 09, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:58 PM, June 09, 2006  
Blogger Sham said...

I copied it from a tagore collection that I have and I stuck to the line breaks as were in the there.

As much as I am a novice at this,I can understand and appreciate the importance of keeping to line breaks.

The machinist, the line breaks in the link you provided definitely does sound more rhythymic and smooth.

7:18 AM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Welcome aboard, Sham, after having your name at the side here for for long. And such a charming poem, too.

Machinist, madcap now, no more fetishist? thanks for the Gutenburg link to the ebook. Actually the version there is the same as the one here, except for the differing line breaks. Having gotten some poetry ebooks from Gutenburg, I notice that sometimes line breaks can be arbitrary, to keep within the page width. However, this is not so in the latter stanzas.

Neverheless, the effects of the differing line breaks can only be felt in a silent reading, not in a voiced out one. I say this because if the line breaks fall on a run-on line, you would read out the line and then the next, without pause anyway. And when you do this with both the stanzas with differing line breaks you wouldn't notice the differences.

Some linguistic academics have arguments on how to read out such line breaks. Most agree on the generally accepted rule of no pause when encountering a run-on. But one academic has a new argument based on his empirical studies of recordings by famous poets.

10:50 AM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Great choice for your first post, Sham! I thoroughly enjoyed this poem, and like Sharon, appreciate both the quiet enchantment it holds for the adult reader and its singsong, lullaby-like repetition that no doubt makes it something wonderful to read to children too. Tagore's mother/child poems are some of his best in general, I think.

I don't know if something was lost in translation, but I wish the whole last paragraph wasn't there though. It's somehow a little abrupt, and lacks the detail and magical sense of description that the earlier stanzas do.

1:31 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

whoops, sorry for not pointing it out a little more clearly. Yes, the line breaks are arguably important maybe if one were analysing the poem's form, and as Leon points out, only felt in silent reading.

However, the last stanza in Sham's version is missing one line (bolded):

When the marketing is over in the evening, and the village / children sit in their mothers' laps, then the night birds will / mockingly din her ears with:

"Whose sleep will you steal now?"

7:13 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger Sham said...

For some reason, I saw this poem beyond it's mother-child relationship.
As I read it through and even now - somehow to me it is more a reflection of the loss of youth. I know it may sound bizzare but in all honesty - I somehow always equated the time of sleep with the preservation of youth and everytime that is taken away (and in this instance by the sleep stealer), there is a battle to arrest the whole ageing process.

I think this is one of my favourite Tagore pieces and am glad it was an enjoyable one to all!

1:55 PM, June 12, 2006  
Blogger Spot said...

I have nothing more sophisticated to add other than -

I like the imagery. Brings to mind The Jungle Book, can't quite explain why.

Wonder why the sleep stealer is a bird? Maybe a play on storks, vis-a-vis babies?

The narrative isn't from the point of view of the mother though...but an observer. Whose single-minded pursuit of this mystery and subsequent plundering and bringing home of all the stolen sleep, (not back to the baby though) almost suggests that he has been sleep deprived himself. Maybe from the baby's yowling (baby having been robbed of sleep). Heh.

Dunno. Whateverlah, it's fun. :)

5:34 PM, June 12, 2006  
Anonymous Whitearrow said...

Hehe, very fun poem. Reminds me of stuff read to me at bedtime when younger or that I read as a child. Perfectly encampsulates what my grandma would have felt when I, at 3 or 4 yrs old, having fallen asleep with angelic innocence suddenly woke up with yowls scary enough to frighten away the most stalwart parents' sleep. A very...familial and warm poem...to be shared between parent and child but also frustrated parent to frustrated parent who would gladly skin the sleep stealer for causing the baby to wake up!

11:52 AM, June 16, 2006  
Anonymous Whitearrow said...

p.s. yikes, should be 'encapsulates' in my previous post and not 'encampsulates', tho the latter's does suddently sound like a good new word to me. Hehe, delusions of grandeur strike yet again...

11:55 AM, June 16, 2006  

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