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The Gardener

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SERVANT. Have mercy upon your servant, my queen!QUEEN. The assembly is over and my servants are all gone. Whydo you come at this late hour?SERVANT. When you have finished with others, that is my time.I come to ask what remains for your last servant to do.QUEEN. What can you expect when it is too late?SERVANT. Make me the gardener of your flower garden.QUEEN. What folly is this?SERVANT. I will give up my other work.I will throw my swords and lances down in the dust. Do not sendme to distant courts; do not bid me undertake new conquests.But make me the gardener of your flower garden.QUEEN. What will your duties be?SERVANT. The service of your idle days.I will keep fresh the grassy path where you walk in the morning,where your feet will be greeted with praise at every step bythe flowers eager for death.I will swing you in a swing among the branches of thesaptaparna, where the early evening moon will struggleto kiss your skirt through the leaves.I will replenish with scented oil the lamp that burns by yourbedside, and decorate your footstool with sandal and saffronpaste in wondrous designs.QUEEN. What will you have for your reward?SERVANT. To be allowed to hold your little fists like tenderlotus-buds and slip flower chains over your wrists; to tingethe soles of your feet with the red juice of ashokapetals and kiss away the speck of dust that may chance tolinger there.QUEEN. Your prayers are granted, my servant, you will be thegardener of my flower garden. 2 "Ah, poet, the evening draws near; your hair is turning grey."Do you in your lonely musing hear the message of the hereafter?""It is evening," the poet said, "and I am listening because someone may call from the village, late though it be."I watch if young straying hearts meet together, and two pairs ofeager eyes beg for music to break their silence and speak forthem."Who is there to weave their passionate songs, if I sit on theshore of life and contemplate death and the beyond?"The early evening star disappears."The glow of a funeral pyre slowly dies by the silent river."Jackals cry in chorus from the courtyard of the deserted housein the light of the worn-out moon."If some wanderer, leaving home, come here to watch the night andwith bowed head listen to the murmur of the darkness, who isthere to whisper the secrets of life into his ears if I,shutting my doors, should try to free myself from mortal bonds?"It is a trifle that my hair is turning grey."I am ever as young or as old as the youngest and the oldest ofthis village."Some have smiles, sweet and simple, and some a sly twinkle intheir eyes."Some have tears that well up in the daylight, and others tearsthat are hidden in the gloom.They all have need for me, and I have no time to brood over theafterlife."I am of an age with each, what matter if my hair turns grey?" 3 In the morning I cast my net into the sea.I dragged up from the dark abyss things of strange aspect andstrange beauty—some shone like a smile, some glistened liketears, and some were flushed like the cheeks of a bride.When with the day's burden I went home, my love was sitting inthe garden idly tearing the leaves of a flower.I hesitated for a moment, and then placed at her feet all that Ihad dragged up, and stood silent.She glanced at them and said, "What strange things are these? Iknow not of what use they are!"I bowed my head in shame and thought, "I have not fought forthese, I did not buy them in the market; they are not fit giftsfor her."Then the whole night through I flung them one by one into thestreet.In the morning travellers came; they picked them up and carriedthem into far countries. 4 Ah me, why did they build my house by the road to the markettown?They moor their laden boats near my trees.They come and go and wander at their will.I sit and watch them; my time wears on.Turn them away I cannot. And thus my days pass by.Night and day their steps sound by my door.Vainly I cry, "I do not know you."Some of them are known to my fingers, some to my nostrils, theblood in my veins seems to know them, and some are known to mydreams.Turn them away I cannot. I call them and say, "Come to my housewhoever chooses. Yes, come."In the morning the bell rings in the temple.They come with their baskets in their hands.Their feet are rosy red. The early light of dawn is on theirfaces.Turn them away I cannot. I call them and I say, "Come to mygarden to gather flowers....