I ask, “But how am I to get up to you?”
They answer, “Come to the edge of the earth, lift up your
hands to the sky, and you will be taken up into the clouds.”
“My mother is waiting for me at home,” I say,
“How can I leave her and come?”
Then they smile and float away.Clouds and Waves by Rabindranath Tagore
I first read the above lines in 2016 while away from home. I didn’t realize it was an excerpt and that the poem didn’t end there. The abrupt end of it came as a cold shock, as if the last line served to close any possibilities, implying the child never left. Yet the brevity of it hit harder – that the clouds understood and left as soon as they had arrived – that there was no discussion, only a simple thought backed by a young boy’s emotion and rationale. It was as if Tagore meant life was usually that simple.
I was 22 then and more free than I’ve ever been. It was more than what many I knew could afford with their time and obligations, and I was quite aware of it. The lines hit hard because I do know people tied to homes, as well as others that leave homes and not entirely out of choice. My mother always said – well she says many things – but one was about how children are like little birds, to be kept in their nests only until they grow wings. And then we let them fly away.
It’s strange how for many of us, our privilege to fly was in fact earned for us by others who complied to stay.
I googled the poem today to see if I felt anything differently now. I was surprised to see there were more stanzas and that wasn’t the end as I’d thought. I still think it can form a whole, just startlingly short, cold and real.