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Rabindranath Tagore's "The Last Bargain"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Introduction and Text of "The Last Bargain"

The spiritual search is the one that leads to freedom and bliss. Much pain and anguish befall those whose main, and often, only focus is on the material. The speaker in Rabindranath Tagore's "The Last Bargain" from his collection, The Crescent Moon, metaphorically compares that focus, as the speaker, the metaphorical job hunter, searches for the best employment for himself.

The Last Bargain

"Come and hire me," I cried, while in the morning I was walking on the stone-paved road.
Sword in hand, the King came in his chariot.
He held my hand and said, "I will hire you with my power."
But his power counted for nought, and he went away in his chariot.

In the heat of the midday the houses stood with shut doors.
I wandered along the crooked lane.
An old man came out with his bag of gold.
He pondered and said, "I will hire you with my money."
He weighed his coins one by one, but I turned away.

It was evening. The garden hedge was all aflower.
The fair maid came out and said, "I will hire you with a smile."
Her smile paled and melted into tears, and she went back alone into the dark.

The sun glistened on the sand, and the sea waves broke waywardly.
A child sat playing with shells.
He raised his head and seemed to know me, and said, "I hire you with nothing."
From thenceforward that bargain struck in child's play made me a free man.

Reading of "The Last Bargain"

Commentary

Rabindranath Tagore's "The Last Bargain" presents an enigma: how can it be that a child offering nothing can be the bargain that makes a "free man" of the seeker?

First Movement: Seeking Employment

"Come and hire me," I cried, while in the morning I was walking on the stone-paved road.
Sword in hand, the King came in his chariot.
He held my hand and said, "I will hire you with my power."
But his power counted for nought, and he went away in his chariot.

In the opening movement whose setting is in the morning, the speaker appears to be searching for employment, as he cries, "Come and hire me." The king appears and offers to employ the seeker with his "power."

The speaker, however, finds that the king's power amounted to nothing valuable. The king then retreats in his "chariot." Assuredly, the speaker continues his search. But at this point, the reader begins to suspect that this speaker is not searching for earthly employment on the material, physical level of being.

Second Movement: Continuing the Search

In the heat of the midday the houses stood with shut doors.
I wandered along the crooked lane.
An old man came out with his bag of gold.
He pondered and said, "I will hire you with my money."
He weighed his coins one by one, but I turned away.

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The speaker continues his search and now it is "midday." He notes that the doors to the houses are all shut. Suddenly, an old man appears with a "bag of gold," and reports to the seeker that he will hire him "with [his] money."

The old man "weighed his coins one by one," demonstrating his attachment to those pieces of material. But the speaker/seeker is likely disgusted by the spectacle and "turn[s] away."

The speaker was not impressed with a king's power, and he was not impressed with an old man's "gold." The reader can now be sure that it is not worldly goods that the speaker is seeking; he can be seeking only the love of the Spirit, which is not to be found in worldly power and wealth.

Third Movement: Experiencing a Change

It was evening. The garden hedge was all aflower.
The fair maid came out and said, "I will hire you with a smile."
Her smile paled and melted into tears, and she went back alone into the dark.

However, the speaker/seeker continues on into evening, when see spies, a "garden hedge [ ] all aflower." Then he meets a "fair maid" who asserts, "I will hire you with a smile."

However, the seeker eventually experiences the change that comes over the aged human as the smile "paled and melted into tears." And the maiden "went back alone into the dark."

Fourth Movement: The Best Bargain

The sun glistened on the sand, and the sea waves broke waywardly.
A child sat playing with shells.
He raised his head and seemed to know me, and said, "I hire you with nothing."
From thenceforward that bargain struck in child's play made me a free man.

Finally, the speaker, walking along the seashore, observing the crashing waves, and encountering a child at play on the shore, is offered his last bargain: "I hire you with nothing." This last bargain turns out to be the best bargain, the one that frees the seeker from seeking satisfaction from earthly things.

It is the silent Spirit, the nothingness contravening materiality, the space transcending time and matter—that becomes the true employer. Toiling for such an employer conveys upon the worker freedom, soul awareness, and bliss, none of which can broached by power, money, and worldly affection.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Was the king's power of any use?

Answer: The speaker was not impressed with a king's power, and he was not impressed with an old man's "gold." The reader can now be sure that it is not worldly goods that the speaker is seeking; he can be seeking only the love of the Spirit, which is not to be found in worldly power and wealth.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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