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Vocation by Rabindranath Tagore is a long poem in which a young and innocent child expresses his desires without knowing the harsh reality of the world. However, on the other hand, the poem also highlights the treatment of children by their parents and teachers.
I have divided the poem into three stanzas. Let us try to understand the poem line by line.
When the gong sounds ten in the morning and I walk to school by our lane, Every day I meet the hawker crying, “Bangles, crystal bangles!" There is nothing to hurry him on, there is no road he must take, no place he must go to, no time when he must come home. I wish I were a hawker, spending my day in the road, crying, “Bangles, crystal bangles!"
The young child says that when it is 10 o’clock in the morning, the gong (alarm clock) starts ringing and he walks to school on the same lane (way). This is his everyday routine. According to him, he meets a hawker (one who sells things by shouting) on the way who keeps crying “bangles, crystal bangles”” in order to sell them,
Seeing him, the child thinks that the bangle seller has no hurry (like him). He is not bound to take the same road (like the child himself takes to school), go to the same school, and return back home. For the child, a hawker (bangle seller) lives an independent life and does whatever he likes.
This makes the child think if he were a hawker, he too would have enjoyed his life by crying “Bangles, crystal bangles” on the road and doing whatever he likes.
Though the stanza shows the child is innocent and does not know the harsh reality of the hawker’s life, it also reveals the strict rules under which a child is kept. It looks like his parents are too strict and he feels to be trapped in his house.
When at four in the afternoon I come back from the school, I can see through the gate of that house the gardener digging the ground. He does what he likes with his spade, he soils his clothes with dust, nobody takes him to task, if he gets baked in the sun or gets wet. I wish I were a gardener digging away at the garden with nobody to stop me from digging.
Next, when the child returns back home from the school at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, he sees a gardener digging the ground through the gate of a nearby house. Again, the child thinks that the gardener does whatever he desires. He makes his clothes dirty with the soil. No one forces him to do his task though it may be a sunny day or a rainy day.
In other words, the child thinks that the gardener is free and has no one to give orders. This makes him (the child) desire if he were a gardener he too would have been digging the ground and no one would be there to stop him from doing so.
Again, the innocence of the child is seen here. He is not aware of the poverty of the gardener. However, it looks like the parents of the child are strict towards him and stops him from every type of freedom.
Just as it gets dark in the evening and my mother sends me to bed, I can see through my open window the watchman walking up and down. The lane is dark and lonely, and the streetlamp stands like a giant with one red eye in its head. The watchman swings his lantern and walks with his shadow at his side, and never once goes to bed in his life. I wish I were a watchman walking the street all night, chasing the shadows with my lantern.
In the final stanza, when it is night, the mother of the child sends him to bed (to sleep). While on the bed, the child sees, through the open window, the watchman walking up and down. According to the child, the lane is dark and there is no one walking on it. The street lamp looks like a big giant with one red eye (bulb) in his head (on the top).
The watchman keeps walking with a lantern in his hand and his shadow behind him. According to the child, the watchman never goes to bed unlike him. This makes him to desire if he were a watchman, he too would have been walking the street all night, chasing his shadow with his lantern.
This stanza also reveals the hidden desires of children. He does not want to go to bed at night. Instead, he desires to enjoy the loneliness and dark. As he is innocent, he does not know that the watchman sleeps during the daytime and also that he is poor and night job is not as easy as it seems.