The Last Bargain is a soulful poem written by famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. In the poem, the speaker is telling about the worthlessness of worldly things, power, and beauty. Note that every human on earth is trying to achieve these three things.
For him, every material thing on earth is mortal and not everlasting. Different people come to him with different types of worldly things. However, the speaker rejects them one by one. Finally, he makes a bargain with nothingness which symbolizes the free spirit.
The poem is divided into four parts or stanzas with a different number of lines. We will discuss the poem line by line in order to go through the hidden meaning.
In the first stanza, the speaker says that one day, while he was walking on the stone-paved road in the morning, the King came in his chariot with a sword in his hand. Seeing him, the speaker pleads the king to hire him.
Note that it is the morning time that symbolizes hope and courage. Hence the poet seems to be hopeful. “Stone-paved road” here means a difficult path. “King in his chariot with a sword” means a person with power.
The speaker pleads to the king which means that he is in need of something badly. He asks the king to hire him. “Hire” here means that the poet wants to get what the king has.
The king holds the hand of the speaker and says that he will hire him with his power. However, power seems to be naught i.e. nothing or worthless to the speaker because it is not everlasting. The king will die and so his powers.
The speaker is thus not satisfied with what the king offered him. He rejects the offer and the king goes away in his chariot. In this stanza, the speaker describes his first struggle to get something that fails.
Now it is the day time and very hot outside. The doors of houses are closed. The speaker is wandering along the crooked lane. “Crooked lane” means bent or uneven road. Thus like the stone-paved road of the stanza, this road is also difficult and full of troubles.
Soon an old man comes out of his house along with a bag of gold i.e. huge wealth. He pondered i.e. thought carefully and finding that the speaker is in need of something offers him money and says that he (the old man) will hire him with that.
The old man, in order to show how wealthy he starts counting his gold coins one by one. However like the power of king, the wealth of old seems to be worthless because it could not make the old man young again nor it could make the climate cool.
The speaker understands that wealth is not something which he needs because like the power, it does not remain in one hand forever. He wants something else and thus goes away.
Now it is evening time and the garden hedge (fence or boundary) is aflower (blooming with flowers). In other words, the garden is looking very beautiful and romantic. A fair maid (a beautiful lady) comes out and says that she wants to hire him (the speaker) with a smile i.e. with her beauty.
However, the speaker finds that like the king’s power and old man’s wealth, her beauty is also not everlasting. Soon the smile of that beautiful lady is paled and melted with tears i.e. gone and she goes back along into the dark. Dark here symbolizes hopelessness and the speaker dot not want hopelessness.
He understands that a smile that made her look beautiful is fake and not everlasting. It has hidden sorrows of the lady. The day is over but the speaker fails to make a bargain. However, he has patience and persistence. He does not give up.
In the final stanza, the new day comes with new hope and courage for the speaker. He is at the seashore and sees the sun glistening (shining) on the sand and the sea waves breaking (i.e. striking) waywardly (i.e. in an unpredictable way). This vista presented by the speaker symbolizes his love and appreciation for nature.
Soon he finds a child sitting on the seashore and playing with shells. This is a symbolic image as the child has no desire for power or wealth or beauty. He is free of all these things which make the man a servant.
The child raises his head and sees the speaker. It looks to the speaker that the child knows him. Seeing the speaker in a quest (search) for something, the child offers to hire him with nothing. Nothing is a profound symbol. It means freedom, liberty, independence and free from desire.
The speaker understands that this is what he was longing for since long. He accepts the child’s offer and from thenceforward (from that day) the speaker finds freedom in the child’s play and thus becomes a free man. This was the ultimate destination of the speaker.