Unworthy Gift – Commonwealth Literature

Unworthy Gift

Far below flowed the Jumna, swift and clear,
Above frowned the jutting bank.
Hills dark with the woods and scarred
With the torrents were gathered around.

Govinda, the great Sikh teacher, sat on the rock
Reading scriptures, when Raghunath, his disciple, proud
of his wealth, came and bowed to him and said, I have
brought my poor present unworthy of your acceptance.’

Thus saying he displayed before the teacher a pair of
Gold bangles wrought with costly stones.
The master took up one of them, twirling it round
His finger, and the diamonds darted shafts of light.

Suddenly it slipped from his hand and rolled down
the bank into the water.
‘Alas,’ screamed Raghunath and jumped into the stream.
The teacher set his eyes upon his book, and the water
held and hid what it stole and went its way.

The daylight faded when Raghunath came back to
the teacher tired and dripping.
He panted and said, I can still get it back if you
Show me where it fell.’
The teacher took up the remaining bangle and throwing it
Into the water said, It is there.’

Author Rabindranath Tagore

Summary and Analysis

The poem ‘Unworthy Gift’ by Rabindranath Tagore expresses the importance of spirituality
over materialism. The poem conveys this idea throughout the incidents which takes place near Jumna river between the great Sikh teacher Govinda and his disciple Ragunath.

The first stanza describes the local of the poem. Then it goes on to describe the main characters Govinda the great Sikh teacher and his disciple Ragunath. The teacher is busy reading the scriptures and he is interrupted by his disciple Ragunath. Though being a disciple of Govinda, we find that Ragunath seems to be proud of his wealth, yet he tries to be humble towards his teacher and wanted to give him pair of golden bangles. To show his humbleness he says to his teacher that he has brought a poor gift which is unworthy of his acceptance. But we come to know it’s not a poor gift as the writer describes the bangle which is made of costly stones. These lines also explain that wealth sometimes bring pride to man. 

‘I have
my poor present, unworthy of your acceptance.

These lines on the other hand acts as verbal irony as it is explained in the next stanza that the gift Ragunath brought finally goes into river and becomes unworthy .

The moment Ragunath hands over the gift to his teacher, he takes it in his hand and twirls it round his finger and it slips and falls into the river and sinks. This shows that Govinda doesn’t give any importance to the diamond bangles. If so he could have carefully handled the diamond bangles but he carelessly twirls it round his finger as a valueless object. The moment it falls into the river Ragunath immediately jumps into the stream and tries to find it till evening. Yet his search becomes a failure.His immediate reaction to the incident shows how much he is attached to material wealth which makes him even to risk his life in search of the bangle. On the other hand we see Govinda calmly reading the scripture. He is not disturbed seeing the bangle sinking in the river. 
Ragunath comes back and requests his teacher to help him find the bangle. He expects that his teacher will help him using his wisdom, but contrary to his expectation Govinda throws the remaining bangle into the river and asks his disciple to trace its direction to find the lost bangle
.His reaction conveys the message that material wealth holds no value when compared to the value of spirituality.