“Abhisara – The Tryst” Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • The poem “The Tryst” (also known as “Abhisara” and “Upagupta”) by Rabindranath Tagore narrates the story of Upagupta, a Buddhist monk and Vasavadatta, a dancing girl of Mathura. In fact, it relates the ‘abhisara’ (a Bengali word meaning ‘tryst’ or ‘a secret meeting’) between them.
  • In return to Vasavadatta’s display of love and kindness one day, Upagupta meets and shows his selfless love and compassion to the girl when she needs it the most.

The Tryst – Line by Line Explanation

[Note: Originally written in Bengali, multiple versions of the English translation of the poem are available in the public domain – https://www.bartleby.com/300/165.html (from the collection “Narrative”), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6522/6522-h/6522-h.htm  (from the collection “Fruit Gathering”). We have taken the “Fruit Gathering” version available at the Gutenberg site with slight changes according to the CISCE prescribed text-book for ISC Exam “Rhapsody” (Evergreen Publications India Ltd.). So, the line numbers are not universal and may not match.]

Line 1-2

Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay asleep on the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.

So, the poem “The Tryst” begins in a straight-forward manner presenting the readers with a story. It’s the story of Upagupta, an ancient Buddhist monk who lived in 300 BCE. One dark night, he was lying asleep on the dusty road by the boundary-wall of Mathura city (a city in Uttar Pradesh in India). It was mid-monsoon in August. The stars were not visible due to the cloudy (murky) sky. And the entire city was asleep with all the lamps put out and all doors shut.

In the first two lines of the poem, we get a clear picture of the lonely ascetic life of Upagupta as a follower of Lord Buddha. Understandably, he has been living a life secluded from the buzz and bustle of city life. He needs no home and no bed to sleep, as the entire world is his home and he has discarded all worldly pleasures.

Line 3-5

Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets, touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and the light from a woman’s lamp struck his forgiving eyes.
It was Vasavadatta the dancing girl, starred with jewels, clouded with a pale-blue mantle, drunk with the wine of her youth.

While Upagupta was in sleep, all of a sudden, someone’s feet touched his chest. The ringing sound (tinkling) of anklets on those feet made it clear that it was a woman who stumbled upon the body of sleeping Upagupta.

However, Upagupta woke up abruptly being startled by the knock. He saw that it was a woman carrying a lamp in her hand. By the words ‘forgiving eyes’ the poet highlights the merciful calmness in the monk’s eyes.

The woman was Vasavadatta, the famous dancing girl of Mathura. She was well-known for her beauty as well as for her dance. She was wearing a light-blue cloth (mantle) and shining with jewellery. Her youthful beauty was so fascinating that the poet says she was ‘drunk with the wine of her youth’. It may also indicate that Vasavadatta was proud of her youth and appearance.

Line 6-8

She lowered her lamp and saw the young face, austerely beautiful.
“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman; “graciously come to my house. The dusty earth is not a fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman, go on your way; when the time is ripe I will come to you.”

Upon lowering the lamp in her hand, Vasavadatta saw the face of Upagupta, the hermit. She was impressed by the austerity (soberness) of the man. She asked for his forgiveness for tripping over his body and also politely invited him to her house. She opined that the dusty road was not a suitable bed for him.

Upagupta told Vasavadatta to return to her house and promised to meet her only when the right time would come.

Line 9-10

Suddenly the black night showed its teeth in a flash of lightning.
The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and the woman trembled in fear.

Suddenly, the lightning struck with a flash of light in the dark sky. It was as if the black night showed its white teeth. The storm began to blow with growling sound from one corner of the sky. Vasavadatta got afraid at the sound of the lightning and the blowing storm and she trembled in fear. So, seemingly, she hurried back home without wasting more time.

Line 11-16

A Year had not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April, in the Spring.
The branches of the wayside trees were full with blossom.
Gay notes of the flute came floating in the warm spring air from afar.
The citizens had gone to the woods, to the festival of flowers.
From the mid-sky gazed the full moon on the shadows of the silent town.

Now the story of the poem “The Tryst” shifts to a different time. It’s a few months from the earlier incident when Vasavadatta tumbled over Upagupta one dark night. The poet clearly mentions that it was an evening of April and it was springtime now.

The poet gives a description of the beautiful nature around. The trees were all covered with flowers. The cheerful melody of a flute came floating in the warm spring air from far away. The citizens of Mathura city had gone to the forest to enjoy the festival of flowers. And the full moon was shining over the quiet town.

Line 17-19

The young ascetic was walking in the lonely street, while overhead the love-sick koels uttered from the mango branches their sleepless plaint.
Upagupta passed through the city gates, and stood at the base of the rampart.
What woman lay in the shadow of the wall at his feet, struck with the black pestilence, her body spotted with sores, hurriedly driven away from the town?

In that moonlit evening of spring, Upagupta, the ascetic was walking on the lonely street while the love-sick koel birds on the mango-branches overhead were awake and voicing their complaints to each other.

Upagupta entered the city of Mathura through the city gates and stood at the base of the city wall. Suddenly, he came across a woman lying at his feet in the shadow of the wall. She was suffering from a fatal epidemic and her body was covered with sores (wounds). She was thrown out of the city in order to protect the city from the spread of the epidemic. Understandably, the woman was unattended and was left in the hands of fate.

Line 20-22

The ascetic sat by her side, taking her head on his knees, and moistened her lips with water and smeared her body with balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and I am here, Vasavadatta” replied the young ascetic.

Upagupta sat beside the woman and compassionately placed her head on his knees. He tried to ease her pain by hydrating her lips with water and applying balm on her wounds. Being an ascetic Upagupta found it obligatory to show his human compassion to a human being who is in need of treatment and care to survive.

However, the woman was surprised and wanted to know who the merciful man was. The monk replied that the time had finally come to visit her and that is why he was there. Here, Upagupta addressed the woman as Vasavadatta, which indicates that he recognized the woman whom he had met earlier.

Thus, in return to Vasavadatta’s display of love and kindness one day, Upagupta shows his selfless love and compassion to the girl when she needs it the most.

The Tryst – Into details


The Bengali poem “Abhisar”, later translated as ‘The Tryst’, was originally written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1899. “Abhisar” was published in his book “Katha o Kahini” and the English version “The Tryst” was published by Macmillan in 1916 in the collection “Fruit Gathering”. Before that the English poem also came out in the December-1913 edition of the “Poetry” magazine published by Harriet Monroe.


The poem “Abhisar” or “The Tryst” is based on the legends of the Buddhist monk Upagupta who lived in the 3rd Century BCE. He was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. He still has a following in south-east Asian countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Tagore adapted the story narrated in the poem from the book “Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā by Kshemendra, later translated as “Legends and Miracles of Buddha Sakya Sinha” by Nobin Chandra Das in 1895.

That Buddhist philosophy had a great influence on Tagore’s thoughts and works is quite evident from the poem.


The story of the poem, as already discussed, is based on the legends of the Buddhist monk Upagupta. So, the poem is set in 300 BCE. The place mentioned in the poem is Mathura city, India. Two meetings between Upagupta and Vasavadatta took place within a year, in a difference of several months.

It was August, the monsoon, when Vasavadatta stumbled upon Upagupta for the first time while their second meeting happened in April, the springtime. Both the meetings took place during the night time.

While the first meeting took place in a gloomy atmosphere with the murky sky, lightning and growling storm, the second meeting was in a rather cheery condition with the fool moon, notes of a flute floating around and the birds chirping. And notably, the atmosphere in both the scenes contradict with the state of life Vasavadatta was living in. Maybe this is a deliberate attempt from the poet to remind us how people’s fate changes with time and that the outer world may not reflect our inner condition.


The Bengali word “abhisar” and the English word “tryst” mean the same – a private romantic meeting between two lovers. Though the present poem doesn’t really deal with a conventional kind of romantic love affair, the meeting between Upagupta and Vasavadatta outside the Mathura city wall when she needed someone the most to take care of her was no less than a tryst. It was a higher kind of love on display – spiritual love.

Upagupta, being a Buddhist monk, believed in selfless service to humanity. He attended and cared for Vasavadatta when the entire city showed apathy towards her. It was a secret meeting between them and a secret love affair which nobody in the city knew about. So, the title of the poem “Abhisara – The Tryst” is not only justified but also very meaningful.

Form and Language

Tagore’s poem “The Tryst” is written in free verse with no particular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern followed. Third person narrative has been used to deliver the story in the poem. But rhythmic effects of the long lines make reading the poem a pleasure.

The language used is lucid and fluent. The use of vivid visual and auditory images like the murky sky of August, tinkling of anklets, the flash of lightning, the branches full of blossoms, notes of the flute etc. makes a sensuous appeal to the reader.


Tagore’s poem “The Tryst” conveys a number of messages to the readers. The prominent themes in the poem are –

Transitory nature of youth and beauty

In the poem, we see how Vasavadatta, who once was a beautiful and proud woman and a famous dancing girl, was thrown out of the city when she suffered from an epidemic. This reminds us that youth and beauty are not permanent. So, we should not be proud of such qualities which are temporary in nature.

Human compassion

Upagupta was a disciple of Lord Buddha and he believed in selfless service to mankind. When he found Vasavadatta in an abandoned state, he showed his kindness and took great care of her. Upagupta ‘took her head on his knees’, ‘moistened her lips with water’ and ‘smeared her body with balm’ to give solace to her sores.

Vasavadatta’s address was so fitting when he asked, “Who are you, merciful one?” Upagupta indeed was ‘merciful’ not only to Vasavadatta but to the entire humanity by his philosophical and spiritual faith.

Spiritual love and wisdom

The poem “The Tryst”, as the name suggests, can be seen as a love story too. But this is not the traditional romantic love. It’s rather spiritual love which is unconditional and asexual.

The hermit, Upagupta was wise enough to politely refuse Vasavadatta’s invitation for a rest at her home in the first part of the poem. He knew that at that time she needed no help from him. So, he promised to visit her when the time was right.

And that time finally came even before a year was passed. Vasavadatta was struck with an epidemic and nobody was there to care for her. Upagupta visited the deserted woman and offered his selfless service out of his love for her, out of his love for the entire mankind.


Light and darkness

Tagore in his poem “Abhisara – The Tryst” has used light and darkness symbolically to give a glimpse of the inner world of the two characters in the poem.

In the first part of the story, it was a dark August night when the beautiful lady Vasavadatta met the hermit, Upagupta. Though the lady was glittering with jewels, she was actually in the dark, i.e., she was ignorant of how temporary her youth and beauty was. Again, the flash of the lightning might be suggestive of the inner light of wisdom that Upagupta showed by politely refusing her suggestion to go with her.

In the later stage of the poem, the brightness of the moon suggests the same inner light of the monk that remains intact.

Monsoon and spring

The poem “The Tryst” depicts two meetings between Upagupta and Vasavadatta, one in monsoon and the other in Springtime. The changing seasons in nature symbolises the changing conditions of our life. In the poem we see how Vasavadatta’s fate changes with time. Once she was the most beautiful and most desired lady in the town, but later she was abandoned by everyone.

Literary Devices

End-stopped lines

End-stopped line in poetry is a line of verse where a sentence or phrase ends at the end of the line, generally with a punctuation mark like a comma, colon, full stop etc.

In “The Tryst”, though the lines are long, all the lines are end-stopped lines.

Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay asleep on the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets, touching his breast of a sudden?


A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line.

Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay asleep on the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets, touching his breast of a sudden?


Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

It was evening of a day in April, in the Spring. (‘i’ sound)
… gazed the full moon… (‘u’ sound)


Consonance is the opposite of assonance – repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

the disciple of Buddha, lay asleep (‘l’ sound)
murky sky of August (‘k’ sound)
tinkling with anklets (‘t’, ‘n’, ‘k’ and ‘l’ sounds) etc.


Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

festival of flowers (‘f’ sound)
she lowered her lamp (‘l’ sound)
notes of a flute came floating (‘f’ and ‘l’ sound)


Personification is the attribution of human qualities to non-human things.

Suddenly the black night showed its teeth

In the above line, the black night is shown to be acting like a human being showing its teeth, and it is thus personified.

From the mid-sky gazed the full moon

The full moon is personified here by using the word ‘gazed’.

Transferred Epithet / Hypallage

A transferred epithet happens when an adjective usually used to describe one thing is placed with something different.

The words “forgiving eyes” in the first part of the poem is an example of transferred epithet because the adjective ‘forgiving’ is generally used to describe mind, but it is now used with ‘eyes’.

gay notes of a flute” is also an instance of hypallage as people feel happy (gay) listening to the tune of the flute, but the flute itself cannot be gay.

Again, ‘sleepless plaint’ is another example of hypallage, where the koel birds are sleepless and not really the plaint (complaint).

Written by , Last updated on June 20, 2023