Following is an extract from a Rabindranath Tagore story called, "A Wrong Man in Workers' Paradise". I need help in understanding the contextual meaning of a line in it.

The story is about a man who never did any useful work and lived a leisurely life devoid of all care.

Some boys seldom ply their books and yet pass their tests. A similar thing happened to this man. He spent his earth life in useless work and yet after his death, the gates of Heaven opened wide for him.

But, the Moving Finger writes even in Heaven. So, it came to pass that the aerial messenger who took charge of the man, made a mistake and found him a place in Workers' Paradise.

In this Paradise you find everything except leisure.

Upon a quick search over the Internet I found this explanation to the phrase.

However, I am not sure –

a) what 'Moving Finger' means here
b) what figure of speech is used
c) what is the contextual meaning of the whole phrase

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the third question asks for literary criticism.'The moving finger writes even in Heaven' is certainly a reference to the Scripture. But there are few in monotheistic religions who consider God prone to mismanagement. This text muddles belief with impossible fantasy. I don't think there's a relevant 'figure of speech'. Mar 21, 2018 at 15:18

5 Answers 5


I would suggest this is a reference to the appearance of a man's hand in the Book of Daniel in the Bible.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a feast and defiled the Temple, bringing its sacred vessels to drink from and make merry with. A man's hand appeared (just the hand) and with its finger wrote on the wall opposite the king. No-one could understand what was written, but Daniel was brought in and he interpreted the writing, "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin".

And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

In the case of your man, a similar fate befell him: his life of leisure was denounced even in heaven, and he was banished to a lesser place.

As to "what figure of speech", it's not really a metaphor for anything. I would say it was a literary reference as it appears to refer to an identifable episode in literature.

(As an aside, the phrase The writing's on the wall, meaning the notification of imminent downfall, comes from the same place.)

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    But the phrase appears to have originated in Edward Fitzgerald's translation of Omar Khayyam's literary works. May 10, 2014 at 17:46
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    I think the Book of Daniel is rather earlier than Omar Khayyam. And Fitzgerald. Both were probably familiar with the Daniel story.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 10, 2014 at 17:53
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    Edward Fitzgerald (and Omar Khayyam, assuming Fitzgerald translated him literally in this case; he didn't always) almost certainly based the phrase on the Book of Daniel; the fact that Tagore says moving finger rather than hand means that Tagore was influenced by Fitzgerald; whether Tagore also intended to reference the Book of Daniel is not clear, although it wouldn't surprise me. May 10, 2014 at 19:47
  • Andrew, since Daniel takes place in what was to become part of Persia, isn't it likely that they also had the story of the hand writing on the wall? Might not Omar Khayyam have written it (you say this; did Khayyam read the OT?)? @PeterShor do you think it was much more likely to be Fitzgerald's use of this story than Khayyam's? I can't read the original. Certainly "Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why:/ Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where," can't be Fitzgerald putting Solomon's words in Khayyam's mouth. May 10, 2014 at 23:15
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    @medica Daniel was written 2nd century BC; Omar Khayyam lived c1000 AD. Since Nebuchadezzar lost his kingdom to the Medes and Persians, it's quite likely that the story survived in Persia, if Omar Khayyam didn't actually read it.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 11, 2014 at 8:33

To me the phrase means that the person needs to take responsibility for their life on Earth and their actions and the way they lived on Earth will have an effect on their life in Heaven. In this particular instance it seems to be describing the fact that a man that lived a lazy life was allowed into Heaven. However, once into Heaven he was placed in a section that offered him a repentance for his laziness, in that he would be in paradise but working every day.


It refers to the belief that an angel keeps a record of the good and bad things one does on earth.

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    hello and welcome to the site. I'm fairly new myself. When giving an answer, always try to cite how you know what you know. Is there an official source or is it colloquial language heard where you live? You can edit your answer to add any information of this sort.
    – user227547
    May 30, 2017 at 21:38

a)‘Moving finger’ here means that ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ b)Personification c)The man who was not supposed to be brought to the ‘workers paradise’, if the records of his lifetime were properly liked into, was brought there by the mistake committed by the aerial messenger. This is only because of fate.

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    – MetaEd
    Mar 21, 2018 at 22:26

Moving fingers means fate, destiny in this story.

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