ANCIENT BALLADS AND LEGENDS OF HINDUSTAN
AUTHOR OF "A SHEAF GLEANED IN FRENCH FIELDS," AND "LE JOURNAL DE MADEMOISELLE D'ARVERS."
WITH AN INTRODUCTORY MEMOIR BY EDMUND GOSSE.
LONDON KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH & CO. MDCCCLXXXV
"I never heard the old song of Percie and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved, more than with a trumpet: and yet it is sung but by some blinde crowder, with no rougher voice, than rude style."
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.
Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Archaic spellings have been retained. Punctuation has been normalised. The oe ligature has been transcribed as [oe].
I. Savitri 1 II. Lakshman 46 III. Jogadhya Uma 54 IV. The Royal Ascetic and the Hind 65 V. Dhruva 71 VI. Buttoo 77 VII. Sindhu 89 VIII. Prehlad 107 IX. Sita 122
Near Hastings 127 France—1870 129 The Tree of Life 131 On the Fly Leaf of Erckmann-Chatrian's novel entitled Madame Therese 133 Sonnet—Baugmaree 135 Sonnet—The Lotus 136 Our Casuarina Tree 137
If Toru Dutt were alive, she would still be younger than any recognized European writer, and yet her fame, which is already considerable, has been entirely posthumous. Within the brief space of four years which now divides us from the date of her decease, her genius has been revealed to the world under many phases, and has been recognized throughout France and England. Her name, at least, is no longer unfamiliar in the ear of any well-read man or woman. But at the hour of her death she had published but one book, and that book had found but two reviewers in Europe. One of these, M. Andre Theuriet, the well-known poet and novelist, gave the "Sheaf gleaned in French Fields" adequate praise in the "Revue des Deux Mondes;" but the other, the writer of the present notice, has a melancholy satisfaction in having been a little earlier still in sounding the only note of welcome which reached the dying poetess from England. It was while Professor W. Minto was editor of the "Examiner," that one day in August, 1876, in the very heart of the dead season for books, I happened to be in the office of that newspaper, and was upbraiding the whole body of publishers for issuing no books worth reviewing. At that moment the postman brought in a thin and sallow packet with a wonderful Indian postmark on it, and containing a most unattractive orange pamphlet of verse, printed at Bhowanipore, and entitled "A Sheaf gleaned in French Fields, by Toru Dutt." This shabby little book of some two hundred pages, without preface or introduction, seemed specially destined by its particular providence to find its way hastily into the waste-paper basket. I remember that Mr. Minto thrust it into my unwilling hands, and said "There! see whether you can't make something of that." A hopeless volume it seemed, with its queer type, published at Bhowanipore, printed at the Saptahiksambad Press! But when at last I took it out of my pocket, what was my surprise and almost rapture to open at such verse as this:—
Still barred thy doors! The far east glows, The morning wind blows fresh and free Should not the hour that wakes the rose Awaken also thee?
All look for thee, Love, Light, and Song, Light in the sky deep red above, Song, in the lark of pinions strong, And in my heart, true Love.
Apart we miss our nature's goal, Why strive to cheat our destinies? Was not my love made for thy soul? Thy beauty for mine eyes? No longer sleep, Oh, listen now! I wait and weep, But where art thou?
When poetry is as good as this it does not much matter whether Rouveyre prints it upon Whatman paper, or whether it steals to light in blurred type from some press in Bhowanipore.
Toru Dutt was the youngest of the three children of a high-caste Hindu couple in Bengal. Her father, who survives them all, the Baboo Govin Chunder Dutt, is himself distinguished among his countrymen for the width of his views and the vigour of his intelligence. His only son, Abju, died in 1865, at the age of fourteen, and left his two younger sisters to console their parents. Aru, the elder daughter, born in 1854, was eighteen months senior to Toru, the subject of this memoir, who was born in Calcutta on the 4th of March, 1856. With the exception of one year's visit to Bombay, the childhood of these girls was spent in Calcutta, at their father's garden-house. In a poem now printed for the first time, Toru refers to the scene of her earliest memories, the circling wilderness of foliage, the shining tank with the round leaves of the lilies, the murmuring dusk under the vast branches of the central casuarina-tree. Here, in a mystical retirement more irksome to an European in fancy than to an Oriental in reality, the brain of this wonderful child was moulded. She was pure Hindu, full of the typical qualities of her race and blood, and, as the present volume shows us for the first time, preserving to the last her appreciation of the poetic side of her ancient religion, though faith itself in Vishnu and Siva had been cast aside with childish things and been replaced by a purer faith. Her mother fed her imagination with the old songs and legends of their people, stories which it was the last labour of her life to weave into English verse; but it would seem that the marvellous faculties of Toru's mind still slumbered, when, in her thirteenth year, her father decided to take his daughters to Europe to learn English and French. To the end of her days Toru was a better French than English scholar. She loved France best, she knew its literature best, she wrote its language with more perfect elegance. The Dutts arrived in Europe at the close of 1869, and the girls went to school, for the first and last time, at a French pension. They did not remain there very many months; their father took them to Italy and England with him, and finally they attended for a short time, but with great zeal and application, the lectures for women at Cambridge. In November, 1873, they went back again to Bengal, and the four remaining years of Toru's life were spent in the old garden-house at Calcutta, in a feverish dream of intellectual effort and imaginative production. When we consider what she achieved in these forty-five months of seclusion, it is impossible to wonder that the frail and hectic body succumbed under so excessive a strain.
She brought with her from Europe a store of knowledge that would have sufficed to make an English or French girl seem learned, but which in her case was simply miraculous. Immediately on her return she began to study Sanskrit with the same intense application which she gave to all her work, and mastering the language with extraordinary swiftness, she plunged into its mysterious literature. But she was born to write, and despairing of an audience in her own language, she began to adopt ours as a medium for her thought. Her first essay, published when she was eighteen, was a monograph, in the "Bengal Magazine," on Leconte de Lisle, a writer with whom she had a sympathy which is very easy to comprehend. The austere poet of "La Mort de Valmiki" was, obviously, a figure to whom the poet of "Sindhu" must needs be attracted on approaching European literature. This study, which was illustrated by translations into English verse, was followed by another on Josephin Soulary, in whom she saw more than her maturer judgment might have justified. There is something very interesting and now, alas! still more pathetic in these sturdy and workmanlike essays in unaided criticism. Still more solitary her work became, in July, 1874, when her only sister, Aru, died, at the age of twenty. She seems to have been no less amiable than her sister, and if gifted with less originality and a less forcible ambition, to have been finely accomplished. Both sisters were well-trained musicians, with full contralto voices, and Aru had a faculty for design which promised well. The romance of "Mlle. D'Arvers" was originally projected for Aru to illustrate, but no page of this book did Aru ever see.
In 1876, as we have said, appeared that obscure first volume at Bhowanipore. The "Sheaf gleaned in French Fields" is certainly the most imperfect of Toru's writings, but it is not the least interesting. It is a wonderful mixture of strength and weakness, of genius overriding great obstacles and of talent succumbing to ignorance and inexperience. That it should have been performed at all is so extraordinary that we forget to be surprised at its inequality. The English verse is sometimes exquisite; at other times the rules of our prosody are absolutely ignored, and it is obvious that the Hindu poetess was chanting to herself a music that is discord in an English ear. The notes are no less curious, and to a stranger no less bewildering. Nothing could be more naive than the writer's ignorance at some points, or more startling than her learning at others. On the whole, the attainment of the book was simply astounding. It consisted of a selection of translations from nearly one hundred French poets, chosen by the poetess herself on a principle of her own which gradually dawned upon the careful reader. She eschewed the Classicist writers as though they had never existed. For her Andre Chenier was the next name in chronological order after Du Bartas. Occasionally she showed a profundity of research that would have done no discredit to Mr. Saintsbury or "le doux Assellineau." She was ready to pronounce an opinion on Napol le Pyrenean or to detect a plagiarism in Baudelaire. But she thought that Alexander Smith was still alive, and she was curiously vague about the career of Saint Beuve. This inequality of equipment was a thing inevitable to her isolation, and hardly worth recording, except to show how laborious her mind was, and how quick to make the best of small resources.
We have already seen that the "Sheaf gleaned in French Fields" attracted the very minimum of attention in England. In France it was talked about a little more. M. Garcin de Tassy, the famous Orientalist, who scarcely survived Toru by twelve months, spoke of it to Mlle. Clarisse Bader, author of a somewhat remarkable book on the position of women in ancient Indian society. Almost simultaneously this volume fell into the hands of Toru, and she was moved to translate it into English, for the use of Hindus less instructed than herself. In January, 1877, she accordingly wrote to Mlle. Bader requesting her authorization, and received a prompt and kind reply. On the 18th of March Toru wrote again to this, her solitary correspondent in the world of European literature, and her letter, which has been preserved, shows that she had already descended into the valley of the shadow of death:—
Ma constitution n'est pas forte; j'ai contracte une toux opiniatre, il y a plus de deux ans, qui ne me quitte point. Cependant j'espere mettre la main a l'[oe]uvre bientot. Je ne peux dire, mademoiselle, combien votre affection,—car vous les aimez, votre livre et votre lettre en temoignent assez,—pour mes compatriotes et mon pays me touche; et je suis fiere de pouvoir le dire que les heroines de nos grandes epopees sont dignes de tout honneur et de tout amour. Y a-ti-il d'heroine plus touchante, plus aimable que Sita? Je ne le crois pas. Quand j'entends ma mere chanter, le soir, les vieux chants de notre pays, je pleure presque toujours. La plainte de Sita, quand, bannie pour la seconde fois, elle erre dans la vaste foret, seule, le desespoir et l'effroi dans l'ame, est si pathetique qu'il n'y a personne, je crois, qui puisse l'entendre sans verser des larmes. Je vous envois sous ce pli deux petites traductions du Sanscrit, cette belle langue antique. Malheureusement j'ai ete obligee de faire cesser mes traductions de Sanscrit, il y a six mois. Ma sante ne me permet pas de les continuer.
These simple and pathetic words, in which the dying poetess pours out her heart to the one friend she had, and that one gained too late, seem as touching and as beautiful as any strain of Marceline Valmore's immortal verse. In English poetry I do not remember anything that exactly parallels their resigned melancholy. Before the month of March was over, Toru had taken to her bed. Unable to write, she continued to read, strewing her sick-room with the latest European books, and entering with interest into the questions raised by the Societe Asiatique of Paris in its printed Transactions. On the 30th of July she wrote her last letter to Mlle. Clarisse Bader, and a month later, on the 30th of August, 1877, at the age of twenty-one years, six months, and twenty-six days, she breathed her last in her father's house in Maniktollah Street, Calcutta.
In the first distraction of grief it seemed as though her unequalled promise had been entirely blighted, and as though she would be remembered only by her single book. But as her father examined her papers, one completed work after another revealed itself. First a selection from the sonnets of the Comte de Grammont, translated into English, turned up, and was printed in a Calcutta magazine; then some fragments of an English story, which were printed in another Calcutta magazine. Much more important, however, than any of these was a complete romance, written in French, being the identical story for which her sister Aru had proposed to make the illustrations. In the meantime Toru was no sooner dead than she began to be famous. In May, 1878, there appeared a second edition of the "Sheaf gleaned in French Fields," with a touching sketch of her death, by her father; and in 1879 was published, under the editorial care of Mlle. Clarisse Bader, the romance of "Le Journal de Mlle. D'Arvers," forming a handsome volume of 259 pages. This book, begun, as it appears, before the family returned from Europe, and finished nobody knows when, is an attempt to describe scenes from modern French society, but it is less interesting as an experiment of the fancy, than as a revelation of the mind of a young Hindu woman of genius. The story is simple, clearly told, and interesting; the studies of character have nothing French about them, but they are full of vigour and originality. The description of the hero is most characteristically Indian.—
Il est beau en effet. Sa taille est haute, mais quelques-uns la trouveraient mince, sa chevelure noire est bouclee et tombe jusqu'a la nuque; ses yeux noirs sont profonds et bien fendus, le front est noble; la levre superieure, couverte par une moustache naissante et noire, est parfaitement modelee; son menton a quelque chose de severe; son teint est d'un blanc presque feminin, ce qui denote sa haute naissance.
In this description we seem to recognize some Surya or Soma of Hindu mythology, and the final touch, meaningless as applied to an European, reminds us that in India whiteness of skin has always been a sign of aristocratic birth, from the days when it originally distinguished the conquering Aryas from the indigenous race of the Dasyous.
As a literary composition "Mlle. D'Arvers" deserves high commendation. It deals with the ungovernable passion of two brothers for one placid and beautiful girl, a passion which leads to fratricide and madness. That it is a very melancholy and tragical story is obvious from this brief sketch of its contents, but it is remarkable for coherence and self-restraint no less than for vigour of treatment. Toru Dutt never sinks to melodrama in the course of her extraordinary tale, and the wonder is that she is not more often fantastic and unreal.
But we believe that the original English poems, which we present to the public for the first time to-day, will be ultimately found to constitute Toru's chief legacy to posterity. These ballads form the last and most matured of her writings, and were left so far fragmentary at her death that the fourth and fifth in her projected series of nine were not to be discovered in any form among her papers. It is probable that she had not even commenced them. Her father, therefore, to give a certain continuity to the series, has filled up these blanks with two stories from the "Vishnupurana," which originally appeared respectively in the "Calcutta Review" and in the "Bengal Magazine." These are interesting, but a little rude in form, and they have not the same peculiar value as the rhymed octo-syllabic ballads. In these last we see Toru no longer attempting vainly, though heroically, to compete with European literature on its own ground, but turning to the legends of her own race and country for inspiration. No modern Oriental has given us so strange an insight into the conscience of the Asiatic as is presented in the stories of "Prehlad" and of "Savitri," or so quaint a piece of religious fancy as the ballad of "Jogadhya Uma." The poetess seems in these verses to be chanting to herself those songs of her mother's race to which she always turned with tears of pleasure. They breathe a Vedic solemnity and simplicity of temper, and are singularly devoid of that littleness and frivolity which seem, if we may judge by a slight experience, to be the bane of modern India.
As to the merely technical character of these poems, it may be suggested that in spite of much in them that is rough and inchoate, they show that Toru was advancing in her mastery of English verse. Such a stanza as this, selected out of many no less skilful, could hardly be recognized as the work of one by whom the language was a late acquirement:—
What glorious trees! The sombre saul, On which the eye delights to rest,— The betel-nut, a pillar tall, With feathery branches for a crest,— The light-leaved tamarind spreading wide,— The pale faint-scented bitter neem, The seemul, gorgeous as a bride, With flowers that have the ruby's gleam.
In other passages, of course, the text reads like a translation from some stirring ballad, and we feel that it gives but a faint and discordant echo of the music welling in Toru's brain. For it must frankly be confessed that in the brief May-day of her existence she had not time to master our language as Blanco White did, or as Chamisso mastered German. To the end of her days, fluent and graceful as she was, she was not entirely conversant with English, especially with the colloquial turns of modern speech. Often a very fine thought is spoiled for hypercritical ears by the queer turn of expression which she has innocently given to it. These faults are found to a much smaller degree in her miscellaneous poems. Her sonnets, here printed for the first time, seem to me to be of great beauty, and her longer piece entitled "Our Casuarina Tree," needs no apology for its rich and mellifluous numbers.
It is difficult to exaggerate when we try to estimate what we have lost in the premature death of Toru Dutt. Literature has no honours which need have been beyond the grasp of a girl who at the age of twenty-one, and in languages separated from her own by so deep a chasm, had produced so much of lasting worth. And her courage and fortitude were worthy of her intelligence. Among "last words" of celebrated people, that which her father has recorded, "It is only the physical pain that makes me cry," is not the least remarkable, or the least significant of strong character. It was to a native of our island, and to one ten years senior to Toru, to whom it was said, in words more appropriate, surely, to her than to Oldham,
Thy generous fruits, though gathered ere their prime, Still showed a quickness, and maturing time But mellows what we write to the dull sweets of Rime.
That mellow sweetness was all that Toru lacked to perfect her as an English poet, and of no other Oriental who has ever lived can the same be said. When the history of the literature of our country comes to be written, there is sure to be a page in it dedicated to this fragile exotic blossom of song.
EDMUND W. GOSSE. 1881.
ANCIENT BALLADS OF HINDUSTAN.
Savitri was the only child Of Madra's wise and mighty king; Stern warriors, when they saw her, smiled, As mountains smile to see the spring. Fair as a lotus when the moon Kisses its opening petals red, After sweet showers in sultry June! With happier heart, and lighter tread, Chance strangers, having met her, past, And often would they turn the head A lingering second look to cast, And bless the vision ere it fled.
What was her own peculiar charm? The soft black eyes, the raven hair, The curving neck, the rounded arm, All these are common everywhere. Her charm was this—upon her face Childlike and innocent and fair, No man with thought impure or base Could ever look;—the glory there, The sweet simplicity and grace, Abashed the boldest; but the good God's purity there loved to trace, Mirrored in dawning womanhood.
In those far-off primeval days Fair India's daughters were not pent In closed zenanas. On her ways Savitri at her pleasure went Whither she chose,—and hour by hour With young companions of her age, She roamed the woods for fruit or flower, Or loitered in some hermitage, For to the Munis gray and old Her presence was as sunshine glad, They taught her wonders manifold And gave her of the best they had.
Her father let her have her way In all things, whether high or low; He feared no harm; he knew no ill Could touch a nature pure as snow. Long childless, as a priceless boon He had obtained this child at last By prayers, made morning, night, and noon With many a vigil, many a fast; Would Shiva his own gift recall, Or mar its perfect beauty ever?— No, he had faith,—he gave her all She wished, and feared and doubted never.
And so she wandered where she pleased In boyish freedom. Happy time! No small vexations ever teased, Nor crushing sorrows dimmed her prime. One care alone, her father felt— Where should he find a fitting mate For one so pure?—His thoughts long dwelt On this as with his queen he sate. "Ah, whom, dear wife, should we select?" "Leave it to God," she answering cried, "Savitri, may herself elect Some day, her future lord and guide."
Months passed, and lo, one summer morn As to the hermitage she went Through smiling fields of waving corn, She saw some youths on sport intent, Sons of the hermits, and their peers, And one among them tall and lithe Royal in port,—on whom the years Consenting, shed a grace so blithe, So frank and noble, that the eye Was loth to quit that sun-browned face; She looked and looked,—then gave a sigh, And slackened suddenly her pace.
What was the meaning—was it love? Love at first sight, as poets sing, Is then no fiction? Heaven above Is witness, that the heart its king Finds often like a lightning flash; We play,—we jest,—we have no care,— When hark a step,—there comes no crash,— But life, or silent slow despair. Their eyes just met,—Savitri past Into the friendly Muni's hut, Her heart-rose opened had at last— Opened no flower can ever shut.
In converse with the gray-haired sage She learnt the story of the youth, His name and place and parentage— Of royal race he was in truth. Satyavan was he hight,—his sire Dyoumatsen had been Salva's king, But old and blind, opponents dire Had gathered round him in a ring And snatched the sceptre from his hand; Now,—with his queen and only son He lived a hermit in the land, And gentler hermit was there none.
With many tears was said and heard The story,—and with praise sincere Of Prince Satyavan; every word Sent up a flush on cheek and ear, Unnoticed. Hark! The bells remind 'Tis time to go,—she went away, Leaving her virgin heart behind, And richer for the loss. A ray, Shot down from heaven, appeared to tinge All objects with supernal light, The thatches had a rainbow fringe, The cornfields looked more green and bright.
Savitri's first care was to tell Her mother all her feelings new; The queen her own fears to dispel To the king's private chamber flew. "Now what is it, my gentle queen, That makes thee hurry in this wise?" She told him, smiles and tears between, All she had heard; the king with sighs Sadly replied:—"I fear me much! Whence is his race and what his creed? Not knowing aught, can we in such A matter delicate, proceed?"
As if the king's doubts to allay, Came Narad Muni to the place A few days after. Old and gray, All loved to see the gossip's face, Great Brahma's son,—adored of men, Long absent, doubly welcome he Unto the monarch, hoping then By his assistance, clear to see. No god in heaven, nor king on earth, But Narad knew his history,— The sun's, the moon's, the planets' birth Was not to him a mystery.
"Now welcome, welcome, dear old friend, All hail, and welcome once again!" The greeting had not reached its end, When glided like a music-strain Savitri's presence through the room.— "And who is this bright creature, say, Whose radiance lights the chamber's gloom— Is she an Apsara or fay?" "No son thy servant hath, alas! This is my one,—my only child;"— "And married?"—"No."—"The seasons pass, Make haste, O king,"—he said, and smiled.
"That is the very theme, O sage, In which thy wisdom ripe I need; Seen hath she at the hermitage A youth to whom in very deed Her heart inclines."—"And who is he?" "My daughter, tell his name and race, Speak as to men who best love thee." She turned to them her modest face, And answered quietly and clear.— "Ah, no! ah, no!—It cannot be— Choose out another husband, dear,"— The Muni cried,—"or woe is me!"
"And why should I? When I have given My heart away, though but in thought, Can I take back? Forbid it, Heaven! It were a deadly sin, I wot. And why should I? I know no crime In him or his."—"Believe me, child, My reasons shall be clear in time, I speak not like a madman wild; Trust me in this."—"I cannot break A plighted faith,—I cannot bear A wounded conscience."—"Oh, forsake This fancy, hence may spring despair."—
"It may not be."—The father heard By turns the speakers, and in doubt Thus interposed a gentle word,— "Friend should to friend his mind speak out, Is he not worthy? tell us."—"Nay, All worthiness is in Satyavan, And no one can my praise gainsay: Of solar race—more god than man! Great Soorasen, his ancestor, And Dyoumatsen his father blind Are known to fame: I can aver No kings have been so good and kind."
"Then where, O Muni, is the bar? If wealth be gone, and kingdom lost, His merit still remains a star, Nor melts his lineage like the frost. For riches, worldly power, or rank I care not,—I would have my son Pure, wise, and brave,—the Fates I thank I see no hindrance, no, not one." "Since thou insistest, King, to hear The fatal truth,—I tell you,—I, Upon this day as rounds the year The young Prince Satyavan shall die."
This was enough. The monarch knew The future was no sealed book To Brahma's son. A clammy dew Spread on his brow,—he gently took Savitri's palm in his, and said: "No child can give away her hand, A pledge is nought unsanctioned; And here, if right I understand, There was no pledge at all,—a thought, A shadow,—barely crossed the mind— Unblamed, it may be clean forgot, Before the gods it cannot bind.
"And think upon the dreadful curse Of widowhood; the vigils, fasts, And penances; no life is worse Than hopeless life,—the while it lasts. Day follows day in one long round, Monotonous and blank and drear; Less painful were it to be bound On some bleak rock, for aye to hear— Without one chance of getting free— The ocean's melancholy voice! Mine be the sin,—if sin there be, But thou must make a different choice."
In the meek grace of virginhood Unblanched her cheek, undimmed her eye, Savitri, like a statue, stood, Somewhat austere was her reply. "Once, and once only, all submit To Destiny,—'tis God's command; Once, and once only, so 'tis writ, Shall woman pledge her faith and hand; Once, and once only, can a sire Unto his well-loved daughter say, In presence of the witness fire, I give thee to this man away.
"Once, and once only, have I given My heart and faith—'tis past recall; With conscience none have ever striven, And none may strive, without a fall. Not the less solemn was my vow Because unheard, and oh! the sin Will not be less, if I should now Deny the feeling felt within. Unwedded to my dying day I must, my father dear, remain; 'Tis well, if so thou will'st, but say Can man balk Fate, or break its chain?
"If Fate so rules, that I should feel The miseries of a widow's life, Can man's device the doom repeal? Unequal seems to be a strife, Between Humanity and Fate; None have on earth what they desire; Death comes to all or soon or late; And peace is but a wandering fire; Expediency leads wild astray; The Right must be our guiding star; Duty our watchword, come what may; Judge for me, friends,—as wiser far."
She said, and meekly looked to both. The father, though he patient heard, To give the sanction still seemed loth, But Narad Muni took the word. "Bless thee, my child! 'Tis not for us To question the Almighty will, Though cloud on cloud loom ominous, In gentle rain they may distil." At this, the monarch—"Be it so! I sanction what my friend approves; All praise to Him, whom praise we owe; My child shall wed the youth she loves."
Great joy in Madra. Blow the shell The marriage over to declare! And now to forest-shades where dwell The hermits, wend the wedded pair. The doors of every house are hung With gay festoons of leaves and flowers; And blazing banners broad are flung, And trumpets blown from castle towers! Slow the procession makes its ground Along the crowded city street: And blessings in a storm of sound At every step the couple greet.
Past all the houses, past the wall, Past gardens gay, and hedgerows trim, Past fields, where sinuous brooklets small With molten silver to the brim Glance in the sun's expiring light, Past frowning hills, past pastures wild, At last arises on the sight, Foliage on foliage densely piled, The woods primeval, where reside The holy hermits;—henceforth here Must live the fair and gentle bride: But this thought brought with it no fear.
Fear! With her husband by her still? Or weariness! Where all was new? Hark! What a welcome from the hill! There gathered are a hermits few. Screaming the peacocks upward soar; Wondering the timid wild deer gaze; And from Briarean fig-trees hoar Look down the monkeys in amaze As the procession moves along; And now behold, the bridegroom's sire With joy comes forth amid the throng;— What reverence his looks inspire!
Blind! With his partner by his side! For them it was a hallowed time! Warmly they greet the modest bride With her dark eyes and front sublime! One only grief they feel.—Shall she Who dwelt in palace halls before, Dwell in their huts beneath the tree? Would not their hard life press her sore;— The manual labour, and the want Of comforts that her rank became, Valkala robes, meals poor and scant, All undermine the fragile frame?
To see the bride, the hermits' wives And daughters gathered to the huts, Women of pure and saintly lives! And there beneath the betel-nuts Tall trees like pillars, they admire Her beauty, and congratulate The parents, that their hearts' desire Had thus accorded been by Fate, And Satyavan their son had found In exile lone, a fitting mate: And gossips add,—good signs abound; Prosperity shall on her wait.
Good signs in features, limbs, and eyes, That old experience can discern, Good signs on earth and in the skies, That it could read at every turn. And now with rice and gold, all bless The bride and bridegroom,—and they go Happy in others' happiness, Each to her home, beneath the glow Of the late risen moon that lines With silver, all the ghost-like trees, Sals, tamarisks, and South-Sea pines, And palms whose plumes wave in the breeze.
False was the fear, the parents felt, Savitri liked her new life much; Though in a lowly home she dwelt Her conduct as a wife was such As to illumine all the place; She sickened not, nor sighed, nor pined; But with simplicity and grace Discharged each household duty kind. Strong in all manual work,—and strong To comfort, cherish, help, and pray, The hours past peacefully along And rippling bright, day followed day.
At morn Satyavan to the wood Early repaired and gathered flowers And fruits, in its wild solitude, And fuel,—till advancing hours Apprised him that his frugal meal Awaited him. Ah, happy time! Savitri, who with fervid zeal Had said her orisons sublime, And fed the Bramins and the birds, Now ministered. Arcadian love, With tender smiles and honeyed words, All bliss of earth thou art above!
And yet there was a spectre grim, A skeleton in Savitri's heart, Looming in shadow, somewhat dim, But which would never thence depart. It was that fatal, fatal speech Of Narad Muni. As the days Slipt smoothly past, each after each, In private she more fervent prays. But there is none to share her fears, For how could she communicate The sad cause of her bidden tears? The doom approached, the fatal date.
No help from man. Well, be it so! No sympathy,—it matters not! God can avert the heavy blow! He answers worship. Thus she thought. And so, her prayers, by day and night, Like incense rose unto the throne; Nor did she vow neglect or rite The Veds enjoin or helpful own. Upon the fourteenth of the moon, As nearer came the time of dread, In Joystee, that is May or June, She vowed her vows and Bramins fed.
And now she counted e'en the hours, As to Eternity they past; O'er head the dark cloud darker lowers, The year is rounding full at last. To-day,—to-day,—with doleful sound The word seem'd in her ear to ring! O breaking heart,—thy pain profound Thy husband knows not, nor the king, Exiled and blind, nor yet the queen; But One knows in His place above. To-day,—to-day,—it will be seen Which shall be victor, Death or Love!
Incessant in her prayers from morn, The noon is safely tided,—then A gleam of faint, faint hope is born, But the heart fluttered like a wren That sees the shadow of the hawk Sail on,—and trembles in affright, Lest a down-rushing swoop should mock Its fortune, and o'erwhelm it quite. The afternoon has come and gone And brought no change;—should she rejoice? The gentle evening's shades come on, When hark!—She hears her husband's voice!
"The twilight is most beautiful! Mother, to gather fruit I go, And fuel,—for the air is cool Expect me in an hour or so." "The night, my child, draws on apace," The mother's voice was heard to say, "The forest paths are hard to trace In darkness,—till the morrow stay." "Not hard for me, who can discern The forest-paths in any hour, Blindfold I could with ease return, And day has not yet lost its power."
"He goes then," thought Savitri, "thus With unseen bands Fate draws us on Unto the place appointed us; We feel no outward force,—anon We go to marriage or to death At a determined time and place; We are her playthings; with her breath She blows us where she lists in space. What is my duty? It is clear, My husband I must follow; so, While he collects his forest gear Let me permission get to go."
His sire she seeks,—the blind old king, And asks from him permission straight. "My daughter, night with ebon wing Hovers above; the hour is late. My son is active, brave, and strong, Conversant with the woods, he knows Each path; methinks it would be wrong For thee to venture where he goes, Weak and defenceless as thou art, At such a time. If thou wert near Thou might'st embarrass him, dear heart, Alone, he would not have a fear."
So spake the hermit-monarch blind, His wife too, entering in, exprest The self-same thoughts in words as kind, And begged Savitri hard, to rest. "Thy recent fasts and vigils, child, Make thee unfit to undertake This journey to the forest wild." But nothing could her purpose shake. She urged the nature of her vows, Required her now the rites were done To follow where her loving spouse Might e'en a chance of danger run.
"Go then, my child,—we give thee leave, But with thy husband quick return, Before the flickering shades of eve Deepen to night, and planets burn, And forest-paths become obscure, Lit only by their doubtful rays. The gods, who guard all women pure, Bless thee and kept thee in thy ways, And safely bring thee and thy lord!" On this she left, and swiftly ran Where with his saw in lieu of sword, And basket, plodded Satyavan.
Oh, lovely are the woods at dawn, And lovely in the sultry noon, But loveliest, when the sun withdrawn The twilight and a crescent moon Change all asperities of shape, And tone all colours softly down, With a blue veil of silvered crape! Lo! By that hill which palm-trees crown, Down the deep glade with perfume rife From buds that to the dews expand, The husband and the faithful wife Pass to dense jungle,—hand in hand.
Satyavan bears beside his saw A forked stick to pluck the fruit, His wife, the basket lined with straw; He talks, but she is almost mute, And very pale. The minutes pass; The basket has no further space, Now on the fruits they flowers amass That with their red flush all the place While twilight lingers; then for wood He saws the branches of the trees, The noise, heard in the solitude, Grates on its soft, low harmonies.
And all the while one dreadful thought Haunted Savitri's anxious mind, Which would have fain its stress forgot; It came as chainless as the wind, Oft and again: thus on the spot Marked with his heart-blood oft comes back The murdered man, to see the clot! Death's final blow,—the fatal wrack Of every hope, whence will it fall? For fall, by Narad's words, it must; Persistent rising to appall This thought its horrid presence thrust.
Sudden the noise is hushed,—a pause! Satyavan lets the weapon drop— Too well Savitri knows the cause, He feels not well, the work must stop. A pain is in his head,—a pain As if he felt the cobra's fangs, He tries to look around,—in vain, A mist before his vision hangs; The trees whirl dizzily around In a fantastic fashion wild; His throat and chest seem iron-bound, He staggers, like a sleepy child.
"My head, my head!—Savitri, dear, This pain is frightful. Let me lie Here on the turf." Her voice was clear And very calm was her reply, As if her heart had banished fear: "Lean, love, thy head upon my breast," And as she helped him, added—"here, So shall thou better breathe and rest." "Ah me, this pain,—'tis getting dark, I see no more,—can this be death? What means this, gods?—Savitri, mark, My hands wax cold, and fails my breath."
"It may be but a swoon." "Ah! no— Arrows are piercing through my heart,— Farewell my love! for I must go, This, this is death." He gave one start And then lay quiet on her lap, Insensible to sight and sound, Breathing his last.... The branches flap And fireflies glimmer all around; His head upon her breast; his frame Part on her lap, part on the ground, Thus lies he. Hours pass. Still the same, The pair look statues, magic-bound.
Death in his palace holds his court, His messengers move to and fro, Each of his mission makes report, And takes the royal orders,—Lo, Some slow before his throne appear And humbly in the Presence kneel: "Why hath the Prince not been brought here? The hour is past; nor is appeal Allowed against foregone decree; There is the mandate with the seal! How comes it ye return to me Without him? Shame upon your zeal!"
"O King, whom all men fear,—he lies Deep in the dark Medhya wood, We fled from thence in wild surprise, And left him in that solitude. We dared not touch him, for there sits, Beside him, lighting all the place, A woman fair, whose brow permits In its austerity of grace And purity,—no creatures foul As we seemed, by her loveliness, Or soul of evil, ghost or ghoul, To venture close, and far, far less
"To stretch a hand, and bear the dead; We left her leaning on her hand, Thoughtful; no tear-drop had she shed, But looked the goddess of the land, With her meek air of mild command."— "Then on this errand I must go Myself, and bear my dreaded brand, This duty unto Fate I owe; I know the merits of the prince, But merit saves not from the doom Common to man; his death long since Was destined in his beauty's bloom."
As still Savitri sat beside Her husband dying,—dying fast, She saw a stranger slowly glide Beneath the boughs that shrunk aghast. Upon his head he wore a crown That shimmered in the doubtful light; His vestment scarlet reached low down, His waist, a golden girdle dight. His skin was dark as bronze; his face Irradiate, and yet severe; His eyes had much of love and grace, But glowed so bright, they filled with fear.
A string was in the stranger's hand Noosed at its end. Her terrors now Savitri scarcely could command. Upon the sod beneath a bough, She gently laid her husband's head, And in obeisance bent her brow. "No mortal form is thine,"—she said, "Beseech thee say what god art thou? And what can be thine errand here?" "Savitri, for thy prayers, thy faith, Thy frequent vows, thy fasts severe, I answer,—list,—my name is Death.
"And I am come myself to take Thy husband from this earth away, And he shall cross the doleful lake In my own charge, and let me say To few such honours I accord, But his pure life and thine require No less from me." The dreadful sword Like lightning glanced one moment dire; And then the inner man was tied, The soul no bigger than the thumb, To be borne onwards by his side:— Savitri all the while stood dumb.
But when the god moved slowly on To gain his own dominions dim, Leaving the body there—anon Savitri meekly followed him, Hoping against all hope; he turned And looked surprised. "Go back, my child!" Pale, pale the stars above them burned, More weird the scene had grown and wild; "It is not for the living—hear! To follow where the dead must go, Thy duty lies before thee clear, What thou shouldst do, the Shasters show.
"The funeral rites that they ordain And sacrifices must take up Thy first sad moments; not in vain Is held to thee this bitter cup; Its lessons thou shall learn in time! All that thou canst do, thou hast done For thy dear lord. Thy love sublime My deepest sympathy hath won. Return, for thou hast come as far As living creature may. Adieu! Let duty be thy guiding star, As ever. To thyself be true!"
"Where'er my husband dear is led, Or journeys of his own free will, I too must go, though darkness spread Across my path, portending ill, 'Tis thus my duty I have read! If I am wrong, oh! with me bear; But do not bid me backward tread My way forlorn,—for I can dare All things but that; ah! pity me, A woman frail, too sorely tried! And let me, let me follow thee, O gracious god,—whate'er betide.
"By all things sacred, I entreat, By Penitence that purifies, By prompt Obedience, full, complete, To spiritual masters, in the eyes Of gods so precious, by the love I bear my husband, by the faith That looks from earth to heaven above, And by thy own great name O Death, And all thy kindness, bid me not To leave thee, and to go my way, But let me follow as I ought Thy steps and his, as best I may.
"I know that in this transient world All is delusion,—nothing true; I know its shows are mists unfurled To please and vanish. To renew Its bubble joys, be magic bound In Maya's network frail and fair, Is not my aim! The gladsome sound Of husband, brother, friend, is air To such as know that all must die, And that at last the time must come, When eye shall speak no more to eye And Love cry,—Lo, this is my sum.
"I know in such a world as this No one can gain his heart's desire, Or pass the years in perfect bliss; Like gold we must be tried by fire; And each shall suffer as he acts And thinks,—his own sad burden bear; No friends can help,—his sins are facts That nothing can annul or square, And he must bear their consequence. Can I my husband save by rites? Ah, no,—that were a vain pretence, Justice eternal strict requites.
"He for his deeds shall get his due As I for mine: thus here each soul Is its own friend if it pursue The right, and run straight for the goal; But its own worst and direst foe If it choose evil, and in tracks Forbidden, for its pleasure go. Who knows not this, true wisdom lacks, Virtue should be the turn and end Of every life, all else is vain, Duty should be its dearest friend If higher life, it would attain."
"So sweet thy words ring on mine ear, Gentle Savitri, that I fain Would give some sign to make it clear Thou hast not prayed to me in vain. Satyavan's life I may not grant, Nor take before its term thy life, But I am not all adamant, I feel for thee, thou faithful wife! Ask thou aught else, and let it be Some good thing for thyself or thine, And I shall give it, child, to thee, If any power on earth be mine."
"Well be it so. My husband's sire, Hath lost his sight and fair domain, Give to his eyes their former fire, And place him on his throne again." "It shall be done. Go back, my child, The hour wears late, the wind feels cold, The path becomes more weird and wild, Thy feet are torn, there's blood, behold! Thou feelest faint from weariness, Oh try to follow me no more; Go home, and with thy presence bless Those who thine absence there deplore."
"No weariness, O Death, I feel, And how should I, when by the side Of Satyavan? In woe and weal To be a helpmate swears the bride. This is my place; by solemn oath Wherever thou conductest him I too must go, to keep my troth; And if the eye at times should brim, 'Tis human weakness, give me strength My work appointed to fulfil, That I may gain the crown at length The gods give those who do their will.
"The power of goodness is so great We pray to feel its influence For ever on us. It is late, And the strange landscape awes my sense; But I would fain with thee go on, And hear thy voice so true and kind; The false lights that on objects shone Have vanished, and no longer blind, Thanks to thy simple presence. Now I feel a fresher air around, And see the glory of that brow With flashing rubies fitly crowned.
"Men call thee Yama—conqueror, Because it is against their will They follow thee,—and they abhor The Truth which thou wouldst aye instil. If they thy nature knew aright, O god, all other gods above! And that thou conquerest in the fight By patience, kindness, mercy, love, And not by devastating wrath, They would not shrink in childlike fright To see thy shadow on their path, But hail thee as sick souls the light."
"Thy words, Savitri, greet mine ear As sweet as founts that murmur low To one who in the deserts drear With parched tongue moves faint and slow, Because thy talk is heart-sincere, Without hypocrisy or guile; Demand another boon, my dear, But not of those forbad erewhile, And I shall grant it, ere we part: Lo, the stars pale,—the way is long, Receive thy boon, and homewards start, For ah, poor child, thou art not strong."
"Another boon! My sire the king Beside myself hath children none, Oh grant that from his stock may spring A hundred boughs." "It shall be done. He shall be blest with many a son Who his old palace shall rejoice." "Each heart-wish from thy goodness won, If I am still allowed a choice, I fain thy voice would ever hear, Reluctant am I still to part, The way seems short when thou art near And Satyavan, my heart's dear heart.
"Of all the pleasures given on earth The company of the good is best, For weariness has never birth In such a commerce sweet and blest; The sun runs on its wonted course, The earth its plenteous treasure yields, All for their sake, and by the force Their prayer united ever wields. Oh let me, let me ever dwell Amidst the good, where'er it be, Whether in lowly hermit-cell Or in some spot beyond the sea.
"The favours man accords to men Are never fruitless, from them rise A thousand acts beyond our ken That float like incense to the skies; For benefits can ne'er efface, They multiply and widely spread, And honour follows on their trace. Sharp penances, and vigils dread, Austerities, and wasting fasts, Create an empire, and the blest Long as this spiritual empire lasts Become the saviours of the rest."
"O thou endowed with every grace And every virtue,—thou whose soul Appears upon thy lovely face, May the great gods who all control Send thee their peace. I too would give One favour more before I go; Ask something for thyself, and live Happy, and dear to all below, Till summoned to the bliss above. Savitri ask, and ask unblamed."— She took the clue, felt Death was Love, For no exceptions now he named,
And boldly said,—"Thou knowest, Lord, The inmost hearts and thoughts of all! There is no need to utter word, Upon thy mercy sole, I call. If speech be needful to obtain Thy grace,—oh hear a wife forlorn, Let my Satyavan live again And children unto us be born, Wise, brave, and valiant." "From thy stock A hundred families shall spring As lasting as the solid rock, Each son of thine shall be a king."
As thus he spoke, he loosed the knot The soul of Satyavan that bound, And promised further that their lot In pleasant places should be found Thenceforth, and that they both should live Four centuries, to which the name Of fair Savitri, men would give,— And then he vanished in a flame. "Adieu, great god!" She took the soul, No bigger than the human thumb, And running swift, soon reached her goal, Where lay the body stark and dumb.
She lifted it with eager hands And as before, when he expired, She placed the head upon the bands That bound her breast which hope new-fired, And which alternate rose and fell; Then placed his soul upon his heart Whence like a bee it found its cell, And lo, he woke with sudden start! His breath came low at first, then deep, With an unquiet look he gazed, As one awaking from a sleep Wholly bewildered and amazed.
As consciousness came slowly back He recognised his loving wife— "Who was it, Love, through regions black Where hardly seemed a sign of life Carried me bound? Methinks I view The dark face yet—a noble face, He had a robe of scarlet hue, And ruby crown; far, far through space He bore me, on and on, but now,"— "Thou hast been sleeping, but the man With glory on his kingly brow, Is gone, thou seest, Satyavan!
"O my beloved,—thou art free! Sleep which had bound thee fast, hath left Thine eyelids. Try thyself to be! For late of every sense bereft Thou seemedst in a rigid trance; And if thou canst, my love, arise, Regard the night, the dark expanse Spread out before us, and the skies." Supported by her, looked he long Upon the landscape dim outspread, And like some old remembered song The past came back,—a tangled thread.
"I had a pain, as if an asp Gnawed in my brain, and there I lay Silent, for oh! I could but gasp, Till someone came that bore away My spirit into lands unknown: Thou, dear, who watchedst beside me,—say Was it a dream from elfland blown, Or very truth,—my doubts to stay." "O Love, look round,—how strange and dread The shadows of the high trees fall, Homeward our path now let us tread, To-morrow I shall tell thee all.
"Arise! Be strong! Gird up thy loins! Think of our parents, dearest friend! The solemn darkness haste enjoins, Not likely is it soon to end. Hark! Jackals still at distance howl, The day, long, long will not appear, Lo, wild fierce eyes through bushes scowl, Summon thy courage, lest I fear. Was that the tiger's sullen growl? What means this rush of many feet? Can creatures wild so near us prowl? Rise up, and hasten homewards, sweet!"
He rose, but could not find the track, And then, too well, Savitri knew His wonted force had not come back. She made a fire, and from the dew Essayed to shelter him. At last He nearly was himself again,— Then vividly rose all the past, And with the past, new fear and pain. "What anguish must my parents feel Who wait for me the livelong hours! Their sore wound let us haste to heal Before it festers, past our powers:
"For broken-hearted, they may die! Oh hasten dear,—now I am strong, No more I suffer, let us fly, Ah me! each minute seems so long. They told me once, they could not live Without me, in their feeble age, Their food and water I must give And help them in the last sad stage Of earthly life, and that Beyond In which a son can help by rites. Oh what a love is theirs—how fond! Whom now Despair, perhaps, benights.
"Infirm herself, my mother dear Now guides, methinks, the tottering feet Of my blind father, for they hear And hasten eagerly to meet Our fancied steps. O faithful wife Let us on wings fly back again, Upon their safety hangs my life!" He tried his feelings to restrain, But like some river swelling high They swept their barriers weak and vain, Sudden there burst a fearful cry, Then followed tears,—like autumn rain.
Hush! Hark, a sweet voice rises clear! A voice of earnestness intense, "If I have worshipped Thee in fear And duly paid with reverence The solemn sacrifices,—hear! Send consolation, and thy peace Eternal, to our parents dear, That their anxieties may cease. Oh, ever hath I loved Thy truth, Therefore on Thee I dare to call, Help us, this night, and them, for sooth Without thy help, we perish all."
She took in hers Satyavan's hand, She gently wiped his falling tears, "This weakness, Love, I understand! Courage!" She smiled away his fears. "Now we shall go, for thou art strong." She helped him rise up by her side And led him like a child along, He, wistfully the basket eyed Laden with fruit and flowers. "Not now, To-morrow we shall fetch it hence." And so, she hung it on a bough, "I'll bear thy saw for our defence."
In one fair hand the saw she took, The other with a charming grace She twined around him, and her look She turned upwards to his face. Thus aiding him she felt anew His bosom beat against her own— More firm his step, more clear his view, More self-possessed his words and tone Became, as swift the minutes past, And now the pathway he discerns, And 'neath the trees, they hurry fast, For Hope's fair light before them burns.
Under the faint beams of the stars How beautiful appeared the flowers, Light scarlet, flecked with golden bars Of the palasas, in the bowers That Nature there herself had made Without the aid of man. At times Trees on their path cast densest shade, And nightingales sang mystic rhymes Their fears and sorrows to assuage. Where two paths met, the north they chose, As leading to the hermitage, And soon before them, dim it rose.
Here let us end. For all may guess The blind old king received his sight, And ruled again with gentleness The country that was his by right; And that Savitri's royal sire Was blest with many sons,—a race Whom poets praised for martial fire, And every peaceful gift and grace. As for Savitri, to this day Her name is named, when couples wed, And to the bride the parents say, Be thou like her, in heart and head.
 Butea frondosa.
"Hark! Lakshman! Hark, again that cry! It is,—it is my husband's voice! Oh hasten, to his succour fly, No more hast thou, dear friend, a choice. He calls on thee, perhaps his foes Environ him on all sides round, That wail,—it means death's final throes! Why standest thou, as magic-bound?
"Is this a time for thought,—oh gird Thy bright sword on, and take thy bow! He heeds not, hears not any word, Evil hangs over us, I know! Swift in decision, prompt in deed, Brave unto rashness, can this be, The man to whom all looked at need? Is it my brother, that I see!
"Ah no, and I must run alone, For further here I cannot stay; Art thou transformed to blind dumb stone! Wherefore this impious, strange delay! That cry,—that cry,—it seems to ring Still in my ears,—I cannot bear Suspense; if help we fail to bring His death at least we both can share."
"Oh calm thyself, Videhan Queen, No cause is there for any fear, Hast thou his prowess never seen? Wipe off for shame that dastard tear! What being of demonian birth Could ever brave his mighty arm? Is there a creature on the earth That dares to work our hero harm?
"The lion and the grisly bear Cower when they see his royal look, Sun-staring eagles of the air His glance of anger cannot brook, Pythons and cobras at his tread To their most secret coverts glide, Bowed to the dust each serpent head Erect before in hooded pride.
"Rakshases, Danavs, demons, ghosts, Acknowledge in their hearts his might, And slink to their remotest coasts, In terror at his very sight. Evil to him! Oh fear it not, Whatever foes against him rise! Banish for aye, the foolish thought, And be thyself,—bold, great, and wise.
"He call for help! Canst thou believe He like a child would shriek for aid Or pray for respite or reprieve— Not of such metal is he made! Delusive was that piercing cry,— Some trick of magic by the foe; He has a work,—he cannot die, Beseech me not from hence to go.
"For here beside thee, as a guard 'Twas he commanded me to stay, And dangers with my life to ward If they should come across thy way. Send me not hence, for in this wood Bands scattered of the giants lurk, Who on their wrongs and vengeance brood, And wait the hour their will to work."
"Oh shame! And canst thou make my weal A plea for lingering! Now I know What thou art Lakshman! And I feel Far better were an open foe. Art thou a coward? I have seen Thy bearing in the battle-fray Where flew the death-fraught arrows keen, Else had I judged thee so to-day.
"But then thy leader stood beside! Dazzles the cloud when shines the sun, Reft of his radiance, see it glide A shapeless mass of vapours dun; So of thy courage,—or if not, The matter is far darker dyed, What makes thee loth to leave this spot? Is there a motive thou wouldst hide?
"He perishes—well, let him die! His wife henceforth shall be mine own! Can that thought deep imbedded lie Within thy heart's most secret zone! Search well and see! one brother takes His kingdom,—one would take his wife! A fair partition!—But it makes Me shudder, and abhor my life.
"Art thou in secret league with those Who from his hope the kingdom rent? A spy from his ignoble foes To track him in his banishment? And wouldst thou at his death rejoice? I know thou wouldst, or sure ere now When first thou heardst that well-known voice Thou shouldst have run to aid, I trow.
"Learn this,—whatever comes may come, But I shall not survive my Love,— Of all my thoughts here is the sum! Witness it gods in heaven above. If fire can burn, or water drown, I follow him:—choose what thou wilt, Truth with its everlasting crown, Or falsehood, treachery, and guilt.
"Remain here, with a vain pretence Of shielding me from wrong and shame, Or go and die in his defence And leave behind a noble name. Choose what thou wilt,—I urge no more, My pathway lies before me clear, I did not know thy mind before, I know thee now,—and have no fear."
She said and proudly from him turned,— Was this the gentle Sita? No. Flames from her eyes shot forth and burned, The tears therein had ceased to flow. "Hear me, O Queen, ere I depart, No longer can I bear thy words, They lacerate my inmost heart And torture me, like poisoned swords.
"Have I deserved this at thine hand? Of lifelong loyalty and truth Is this the meed? I understand Thy feelings, Sita, and in sooth I blame thee not,—but thou mightst be Less rash in judgement. Look! I go, Little I care what comes to me Wert thou but safe,—God keep thee so!
"In going hence I disregard The plainest orders of my chief, A deed for me,—a soldier,—hard And deeply painful, but thy grief And language, wild and wrong, allow No other course. Mine be the crime, And mine alone,—but oh, do thou Think better of me from this time.
"Here with an arrow, lo, I trace A magic circle ere I leave, No evil thing within this space May come to harm thee or to grieve. Step not, for aught, across the line, Whatever thou mayst see or hear, So shalt thou balk the bad design Of every enemy I fear.
"And now farewell! What thou hast said, Though it has broken quite my heart, So that I wish that I were dead— I would before, O Queen, we part Freely forgive, for well I know That grief and fear have made thee wild, We part as friends,—is it not so?" And speaking thus,—he sadly smiled.
"And oh ye sylvan gods that dwell Among these dim and sombre shades, Whose voices in the breezes swell And blend with noises of cascades, Watch over Sita, whom alone I leave, and keep her safe from harm, Till we return unto our own, I and my brother, arm in arm.
"For though ill omens round us rise And frighten her dear heart, I feel That he is safe. Beneath the skies His equal is not,—and his heel Shall tread all adversaries down, Whoever they may chance to be.— Farewell, O Sita! Blessings crown And Peace for ever rest with thee!"
He said, and straight his weapons took His bow and arrows pointed keen, Kind,—nay, indulgent,—was his look, No trace of anger there was seen, Only a sorrow dark, that seemed To deepen his resolve to dare All dangers. Hoarse the vulture screamed, As out he strode with dauntless air.
"Shell-bracelets ho! Shell-bracelets ho! Fair maids and matrons come and buy!" Along the road, in morning's glow, The pedlar raised his wonted cry. The road ran straight, a red, red line, To Khirogram, for cream renowned, Through pasture-meadows where the kine, In knee-deep grass, stood magic bound And half awake, involved in mist, That floated in dun coils profound, Till by the sudden sunbeams kist Rich rainbow hues broke all around.
"Shell-bracelets ho! Shell-bracelets ho!" The roadside trees still dripped with dew, And hung their blossoms like a show. Who heard the cry? 'Twas but a few, A ragged herd-boy, here and there, With his long stick and naked feet; A ploughman wending to his care, The field from which he hopes the wheat; An early traveller, hurrying fast To the next town; an urchin slow Bound for the school; these heard and past, Unheeding all,—"Shell-bracelets ho!"
Pellucid spread a lake-like tank Beside the road now lonelier still, High on three sides arose the bank Which fruit-trees shadowed at their will; Upon the fourth side was the Ghat, With its broad stairs of marble white, And at the entrance-arch there sat, Full face against the morning light, A fair young woman with large eyes, And dark hair falling to her zone, She heard the pedlar's cry arise, And eager seemed his ware to own.
"Shell-bracelets ho! See, maiden see! The rich enamel sunbeam-kist! Happy, oh happy, shalt thou be, Let them but clasp that slender wrist; These bracelets are a mighty charm, They keep a lover ever true, And widowhood avert, and harm, Buy them, and thou shalt never rue. Just try them on!"—She stretched her hand, "Oh what a nice and lovely fit! No fairer hand, in all the land, And lo! the bracelet matches it."
Dazzled the pedlar on her gazed Till came the shadow of a fear, While she the bracelet arm upraised Against the sun to view more clear. Oh she was lovely, but her look Had something of a high command That filled with awe. Aside she shook Intruding curls by breezes fanned And blown across her brows and face, And asked the price, which when she heard She nodded, and with quiet grace For payment to her home referred.
"And where, O maiden, is thy house? But no, that wrist-ring has a tongue, No maiden art thou, but a spouse, Happy, and rich, and fair, and young." "Far otherwise, my lord is poor, And him at home thou shalt not find; Ask for my father; at the door Knock loudly; he is deaf, but kind. Seest thou that lofty gilded spire Above these tufts of foliage green? That is our place; its point of fire Will guide thee o'er the tract between."
"That is the temple spire."—"Yes, there We live; my father is the priest, The manse is near, a building fair But lowly, to the temple's east. When thou hast knocked, and seen him, say, His daughter, at Dhamaser Ghat, Shell-bracelets bought from thee to-day, And he must pay so much for that. Be sure, he will not let thee pass Without the value, and a meal, If he demur, or cry alas! No money hath he,—then reveal,
"Within the small box, marked with streaks Of bright vermilion, by the shrine, The key whereof has lain for weeks Untouched, he'll find some coin,—'tis mine. That will enable him to pay The bracelet's price, now fare thee well!" She spoke, the pedlar went away, Charmed with her voice, as by some spell; While she left lonely there, prepared To plunge into the water pure, And like a rose her beauty bared, From all observance quite secure.
Not weak she seemed, nor delicate, Strong was each limb of flexile grace, And full the bust; the mien elate, Like hers, the goddess of the chase On Latmos hill,—and oh, the face Framed in its cloud of floating hair, No painter's hand might hope to trace The beauty and the glory there! Well might the pedlar look with awe, For though her eyes were soft, a ray Lit them at times, which kings who saw Would never dare to disobey.
Onwards through groves the pedlar sped Till full in front the sunlit spire Arose before him. Paths which led To gardens trim in gay attire Lay all around. And lo! the manse, Humble but neat with open door! He paused, and blest the lucky chance That brought his bark to such a shore. Huge straw ricks, log huts full of grain, Sleek cattle, flowers, a tinkling bell, Spoke in a language sweet and plain, "Here smiling Peace and Plenty dwell."
Unconsciously he raised his cry, "Shell-bracelets ho!" And at his voice Looked out the priest, with eager eye, And made his heart at once rejoice. "Ho, Sankha pedlar! Pass not by, But step thou in, and share the food Just offered on our altar high, If thou art in a hungry mood. Welcome are all to this repast! The rich and poor, the high and low! Come, wash thy feet, and break thy fast, Then on thy journey strengthened go."
"Oh thanks, good priest! Observance due And greetings! May thy name be blest! I came on business, but I knew, Here might be had both food and rest Without a charge; for all the poor Ten miles around thy sacred shrine Know that thou keepest open door, And praise that generous hand of thine: But let my errand first be told, For bracelets sold to thine this day, So much thou owest me in gold, Hast thou the ready cash to pay?
"The bracelets were enamelled,—so The price is high."—"How! Sold to mine? Who bought them, I should like to know." "Thy daughter, with the large black eyne, Now bathing at the marble ghat." Loud laughed the priest at this reply, "I shall not put up, friend, with that; No daughter in the world have I, An only son is all my stay; Some minx has played a trick, no doubt, But cheer up, let thy heart be gay. Be sure that I shall find her out."
"Nay, nay, good father, such a face Could not deceive, I must aver; At all events, she knows thy place, 'And if my father should demur To pay thee'—thus she said,—'or cry He has no money, tell him straight The box vermilion-streaked to try, That's near the shrine.'" "Well, wait, friend, wait!" The priest said thoughtful, and he ran And with the open box came back, "Here is the price exact, my man, No surplus over, and no lack.
"How strange! how strange! Oh blest art thou To have beheld her, touched her hand, Before whom Vishnu's self must bow, And Brahma and his heavenly band! Here have I worshipped her for years And never seen the vision bright; Vigils and fasts and secret tears Have almost quenched my outward sight; And yet that dazzling form and face I have not seen, and thou, dear friend, To thee, unsought for, comes the grace, What may its purport be, and end?
"How strange! How strange! Oh happy thou! And couldst thou ask no other boon Than thy poor bracelet's price? That brow Resplendent as the autumn moon Must have bewildered thee, I trow, And made thee lose thy senses all." A dim light on the pedlar now Began to dawn; and he let fall His bracelet basket in his haste, And backward ran the way he came; What meant the vision fair and chaste, Whose eyes were they,—those eyes of flame?
Swift ran the pedlar as a hind, The old priest followed on his trace, They reached the Ghat but could not find The lady of the noble face. The birds were silent in the wood, The lotus flowers exhaled a smell Faint, over all the solitude, A heron as a sentinel Stood by the bank. They called,—in vain, No answer came from hill or fell, The landscape lay in slumber's chain, E'en Echo slept within her cell.
Broad sunshine, yet a hush profound! They turned with saddened hearts to go; Then from afar there came a sound Of silver bells;—the priest said low, "O Mother, Mother, deign to hear, The worship-hour has rung; we wait In meek humility and fear. Must we return home desolate? Oh come, as late thou cam'st unsought, Or was it but an idle dream? Give us some sign if it was not, A word, a breath, or passing gleam."
Sudden from out the water sprung A rounded arm, on which they saw As high the lotus buds among It rose, the bracelet white, with awe. Then a wide ripple tost and swung The blossoms on that liquid plain, And lo! the arm so fair and young Sank in the waters down again. They bowed before the mystic Power, And as they home returned in thought, Each took from thence a lotus flower In memory of the day and spot.
Years, centuries, have passed away, And still before the temple shrine Descendants of the pedlar pay Shell bracelets of the old design As annual tribute. Much they own In lands and gold,—but they confess From that eventful day alone Dawned on their industry,—success. Absurd may be the tale I tell, Ill-suited to the marching times, I loved the lips from which it fell, So let it stand among my rhymes.
THE ROYAL ASCETIC AND THE HIND.
From the Vishnu Purana. B. II. Chap. XIII.
MAITREYA. Of old thou gav'st a promise to relate The deeds of Bharat, that great hermit-king: Beloved Master, now the occasion suits, And I am all attention. PARASARA. Brahman, hear. With a mind fixed intently on his gods Long reigned in Saligram of ancient fame, The mighty monarch of the wide, wide world. Chief of the virtuous, never in his life Harmed he, or strove to harm, his fellow-man, Or any creature sentient. But he left His kingdom in the forest-shades to dwell, And changed his sceptre for a hermit's staff, And with ascetic rites, privations rude, And constant prayers, endeavoured to attain Perfect dominion on his soul. At morn, Fuel, and flowers, and fruit, and holy grass, He gathered for oblations; and he passed In stern devotions all his other hours; Of the world heedless, and its myriad cares, And heedless too of wealth, and love, and fame.
Once on a time, while living thus, he went To bathe where through the wood the river flows: And his ablutions done, he sat him down Upon the shelving bank to muse and pray. Thither impelled by thirst a graceful hind, Big with its young, came fearlessly to drink. Sudden, while yet she drank, the lion's roar, Feared by all creatures, like a thunder-clap Burst in that solitude from a thicket nigh. Startled, the hind leapt up, and from her womb Her offspring tumbled in the rushing stream. Whelmed by the hissing waves and carried far By the strong current swoln by recent rain, The tiny thing still struggled for its life, While its poor mother, in her fright and pain, Fell down upon the bank, and breathed her last. Up rose the hermit-monarch at the sight Full of keen anguish; with his pilgrim staff He drew the new-born creature from the wave; 'Twas panting fast, but life was in it still. Now, as he saw its luckless mother dead, He would not leave it in the woods alone, But with the tenderest pity brought it home.
There, in his leafy hut, he gave it food, And daily nourished it with patient care, Until it grew in stature and in strength, And to the forest skirts could venture forth In search of sustenance. At early morn Thenceforth it used to leave the hermitage And with the shades of evening come again, And in the little courtyard of the hut Lie down in peace, unless the tigers fierce, Prowling about, compelled it to return Earlier at noon. But whether near or far, Wandering abroad, or resting in its home, The monarch-hermit's heart was with it still, Bound by affection's ties; nor could he think Of anything besides this little hind, His nursling. Though a kingdom he had left, And children, and a host of loving friends, Almost without a tear, the fount of love Sprang out anew within his blighted heart, To greet this dumb, weak, helpless foster-child, And so, whene'er it lingered in the wilds, Or at the 'customed hour could not return, His thoughts went with it; "And alas!" he cried, "Who knows, perhaps some lion or some wolf, Or ravenous tiger with relentless jaws Already hath devoured it,—timid thing! Lo, how the earth is dinted with its hoofs, And variegated. Surely for my joy It was created. When will it come back, And rub its budding antlers on my arms In token of its love and deep delight To see my face? The shaven stalks of grass, Kusha and kasha, by its new teeth clipped, Remind me of it, as they stand in lines Like pious boys who chant the Samga Veds Shorn by their vows of all their wealth of hair." Thus passed the monarch-hermit's time; in joy, With smiles upon his lips, whenever near His little favourite; in bitter grief And fear, and trouble, when it wandered far. And he who had abandoned ease and wealth, And friends and dearest ties, and kingly power, Found his devotions broken by the love He had bestowed upon a little hind Thrown in his way by chance. Years glided on.... And Death, who spareth none, approached at last The hermit-king to summon him away; The hind was at his side, with tearful eyes Watching his last sad moments, like a child Beside a father. He too, watched and watched His favourite through a blinding film of tears, And could not think of the Beyond at hand, So keen he felt the parting, such deep grief O'erwhelmed him for the creature he had reared. To it devoted was his last, last thought, Reckless of present and of future both!
Thus far the pious chronicle, writ of old By Brahman sage; but we, who happier, live Under the holiest dispensation, know That God is Love, and not to be adored By a devotion born of stoic pride, Or with ascetic rites, or penance hard, But with a love, in character akin To His unselfish, all-including love. And therefore little can we sympathize With what the Brahman sage would fain imply As the concluding moral of his tale, That for the hermit-king it was a sin To love his nursling. What! a sin to love! A sin to pity! Rather should we deem Whatever Brahmans wise, or monks may hold, That he had sinned in casting off all love By his retirement to the forest-shades; For that was to abandon duties high, And, like a recreant soldier, leave the post Where God had placed him as a sentinel.
This little hind brought strangely on his path, This love engendered in his withered heart, This hindrance to his rituals,—might these not Have been ordained to teach him? Call him back To ways marked out for him by Love divine? And with a mind less self-willed to adore?
Not in seclusion, not apart from all, Not in a place elected for its peace, But in the heat and bustle of the world, 'Mid sorrow, sickness, suffering and sin, Must he still labour with a loving soul Who strives to enter through the narrow gate.
THE LEGEND OF DHRUVA.
Vishnu Purana. Book I. Chapter XI.
Sprung from great Brahma, Manu had two sons, Heroic and devout, as I have said, Pryavrata and Uttanapado,—names Known in legends; and of these the last Married two wives, Suruchee, his adored, The mother of a handsome petted boy Uttama; and Suneetee, less beloved, The mother of another son whose name Was Dhruva. Seated on his throne the king Uttanapado, on his knee one day Had placed Uttama; Dhruva, who beheld His brother in that place of honour, longed To clamber up and by his playmate sit; Led on by Love he came, but found, alas! Scant welcome and encouragement; the king Saw fair Suruchee sweep into the hall With stately step,—aye, every inch a queen, And dared not smile upon her co-wife's son. Observing him,—her rival's boy,—intent To mount ambitious to his father's knee, Where sat her own, thus fair Suruchee spake: "Why hast thou, child, formed such a vain design? Why harboured such an aspiration proud, Born from another's womb and not from mine? Oh thoughtless! To desire the loftiest place, The throne of thrones, a royal father's lap! It is an honour to the destined given, And not within thy reach. What though thou art Born of the king; those sleek and tender limbs Hold of my blood no portion; I am queen. To be the equal of mine only son Were in thee vain ambition. Know'st thou not, Fair prattler, thou art sprung,—not, not from mine, But from Suneetee's bowels? Learn thy place."
Repulsed in silence from his father's lap, Indignant, furious, at the words that fell From his step-mother's lips, poor Dhruva ran To his own mother's chambers, where he stood Beside her with his pale, thin, trembling lips, (Trembling with an emotion ill-suppressed) And hair in wild disorder, till she took And raised him to her lap, and gently said: "Oh, child, what means this? What can be the cause Of this great anger? Who hath given thee pain? He that hath vexed thee, hath despised thy sire, For in these veins thou hast the royal blood."
Thus conjured, Dhruva, with a swelling heart Repeated to his mother every word That proud Suruchee spake, from first to last, Even in the very presence of the king.
His speech oft broken by his tears and sobs, Helpless Suneetee, languid-eyed from care, Heard sighing deeply, and then soft replied: "Oh son, to lowly fortune thou wert born, And what my co-wife said to thee is truth; No enemy to Heaven's favoured ones may say Such words as thy step-mother said to thee. Yet, son, it is not meet that thou shouldst grieve Or vex thy soul. The deeds that thou hast done, The evil, haply, in some former life, Long, long ago, who may alas! annul, Or who the good works not done, supplement! The sins of previous lives must bear their fruit. The ivory throne, the umbrella of gold, The best steed, and the royal elephant Rich caparisoned, must be his by right Who has deserved them by his virtuous acts In times long past. Oh think on this, my son, And be content. For glorious actions done Not in this life, but in some previous birth, Suruchee by the monarch is beloved. Women, unfortunate like myself, who bear Only the name of wife without the powers, But pine and suffer for our ancient sins. Suruchee raised her virtues pile on pile, Hence Uttama her son, the fortunate! Suneetee heaped but evil,—hence her son Dhruva the luckless! But for all this, child, It is not meet that thou shouldst ever grieve As I have said. That man is truly wise Who is content with what he has, and seeks Nothing beyond, but in whatever sphere, Lowly or great, God placed him, works in faith; My son, my son, though proud Suruchee spake Harsh words indeed, and hurt thee to the quick, Yet to thine eyes thy duty should be plain. Collect a large sum of the virtues; thence A goodly harvest must to thee arise. Be meek, devout, and friendly, full of love, Intent to do good to the human race And to all creatures sentient made of God; And oh, be humble, for on modest worth Descends prosperity, even as water flows Down to low grounds."
She finished, and her son, Who patiently had listened, thus replied:—
"Mother, thy words of consolation find Nor resting-place, nor echo in this heart Broken by words severe, repulsing Love That timidly approached to worship. Hear My resolve unchangeable. I shall try The highest good, the loftiest place to win, Which the whole world deems priceless and desires. There is a crown above my father's crown, I shall obtain it, and at any cost Of toil, or penance, or unceasing prayer. Not born of proud Suruchee, whom the king Favours and loves, but grown up from a germ In thee, O mother, humble as thou art, I yet shall show thee what is in my power. Thou shalt behold my glory and rejoice. Let Uttama my brother,—not thy son,— Receive the throne and royal titles,—all My father pleases to confer on him. I grudge them not. Not with another's gifts Desire I, dearest mother, to be rich, But with my own work would acquire a name. And I shall strive unceasing for a place Such as my father hath not won,—a place That would not know him even,—aye, a place Far, far above the highest of this earth."
He said, and from his mother's chambers past, And went into the wood where hermits live, And never to his father's house returned.
Well kept the boy his promise made that day! By prayer and penance Dhruva gained at last The highest heavens, and there he shines a star! Nightly men see him in the firmament.
"Ho! Master of the wondrous art! Instruct me in fair archery, And buy for aye,—a grateful heart That will not grudge to give thy fee." Thus spoke a lad with kindling eyes, A hunter's low-born son was he,— To Dronacharjya, great and wise, Who sat with princes round his knee.
Up Time's fair stream far back,—oh far, The great wise teacher must be sought! The Kurus had not yet in war With the Pandava brethren fought. In peace, at Dronacharjya's feet, Magic and archery they learned, A complex science, which we meet No more, with ages past inurned.
"And who art thou," the teacher said, "My science brave to learn so fain? Which many kings who wear the thread Have asked to learn of me in vain." "My name is Buttoo," said the youth, "A hunter's son, I know not Fear;" The teacher answered, smiling smooth, "Then know him from this time, my dear."
Unseen the magic arrow came, Amidst the laughter and the scorn Of royal youths,—like lightning flame Sudden and sharp. They blew the horn, As down upon the ground he fell, Not hurt, but made a jest and game;— He rose,—and waved a proud farewell, But cheek and brow grew red with shame.
And lo,—a single, single tear Dropped from his eyelash as he past, "My place I gather is not here; No matter,—what is rank or caste? In us is honour, or disgrace, Not out of us," 'twas thus he mused, "The question is,—not wealth or place, But gifts well used, or gifts abused."
"And I shall do my best to gain The science that man will not teach, For life is as a shadow vain, Until the utmost goal we reach To which the soul points. I shall try To realize my waking dream, And what if I should chance to die? None miss one bubble from a stream."
So thinking, on and on he went, Till he attained the forest's verge, The garish day was well-nigh spent, Birds had already raised its dirge. Oh what a scene! How sweet and calm! It soothed at once his wounded pride, And on his spirit shed a balm That all its yearnings purified.
What glorious trees! The sombre saul On which the eye delights to rest, The betel-nut,—a pillar tall, With feathery branches for a crest, The light-leaved tamarind spreading wide, The pale faint-scented bitter neem, The seemul, gorgeous as a bride, With flowers that have the ruby's gleam,
The Indian fig's pavilion tent In which whole armies might repose, With here and there a little rent, The sunset's beauty to disclose, The bamboo boughs that sway and swing 'Neath bulbuls as the south wind blows, The mangoe-tope, a close dark ring, Home of the rooks and clamorous crows,