Part 10 out of 10
Glanced the sharp knife one moment high,
The severed thumb was on the sod,
There was no tear in Buttoo's eye,
He left the matter with his God.
"For this"--said Dronacharjya--"Fame
Shall sound thy praise from sea to sea,
And men shall ever link thy name
With Self-help, Truth, and Modesty."
Deep in the forest shades there dwelt
A _Muni_ and his wife,
Blind, gray-haired, weak, they hourly felt
Their slender hold on life.
No friends had they, no help or stay,
Except an only boy,
A bright-eyed child, his laughter gay,
Their leaf-hut filled with joy.
Attentive, duteous, loving, kind,
Thoughtful, sedate, and calm,
He waited on his parents blind,
Whose days were like a psalm.
He roamed the woods for luscious fruits,
He brought them water pure,
He cooked their simple mess of roots,
Content to live obscure.
To fretful questions, answers mild
He meekly ever gave,
If they reproved, he only smiled,
He loved to be their slave.
Not that to him they were austere,
But age is peevish still,
Dear to their hearts he was--so dear,
That none his place might fill.
They called him Sindhu, and his name
Was ever on their tongue,
And he, nor cared for wealth nor fame,
Who dwelt his own among.
A belt of _Bela_-trees hemmed round
The cottage small and rude,
If peace on earth was ever found
'Twas in that solitude.
Great Dasarath, the King of Oudh,
Whom all men love and fear,
With elephants and horses proud
Went forth to hunt the deer.
O gallant was the long array!
Pennons and plumes were seen,
And swords that mirrored back the day,
And spears and axes keen.
Rang trump, and conch, and piercing fife,
Woke Echo from her bed!
The solemn woods with sounds were rife
As on the pageant sped.
Hundreds, nay thousands, on they went!
The wild beasts fled away!
Deer ran in herds, and wild boars spent
Became an easy prey.
Whirring the peacocks from the brake
With Argus wings arose,
Wild swans abandoned pool and lake
For climes beyond the snows.
From tree to tree the monkeys sprung,
Unharmed and unpursued,
As louder still the trumpets rung
And startled all the wood.
The porcupines and such small game
Unnoted fled at will,
The weasel only caught to tame
From fissures in the hill.
Slunk light the tiger from the bank,
But sudden turned to bay!
When he beheld the serried rank
That barred his tangled way.
Uprooting fig-trees on their path,
And trampling shrubs and flowers,
Wild elephants, in fear and wrath,
Burst through, like moving towers.
Lowering their horns in crescents grim
Whene'er they turned about,
Retreated into coverts dim
The bisons' fiercer rout.
And in this mimic game of war
In bands dispersed and passed
The royal train--some near, some far,
As day closed in at last.
Where was the king? He left his friends
At mid-day, it was known,
And now that evening fast descends
Where was he? All alone.
Curving, the river formed a lake,
Upon whose bank he stood, I
No noise the silence there to break,
Or mar the solitude.
Upon the glassy surface fell
The last beams of the day,
Like fiery darts, that lengthening swell,
As breezes wake and play.
Osiers and willows on the edge
And purple buds and red,
Leant down--and 'mid the pale green sedge
The lotus raised its head.
And softly, softly, hour by hour
Light faded, and a veil
Fell over tree, and wave, and flower,
On came the twilight pale.
Deeper and deeper grew the shades,
Stars glimmered in the sky,
The nightingale along the glades
Raised her preluding cry.
What is that momentary flash?
A gleam of silver scales
Reveals the _Mahseer_;--then a splash,
And calm again prevails.
As darkness settled like a pall
The eye would pierce in vain,
The fireflies gemmed the bushes all,
Like fiery drops of rain.
Pleased with the scene--and knowing not
Which way, alas! to go,
The monarch lingered on the spot--
The lake spread bright below.
He lingered, when--oh hark! oh hark
What sound salutes his ear!
A roebuck drinking in the dark,
Not hunted, nor in fear.
Straight to the stretch his bow he drew,
That bow ne'er missed its aim,
Whizzing the deadly arrow flew,
Ear-guided, on the game!
Ah me! What means this?--Hark, a cry,
A feeble human wail,
"Oh God!" it said--"I die--I die,
Who'll carry home the pail?"
Startled, the monarch forward ran,
And then there met his view
A sight to freeze in any man
The warm blood coursing true.
A child lay dying on the grass,
A pitcher by his side,
Poor Sindhu was the child, alas!
His parents' stay and pride.
His bow and quiver down to fling,
And lift the wounded boy,
A moment's work was with the king.
Not dead--that was a joy!
He placed the child's head on his lap,
And 'ranged the blinding hair,
The blood welled fearful from the gap
On neck and bosom fair.
He dashed cold water on the face,
He chafed the hands, with sighs,
Till sense revived, and he could trace
Expression in the eyes.
Then mingled with his pity, fear--
In all this universe
What is so dreadful as to hear
A Brahman's dying curse!
So thought the king, and on his brow
The beads of anguish spread,
And Sindhu, fully conscious now,
The anguish plainly read.
"What dost thou fear, O mighty king?
For sure a king thou art!
Why should thy bosom anguish wring?
No crime was in thine heart!
Unwittingly the deed was done;
It is my destiny,
O fear not thou, but pity one
Whose fate is thus to die.
No curses, no!--I bear no grudge,
Not thou my blood hast spilt,
Lo! here before the unseen Judge,
Thee I absolve from guilt.
The iron, red-hot as it burns,
Burns those that touch it too,
Not such my nature--for it spurns,
Thank God, the like to do.
Because I suffer, should I give
Thee, king, a needless pain?
Ah, no! I die, but may'st thou live,
And cleansed from every stain!"
Struck with these words, and doubly grieved
At what his hands had done,
The monarch wept, as weeps bereaved
A man his only son.
"Nay, weep not so," resumed the child,
"But rather let me say
My own sad story, sin-defiled,
And why I die to-day!
Picking a living in our sheaves,
And happy in their loves,
Near, 'mid a peepul's quivering leaves,
There lived a pair of doves.
Never were they two separate,
And lo, in idle mood,
I took a sling and ball, elate
In wicked sport and rude--
And killed one bird--it was the male,
Oh cruel deed and base!
The female gave a plaintive wail
And looked me in the face!
The wail and sad reproachful look
In plain words seemed to say,
A widowed life I cannot brook,
The forfeit thou must pay.
What was my darling's crime that thou
Him wantonly shouldst kill?
The curse of blood is on thee now,
Blood calls for red blood still.
And so I die--a bloody death--
But not for this I mourn,
To feel the world pass with my breath
I gladly could have borne,
But for my parents, who are blind,
And have no other stay--
This, this, weighs sore upon my mind,
And fills me with dismay.
Upon the eleventh day of the moon
They keep a rigorous fast,
All yesterday they fasted; soon
For water and repast
They shall upon me feebly call!
Ah, must they call in vain?
Bear thou the pitcher, friend--'tis all
I ask--down that steep lane."
He pointed--ceased--then sudden died!
The king took up the corpse,
And with the pitcher slowly hied,
Attended by Remorse,
Down the steep lane--unto the hut
Girt round with _Bela_-trees;
Gleamed far a light--the door not shut
Was open to the breeze.
"Oh why does not our child return?
Too long he surely stays."--
Thus to the _Muni_, blind and stern,
His partner gently says.
"For fruits and water when he goes
He never stays so long,
Oh can it be, beset by foes,
He suffers cruel wrong?
Some distance he has gone, I fear,
A more circuitous round--
Yet why should he? The fruits are near,
The river near our bound.
I die of thirst--it matters not
If Sindhu be but safe,
What if he leave us, and this spot,
Poor birds in cages chafe.
Peevish and fretful oft we are--
Ah, no--that cannot be:
Of our blind eyes he is the star,
Without him, what were we?
Too much he loves us to forsake,
But something ominous,
Here in my heart, a dreadful ache,
Says, he is gone from us.
Why do my bowels for him yearn,
What ill has crossed his path?
Blind, helpless, whither shall we turn,
Or how avert the wrath?
Lord of my soul--what means my pain?
This horrid terror--like
Some cloud that hides a hurricane;
Hang not, O lightning--strike!"
Thus while she spake, the king drew near
With haggard look and wild,
Weighed down with grief, and pale with fear,
Bearing the lifeless child.
Rustled the dry leaves 'neath his foot,
And made an eerie sound,
A neighboring owl began to hoot,
All else was still around.
At the first rustle of the leaves
The _Muni_ answered clear,
"Lo, here he is--oh wherefore grieves
Thy soul, my partner dear?"
The words distinct, the monarch heard,
He could no further go,
His nature to its depths was stirred,
He stopped in speechless woe.
No steps advanced--the sudden pause
Attention quickly drew,
Rolled sightless orbs to learn the cause,
But, hark!--the steps renew.
"Where art thou, darling--why so long
Hast thou delayed to-night?
We die of thirst--we are not strong,
This fasting kills outright.
Speak to us, dear one--only speak,
And calm our idle fears,
Where hast thou been, and what to seek?
Have pity on these tears."
With head bent low the monarch heard,
Then came a cruel throb
That tore his heart--still not a word,
Only a stifled sob!
"It is not Sindhu--who art thou?
And where is Sindhu gone?
There's blood upon thy hands--avow!"
"There is."--"Speak on, speak on,"
The dead child in their arms he placed,
And briefly told his tale,
The parents their dead child embraced,
And kissed his forehead pale.
"Our hearts are broken. Come, dear wife,
On earth no more we dwell;
Now welcome Death, and farewell Life,
And thou, O king, farewell!
We do not curse thee, God forbid
But to my inner eye
The future is no longer hid,
Thou too shalt like us die.
Die--for a son's untimely loss!
Die--with a broken heart!
Now help us to our bed of moss,
And let us both depart."
Upon the moss he laid them down,
And watched beside the bed;
Death gently came and placed a crown
Upon each reverend head.
Where the Sarayu's waves dash free
Against a rocky bank,
The monarch had the corpses three
Conveyed by men of rank;
There honored he with royal pomp
Their funeral obsequies--
Incense and sandal, drum and tromp.
And solemn sacrifice.
What is the sequel of the tale?
How died the king?--Oh man,
A prophet's words can never fail--
Go, read the Ramayan.
Near Hastings, on the shingle-beach,
We loitered at the time
When ripens on the wall the peach,
The autumn's lovely prime.
Far off--the sea and sky seemed blent,
The day was wholly done,
The distant town its murmurs sent,
Strangers--we were alone.
We wandered slow; sick, weary, faint,
Then one of us sat down,
No nature hers, to make complaint;--
The shadows deepened brown.
A lady past--she was not young,
But oh! her gentle face
No painter-poet ever sung,
Or saw such saintlike grace.
She passed us--then she came again,
Observing at a glance
That we were strangers; one, in pain--
Then asked--Were we from France?
We talked awhile--some roses red
That seemed as wet with tears,
She gave my sister, and she said,
God bless you both, my dears!"
Sweet were the roses--sweet and full,
And large as lotus flowers
That in our own wide tanks we cull
To deck our Indian bowers.
But sweeter was the love that gave
Those flowers to one unknown,
I think that He who came to save
The gift a debt will own.
The lady's name I do not know,
Her face no more may see,
But yet, oh yet I love her so!
Blest, happy, may she be!
Her memory will not depart,
Though grief my years should shade,
Still bloom her roses in my heart!
And they shall never fade!
Not dead--oh no--she cannot die!
Only a swoon, from loss of blood!
Levite England passes her by,
Help, Samaritan! None is nigh;
Who shall staunch me this sanguine flood?
'Range the brown hair, it blinds her eyne,
Dash cold water over her face!
Drowned in her blood, she makes no sign,
Give her a draught of generous wine.
None heed, none hear, to do this grace.
Head of the human column, thus
Ever in swoon wilt thou remain?
Thought, Freedom, Truth, quenched ominous
Whence then shall Hope arise for us,
Plunged in the darkness all again.
No, she stirs!--There's a fire in her glance,
Ware, oh ware of that broken sword!
What, dare ye for an hour's mischance,
Gather around her, jeering France,
Attila's own exultant horde?
Lo, she stands up--stands up e'en now,
Strong once more for the battle-fray,
Gleams bright the star, that from her brow
Lightens the world. Bow, nations, bow,
Let her again lead on the way!
THE TREE OF LIFE
Broad daylight, with a sense of weariness!
Mine eyes were closed, but I was not asleep,
My hand was in my father's, and I felt
His presence near me. Thus we often passed
In silence, hour by hour. What was the need
Of interchanging words when every thought
That in our hearts arose, was known to each,
And every pulse kept time? Suddenly there shone
A strange light, and the scene as sudden changed.
I was awake:--It was an open plain
Illimitable--stretching, stretching--oh, so far!
And o'er it that strange light--a glorious light
Like that the stars shed over fields of snow
In a clear, cloudless, frosty winter night,
Only intenser in its brilliance calm.
And in the midst of that vast plain, I saw,
For I was wide awake--it was no dream,
A tree with spreading branches and with leaves
Of divers kinds--dead silver and live gold,
Shimmering in radiance that no words may tell!
Beside the tree an Angel stood; he plucked
A few small sprays, and bound them round my head.
Oh, the delicious touch of those strange leaves!
No longer throbbed my brows, no more I felt
The fever in my limbs--"And oh," I cried,
"Bind too my father's forehead with these leaves."
One leaf the Angel took and therewith touched
His forehead, and then gently whispered "Nay!"
Never, oh never had I seen a face
More beautiful than that Angel's, or more full
Of holy pity and of love divine.
Wondering I looked awhile--then, all at once
Opened my tear-dimmed eyes--When lo! the light
Was gone--the light as of the stars when snow
Lies deep upon the ground. No more, no more,
Was seen the Angel's face. I only found
My father watching patient by my bed,
And holding in his own, close-prest, my hand.
_Written on the fly-leaf of Erckmann-Chatrian's novel, entitled, "Madame
Wavered the foremost soldiers--then fell back.
Fallen was their leader, and loomed right before
The sullen Prussian cannon, grim and black,
With lighted matches waving. Now, once more,
Patriots and veterans!--Ah! Tis in vain!
Back they recoil, though bravest of the brave;
No human troops may stand that murderous rain;
But who is this--that rushes to a grave?
It is a woman--slender, tall, and brown!
She snatches up the standard as it falls--
In her hot haste tumbles her dark hair down,
And to the drummer-boy aloud she calls
To beat the charge; then forwards on the _pont_
They dash together;--who could bear to see
A woman and a child, thus Death confront,
Nor burn to follow them to victory?
I read the story and my heart beats fast!
Well might all Europe quail before thee, France,
Battling against oppression! Years have passed,
Yet of that time men speak with moistened glance.
_Va-nu-pieds!_ When rose high your Marseillaise
Man knew his rights to earth's remotest bound,
And tyrants trembled. Yours alone the praise!
Ah, had a Washington but then been found!
A sea of foliage girds our garden round,
But not a sea of dull unvaried green,
Sharp contrasts of all colors here are seen;
The light-green graceful tamarinds abound
Amid the mango clumps of green profound,
And palms arise, like pillars gray, between;
And o'er the quiet pools the seemuls lean,
Red--red, and startling like a trumpet's sound.
But nothing can be lovelier than the ranges
Of bamboos to the eastward, when the moon
Looks through their gaps, and the white lotus changes
Into a cup of silver. One might swoon
Drunken with beauty then, or gaze and gaze
On a primeval Eden, in amaze.
Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. "The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien"--
"But is the lily lovelier?" Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche's bower.
"Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride"--
"But of what color?"--"Rose-red," Love first chose,
Then prayed--"No, lily-white--or, both provide;"
And Flora gave the lotus, "rose-red" dyed,
And "lily-white"--the queenliest flower that blows.
Like a huge Python, winding round and round
The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars
Up to its very summit near the stars,
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound
No other tree could live. But gallantly
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,
Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;
And oft at nights the garden overflows
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose,
When first my casement is wide open thrown
At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;
Sometimes, and most in winter--on its crest
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone
Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs
His puny offspring leap about and play;
And far and near kokilas hail the day;
And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.
But not because of its magnificence
Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:
Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,
For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear!
Blent with your images, it shall arise
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!
What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?
It is the tree's lament, an eerie speech,
That haply to the unknown land may reach.
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!
Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away
In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith
And the waves gently kissed the classic shore
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,
When earth lay tranced in a dreamless swoon:
And every time the music rose--before
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay
Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those
Who now in blessed sleep, for aye, repose,
Dearer than life to me, alas! were they!
May'st thou be numbered when my days are done
With deathless trees--like those in Borrowdale,
Under whose awful branches lingered pale
"Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,
And Time, the shadow;" and though weak the verse
That would thy beauty fain, oh fain rehearse,
May Love defend thee from Oblivion's curse.