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Poem by Edwin Arnold
The Light of Asia: Book the First
The Scripture of the Saviour of the World, Lord Buddha - Prince Siddártha styled on earth - In Earth and Heavens and Hells Incomparable, All-honored, Wisest, Best, most Pitiful; The Teacher of Nirvana and the Law. Thus came he to be born again for men. Below the highest sphere four Regents sit Who rule our world, and under them are zones Nearer, but high, where saintliest spirits dead Wait thrice ten thousand years, then Eve again; And on Lord Buddha, waiting in that sky, Came for our sakes the five sure signs of birth So that the Devas knew the signs, and said 'Buddha will go again to help the World.' 'Yea!' spake He, 'now I go to help the World This last of many times; for birth and death End hence for me and those who learn my Law. I will go down among the Sâkyas, Under the southward snows of Himalay, Where pious people live and a just King.' That night the wife of King Suddhôdana, Maya the Queen, asleep beside her Lord, Dreamed a strange dream; dreamed that a star from heaven - Splendid, six-rayed, in color rosy-pearl, Whereof the token was an Elephant Six-tusked and whiter than Vahuka's milk - Shot through the void and, shining into her, Entered her womb upon the right. Awaked, Bliss beyond mortal mother's filled her breast, And over half the earth a lovely light Forewent the morn. The strong hills shook; the waves Sank lulled; all flowers that blow by day came forth As 'twere high noon; down to the farthest hells Passed the Queen's joy, as when warm sunshine thrills Wood-glooms to gold, and into all the deeps A tender whisper pierced. 'Oh ye,' it said, 'The dead that are to live, the live who die, Uprise, and hear, and hope! Buddha is come!' Whereat in Limbos numberless much peace Spread, and the world's heart throbbed, and a wind blew With unknown freshness over lands and seas. And when the morning dawned, and this was told, The grey dream-readers said 'The dream is good! The Crab is in conjunction with the Sun The Queen shall bear a boy, a holy child Of wondrous wisdom, profiting all flesh, Who shall deliver men from ignorance, Or rule the world, if he will deign to rule.' In this wise was the holy Buddha born. Queen Maya stood at noon, her days fulfilled, Under a Palsa in the Palace-grounds, A stately trunk, straight as a temple-shaft, With crown of glossy leaves and fragrant blooms; And, knowing the time come - for all things knew - The conscious tree bent down its boughs to make A bower about Queen Maya's majesty, And Earth put forth a thousand sudden flowers To spread a couch, while, ready for the bath, The rock hard by gave out a limpid stream Of crystal flow. So brought she forth her child Pangless - he having on his perfect form The marks, thirty and two, of blessed birth; Of which the great news to the Palace came. But when they brought the painted palanquin To fetch him home, the bearers of the poles Were the four Regents of the Earth, come down From Mount Sumeru - they who write men's deeds On brazen plates - the Angel of the East, Whose hosts are clad in silver robes, and bear Targets of pearl: the Angel of the South, Whose horsemen, the Kumbhandas, ride blue steeds, With sapphire shields: the Angel of the West, By Nâgas followed, riding steeds blood-red, With coral shields: the Angel of the North, Environed by his Yakshas, all in gold, On yellow horses, bearing shields of gold. These, with their pomp invisible, came down And took the poles, in caste and outward garb Like bearers, yet most mighty gods; and gods Walked free with men that day, though men knew not: For Heaven was filled with gladness for Earth's sake, Knowing Lord Buddha thus was come again. But King Suddhôdana wist not of this; The portents troubled, till his dream-readers Augured a Prince of earthly dominance, A Chakravartîn, such as rise to rule Once in each thousand years; seven gifts he has - The Chakra-ratna, disc divine; the gem; The horse, the Aswa-ratna, that proud steed Which tramps the clouds; a snow-white elephant, The Hasti-ratna, born to bear his King; The crafty Minister, the General Unconquered, and the wife of peerless grace, The Istrî-ratna, lovelier than the Dawn. For which gifts looking with this wondrous boy, The King gave order that his town should keep High festival; therefore the ways were swept, Rose-odors sprinkled in the street, the trees Were hung with lamps and flags, while merry crowds Gaped on the sword-players and posturers, The jugglers, charmers, swingers, rope-walkers, The nautch-girls in their spangled skirts and bells That chime light laughter round their restless feet; The masquers wrapped in skins of bear and deer. The tiger-tamers, wrestlers, quail-fighters, Beaters of drum and twanglers of the wire, Who made the people happy by command. Moreover from afar came merchant-men, Bringing, on tidings of this birth, rich gifts In golden trays; goat-shawls, and nard and jade, Turkises, 'evening-sky' tint, woven webs - So fine twelve folds bide not a modest face - Waist-cloths sewn thick with pearls, and sandal-wood; Homage from tribute cities; so they called Their Prince Savârthasiddh, 'All-Prospering,' Briefer, Siddártha. 'Mongst the strangers came A grey-haired saint, Asita, one whose ears, Long closed to earthly things, caught heavenly sounds, And heard at prayer beneath his peepul-tree The Devas singing songs at Buddha's birth. Wondrous in lore he was by age and fasts; Him, drawing nigh, seeming so reverend, The King saluted and Queen Maya made To lay her babe before such holy feet; But when he saw the Prince the old man cried 'Ah, Queen, not so!' and thereupon he touched Eight times the dust, laid his waste visage there, Saying, 'O Babe! I worship! Thou art He! I see the rosy light, the foot-sole marks, The soft curled tendril of the Swastika, The sacred primal signs thirty and two, The eighty lesser tokens. Thou art Buddh, And thou wilt preach the Law and save all flesh Who learn the Law, though I shall never hear, Dying too soon, who lately longed to die; Howbeit I have seen Thee. Know, O King! This is that Blossom on our human tree Which opens once in many myriad years - But opened, fills the world with Wisdom's scent And Love's dropped honey; from thy royal root A Heavenly Lotus springs: Ah, happy House! Yet not all-happy, for a sword must pierce Thy bowels for this boy - whilst thou, sweet Queen! Dear to all gods and men for this great birth, Henceforth art grown too sacred for more woe, And life is woe, therefore in seven days Painless thou shalt attain the close of pain.' Which fell: for on the seventh evening Queen Maya smiling slept, and waked no more, Passing content to Trâyastrinshas-Heaven, Where countless Devas worship her and wait Attendant on that radiant Motherhead. But for the Babe they found a foster-nurse, Princess Mahâprajâpati - her breast Nourished with noble milk the lips of Him Whose lips comfort the Worlds. When th' eighth year passed The careful King bethought to teach his son All that a Prince should learn, for still he shunned The too vast presage of those miracles, The glories and the sufferings of a Buddh. So, in full council of his Ministers, 'Who is the wisest man, great sirs,' he asked, 'To teach my Prince that which a Prince should know?' Whereto gave answer each with instant voice 'King! Viswamitra is the wisest one, The furthest seen in Scriptures, and the best In learning, and the manual arts, and all.' Thus Viswamitra came and heard commands; And, on a day found fortunate, the Prince Took up his slate of ox-red sandal-wood, All-beautified by gems around the rim, And Sprinkled smooth with dust of emery, These took he, and his writing-stick, and stood With eyes bent down before the Sage, who said, 'Child, write this Scripture,' speaking slow the verse 'Gâyatrî' named, which only High-born hear: - Om, tatsaviturvarenyam Bhargo devasya dhîmahi Dhiyo yo na prachodayât. 'Acharya, I write,' meekly replied The Prince, and quickly on the dust he drew - Not in one script, but many characters - The sacred verse; Nagri and Dakshin, Nî, Mangal, Parusha, Yava, Tirthi, Uk, Darad, Sikhyani, Mana, Madhyachar, The pictured writings and the speech of signs, Tokens of cave-men and the sea-peoples, Of those who worship snakes beneath the earth, And those who flame adore and the sun's orb, The Magians and the dwellers on the mounds; Of all the nations all strange scripts he traced One after other with his writing-stick, Reading the master's verse in every tongue; And Viswamitra said, 'It is enough, Let us to numbers. After me repeat Your numeration till we reach the Lakh, One, two, three, four, to ten, and then by tens To hundreds, thousands.' After him the child Named digits, decads, centuries; nor paused, The round lakh reached, but softly murmured on 'Then comes the kôti, nahut, ninnahut, Khamba, viskhamba, abab, attata, To kumuds, gundhikas, and utpalas, By pundarîkas unto padumas, Which last is how you count the utmost grains Of Hastagiri ground to finest dust; But beyond that a numeration is, The Kâtha, used to count the stars of night; The Kôti-Kâtha, for the ocean drops; Ingga, the calculus of circulars; Sarvanikchepa, by the which you deal With all the sands of Gunga, till we come To Antah-Kalpas, where the unit is The sands of ten crore Gungas. If one seeks More comprehensive scale, th' arithmic mounts By the Asankya, which is the tale Of all the drops that in ten thousand years Would fall on all the worlds by daily rain; Thence unto Maha Kalpas, by the which The Gods compute their future and their past.' ''Tis good,' the Sage rejoined, 'Most noble Prince, If these thou know'st, needs it that I should teach The mensuration of the lineal?' Humbly the boy replied, 'Acharya!' 'Be pleased to hear me. Paramânus ten A parasukshma make; ten of those build The trasarene, and seven trasarenes One mote's-length floating in the beam, seven motes The whisker-point of mouse, and ten of these One likhya; likhyas ten a yuka, ten Yukas a heart of barley, which is held Seven times a wasp-waist; so unto the grain Of mung and mustard and the barley-corn, Whereof ten give the finger-joint, twelve joints The span, wherefrom we reach the cubit, staff, Bow-length, lance-length; while twenty lengths of lance Mete what is named a 'breath,' which is to say Such space as man may stride with lungs once filled, Whereof a gow is forty, four times that A yôjana; and, Master! if it please, I shall recite how many sun-motes lie From end to end within a yôjana.' Thereat, with instant skill, the little Prince Pronounced the total of the atoms true. But Viswamitra heard it on his face Prostrate before the boy; 'For thou,' he cried, Art Teacher of thy teachers - thou, not I, Art Guru. Oh, I worship thee, sweet Prince! That comest to my school only to show Thou knowest all without the books, and know'st Fair reverence besides.' Which reverence Lord Buddha kept to all his schoolmasters, Albeit beyond their learning taught; in speech Right gentle, yet so wise; princely of mien, Yet softly-mannered; modest, deferent, And tender-hearted, though of fearless blood; No bolder horseman in the youthful band E'er rode in gay chase of the shy gazelles; No keener driver of the chariot In mimic contest scoured the Palace-courts; Yet in mid-play the boy would ofttimes pause, Letting the deer pass free; would ofttimes yield His half-won race because the laboring steeds Fetched painful breath; or if his princely mates Saddened to lose, or if some wistful dream Swept o'er his thoughts. And ever with the years Waxed this compassionateness of our Lord, Even as a great tree grows from two soft leaves To spread its shade afar; but hardly yet Knew the young child of sorrow, pain, or tears, Save as strange names for things not felt by kings, Nor ever to be felt. But it befell In the Royal garden on a day of spring, A flock of wild swans passed, voyaging north To their nest-places on Himâla's breast. Calling in love-notes down their snowy line The bright birds flew, by fond love piloted; And Devadatta, cousin of the Prince, Pointed his bow, and loosed a wilful shaft Which found the wide wing of the foremost swan Broad-spread to glide upon the free blue road, So that it fell, the bitter arrow fixed, Bright scarlet blood-gouts staining the pure plumes. Which seeing, Prince Siddârtha took the bird Tenderly up, rested it in his lap - Sitting with knees crossed, as Lord Buddha sits - And, soothing with a touch the wild thing's fright, Composed its ruffled vans, calmed its quick heart, Caressed it into peace with light kind palms As soft as plantain-leaves an hour unrolled; And while the left hand held, the right hand drew The cruel steel forth from the wound and laid Cool leaves and healing honey on the smart. Yet all so little knew the boy of pain That curiously into his wrist he pressed The arrow's barb, and winced to feel it sting, And turned with tears to soothe his bird again. Then some one came who said, 'My Prince hath shot A swan, which fell among the roses here, He bids me pray you send it. Will you send?' 'Nay,' quoth Siddârtha, 'if the bird were dead To send it to the slayer might be well, But the swan lives; my cousin hath but killed The god-like speed which throbbed in this white Wing.' And Devadatta answered, 'The wild thing, Living or dead, is his who fetched it down; 'Twas no man's in the clouds, but fall'n 'tis mine, Give me my prize, fair Cousin.' Then our Lord Laid the swan's neck beside his own smooth cheek And gravely spake, 'Say no! the bird is mine, The first of myriad things which shall be mine By right of mercy and love's lordliness. For now I know, by what within me stirs, That I shall teach compassion unto men And be a speechless world's interpreter, Abating this accursed flood of woe, Not man's alone; but, if the Prince disputes, Let him submit this matter to the wise And we will wait the word.' So was it done; In full divan the business had debate, And many thought this thing and many that, Till there arose an unknown priest who said, 'If life be aught, the savior of a life Owns more the living thing than he can own Who sought to slay - the slayer spoils and wastes The cherisher sustains, give him the bird:' Which judgment all found just; but when the King Sought out the sage for honor, he was gone; And some one saw a hooded snake glide forth, - The gods come ofttimes thus! So our Lord Buddh Began his works of mercy. Yet not more Knew he as yet of grief than that one bird's, Which, being healed, went joyous to its kind. But on another day the King said, 'Come, Sweet son! and see the pleasaunce of the spring, And how the fruitful earth is wooed to yield Its riches to the reaper; how my realm - Which shall be thine when the pile flames for me - Feeds all its mouths and keeps the King's chest filled. Fair is the season with new leaves, bright blooms, Green grass, and cries of plough-time.' So they rode Into a land of wells and gardens, where, All up and down the rich red loam, the steers Strained their strong shoulders in the creaking yoke Dragging the ploughs; the fat soil rose and rolled In smooth dark waves back from the plough; who drove Planted both feet upon the leaping share To make the furrow deep; among the palms The tinkle of the rippling water rang, And where it ran the glad earth 'broidered it With balsams and the spears of lemon-grass. Elsewhere were sowers who went forth to sow; And all the jungle laughed with nesting-songs, And all the thickets rustled with small life Of lizard, bee, beetle, and creeping things Pleased at the spring-time. In the mango-sprays The sun-birds flashed; alone at his green forge Toiled the loud coppersmith; bee-eaters hawked Chasing the purple butterflies; beneath, Striped squirrels raced, the mynas perked and picked, The nine brown sisters chattered in the thorn, The pied fish-tiger hung above the pool, The egrets stalked among the buffaloes, The kites sailed circles in the golden air; About the painted temple peacocks flew, The blue doves cooed from every well, far off The village drums beat for some marriage-feast; All things spoke peace and plenty, and the Prince Saw and rejoiced. But, looking deep, he saw The thorns which grow upon this rose of life: How the swart peasant sweated for his wage, Toiling for leave to live; and how he urged The great-eyed oxen through the flaming hours, Goading their velvet flanks: then marked he, too, How lizard fed on ant, and snake on him, And kite on both; and how the fish-hawk robbed The fish-tiger of that which it had seized; The shrike chasing the bulbul, which did chase The jewelled butterflies: till everywhere Each slew a slayer and in turn was slain, Life living upon death. So the fair show Veiled one vast, savage, grim conspiracy Of mutual murder, from the worm to man, Who himself kills his fellow; seeing which - The hungry ploughman and his laboring kine, Their dewlaps blistered with the bitter yoke, The rage to live which makes all living strife - The Prince Siddârtha sighed. 'Is this,' he said, 'That happy earth they brought me forth to see? How salt with sweat the peasant's bread! how hard The oxen's service! in the brake how fierce The war of weak and strong! i' th' air what plots! No refuge e'en in water. Go aside A space, and let me muse on what ye show.' So saying, the good Lord Buddha seated him Under a jambu-tree, with ankles crossed - As holy statues sit - and first began To meditate this deep disease of life, What its far source and whence its remedy. So vast a pity filled him, such wide love For living things, such passion to heal pain, That by their stress his princely spirit passed To ecstasy, and, purged from mortal taint Of sense and self, the boy attained thereat Dhyâna, first step of 'the path.' There flew High overhead that hour five holy ones, Whose free wings faltered as they passed the tree. 'What power superior draws us from our flight?' They asked, for spirits feel all force divine, And know the sacred presence of the pure. Then, looking downward, they beheld the Buddh Crowned with a rose-hued aureole, intent On thoughts to save; while from the grove a voice Cried, 'Rishis! this is He shall help the world, Descend and worship.' So the Bright Ones came And sang a song of praise, folding their wings, Then journeyed on, taking good news to Gods. But certain from the King seeking the Prince Found him still musing, though the noon was past, And the sun hastened to the western hills: Yet, while all shadows moved, the jambu-tree's Stayed in one quarter, overspreading him, Lest the sloped rays should strike that sacred head; And he who saw this sight heard a voice say, Amid the blossoms of the rose-apple, 'Let be the King's son! till the shadow goes Forth from his heart my shadow will not shift.'
Edwin Arnold's other poems:
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